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RECAP: A look at the big stories of 2023

by Zahid Jadwat

As we say goodbye to 2023, here is a recap of the year that was. [Picture: First News Education]


This was a year of soaring inflation, deepening conflict, reckoning for South Africa and more. As we switch to holiday mode, here is a recap of some of the biggest stories both locally and abroad. This is what made 2023.

As my colleague, Thaabit Kamaar, noted in an article this year, it was not the “fresh start many of us were expecting”. Instead, he wrote, “we got more of the same unresolved issues locally and abroad”. That was in January.

Humanitarian emergencies in 2023

Humanity was tested. Deadly earthquakes, floods, armed conflict, genocide – the year 2023 had it all, even the tail end of a pandemic.

An earthquake in Turkey and Syria killed nearly 60 000 and left approximately 120 000 injured. There were also an earthquake in Afghanistan and fatal floods in Libya. Armed conflict rages not just in the Middle East, but in Africa, Europe and elsewhere in Asia.

Since October, a brutal genocide is unfolding in a tiny enclave of Palestine. The Gaza Strip has been the scene of massacre after massacre, with the death toll from the genocide now standing closer to 20 000 and no end in sight. Centuries of heritage are being wiped out by indiscriminate bombing.

For us at Salaamedia, our dedication to humanitarian journalism has placed these stories close to our hearts. We carried the Palestinian cause not just since the breakout of Apartheid Israel’s latest bombardment frenzy, but even when the world went on without a concern about the oppression that had been meted out for several decades prior. Dr Abeer Zayyad and Dr Mads Gilbert’s tours remain memorable experiences for us.

The journey to justice, ongoing in 2023

If 2020 aroused the quest for social justice with the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police in the U-S-of-A, 2023 reminded us there was a long journey ahead when it came to tackling Islamophobia.

“Rasmus Paludan burned a copy of the Holy Quran near the Turkish embassy in Stockholm on Saturday,” read the opening lines of an article by Kamaar on 23 January. Islamophobia would only escalate as Gaza came under attack later in the year.

Another Islamophobic attack occurred against an Imam in Maharashtra state on India’s west coast in March. “Zakir Sayyed Khaja was attacked by unidentified individuals who entered an Anwa village mosque and beat him up for refusing to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’,” read another article by Salaamedia. This was not an isolated incident as we reported numerous other Islamophobic attacks.

2023, a year of reckoning

Turning our attention to local headlines. Loadshedding, that miscreant child of our country’s poor leadership, made a quick comeback after blowing us out with a new record in 2022. This was just the start of another year of record blackouts.

The 2023 record of 332 days of loadshedding dwarfed the 2022 record of 200 days. The dark start to the year was also a premonition of more to come in the water, postal, transport and other sectors – all of which finally buckled after decades of neglect. This was a year of reckoning.

Much of the decay was on full display in Johannesburg. Once proudly flaunted on the global stage as “A world-class African city”, the former gold hub lost its class. In quick succession, things started to fall apart. No longer just burst pipes and power outages – now, explosion after explosion in the city centre, a deadly fire exposing the housing crisis and more.

The waterless weeks endured by residents of Johannesburg reflected the trouble with water supply nationally. In Hammanskraal, outside Pretoria, a deadly cholera outbreak killed nearly two-dozen people.

Later, in July, a gas explosion tore asunder the bustling Bree Street – an important artery in the heart of Johannesburg. This incident killed a man and injured 40 others. It is estimated the repair work will take 18 months to complete – if the shoddy coalition government can even get its act together in the first place.

“You people in Joburg always have these disasters and craziness,” quipped a Capetonian friend soon thereafter. Randy, you jinxed any ‘better-ness’ Cape Town might have enjoyed – two weeks later, a violent taxi strike brought mayhem to the Mother City.

What that taxi strike demonstrated was the impairment of transport infrastructure in this country. People had to walk for kilometres from home when the taxis wouldn’t ferry them – catching a train was not an option because the railway was being squatted.

A victory, or two?

It was not all gloomy, though. For South Africans, the Rugby World Cup win was one we celebrated loudly and in all the splendour of our diversity. Nevermind the lights being out, the energy was unmatched.

“We chose to dedicate this World Cup to you, the people, because we are where we are today because of you,” said Siya Kolisi, captain of the Springboks. “The other countries don’t understand. You have to be a South African to understand the hardships you go through in this country.”

Such a big moment was this for the country that a public holiday was declared, though only observed some time later in December. It was a victory not just for the Bokke, but for diversity and cohesion in this country.

For the world, the end of the coronavirus pandemic was a relief, if just a tiny victory in a sea of despair. Nearly three years of shifting regulations in what were supposedly the best interests of public health were finally terminated.

I am, like most others, eager to leave 2023 – a year of lessons – behind and look towards a hopeful future as I stretch my gaze over the domed granite hills dotting the horizon of Mbombela. Let 2024 be the year we take decisive action to turn things around. Because we can.

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