'The longest year of our lives': looking back on 2020

01 January 2021 - 06:00
By alex patrick AND Alex Patrick
For many of us, 2020 felt like the longest year. We look back on some of the highlights and talking points.
Image: Alaister Russell For many of us, 2020 felt like the longest year. We look back on some of the highlights and talking points.

A recent social media remark was that 2020 had been the longest 12 years of our lives — which is not far off if you recall everything that happened.

It certainly felt like a long year — we learnt we were stronger than we thought — but there was so much more to the year than Covid-19.

Let's take a look at some of the memorable events of 2020. We're bound to have forgotten something, remind us with a comment below.

New Year's Day 2020 in Johannesburg 

Unfortunately, the list starts on a bad note.

At 1am on New Year's Day at Poppy's Restaurant in Melville, two women and six other patrons were wounded after a drive-by shooting. Then, at 2.30am, 11 people — seven men and four women — sustained gunshot wounds after shots were fired at revellers from an elevated platform on the M2 double decker bridge.

A man was also shot and injured at a restaurant in Parkhurst.

In July five men arrested for alleged involvement in a kidnapping syndicate were tentatively linked to the fatal Melville drive-by shooting. Police spokesperson Brig Vish Naidoo said they were arrested during a predawn operation in Kliprivier, Johannesburg.

The case has still not been solved.

Australia on fire

Known as the Black Summer, Australia's bushfires began in 2019 and blazed into 2020, fuelled by exceptionally dry conditions. Hundreds of fires broke out and reached their peak intensity in January.

By the beginning of March 18.6m ha had been burnt throughout the country. More than 5,900 buildings were destroyed and 34 people killed.

The fires devastated animal populations, killing 3 billion terrestrial vertebrates and pushing the long-footed potoroo, a marsupial living in damp forests, and the glossy black cockatoo, to the brink of extinction.

Economists estimate the fires could cost more than A$103bn in property damage. On January 2 NASA estimated that 306m tonnes of CO2 had been emitted.


Could it be that history was repeating itself? Eighty-four years after Prince Harry's great-granduncle King Edward VIII abdicated the throne (also for the love of an American divorcee), the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced in January they would “step back as 'senior' members” of the British royal family.

The fallout still makes headlines as the couple, now financially independent, spend their time between North America and the UK.

Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna in fatal crash

On January 26 a Sikorsky S-76B helicopter crashed in Calabasas, California, while en route to Camarillo Airport. Nine people died on impact including basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna.

On February 24 Vanessa Bryant, Kobe Bryant's wife, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the helicopter company. On June 17 the docket into the crash was publicly released.

The new world illness

We can't leave the biggest news story off the list. Cast your mind back to the beginning when SA had its first confirmed Covid-19 case, in KwaZulu-Natal. Then when we went into a preliminary lockdown — and believed we would be in the clear by summer (at least).

TimesLIVE took readers into the heart of the storm and beyond with reflections from the front line, Through photographs, articles, podcasts and videos we were able to tell the story as it unfolded.

Harvey Weinstein guilty

On March 11 Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison for rape and sexual assault, ending the three-year fight for justice from his accusers.

The scandal was the basis for the surge of the #MeToo movement, a global social movement against sexual abuse and sexual harassment committed by powerful men.

Tiger King

We will be forever grateful for the madness that was the Tiger King documentary. The folly of Joe Exotic (real name Joseph Maldonado-Passage) and nemesis Carole Baskin was enough to take our minds off the virus — at least briefly.

Family Time

“My fellow South Africans” ... who would have thought that we would be glued to the TV to listen to President Cyril Ramaphosa speak? Yet, every time the presidency announced a family meeting, we were there. Through it all we were greeted with this warm introduction.

The meetings weren't always sombre. Remember April 30, when Ramaphosa fumbled while putting on his mask? There's nothing like good-old SA humour to get you through, and the best part was that the next day, while on a sight inspection in Gauteng, the president even laughed at himself.


The other saga threatening to take the limelight from Covid was the US elections. The fallout over the Joe Biden win is still being felt and this story will carry through into 2021. The divisions in America were felt throughout the world and on the day of the elections many South Africans were glued to their TVs. Afterwards we watched as Trump tried to hold on to power.

Beirut explosion

Who could forget the footage from the August 4 explosion at the port of the city of Beirut, Lebanon.

Once the dust settled we learnt that the incident was caused by fireworks and a large deposit of ammonium nitrate stored together in the port.

The explosion took 204 lives, injured 6,500 people and cost $15bn in property damage. An estimated 300,000 people were left homeless.

Tequila from a tea pot and citizens want their ciggies 

In August it emerged that some restaurants had been selling alcohol to customers despite a ban on booze sales under level 3 of the lockdown.

