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The nominees and winners for the SA (and some global) Oscars of 2021

31 December 2021 - 06:49 By Jonathan Ancer
Supporters of former US president Donald Trump gather outside the US Capitol in Washington DC on January 6 in protest at the ratification of president-elect Joe Biden's electoral college victory over Trump in the 2020 election. A mob stormed the Capitol building shortly afterwards, breaking windows and clashing with police officers.
Supporters of former US president Donald Trump gather outside the US Capitol in Washington DC on January 6 in protest at the ratification of president-elect Joe Biden's electoral college victory over Trump in the 2020 election. A mob stormed the Capitol building shortly afterwards, breaking windows and clashing with police officers.
Image: Jon Cherry/Getty Images

It was another rough and challenging year with variants, surges, third and fourth waves, riots, load-shedding and a hunt for 10 imaginary babies (you couldn’t make it up).

Here are the stories that shook SA and the world and the people who caught our attention this year, with the nominees and winners in each category:

International Story of the Year 

And the nominees are:

Global Warning: With all the climate change horrors on display — heatwaves, droughts, floods, fires, tornadoes — 2021 showed us that we’re not hurtling towards doomsday. We’ve already arrived.  

A Not So Civil Civil War: A year of conflict in Ethiopia has displaced more than 2-million people, left hundreds of thousands facing starvation and thousands dead. The conflict threatens to destroy the country and destabilise the volatile region.

Ship Vrek: The Ever Given  became jammed in the Suez Canal in March, causing a colossal six-day traffic jam that cost up to $60bn (R955bn) in trade. The gargantuan cargo ship became an apt metaphor for the state of the world: going nowhere fast — and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. 

And the winner Is ... 

Capitol Punishment: The most fraught day in modern American politics took place when Donald Trump supporters forced their way into the Capitol, shutting down proceedings to certify the election of Joe Biden. America’s own president directed the attack, a dark moment in the country’s history, which might be a glimpse of what is yet to come. 

SA was rocked to the core by unrest that left more than 340 people dead and caused billions of rand in damage. The riots were triggered by Jacob Zuma’s supporters who were furious at the former president’s imprisonment. File photo.
SA was rocked to the core by unrest that left more than 340 people dead and caused billions of rand in damage. The riots were triggered by Jacob Zuma’s supporters who were furious at the former president’s imprisonment. File photo.
Image: Alaister Russell/The Sunday Times

SA Story of the Year

And the nominees are:

Moti Mystery: The abduction of the Moti brothers — Zidan, Zayyad, Alaan and Zia — gripped the nation. The brothers were freed after being held captive for three weeks. While reports suggest the family paid a R50m ransom to secure the boys’ release the saga has been hidden behind a blanket of secrecy.

Poll Positions: The local government election saw the lowest voter turnout since 1994, a sign that South Africans are gatvol with empty promises. Citizens who had their thumbnails inked gave the ANC a bloody nose and sent politicians a loud message: build coalitions and work together to fix what you’ve broken.  

Stage Hate: Load-shedding is the perfect allegory for a year spent fumbling in the dark with any flicker of hope being snuffed out by Eskom’s warning that the country could face stage 8 blackouts. 

Graft ’n Grifters: Looting didn’t end when the Guptas scurried out the country in 2016. The pilfering continued in 2021; not even the Covid-19 relief funds were safe from plundering politicians. Acting chief justice Raymond Zondo spent three years sifting through state capture’s dirty details and is due to hand in his report in February — a move we hope will end The Decade (and then some) of Corruption and launch The Year of Consequences (and then some).  

And the winner is:

Runaway Riots: SA was rocked to the core by unrest that left more than 340 people dead and caused billions of rand in damage. The riots were triggered by Jacob Zuma’s supporters who were furious at the former president’s imprisonment for contempt and blew up into protests over the government’s failure to deliver basic services. Malls, shops, warehouses, factories, schools and trucks were looted and set alight. Residents in the KwaZulu-Natal suburb of Phoenix formed vigilante groups, which stoked racial tensions and erupted in violence that left dozens dead.

We don’t yet know who instigated the unrest, but what we do know is that the security establishment failed the country.

There have been a quadrillion Covid conspiracy theories but one of the wackiest is the Magnetic Challenge where vaxpiracy theorists take to social media with 'proof' that the vaccine has transformed them into human magnets. Stock photo.
There have been a quadrillion Covid conspiracy theories but one of the wackiest is the Magnetic Challenge where vaxpiracy theorists take to social media with 'proof' that the vaccine has transformed them into human magnets. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/iamzews

Pandemic Story of the Year 

The pandemic gets its own category because it’s not just the story of 2021 but the story of the decade and affects every person on the planet. 

