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OPINION: SA is bruised and battered, but still standing

2015 was truly South Africa's annus horribilis.

One could almost tell it would be so from the get-go. The official start to the political year, the State of the Nation Address, was perhaps the lowest point in the life of our democratic Parliament. We cannot forget that day when communications signals were cut to Parliament, the president's speech was disrupted and heavy-handed public order police entered the House in a manner which shocked South Africans. The chaos that unfolded was unprecedented, yet the president laughed. He laughed in the face of the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters MPs asking him to 'Pay back the money' spent on security upgrades at his private residence at Nkandla.

The laugh. It has become the symbol of all that is wrong in South Africa. The laugh - and Zuma himself - seem to symbolise the impunity of his tenure.

And so the year seemed to take a rapid slide downwards as every parliamentary sessions was disrupted by chants of 'Pay back the money'. The president's credibility slipping with each chant. Yet, that did not seem to perturb our teflon man in the Union Buildings one bit. As the year continued, Zuma comfortably presided over the chaos within state-owned enterprises and continued to doggedly protect SAA chair Dudu Miyeni and SABC head, the clownish Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

The manipulation of the National Prosecuting Authority continues apace with Zuma's attempt to ensure that those 700-plus fraud and corruption charges don't rear their head again. The #FeesMustFall movement was an attempt to wake government and higher education minister Blade Nzimande from his slumber. For now, fees have fallen, but the true impact of the decision will possibly only be felt in the New Year when universities battle bills and issues of transformation.

South Africans felt the pinch of electricity cuts, water restrictions and oft-times poor local government.

The family of those who lost their lives in the Marikana massacre are still very far from obtaining justice and separately, government continues its attempts to clamp down on free speech. And just when we thought Zuma had done enough damage for the year, the dying days of 2015 have become our most trying yet.

The replacement of finance minister Nhlanhla Nene was possibly a step too far, though predictably the ANC has jumped to defend Zuma and the shambolic decision.

And yet, in all of this, ordinary citizens have continued the work of building a decent society, often against great odds.

On the sporting front we have floundered. The Cricket World Cup saw the Proteas jinxed yet again at the semi-final in the most painful of ways and the Rugby World Cup was somewhat of a selection nightmare as coach Heyneke Meyer resigned recently, presumably in an attempt to make a dignified exit.

So, the litany of challenges we have are matched only by a unique South African resilience to keep going and see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Last Sunday, some 55,000 South Africans poured into Cape Town stadium for the Cape Town Rugby Sevens. The rousing rendition of our anthem seemed like a public letting during a most difficult week for our country. South Africa won that final and it seemed appropriate that the gods be smiling on us just one more time. Later that night we were to hear that new finance minister Van Rooyen had been shafted in favour of the steady hand on the tiller, that of Pravin Gordhan. South Africans have been sceptical as billions were wiped off the stock exchange and Zuma escaped public sanction from his party. Yet, in all of this, angry as South Africans generally are, there is a sense that this place is worth fighting for and that we are far more than our failed president.

The Afrobarometer survey of 2015 tells us that almost six out of ten South Africans now believe the president routinely ignores Parliament and the law. Public distrust of the president is at 66% and the government itself is rated poorly on most performance areas.

But, despite it all, the dissatisfaction with Zuma, the hashtag revolution and the gloom and doom nay-sayers (there is one in each of us, to be sure), it's December 2015 and we are still standing. Bruised and battered but still standing.

Listening to that rousing rendition of our anthem, watching a successful completely transformed Sevens team, there was a feeling that maybe we had not failed at everything and that in each of us still remains a reservoir of hope for a country. The beloved country is beleaguered as ever, yet not bowed and certainly not resigned.

In the week we mark Reconciliation Day, we still seem so at odds with ourselves and each other. The day was marked by several marches around the country demanding that #ZumaMustFall. Critics of the march were doing that un-nuanced thing we often do as South Africans - generalise. Yes, the march in Cape Town certainly was largely white and there were a few distasteful social media pictures of marchers asking police to photograph them. Was this a concert, one thought? Yet, it is dangerous to make generalisations regarding every individual's motives for attending such a march. For many, it was a legitimate way of expressing anger and frustration at our country's challenges of corruption and maladministration.

Similarly, the #FeesMustFall movement was hijacked by an unacceptable level of violence and intolerance. UCT vice-chancellor Max Price had a water bottle flung at him, after all, not to mention the myriad ways in which physical violence and the language of violence was used against non-protesting students. The student movement would say quite clearly that these few violent incidents were not 'representative'.

We have to therefore allow each other the space for expression in different ways with a bit less severe judgment and a little more forgiveness. But, in a society where trust is largely absent and where systemic inequality flourishes, we should probably not be surprised that we live in a state of constantly questioning each other's bona fides.

And so in the dying days of 2015, Zuma has provided political drama of the highest order. As South Africans pack it up for the year, whether to the beach or to far-off rural areas, buses crammed inside and on top, we know that 2016 will be an even more challenging year.

For now, those fortunate enough will enjoy the vistas of mountain, sun, sea, endless canola fields and sunsets only found in these parts. For still others, the wealth of family in the midst of poverty and unlikely circumstances beckons. So apart we are, and yet so deeply similar in what we dream for the future of our country and ourselves.

2016 is the year of a local government election and a year we dare not falter in holding our government to account via the ballot box.

Until then, reality is suspended - and not a moment too soon. 2015, adieu.

Judith February is based at the Institute for Security Studies. Follow her on Twitter: @judith_february.

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