Vote for Daily Maverick’s people of the year

By Daily Maverick Team 24 November 2021

Dear readers, We’re looking for your help. As 2021 winds down, we’re casting our minds to the question of who Daily Maverick should recognise in our annual ‘Persons of the Year’ categories.

In the past, these decisions have been made after a bare-knuckle editorial brawl, but this year we’ve decided to do things a little differently. We’ve already had the bare-knuckle editorial brawl, but this time around it was simply to arrive at a shortlist of nominees in each category. We’d like you, our readers, to cast your votes on who you think deserves the final nod. And if you think we’ve neglected a superior candidate in any category, please feel free to let us know your choice by close of business on Wednesday, 1 December , 2021.

Category: South African person of the year

A person who has had the broadest or most significant impact on the country as a whole. In the past we have had winners whose impact was negative or ambiguous as well as those whose influence was positive, but please note that we now also have a separate category for “South African villain of the year”.


Judge Raymond Zondo and the staff of the Zondo Commission

Judge Zondo was our winner in this category in 2019, when the work of the commission was still in its infancy. This year its hearings concluded, and while slow and expensive, the Zondo Commission has been a remarkable exercise in public accountability, with Zondo and his team holding their ground in the face of constant hostility, threats – and the intransigence of Jacob Zuma.

Imtiaaz Sooliman

Seemingly everywhere there is human need or natural disaster, Sooliman and his NGO Gift of the Givers are there: digging boreholes, delivering food, and bringing hope. 

Andy Mothibi and the SIU

Advocate Andy Mothibi and the Special Investigating Unit have shown their teeth this year, recovering cash and assets worth at least R1,8 billion and delivering at least 15 hard-hitting investigative reports to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Ordinary South Africans

It was South Africans on the ground who came together to rebuild after the July insurrection; who showed resilience and generosity during lockdown; and who gave politicians a wakeup call in the local government polls.

The vaccinators: Glenda Gray, SAHPRA, Helen Rees, Linda-Gail Bekker, Nicholas Crisp

The miracle of the Covid-19 vaccines could not have been rolled out without the leadership of these remarkable figures within South Africa’s public health system and academia.

Other choice (please briefly justify):

Cast your vote here

Category: Grinch of the year

Those who have done their best to suck the cheer from our lives in 2021.



Loadshedding, with no end in sight. Need we say more?


Both in South Africa and internationally, those opposed to the Covid-19 vaccines for reasons lacking any scientific validity have been like gnats buzzing all over social media, and occasionally staging preposterous protests offline.

The Disinformation merchants

We see them everywhere, but particularly in the online universe: making false claims about everything from Covid-19 to 5G to Eskom and the legacy of Jacob Zuma.

Other choice (please briefly justify)

Cast your vote here

Category: Moegoe of the year

Those whose behaviour perhaps falls short of “villain of the year”, but have in some way acted idiotically


Iqbal Surve and Piet Rampedi

For the fake news bonanza that was the story of the Tembisa decuplets.

Nick Hudson and Panda

Hudson and his ‘analytics’ group, known for lobbying against lockdown, continue to be one of the most obnoxious voices in SA public discourse

Dr Susan Vosloo

South African cardiac surgeon whose medical expertise has not prevented her spreading damaging anti-vaxx messages.

The DA’s Dean Macpherson

Macpherson’s election posters, calling the vigilantes of Phoenix “heroes”, represented a dangerous dip in the populism swamp for the DA. 

Carl Niehaus

Zuma’s praise-singer remains an idiot for all seasons, having been shortlisted in this category in 2020 too.

Other choice (please briefly justify)

Cast your vote here

Category: International person of the year

A person who has had broad international impact or made an outstanding contribution this year


Elon Musk

The richest South African ever is not everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s no denying his transportation – both terrestrial and in space – revolution.

Jeff Bezos

He travelled in space this year and some wish he’d stay there – but he’s also pledged R30 billion to protect Africa’s forests and food supply.

Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci

The married co-founders of BioNTech contributed decades of mRNA research which lie behind the Pfizer vaccine.

Other choice (please briefly justify)

Cast your vote here

Category: African person of the year

A person who has made an outstanding contribution on the African continent this year


Hakainde Hichilema

The seventh president of Zambia pulled off an all-too-rare feat in this part of the world in August: winning an election against an incumbent.

John Nkengasong

Cameroonian virologist Nkengasong is internationally admired as a champion for health justice, and will be the next head of the US Aids programme, Pepfar.