And the nominees are: 

Vacc Attack: The vaccine rollout in SA got off to a sluggish start and though it gained momentum the department of health didn’t meet its target of vaccinating 70% of the adult population by the end of 2021. The year ended with slightly more than 50% of the adult population vaccinated.  

Magnetic Madness: There have been a quadrillion Covid-19 conspiracy theories but one of the wackiest is the Magnetic Challenge where vaxpiracy theorists take to social media with “proof” that the vaccine has transformed them into human magnets. 

And the winners are: 

SA’s Super Scientists: They sounded the Omicron alarm when the new variant blew in on the fourth wave of the pandemic. The announcement caused a global panic and instead of gratitude for being scientifically rigorous and transparent, the UK and the US punished SA with travel bans. 

Former president Jacob Zuma made headlines thousands of times. File photo.
Former president Jacob Zuma made headlines thousands of times. File photo.
Image: SANDILE NDLOVU

Newsmaker of the Year  

And the nominees are:

Actually there’s no point in having any other contenders in this category because one name alone dominated editorial space, clogged up columns, hogged headlines and even pushed pandemic news to the back pages.

And the winner is: 

OK, Zuma: Three years after leaving office under a dark cloud, Jacob Zuma appeared in court on charges relating to the multibillion-rand arms deal. But as he continued to throw the kitchen sink at the legal system he found himself at the business end of a 15-month jail sentence — not for the arms deal but for contempt for failing to appear before the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture.

The former president dived and jived but eventually the long arm of the law caught up with him. After a short stint in prison he took the Shaik Express home to Nkandla. But the freedom of the prez was short-lived because the high court ruled his medical parole was unlawful. 

A vigil for Babita Deokaran at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown, Johannesburg, on August 26. Deokaran, a former official in the Gauteng health department, was shot dead on August 23 outside her home after reporting corruption in the procurement of R332m of PPE. File photo.
A vigil for Babita Deokaran at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown, Johannesburg, on August 26. Deokaran, a former official in the Gauteng health department, was shot dead on August 23 outside her home after reporting corruption in the procurement of R332m of PPE. File photo.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi

The Imtiaz Sooliman Award for the Hero of the Year

And the nominees are:

Gifted: The Gift of the Givers is the gift that keeps on giving. Where there’s a crisis, where people are in need, the Givers are there: supplying food to those in hospitals, bringing water to drought-stricken towns, assisting when natural disasters strike — and always treating people with dignity. Perhaps the greatest gift the Givers give is the gift of hope.   

Heist Evaders: Leo Prinsloo and colleague Lloyd Mtombeni came under a hail of bullets from wannabe cash-in-transit highwaymen. Prinsloo kept his cool throughout the attack and dramatic footage of the Hollywood-style car chase went round the world. 

Unflagging: The selfless healthcare workers on Covid-19’s frontline who work long hours, operate on little sleep and put their lives at risk to treat the sick (yes, even those anti-vaxxers who call them murderers). We owe them a debt of gratitude. 

And the winner is:

Whistle-blower Babita Deokaran: Gauteng’s health manager who was a key witness in fraud investigations into dodgy Covid-19 tenders was killed on August 23 when assassins pumped 12 bullets into her. Deokaran and other people of courage and integrity deserve to be protected and rewarded for spilling the beans on corruption — not killed.  

Suspended ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule tried to suspend Cyril Ramaphosa in a brazen letter. File photo.
Suspended ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule tried to suspend Cyril Ramaphosa in a brazen letter. File photo.
Image: Alaister Russell

SA Word of the Year 

The Oxford English Dictionary crowned “vax” its word of the year, saying that more than any other word vax had injected itself into the bloodstream of the English language. Cambridge Dictionary declared “perseverance” its word of 2021, while Dictionary.com gave the honours to “allyship”, which is the role of a person who advocates for inclusion of a “marginalised or politicised group” in solidarity but not as a member.  

And the SA Word of the Year nominees are:

Zillephone: A communication device that spreads contentious messages

Jab’ulani: The joy of being fully vaccinated!

SAAtisfaction: When you hear that the SAA has joined forces with a strategic equity partner and won’t receive any more taxpayer-funded bailouts.

Ace-scream: A cry of happiness when a corrupt politician is criminally charged.

And the winner is: 

uBabalas: The happy headache after an ace-scream binge when a crooked politician eventually lands behind bars (even if it’s only for a moment).  

