Editorial: This year, politics is personal

Oscar Pistorious goes on trial for the murder of Reeva Steenkamp in March. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

Oscar Pistorious goes on trial for the murder of Reeva Steenkamp in March. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

Making predictions is a foolhardy endeavour, best done retro­actively. We can, however, be fairly certain that 2014 will be a heady news mashup of the private and the public, of personages and politics. Those two magnets for prurient public interest, Julius Malema and Oscar Pistorius, both have dates to keep with the legal system: Malema in his corruption trial in September, and Pistorius in his murder trial in March.
And that other perennial favourite of our headline writers, Jacob Zuma, faces the release of the public protector's Nkandla report, as well as the appeal court decision on whether or not to release the "spy tapes".

There's a sense that the personal and the political are going to be inextricable. The booing of Jacob Zuma at Nelson Mandela's memorial in December was perhaps indicative of this, although it would take a brave pundit to extrapolate the real political effect of that irruption. But get ready for some nifty damage control that will see the early part of the year characterised by vigorous attempts to co-opt the mythopoetic aspects of the 20th anniversary of South Africa's democracy into the messy machinations of the upcoming electoral process.

Depending on your point of view, this will be either enthralling or depressing. For every one of us who finds Nkandla fire-pool jokes hilarious, there'll be someone else who is outraged by the breakdown of accountability that is revealed. And others will be appalled by the depths to which they perceive the democratic process has sunk.

Actually, there's a third public position as well – apathy. An example: the majority of so-called born-frees, who would possibly prefer to characterise themselves as those born into a different kind of struggle, have not yet bothered to register as voters. According to the Independent Electoral Commission, only 22.6% of 18- to 19-year-olds have registered to vote thus far (there's another round of registration from February 8 to 9).

Whether this is apathy, or merely a redirection of interest to areas where people feel they have a better chance of making a difference, is an interesting question. But apathy in the larger civil society is a danger we need to beware of in 2014, the year the secrecy Bill is expected to be signed into law. The threat of the secrecy Bill has perhaps not been adequately communicated, and there's a sense that many people think of it as an anti-media Bill, rather than a threat to constitutional values. This is where news could benefit from conflating the personal and the political, and is one of the battles that will define 2014.

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