Alex Concludes his look at the news stories in the Year That Was 2017
Mid-November saw an interesting turn of events in Zimbabwe. Grace Mugabe, wife of President Robert Mugabe was fighting with Vice President Emmerson Mnangawa over who would succeed the 93-year-old President. Grace had the backing of the youth wing of the ruling ZANU-PF whilst the Vice President had the backing of members in Parliament. The war of words between Grace and Mnangawa led to Robert sacking his Vice President. Mnangawa fled to Mozambique and later South Africa. Mnangawa, a long-time ally of Robert vowed that whilst he would not seek to harm the President he stated that the President and his supporters would leave the party by the will of the people in the coming weeks. This led to Grace cracking down hard on Mnangawa supporters in the party. Zimbabwe’s army Chief General Constantino Chiwego was on a visit to China when the orders for his arrest were announced following rumours of a military intervention against the Mugabes. Chiwego landed and managed to evade arrest. On the 14th November, armoured military vehicles drove through the capital Harare in convoy. Following a meeting of the cabinet Chiwego was branded a traitor by a party spokesman. Later that evening the military took control of the building which is home to the state broadcaster in Zimbabwe. The military then proceeded to arrest ministers and raid their properties including Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo. The Next morning Army Chief of Staff and Chiwego ally, Major General Sibusiso Moyo appeared on the national broadcaster and asserted the military actions didn’t amount to a takeover and that President Mugabe was safe. He claimed that the military was targeting criminals surrounding the President. Whilst declaring all military leave cancelled and announcing that any provocation would be met with an appropriate response he asserted the judiciary’s independence. The military secured the Parliament, Presidential residence and courthouses. Former Prime Minister and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai returned from receiving medical treatment abroad and called for the President to resign. Protests later started to gather in the capital calling for Mugabe’s resignation. On the 19th November Mugabe was sacked as leader of his party and Grace and 20 of her closest supporters were expelled from the party. The media gathered at a press conference in which it was expected that Mugabe would resign as President. At the end of a long-winded speech, flanked by military personnel Mugabe ignored all actions of the military and calls for his resignation. He ended by saying he would preside over his party conference in a few days’ time. Following the speech ZANU-PF issued Mugabe with a deadline. He was to resign by midday the following day or face impeachment proceedings. Mugabe ignored this deadline which led to the tabling of a motion to impeach based on Mugabe allowing his wife to usurp constitutional powers. ZANU-PF also added they would work with the opposition party to force the impeachment. They also announced that Mnangagwa was to return to broker a deal with Mugabe. The following day the Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mundenda announced that President Mugabe had resigned. Mnangagwa was sworn in as President two days later pledging a new beginning. Ever the skeptic I would argue to take that comment with a pinch of salt. This had all the hallmarks of a coup. What’s more, this was a fallout over succession. No ballots were cast. Mnangagwa was Mugabe’s right-hand man and Director of Intelligence. Not really a breath of fresh air.
In October America dealt with the worst mass shooting since the attack at Pulse nightclub in Florida. The gunman opened fire on a crowd of concert goers from his hotel room. The shooting lasted 10 minutes and used 1,100 rounds left 58 dead and 546 injured. An hour later the shooter was found dead in his hotel room. As with prior mass-shootings the gun debate was sparked once again yet the gun lobby sought reassurance in the fact that gun sales increased immediately after the attack. 9 days after the attack Democratic senators introduced a bill that would limit gun magazines to no more than 10 bullets. The bill currently sits in committee.
The summer saw the UK hit by acts of terror in quick succession. March saw a loan individual drive a van into pedestrians on Westminster bridge, after crashing the van they proceeded towards Parliament with a knife and jumped the fence. The terrorist was confronted by PC Keith Palmer who was stabbed and killed. The terrorist was shot by armed police. One of the defining images of this attack was when Tobias Ellwood, a government minister was giving CPR to PC Palmer. The Prime Minister was in the commons at the time of the attack and was quickly escorted back to Downing Street whilst the remainder of the Palace was placed on lockdown. In total 6 people were killed and 49 injured, some of whom were French schoolchildren on a trip. PC Palmer has been honoured with a plaque in Westminster. The Queen later honoured Palmer with the George Medal for Gallantry and his name added to the National Police Officers Roll of Honour and Remembrance.
