THE breakfast team at my radio station have a weekly feature called “Ask the CEO”. They call me, live on air, and ask me to answer random questions on just about anything in the world. It’s an interesting challenge for them and me – they are needing to constantly come up with a diverse range of topics while I am needing to keep my own knowledge base suitably broad to be able to answer their questions.
This week, the team momentarily caught me unawares. They asked: “With the year coming to an end, what stories made real news for you at 2011? Give us your top 5."
Do you know that expression about seeing your life flashing before your eyes? I had that sense when they posed the question. 2011 has blitzed past me with blinding speed and it’s only when I paused to reflect that I realised just how much has happened in such a short space of time.
I turned 50 as did Barack Obama and Mogoeng Mogoeng and George Clooney and a host of other oxen.
We had municipal elections where the ANC clearly showed that media hysteria notwithstanding, they still enjoy the overwhelming support of the populace.
Julius Malema crashed and burned spectacularly. COP17 singlehandedly generated the most greenhouse gases from any event in the history of the human race.
None of these are of real importance in the grand scheme of things.
On the other hand, there were events that will be marked as turning points when historians reflect on the year.
Item 1 – the assassination of Osama bin Laden. In one carefully coordinated operation, Barack Obama achieved what George W Bush spectacularly failed to do by taking out the man responsible for the most defining event of the 21st century.
Item 2 – the Arab Spring. It started in Tunisia almost exactly a year ago on 17 December 2010 when Mohammed Bouazizi, a vegetable peddler, set himself ablaze in protest after a policewoman confiscated his cart, slapped him, and spat in his face. His self-sacrifice sparks a national protest which spreads like wildfire throughout the region to Algeria, Lebanon, Jordan, Mauritania, Sudan, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, Iraq, Bahrain, Libya, Kuwait, Morocco, Western Sahara, and Syria.
In January, Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali flees the country after 24 years in power. A month after that, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is forced to step down after 30 years in power.
Item 3 – the deposing and killing of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi was partly as a result of the Arab Spring, but merits a mention by itself because it was triggered by what was to my mind the single most embarrassingly stupid act perpetrated by our democratic government.
In short, we acquiesced to a UN Security Council resolution to allow NATO to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, but forgot to read the fine print. This allowed the West to do what they always wanted to do – effect regime change in Libya.
The subsequent execution of Gaddafi marked the moment of South Africa’s abject failure to assert ourselves as the voice of due process.
Item 4 – Steve Jobs died.
Item 5 – US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called on world leaders to stop discrimination against gays and lesbians, announcing that the United States would use diplomacy and aid to help expand the rights of gay people around the world.
She described protecting the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people as “now one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time” and compared it to the battles for women's rights, racial equality, and religious freedom.
Clinton drew comparisons between religious and cultural explanations for abuse of gays and reasons given to justify “honour” killings, widow burning and female genital mutilation:
“Some people still defend those practices as part of a cultural tradition, but violence toward women isn’t cultural. It’s criminal. Likewise with slavery; what was once justified as sanctioned by God is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights.”
I couldn't have said it better myself.