A ban on alcohol and tobacco was introduced at the start of the hard lockdown on March 27.

On August 18 the ban was lifted and long queues snaked around shops as people who had gone without both — or resorted to buying illegally — were finally allowed their fix.

Since then, people have dashed to shops, liquor and tobacco stores every time there was a rumour of another ban.

GBV our second pandemic

On September 22 police minister Bheki Cele described gender-based violence as a second pandemic that had reached crisis levels in the country. He identified 30 hotspots for GBV, that would get special attention.

This as he revealed that only 130 of the 4,058 people arrested for alleged gender-based violence since the announcement of the lockdown in March had been convicted, which translated into a conviction rate of only 3%.

Gauteng recorded the most reported cases at 743, with 1,173 arrests. This was followed by the Western Cape with 534 cases and 1,093 arrests, the Eastern Cape with 243 cases and 488 arrests, and KwaZulu-Natal with 230 cases and 375 arrests.

Cele said gender-based violence was rife under lockdown.

The Crown is back and binge watching at home is encouraged

Perhaps one plus about being stuck at home during lockdown were the series on streaming platforms like Netflix and Showmax. Finally we got a new season of The Crown — and it started at the good part, when Charles meets Diana.

Other favourites included The Queen's Gambit, The Duchess, Messiah, Ratched, Self Made — and the list goes on ...

Bushiri does a duck 

Shepherd Huxley Bushiri, also known as Major 1 or Prophet Bushiri, made headlines several times in 2020. But the most dramatic was when he and Mary Bushiri skipped the country illegally, heading back to Malawi after each being granted bail of R200,000.

It was Bushiri himself who announced they were no longer in SA, via Facebook in November.

The couple and three other accused — Willah Mudolo, his wife Zethu and Landiwe Ntlokwana — face charges of fraud, theft and corruption involving about R100m.

SA is now working with the Malawian authorities to extradite the Bushiris.

Two people have been arrested for helping the pair escape.

Mam’ Esther turns 85

Ndebele artist and national icon Dr Esther Mahlangu celebrated her 85th birthday on November 11 and launched her largest solo exhibition on November 19 to commemorate the occasion.

Titled “Esther Mahlangu 85", the exhibition, curated by Ruzy Rusike, was presented online and at The Melrose Gallery in Johannesburg, showcasing a body of artworks created over three years.

Zuma's Zondo 'tea break' never ends

On November 19 former president Jacob Zuma left the Zondo commission without the chairperson's permission during the morning tea break.

The commission had adjourned after Zondo dismissed Zuma's application for the recusal of the deputy chief justice, saying the former president's application had failed to meet the test for a recusal.

When the commission resumed after an about an hour, Zondo announced that Zuma had left without permission.

The stand-off over whether Zuma will testify is now being deliberated by the Constitutional Court.

Maradona and all those lost to us this year

Argentinian soccer legend Diego Maradona, widely regarded as one of the game's greatest ever players, died of a heart attack at the age of 60 on November 25.

He had battled health issues and underwent emergency surgery for a subdural haematoma several weeks before his death.

He died at home on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

Maradona was just one of many greats who lost their lives in 2020, such as presenter Bob Mabena; Gqom musician Biggie, aka Njabulo Zondi; actress Vinolia Mashego; veteran actress Mary Twala; actor Sipho Ngema; diplomat Zindziswa Mandela; actress Elize Cawood; actress Thandeka Mdeliswa; casting director Moonyeenn Lee; Grammy-award winning Ladysmith Black Mambazo singer Joseph Shabalala; actor Allen Booi; actor Karabo Makhubela; actor Charles 'Big Boy Mabitsela' Maja; kwaito icon Mshoza; and more than 28,000 people who perished with Covid-19 this year in SA.

Ace and the ANC

The ANC integrity commission recommended on December 15 that ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule immediately step down.

The commission's report lambasted the party’s leadership for failing to fulfil its promise to renew the organisation and get rid of corruption.

Magashule faces 21 counts of corruption. ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe said Magashule would remain in office until the party’s highest decision-making body, the national executive committee, met in 2021 to either adopt or reject the commission's report.

Covid season 2

In December a new variant of Covid-19 was detected in SA.

The variant, thought to be more transmissible than the initial strain that hit SA, has become the dominant one in the country's second wave of infections and is “making young and previously healthy people severely ill”, said health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize.

The 501. V2 variant is putting hospitals under renewed strain.

We wish all our readers a safe 2021 and a speedy recovery to those who contracted the  virus.

The spirit of ubuntu

This New Year’s Eve we commemorated the lives lost through Covid-19.

Many joined the president's call to light a candle for them at midnight.