A joke is often told in government circles of how the seat of government has relocated from Pretoria to Nkandla in December ever since Jacob Zuma became president.
Except it’s not really a joke.
The president — while on leave — does spend the festive season at his rural homestead in KwaZulu-Natal where he kisses babies, dishes out blankets to the elderly and offers pep talks to amateur sports teams who participate in tournaments organised by his foundation.
Sometimes these events resemble a government imbizo, judging by the number of ministers and hangers-on who flock to Nkandla to be seen to be closer to the president.
This year will be no different, except that the queues that usually snake across the fields of Nkandla may be shorter; it is clear to all that the president is at his weakest.
It has been a tumultuous year for him — for the first time since his election, he saw the presidency slipping through his fingers, especially with the clumsy firing of Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister.
But I don’t expect Pravin Gordhan — who returned as finance minister last week — to be among the ministers who will gather at Nkandla. He does not need to ingratiate himself with his boss.
The president would never dare touch him. He is like a Survivor contestant who has won the immunity challenge for the rest of this term.
The backlash that forced Zuma to remove David van Rooyen from the Finance Ministry, a mere four days after his appointment, has rendered the president weak.
This makes Gordhan the most powerful minister in the country. He can do as he pleases.
The signing of the swap deal between SAA and Airbus is a case in point. It was also a slap in the face for the president’s friend Dudu Myeni, the overly confident SAA board chairwoman, who always comes out tops in her fights with ministers.
Well, until last week.
Unfortunately the downside of a spooked Zuma is that he will be scared to fire even an incompetent member of cabinet such as Communications Minister Faith Muthambi.
Zuma ended the year with trouble brewing on all fronts. He sent a minister to eject his second wife, MaNtuli, from Nkandla in January, on allegations of her being part of a plot to poison him.
It went downhill from there. He faced a constitutional storm when Pretoria, despite a court order, allowed Sudanese despot Omar al-Bashir to leave the country, he suspended his police commissioner, and he parted ways with his national director of public prosecutions.
Students also took their grievances to his doorstep, demanding that #FeesMustFall.
But if you think Zuma had a tough year, spare a thought for Mmusi Maimane who took over the DA leadership from Helen Zille.
His election in May — an achievement considering the young leader’s age — was overshadowed when veteran journalist Allister Sparks, in a speech at the DA congress, described apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd as a “smart politician”.
The ghost of apartheid haunted the DA again when the brash Dianne Kohler Barnard shared an offensive Facebook post that hankered after the dark days of apartheid.
But Kohler Barnard has bounced back and managed to keep her parliamentary position after successfully appealing her DA expulsion.
Clearly Maimane had no choice — many in the party thought her “mistake” was minuscule.
Good luck to Maimane and his attempts to convince black voters to support the DA. The reality is that the likes of Kohler Barnard and Sparks are entrenched in the DA.
Strangely enough though, it is the EFF’s Julius Malema whose political fortunes seem to have turned out for the better.
The political gods are smiling on the tempestuous Malema who had his fraud and corruption case struck off the roll.
Even attempts by the South African Revenue Service to have him sequestrated failed.
He may have endured a bruised cheek and a sore neck after his altercation with parliament security in February when he and his MPs demanded that Zuma “pay back the money”, but the campaign seems to have put Malema on a pedestal.
His recent tour to London — even addressing the prestigious Oxford Union debating society — was a coup. He also led thousands through the streets of Johannesburg calling for economic transformation.
Not a bad year for a man who, at the height of his political tribulations, likened himself to a leper.
If 2015 was a tough political year. Brace yourself for 2016 — with #FeesMustFall protests expected to resume in January and the hotly contested local government elections later in the year.