From load-shedding to Marikana and Nkandla to Nene, we take a look at the biggest news stories of the last decade, and how they made waves across South Africa’s fiscal landscape.
1. The decade starts in the dark in 2006
In 2005, Eskom’s Koeberg Nuclear Power Plant just outside Cape Town began experiencing technical difficulties. A faulty transmission busbar caused the reactor to go into safe mode. A fire under a 400 kV transmission line caused the line to trip. A below-spec concentration of an important chemical resulted in a controlled shutdown of the reactor. And on Christmas Day 2005, a loose bolt caused severe damage to the generator. As 2006 rolled in, most of South Africa was left in the dark with load-shedding becoming the norm.
Because predictions were made in the late 1990s that Eskom would run out of power reserves by 2007 unless action was taken to prevent it, the rolling blackouts were surrounded by controversy and criticism. At the time, Eskom stated that the planned power outages would cease by February 2006, however power supply problems continued well into 2015.
2. Stakes and strikes in 2007
Strike: In June 2007, almost one million public servants engaged in a 13-day strike demanding a 12% wage increase. Essential services were affected across the board, and cities such as Durban were brought to a complete standstill.
Stake: Later that year, China’s biggest lender, ICBC bought a 20% stake in Standard Bank. The $5.6-billion cash purchase marked the biggest foreign acquisition by a Chinese commercial bank yet, in line with Beijing’s encouragement for major state firms to expand abroad, particularly in developing countries.
3. Mbeki, money and Manuel in 2008
In March 2008, murmurs of massive money woes began making waves across the world. That same month in South Africa, the ANC National Executive Committee withdrew parliamentary support of President Thabo Mbeki, on the basis that Mbeki had interfered in Jacob Zuma’s prosecution for various counts of racketeering, money laundering, corruption and fraud linked to the contentious $5-billion arms procurement deal by the South African government in 1999.
Mbeki was forced to step down from office, triggering a further avalanche of government resignations. However, the removal of Finance Minister Trevor Manuel was the biggest shock, plunging South African markets into a rapid fall after the news.
4. South Africa joins the recession in 2009
South Africa finally joined the long list of economies in recession. According to data released by Statistics SA in May 2009, South Africa experienced two consecutive quarters of negative growth and a contraction of 6.4%. The larger than expected contraction in growth was blamed on a slump in export demand that forced both manufacturers and miners to cut production.
5. Goals and fouls in 2010
The biggest news of 2010 in South Africa was undoubtedly the Fifa World Cup. The national government invested more than R30-billion in preparation for hosting the event, with an additional R10-billion spent at provincial and municipal levels. The event added 0.4% to South Africa’s national economic growth, translating into R38-billion in 2010, during a global recession.
6. More mouths to feed in 2011
Eight out of South Africa’s nine provinces were hit with floods in January 2011. The floods, which claimed more than 100 lives, left 33 municipalities in a state of disaster, also pushed food prices higher. As the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations announced that the general global food index had risen to 215 points, South Africa’s agricultural sector continued to bear the weight of government’s 1996 agricultural market deregulation.
7. Digging deeper in 2012
The mining sector’s sinkhole in 2012 was marked by its lowest point, the Marikana massacre on August 16. In what was the single most lethal use of force by South African security forces against civilians since 1960, the event, in which 44 people died at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine, is considered a seminal moment in South Africa’s recent history. Similar strikes followed the Marikana massacre, making 2012 the most protest-filled year in the country since the end of apartheid.
8. Opulence on a Grand Scale and Death Of An Icon in 2013
In November 2013, the Mail & Guardian published public protector Thuli Madonsela’s provisional report on the suspect improvements at Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla residence under the headline "Opulence on a grand scale”. The drama that followed Madonsela’s findings (all the way to the Constitutional Court in 2016) was dubbed Nkandlagate.
Madonsela’s report found that Zuma was liable for at least R52.9 million of taxpayers’ money used to renovate his luxury home, yet it was laughed off by the powers that be. It damaged investor confidence in South Africa, who saw the scandal – and the inevitable cover-ups – as evidence of a democracy without accountability.
And on 5 December 2013, Nelson Mandela died at the age of 95 after a prolonged respiratory infection.
9. In the shadow of giants in 2014
In April 2014, Nigeria overtook South Africa as the continent’s biggest economy. The data indicated that Nigeria’s economy grew to $453-billion in 2012, instead of $264-billion as measured by the World Bank for that year. South Africa's economy was $384-billion in 2012. However, Nigeria’s rebasing had little effect on ordinary Nigerians – most of whom still live on less than $2 a day. The rebasing did however, improve the country’s balance sheet and credit rating.
10. David who? What the junk, 2015!
On the heels of the global Brent Crude oil price collapse, the biggest fiscal news for South Africans in 2015 was President Jacob Zuma’s surprise axing of finance minister Nhlanhla Nene on December 9, which triggered an avalanche slide in the rand. Nene, was replaced with David van Rooyen, a lawmaker and former provincial mayor with limited financial experience. It was a whiplash decision by the President, and one that prompted the IOL business news headline: “David who?” Price hikes, investor scepticism, shaken confidence and the controversial #ZumaMustFall marked the end of 2015.