In May a loan terrorist detonated a bomb at Manchester Arena as people were leaving an Ariana Grande concert. 23 people were killed and 500 injured. 10 of those killed were under 20 with the youngest being eight years. 2 weeks later Grande organised and hosted the One Love Manchester benefit concert at the Old Trafford Cricket Ground. Stars included Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Niall Horan, Katy Perry and Liam Gallagher. Those who had attended the concert at the Arena were given free tickets to this event. The benefit raised £10m for the victims. Grande was later awarded honorary citizenship of Manchester in recognition of the work she has done for the victims.
The day before the One Love concert there was another attack on London Bridge. Multiple attackers drove a van into pedestrians on the bridge, after crashing they got out wearing what later transpired to be fake suicide vests. They entered Borough Market and stabbed people having a night out. Eight people were killed and 48 injured. For the second time, the General Election Campaign was suspended due to the attacks. 3 attacks in quick succession. A few weeks later a man drove a van into worshipers outside a Mosque in Finsbury Park. One person died at the scene with a further 10 injured. Unlike the previous attacks, the attacker was arrested and faces trial.
In October the Spanish region of Catalonia held an independence referendum. Whilst it was declared invalid prior to the vote by the Spanish Constitutional courts and dismissed by the Spanish government, the vote went ahead. The Spanish government had sent officers in to raid regional government buildings and to try and stop people voting. This led to horrific scenes of the Police physically attacking those who were queuing up to vote regardless of age. The regional fire service stepped in to protect those at the ballot boxes. Even though the vote was declared invalid at this became the Spanish state trying to suppress a mass peaceful demonstration. Whilst turnout was low at 43%, 92% voted in favour of independence and the actions of the Spanish government pushed affair few more towards supporting independence after the vote. Regional leader Carlos Puigdemont said he intended to take the result to the Catalan Parliament and declare independence formally. He also urged the EU to facilitate the process. Many EU and world leaders condemned the violence shown by the Spanish government but argued that it was an internal Spanish matter and not one for Europe. After media speculation that the Spanish government were going to try and broker a deal with the Catalan government, Puigdemont addressed the regional Parliament where he signed the formal declaration of independence and immediately suspended it to allow for further talks. The central government threatened to impose direct rule from Madrid but later offered to suspend ths threat if there were regional elections. On the 27th October the Parliament voted on the independence proposal with 70 voting for independence, 10 against and 2 abstentions this amounted to 51% of Parliament. The central government voted in Parliament to impose direct rule to restore order, a motion which passed 214-47 in favour. The regional government was sacked. With some regional government members being arrested Puigdemont fled in exile. The Spanish government called for regional elections to be held in December. Pro-Independence party took 70 of the 135 seats but fell short of a majority. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy faced an electoral embarrassment in Catalonia going from 11 seats to 4. Puigdemont watched the results from Belgium and witnessed his party gain 3 seats. The Pro Spanish Citizens party saw an 11 seat increase in the regional Parliament and became the largest party. The Catalan issue is far from resolved and after Spain got a slap in the face at the polls it is hoped that negotiations around a legally recognised independence referendum can begin.
A good news story from Down Under in the form of a national poll, not a referendum, but a poll conducted by Australia’s Bureau of Statistics. Following a long campaign between those in favour of changing the definition of marriage to allow same-sex marriages and the traditionalists. The survey got off to a rocky start, bogged down in politics with the opposition party led by Bill Shorton arguing that it was a waste of time and money and that Parliament should vote on the issue, whereas Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was fulfilling an election promise to let the public decide on the issue. Turnbull managed to get round the political blockers by not calling for a referendum but a national survey. Voting in the survey would also not be mandatory, in contrast to elections and referenda in Australia. On the 15th November, Australia became the second nation to vote for marriage equality via a public vote. With a huge turnout of 79.5% the Yes vote won with 61.6% of the vote, furthermore all age groups voted in favour of marriage equality. The PM addressed the press and pledged to enact the will of the people by Christmas. With competing bills in Parliament and a concern within his own party over protecting religious freedoms Sceptics were unsure this would become reality. However the bill was narrowed down to one and sailed through committee unamended. On 7th December Australia became the 25th nation to legalise same-sex marriages with a vote of 128 – 4. The bill got Royal ascent on the 8th December with the first marriages able to take place from January 9th 2018.