Dr Emmanuel Taban 

Taban walked out of Sudan with nothing aged 16 and today is one of South Africa’s top pulmonologists, with his skills particularly vital during the Covid-19 crisis.

Other choice (please briefly justify)

Cast your vote here

Category: South African villain of the year

There will likely be no shortage of suggestions in this self-explanatory category…


Zweli Mkhize

The former Health Minister betrayed the trust of the country by giving dodgy Covid-19 deals to enrich friends and family, as exposed by Daily Maverick’s Pieter-Louis Myburgh.

The instigators of the July unrest

A big question mark still hangs over the identity of the scoundrels who incited the looting and violence in July that left over 340 dead.

Rosemary Ndlovu

In a trial that was simply surreal at times, former cop Rosemary Ndlovu dozed through the evidence that convicted her of murdering at least six relatives for their insurance pay-out – with more victims potentially still to be uncovered.

Jacob Zuma

It was Zuma’s choice not to cooperate with the Zondo Commission, ultimately landing him in jail, and the tentacles of his negative influence are still being felt in events like the July unrest.

Other choice (please briefly justify)

Cast your vote here

Category: International villain of the year

As above, but drawn from foreign fields.


Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister

2019’s Nobel Peace laureate has had a cataclysmic fall from grace this year after the civil war he launched in the north of Ethiopia in late 2020 has seen the Horn of Africa plunged into deadly conflict.

Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s President

Where to start with Bolsonaro? He refused to implement a Covid-19 lockdown in Brazil and spread misinformation about vaccines, with the result that Brazil now has the second highest death toll in the world; this, while deforestation in the Amazon on his watch has reached the highest level in a decade and a half.

Tucker Carlson, Fox News host

Carlson has been a fount of toxic misinformation this year, including claiming that the January 6 storming of the US Capitol was a “false flag” FBI operation intended to suppress political dissent.

Other choice (please briefly justify)

Cast your vote here

Category: South African business person of the year

Not necessarily the person who made the biggest profit, but those whose influence went beyond the balance sheets


Busi Mavuso, CEO of Business Leadership South Africa

Mavuso has proved herself an active and engaged business leader, but really showed her mettle when it came to the inclusion of business in the distribution of vaccines.

Stephen Saad, CEO and founder of Aspen Pharmacare

Saad is nominated for two achievements this year: throwing his company behind the successful local production of vaccines, and actively re-balancing Aspen’s balance sheet.

Spaza shop owners

The Covid-19 pandemic truly demonstrated the utility and resilience of spaza shop owners, who – under terrible pressure – helped ordinary South Africans endure lockdown.

Mark Cutifani, outgoing CEO of Anglo American

Cutifani ended his stewardship of one of the country’s most critical businesses on a high note, having re-engineered the company and in the process potentially saved SA’s mining industry.

Wendy Alberts, CEO of Restaurant Association of South Africa

The hospitality industry could not have hoped for a more forceful advocate during the Covid-19 lockdown, with Alberts fighting their corner every step of the way.

Other choice (please briefly justify)

Cast your vote here

Category: Community champion of the year

The people uplifting, defending and representing ordinary South Africans, often against all odds.


Djo BaNkuna, the “Cabbage Bandit”

BaNkuna became a hero for every South African tired of petty bureaucracy when he refused to be cowed by a Tshwane metro police order that he stop growing vegetables on his pavement.

Sbu Zikode, leader of Abahlali base Mjondolo

Abahlali has long been one of the most principled grassroots movements in South Africa, and leader Zikode was awarded Sweden’s prestigious Per Anger prize this year for his work on the right to housing and dignity.

Dr Gideon Groenewald, aka Oom Gideon, water diviner

Oom Gideon is technically a geologist, but to the drought-stricken communities all over South Africa for whom he finds hidden groundwater he is more like a magician.

Lynne Wilkinson and the Bulungula Incubator

Working in partnership with the provincial health department, this NGO managed to ensure that all but two of the 200 people over 60 in the remote and rural area of Xhora Mouth in the Eastern Cape got two Pfizer vaccinations.

Other choice (please briefly justify)

Cast your vote here

Category: South African Polluter of the year

Those individuals and entities which have succeeded in further dirtying our environment this year.



Research released in October this year revealed that Eskom is now the world’s most polluting power company, as the single largest emitter of sulphur dioxide globally.