Iqbal Surve has stood by the decuplets story, which had more turns than Kyalami, more twists than a bag of pretzels and more holes than a pair of fishnet stockings. File photo.
Iqbal Surve has stood by the decuplets story, which had more turns than Kyalami, more twists than a bag of pretzels and more holes than a pair of fishnet stockings. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images

The 5G's-Gonna-Eat-Your-Pets Conspiracy of the Year 

And the nominees are:

Who stole my iPad? President Ramaphosa’s address to the nation turned into a stuttering fest when he couldn’t find his trusted tablet. “S-s-s-somebody stole my iPad,” the baffled, bewildered and befuddled Ramaphosa mumbled helplessly. Conspiracy theories about who expropriated the presidential iPad without compensation spread. We don’t want to name names but we suspect the culprit’s name starts with a “C” and ends with an “arlniehaus”.

The quadrillion conundrum: Premier turned reality TV star turned out-of-reality Tokyo Sexwale claimed that R41-quadrillion from the White Spiritual Boy Trust meant for the fight against Covid-19 had vanished into thin air. As the millennials say: WTF? 

And the winner is: 

Lies, Damned Lies and Lieg Ball Survé: The decuplets saga had more turns than Kyalami, more twists than a bag of pretzels and more holes than a pair of fishnet stockings. Independent Media’s Pretoria News’ “world exclusive” story of the record-breaking Thembisa 10 babies buzzed its way around the globe but after 15 minutes of virtual high-fives most people realised it was a hoax.

Instead of retracting the story and apologising, editor Piet Rampedi and owner Iqbal Survé accused doctors of trafficking the non-existent babies and the Gauteng health authorities of orchestrating a cover-up of mammoth proportions. There’s still no sniff of the babies, just the stench of porkies coming home to roost. Things easier to find than the decuplets: Marmite, the Kruger millions, and someone who voted for the National Party.  

Mark Boucher blamed Cricket SA for not providing the team with diversity training. Since when do you need special training to know that calling someone a 'brown sh*t' is unacceptable?
Mark Boucher blamed Cricket SA for not providing the team with diversity training. Since when do you need special training to know that calling someone a 'brown sh*t' is unacceptable? 
Image: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images

The 15-Minutes-Of-Shame Award

Many people became notorious this year. Some because of their naked ignorance, some because of their naked racism and some because of their naked ambition. 

And the nominees are:  

Difficult Vowel Movement: When taking to the podium at an event JP Smith, Cape Town's mayco member for safety and security, said he wouldn’t try to say MC Abongile Nzelenzele’s surname because it contained “too many vowels in awkward positions”.

The Texas Brain Flaw Guvna: A day after the Omicron omnishambles Texas governor Greg Abbott confused South America and SA and tweeted that Omicron-infected South Africans were crossing the border into the US illegally. Saffers responded by giving him a free geography lesson.

Spear of the indigNation: Richard Spoor, the lawyer who offered to represent Zuma pro-boner, posted a bottomless photo of himself on Twitter “by mistake”. 

Speaking of Dicks: Billionaire astronaut Jeff Bezos blasted off into space on a rocket that looked an awful lot like a penis. He thanked everyone who worked at Amazon and every customer because they paid for his three-minute trip to space to get his rocks off. What a dick.

And the winner is (and by winner we mean loser): 

A Bad Mark: Spin bowler Paul Adams revealed that during his career with the Proteas his teammates called him “brown sh*t”. One of the players who abused Adams was the then wicketkeeper (and now coach) Mark Boucher. Boucher is shamed not only for his shameful comments back then but for his excuse after Adam’s revelations at this year’s Social Justice and Nation-Building hearings about the abuse he faced. Boucher blamed Cricket SA for not providing the team with diversity training.

Since when do you need special training to know that calling someone a “brown sh*t” is unacceptable?  

One SA Movement leader Mmusi Maimane: too old to listen to Drake?
One SA Movement leader Mmusi Maimane: too old to listen to Drake?
Image: Veli Nhlapo

Troll of the Year  

And the nominees are:

Facedown: When Farcebook and its siblings WhatsApp and Instagram crashed in October, leaving its users in the dark, Twitter decided to troll the social media behemoth. “Hello literally everyone,” tweeted @Twitter, a three-word tweet that gave Meta a mega Zuck off. 

A fraught relation-sheep: Carl Niehaus and Fikile Mbalula are the Tom and Jerry of SA politics. These trolls have been going at each other for years in a spat that’s as compelling as two dead sheep savaging each other. This year Mbalula claimed Niehaus was one of the instigators of the July riots, Niehaus sued Mbalula for R10m. Mbalula called Niehaus a fraudster and a mongrel masquerading as “a revolutionary in a sheep skin”. Niehaus said Mbalula was a factory fault, clueless, incompetent and a clown. For once both are right.

And the winner is: 

In ConTROLL: One SA Movement leader Mmusi Maimane was on clapback roll this year, tearing into DJ Shimza over his R150,000 government-funded cook-off, lambasting actress Natasha Thahane over her controversial funding and roasting keyboard warriors who told him he was “too old” to listen to Drake (“You think we just listen to Mandela speeches on repeat?”). He also called Mbalula a certified loser and responded to a clip of DA leader John Steenhuisen dancing awkwardly with the words: “Guilty feet have got no rhythm.” 

