/ 2 January 2014

Top nine stories to watch in 2014

Economic Freedom Fighters commander-in-chief Julius Malema.
Economic Freedom Fighters commander-in-chief Julius Malema.

It goes without saying that the news cycle in 2014 will be dominated by the impending national elections, and the politicking and campaigning in the run-up to it. But it will also be a year in which two commissions of inquiry must complete their work, and several high-profile stories, unfinalised in 2013, will drag on.

The public protector's report into Nkandla will be released, while suspended crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli will have made one more attempt to prevent the reinstatement of criminal charges against him.

From elections to Julius Malema, Oscar Pistorius to Nkandla, and in no order of preference, here are nine stories on the Mail & Guardian's radar for 2014.

1. Oscar Pistorius

Oscar Pistorius will go on trial for the alleged murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in March. Two weeks have been set down for the trial, due to start in earnest on March 3 in the high court in Pretoria, and over 100 witnesses are expected to testify.

Pistorius shot Steenkamp at his Pretoria home on Valentine's Day, in what he claims was a case of mistaken identity. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) will attempt to try him for premeditated murder, but Pistorius will argue that he shot Steenkamp accidentally, as he assumed she was a burglar hiding in his bathroom.

2. Elections

South Africans will go to the polls at a soon-to-be-announced date in 2014, in what is certain to be a hotly-contested national and provincial election. According to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), President Jacob Zuma can announce the date for the election any time after February 9. At 5pm on that day, the final registration weekend will have come to an end. The second and final voters' registration weekend will take place on February 8 and 9.

Nationally, 132 political parties have already registered to contest the election. The total number of registered political parties to contest the elections provincially stands at 183.

3. Farlam commission of inquiry

The Farlam commission of inquiry, investigating the events surrounding the deaths of more than 34 miners on August 16 2012, must finish its work by April this year. President Jacob Zuma granted the commission an extension late last year.

The commission continues its work on January 6.

On January 8, the commission will conduct an in-loco inspection at the scene of the crime, the Lonmin Platinum mine at Marikana, Rustenburg.

Advocate Mathew Chaskalson SC will continue his cross-examination of Brigadier Calitz from the South African Police Service.

Shortly before the commission adjourned in December 2013, Calitz said he could not support the police's version of self-defence because he was not on the ground on August 16.

Several police witnesses could be recalled before the commission is complete, in light of new evidence found on a police master hard drive in September 2013. According to the evidence leaders, the hard drive lends some credence to the suspicion that the police may have buried evidence before the commission.

4. Seriti

The arms deal commission of inquiry must finish its work by the end of November. President Jacob Zuma agreed to an extension of time in November 2013.

The commission will then have six months to submit its report into allegations of fraud and corruption no later than June 2015.

5. Spy tapes

In 2009, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) dropped corruption charges against Jacob Zuma. The NPA based its decision on intercepted telephoned conversations – the infamous "spy tapes" – between the former heads of the NPA and the Scorpions, Bulelani Ngcuka and Leonard McCarthy. The two had allegedly discussed the timing of the charges against Zuma.

Almost immediately, the Democratic Alliance headed to court in a bid to take the decision to drop the charges against Zuma on review. In order to do this, it argued, it would need access to the full record before the NPA – and the spy tapes.

Five years on, and the president's bid to stop the release of the spy tapes continues. Zuma has repeatedly opposed the release of the tapes on the basis that they supposedly contain his confidential representations to the NPA, which are privileged.

In March 2012, the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that the NPA must release a reduced version of the NPA's record, without Zuma's privileged representations.

On August 16 2013, the high court in Pretoria ruled that the NPA must comply with the Supreme Court of Appeal's 2012 ruling: that the tapes must be released, but that Zuma's representations should be divorced from the record.

Zuma soon filed papers seeking leave to appeal again, and the high court granted him leave to appeal in September. The case is expected to be heard in the Supreme Court of Appeal in 2014.

6. Nkandla

Public protector Thuli Madonsela could release her report into spending at Zuma's Nkandla homestead by mid-January.

At a briefing in November 2013, on the back of a court battle with security cluster ministers over the release of the report, Madonsela hinted her report could be released by Christmas.

But her office was closed over the Christmas and will reopen on Thursday.

A draft provisional report has been on the cusp of finality for some months, but Madonsela sought the advice of independent security experts, following complaints from government that her draft report was a national security risk. Madonsela said her report would be released as soon as independent security experts had given her the go-ahead.

7. Malema's trial

Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema's corruption trial will go ahead in September – unless the NPA drops the charges against him.

Malema, who is out on bail of R10 000, appeared briefly in court in November last year. It was then revealed that he had made representations to the NPA last year, seeking to have the charges against him dropped. But the charges remain in place, for now. Malema has cried political conspiracy over the charges, which relate to alleged undue benefits he derived from an irregular tender award to a company he was linked to in Limpopo.

8. Secrecy Bill

It has only to be signed by President Jacob Zuma before it becomes law. And, as the M&G has previously reported, a Constitutional Court challenge, probably headed by opposition parties and civil society groups, will doubtlessly follow.

The distribution of a draft Act form of the Protection of State Information Bill on December 12 2013, caused speculation that Zuma had signed the Bill into law in the week followed Nelson Mandela's death.

As it turned out, Parliament clarified that the Bill had not been signed, but had merely been published as an Act in draft form, taking it one step closer to becoming law.

"Act forms, basically, have no status until and unless assented to by the president [by publication in the Government Gazette, and by submission of the signed copy to the Constitutional Court for safekeeping, in terms of the Constitution]," according to Parliament.

"The draft Acts are packaged in this manner – as Acts – as part of a practice dating back to 1994.

"You will know that Bills sent to the president are not for rewriting. The secretary to Parliament sends the Act forms to the president for assent.

"The term "Act form" is used since it is not assented to yet, and therefore even the Act number on the cover page may eventually be changed, depending on what the president decides. It is for example possible for the president to refer Bills back to Parliament," parliamentary spokesperson Luzuko Jacobs said.

9. Mdluli

The protracted legal saga involving suspended crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli could return to the courts in 2014, following a court ruling in December 2013 granting Mdluli leave to appeal decision, which ruled that the charges against him should be reinstated. 

Judge John Murphy, in his September ruling, ordered the NPA and the commissioner of police to reinstate charges against Mdluli, controversially dropped, in two separate criminal matters.

Murphy also ruled that the disciplinary charges against Mdluli should be finalised "without delay". Mdluli has been on paid suspension for over a year. The effort to have the charges against the top cop reinstated was brought by lobby group, Freedom Under Law.

But Mdluli sought leave to appeal Murphy's decision. Leave to appeal was granted by the deputy judge president of the high courts in Johannesburg and Pretoria, Aubrey Ledwaba, in December.