United Phosphorus Limited (UPL)

This Durban chemical factory, targeted during the July unrest, sent toxic chemicals seeping into the soil and waters of the Durban North ecosystem – and was subsequently revealed to lack the environmental authorization to operate at all. Since the incident, it has consistently refused to provide a list of the chemicals which spilled.

Gwede Mantashe, Mineral Resources Minister

Mantashe has snubbed meetings with global climate envoys, declared his commitment to coal while his colleagues pursued funding to transition to cleaner energy sources, and repeatedly been accused of favouring big business at the expense of the environment.


The global oil giant Shell has been approved to search for oil and gas off the Wild Coast, and is about to commence a seismic-blasting offshore mission which critics warn will be disastrous for marine life and small-scale fishers.

Other choice (please briefly justify)

Cast your vote here

Category: Our Burning Planet heroes of the year

The green warriors fighting for our planet’s survival


Joe Biden, US President 

If passed by Congress, Biden’s legislative proposals would allocate more than $500 billion to addressing climate change – the largest investment by any country ever in this project.

Wally Schultz, environmental activist (Posthumous)

Limpopo activist Schultz died unexpectedly in July 2021, but his legacy lives on in successes like his thwarting of the unlawful bid to mine the Musina-Makhado special economic zone.

Bob Scholes, Wits climatologist (Posthumous)

When Scholes passed away in May 2021, the outpouring of grief and respect for one of the world’s leading scientists on climate change said it all. Scholes was instrumental in drafting the assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the present and future effects of the climate crisis and how humanity can adapt. 

Youth climate activists

Young South Africans like Ayakha Melithafa and Gabriel Klaasen are taking their place alongside Sweden’s Greta Thunberg to make their voices heard against climate change.

Other choice (please briefly justify)

Cast your vote here

Category: South African youth champion of the year

Young people working to improve the lot of other young people.


Pearl Pillay, managing director at Youth Lab

Pillay’s vital work sees her help make politics and political engagement more accessible to South Africa’s youth

Lebohang Masango, author of children’s books

Anthropologist Masango is the award-winning author of Mpumi’s Magic Beads and the host of regular storytelling sessions for children and open mic challenges for aspiring poets.

Shudufhadzo Musida, Miss South Africa 2020 and mental health advocate

Musida used her beauty pageant position to launch an important platform opening up conversations about mental health issues for SA youth

Other choice (please briefly justify)

Cast your vote here

Category: Sportsperson of the year

A sportsperson whose positive impact has been felt either on or off the field of play


Tatjana Schoemaker, Swimmer

Schoemaker was the stand-out champion of South Africa’s Olympic team, bringing home gold and silver medals and a world record in the 200-metre breaststroke.

Bianca Buitendag, Surfer

One of only two athletes to win South Africa medals in Tokyo, Buitendag bagged a silver in women’s surfing.

Temba Bavuma, Proteas captain

South Africa’s national cricket captain led his team through the bulk of a tumultuous year with grace and steel.

Shabnim Ismael, cricket

Ismael is the top-ranked women’s one day international bowler, and leader of the South African attack.

Novak Djokovic, tennis

Winner of three of the four grand slams in 2021, ending with a record rank of world number 1 for a seventh time.

Siya Kolisi, Springbok captain

Led the Boks to a series victory over the Lions and year-ending number one ranking, while being in magnificent form personally.

Other choice (please briefly justify)

Cast your vote here

Category: Sports team of the year

A team that has stood out from the rest in 2021 either on or off the field of play



Ended the year as the world’s top-ranked team, which includes winning the Lions series. That achievement is widely considered on a par with winning the World Cup.

Italy’s soccer team

Won the Euro 2020 tournament as underdogs, and produced some of the best football throughout.


Won the Champions League after struggling in the early season and appointing Thomas Tuchel as manager midway through. The rest is history.

USA’s Olympic team

Winning 39 gold medals, and 113 overall in Tokyo, this team was competitive in almost every event.

Other choice (please briefly justify)

Cast your vote here

Category: Artist of the year

Hitmakers whose musical or social influence has towered above others this year



The British singer-songwriter’s fourth studio album, released in November 2021, was greeted with the kind of adulation that suggested it might just heal the wounds of another crappy year.

Sibongile Mngoma

The local opera singer played a courageous role in leading protests calling on the Department of Arts and Culture to support artists during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Britney Spears

The US popstar drew attention to problematic legal issues when she won her freedom from a conservatorship agreement giving control of almost every aspect of her life to her father and her management team. 

Other choice (please briefly justify)

Cast your vote here

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