Rassie Erasmus when he was head coach of the World Cup-winning Springbok team in Japan in 2019.
Rassie Erasmus when he was head coach of the World Cup-winning Springbok team in Japan in 2019.
Image: MATTHEW CHILDS/Reuters

Chutzpah of the Year 

And the nominees are: 

Omicron con: Hours after our scientists announced the discovery of the Omicron variant, the UK rushed to impose a travel ban on SA, disrupting holiday plans and all but destroying the tourism industry. A few weeks later UK health minister Sajid Javid had the gall to claim that it was the UK who had alerted the world to Omicron. Shameless, thy name is Sajid.

Suspended Animation: Cyril Ramaphosa suspended Ace Magashule as the ANC’s secretary-general on the basis of the party’s step-aside rule after he was charged with corruption. Instead of cowering in a corner in embarrassment, Magashule sent the ANC president a brazen letter that read: “I’m not suspended, you’re suspended.” Magashule then took his chutzpah to the high court arguing that the step-aside rule was unlawful when it applied to him, but lawful when it applied to Ramaphosa.

And the winner is: 

Ban Aid: When World Rugby slapped a two-month ban on Rassie Erasmus for his video criticising refereeing errors in a match against the British & Irish Lions, the SA rugby director responded with a series of videos of himself enjoying his best life under his ban. He danced, he drank, he rapped (changing “ice, ice, baby” to “ban, ban, baby!”) and he teased Frank, his English Bulldog who can’t accept he’s British. 

Author Damon Galgut poses during a photo-call for the Booker Prize shortlisted fiction authors in London on October 31 2021. File photo.
Author Damon Galgut poses during a photo-call for the Booker Prize shortlisted fiction authors in London on October 31 2021. File photo.
Image: REUTERS/Tom Nicholson

Feel-good stories of the Year 

And the nominees are: 

Heart Warming: Polish javelin thrower Maria Andrejczyk auctioned off the silver medal she won at the Tokyo Olympics to pay for an eight-month-old boy's heart surgery. A supermarket chain won the auction with a bid of $125,000 (nearly R2m), and promptly returned the medal to Andrejczyk.

Stroke of Brilliance: When swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker arrived at Oliver Tambo International Airport after competing in the Olympics she had three things to declare: two medals and a world record. Schoenmaker’s 200m breaststroke triumph proved to be SA's only gold medal in Japan. She had missed qualifying to compete in the previous Games by a hundredth of a second, making her success in Japan that much more gratifying.

Oscar-Winning Octopus: My Octopus Teacher, a tear-jerker about a man and his octopus, won the gong for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards, with fans vowing to never eat octopus or calamari ever again (or at least until the next feelgood flick). 

And the winner is: 

A Promise Fulfilled: Two South Africans were longlisted for one of the world’s most prestigious literary awards, the Booker Prize. An Island by Karen Jennings and The Promise by Damon Galgut. Galgut won the award for his cutting depiction of “an ordinary bunch of white South Africans” in postapartheid SA. The judges praised his novel for its “unusual narrative style that balances Faulknerian exuberance with Nabokovian precision, pushes boundaries, and is a testament to the flourishing of the novel in the 21st century”. 

Crafter Tobey King is selling this crocheted Bernie Sanders doll on eBay in aid of charity.
Crafter Tobey King is selling this crocheted Bernie Sanders doll on eBay in aid of charity.
Image: Tobey King/Ebay

The Digital Vibes of the Year

This category has got nothing to do with former health minister Zweli Mkhize’s terrible vibes but with internet trends that rocked the cyber world this year.

And the nominees are:  

OK, Zoomer: There have been so many Zoom faux pas since online meetings became the way of the world, but the most memorable Zoom blaps of them all was Texas attorney Rod Ponton appearing in virtual court as a kitten. In a minute of comedy gold, Ponton, his whiskers twitching and eyes darting, explained to the judge, “I’m here live, I’m not a cat.”

Pet Rock For Sale: NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are digital assets that are like actual items, only digital — items like GIFs, virtual avatars, video game goodies and even tweets. So instead of a painting to hang on the wall, you get a digital file. Anyone can view it but only you own it. Twitter’s co-founder Jack Dorsey sold his first ever tweet as an NFT for R45m and someone bought a digital pet rock for R750,000. Go figure.  

And the winner is:

Feel the Bern: An endearing (and enduring) image of mitten-wearing Vermont senator Bernie Sanders sitting cross-legged and looking completely unmoved at Joe Biden’s inauguration triggered an endless supply of mitten memes as Sanders’ image was Photoshopped into every photograph imaginable.

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