Polls, Pistorius, scandals colored S. Africa's 2014

The African National Congress, in government since the end of apartheid, won the polls but with a reduced majority

Polls, Pistorius, scandals colored S. Africa's 2014

World Bulletin/News Desk

General elections that brought no new rulers; vibrant opposition in parliament; and high-profile court cases, including that of Paralympian Oscar Pistorius, were the highlights of 2014 in South Africa.

On May 7, the country held its fifth democratic election since the end of the apartheid regime in 1994.

The election was hotly contested, with 29 political parties vying for seats in South Africa's national and provincial parliaments.

The ruling African National Congress, which has governed the country since the end of apartheid, won the polls, albeit with a reduced majority of only 62 percent of the national vote – its lowest ever.

The party won 249 out of 400 seats in parliament, down from 264 in the previous assembly.

The Democratic Alliance, meanwhile, the country's main opposition party, clinched 89 seats, up from a previous 67.

Coming in third, the newly-established Economic Freedom Fighters party won 25 seats in the National Assembly.

"The ANC's support base has experienced a lot of challenges because of allegations of scandals involving President Jacob Zuma," Andre Duvenhage, a political science professor at South Africa's North West University, told The Anadolu Agency.

He cited as an example a scandal involving Zuma's rural estate in the KwaZulu-Natal province.

South Africa's anti-corruption czar, Thuli Madonsela, had earlier blamed Zuma for misappropriating millions of rand worth of public funds to renovate his country home.

The upgrade was originally supposed to have cost the state some $2.5 million. But with lavish upgrades – including a swimming pool, cattle kraal and visitor's center – total costs skyrocketed to a whopping $23 million.

Zuma, for his part, has denied any involvement in the project's procurement and construction phases and has adamantly refused to pay back the money.

Duvenhage said there were several reasons why – despite the scandal – Zuma's party had won the elections.

"Like most liberation movements in Africa, they [Zuma's ANC] capitalize on the past injustices of colonialism or apartheid to continue winning votes," he explained.

He added that the millions of people who receive social grants from the government also voted for the ruling party.

Scuffles

Since the National Assembly's first session in June, opposition lawmakers have been lively in their debates, mostly calling for accountability by politicians.

This, some analysts believe, has drawn more public attention to the assembly.

"Parliament receives more attention now," Dirk Kotze of the University of South Africa told AA in a recent interview. "The opposition has become very serious."

Last month, however, police were called onto the assembly floor after an opposition lawmaker called President Zuma a "thief."

The female MP had been protesting a parliamentary decision to clear the president of any blame for the lavish renovation of his country home.

She refused to take back her "insult" and police were eventually called in to drag her from the chamber.

Other opposition MPs intervened and at least four lawmakers were injured in the ensuing fracas.

In August, MPs representing the Economic Freedom Fighters also interrupted Zuma as he addressed parliament, accusing the president of squandering public money on his personal residence.

The party's lawmakers, who often wear red overalls to show solidarity with laborers, heckled Zuma and demanded that he "pay back the money."

The assembly speaker had to adjourn the session and police were ultimately called in to contain the situation.

Political analyst Mzoxolo Mpolase believes a rigorous opposition is the sign of a healthy democracy, but adds that lawmakers should adhere to parliamentary bylaws.

In a bid to restore calm, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa recently met with the leaders of all parties represented in the assembly to discuss recent events and means of moving forward.

Agreeing that the current situation was untenable, party representatives at the meeting agreed to work to restore parliament's integrity and popular standing.

Pistorius

Two major court cases dominated South Africa this year and made international headlines.

The first involved Paralympian Oscar Pistorius, who was accused of killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at his home on Valentine's Day of 2013.

The high-profile case went on for several months and heard testimony from over 40 witnesses and experts.

In October, the court sentenced the 27-year-old double-amputee athlete to five years in jail on one count of culpable homicide and three years in jail (wholly suspended) for violating South Africa's Firearms Control Act.

Pistorius began serving out his jail term last month in the hospital section of Pretoria's Kgosi Mampuru II Prison.

According to Section 276 of South Africa's Criminal Procedure Act, Pistorius can ask to be put under house arrest after serving only one sixth of his sentence, which is equal to ten months.

The National Prosecuting Authority has appealed the culpable homicide conviction. Prosecutors, for their part, had wanted Pistorius charged with murder.

Pistorius had fired four shots at the closed door of his bathroom, instantly killing Steenkamp, who, he alleged, he had mistaken for an intruder.

Popularly known as the "Blade Runner," Pistorius was born without the fibulas in both legs. Before completing his first year, he had to have both his lower limbs amputated.

In 2004, Pistorius shot to fame at the age of 17 after winning a gold medal at the Athens Paralympics Games, going on to win several more prestigious medals.

Pistorious made history in 2012 by becoming the first amputee runner to compete in the Olympics.

South Africa's second high-profile court case in 2014 was that of British businessman Shiren Dewani, who was accused of hiring hit men to kill his bride, Ani Dewani, during their honeymoon in Cape Town in 2010.

Dewani, a Briton of Asian origin, was extradited to South Africa in April of 2014 to face trial.

After weeks of proceedings, the court in December cleared the businessman of charges that he had conspired to murder his wife due to inadequate evidence.

The slain woman's family, for their part, said they had been let down by South Africa's justice system.

 

Güncelleme Tarihi: 29 Aralık 2014, 10:59
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