Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Portugal’s experience again offers a warning

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29 Apr 2014 | Tony Leon | Original Publication:  BDlive

Veterans of the military coup were quoted as saying that ‘inequality was putting democracy at risk in Portugal’, writes Tony Leon

ANNIVERSARIES and commemorations were thick on the ground across the world at the weekend. The most noted of all was Sunday’s event in St Peter’s Square, Rome, which saw the two living pontiffs, Benedict and Francis, proclaim the canonisation of two of their recent predecessors, popes John Paul II and John XXIII. More than one commentator has suggested that this unprecedented and relatively speedy path to sainthood by the fairly radical current pope intends to unite a divided faith by embracing, simultaneously, the most outstanding and recent leaders of the church’s conservative and liberal wings.

Back in the secular world, also on Sunday, South Africans celebrated 20 years of apartheid’s end and the dawn of democracy. The government and the ruling party, itself the broadest and most quarrelsome of churches, brought together its various wings and factional leaders at the official celebrations at the Union Buildings.

And perhaps less noted in South Africa, last Friday in Lisbon, Portugal celebrated the 40th anniversary of its broadly peaceful overthrow of 48 years of authoritarian rule, when a military coup ousted the dictatorship and inaugurated democratic government. In many ways, and with a warning, the events in Lisbon and Pretoria are directly linked, and occurred almost 20 years apart to the day.

The obvious linkage is that the fall of the dictatorship in Lisbon led to the rapid abandonment of Portugal’s colonial empire in its far outposts in Mozambique and Angola, removing two critical buffers separating the apartheid state and its external enemies. Symbolically — and something that would be repeated in Eastern Europe even before it was witnessed in South Africa — it was a powerful signal that even seemingly unassailable empires often have clay feet.

The warning, and far more contemporary than linkages from the past, was the fact that far from being in celebratory mood, many Portuguese saw the commemoration as an occasion for antigovernment protests. As one weekend report noted: "The country, scarred by three years of a punishing international bail-out programme, is not in the mood for nostalgic celebration." Indeed, a number of its former leaders and veterans of the military coup were quoted as saying "inequality was putting democracy at risk in Portugal", one of the most unequal countries in Europe.

South Africa sits with the same paradox in even more extreme form — according to the World Bank, we are one of the most unequal countries on the planet and recently dethroned Brazil as the most unequal country in the world. The Financial Times, perhaps the only London-originating broadsheet this weekend to even note the April 27 anniversary, carried a perceptive column by South African-linked (via his grandparents) columnist Simon Kuper, titled Apartheid, Just Less Black and White. The headline referred to the shocking fact that, according to the same World Bank report, "amazingly" as Kuper notes, "South Africa is more unequal today than it was just after the end of apartheid in 1995". Or as local analyst Frans Cronje put it in an interesting new book, Our Next Ten Years: "South Africa is a very unusual society that is both very unequal and very free. Exactly how this plays itself out is one of the key issues we need to resolve."

And do not expect the remaining days of the election campaign to provide any compelling answers, or even ask any of the more significant questions. The president recites the "good story to tell" mantra, and the opposition has had nothing to say about tax policy or even very much about the racial slant that adds a further twist to the South African inequality story, except that it is in favour of job creation and opposed to black economic empowerment billionaires.

Of course, in the heat and dust of electoral combat, you can hardly be expected to conduct an academic seminar. But perhaps given my present noncombatant status, this past weekend found me participating in just such a thing amid the gleaming spires of Oxford University. St Antony’s College held a conference reviewing 20 years of democracy in South Africa. After a rather formulaic opening speech on Friday, the thoughtful representative of the exiting wing of the African National Congress (ANC) broad church, deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe, made some interesting concessions, admittedly in a crab-like and coded fashion, during a probing discussion led by local academics Anthony Butler and Xolela Mangcu. In answer to whether the ANC had the ability to "save itself", he said it had previously overcome periods of irrelevance. But, he added, this had happened with refreshed leadership. Having acknowledged what he termed "the sins of incumbency", he conceded that office bearers can be held accountable for such sins only if the ruling party embraces a critical culture, to which he added: "In a governing party, if you’re too critical that can be career limiting."

As his own career at the apex of power draws to an end, he leaves with a warning to his successors.

Follow Tony Leon on Twitter: @TonyLeonSA OR on Facebook: facebook.com/TonyLeonSA


Monday, April 28, 2014

On twenty years of democracy - Tony Leon

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26 Apr 2014 | Tony Leon | Original Publication:  PoliticsWeb

Former DA leader speaks on South Africa then (under Mandela) and now (Zuma)

Address by Tony Leon at the "Twenty Years of South African Democracy" conference, St Antony's College, Oxford University, Friday, April 25 2014

Thank you for the invitation to address this important  conference which takes place between two historic milestones back home in South Africa: the death of  former  president Nelson Mandela over four months ago on 5 December 2013, and our fifth democratic  election which takes place in  less than two weeks,  on 7 May 2014.

Few free democracies present quite the paradox which today's South Africa contrasts. It is a free democracy with a black majority government, but also  one of the most racially unequal countries on the planet; the state is engulfed by mushrooming corruption which a free media vigorously reports; its multiracial elites shops in first world  palaces of consumerist bling and millions live in shacks; its ruling party is on course to a huge re-election win in a few days but has never been weaker or more divided; just since January this year there have been over 3 000 service delivery protests, many of them violent, and yet the government has delivered more than 3m homes, electrified over 50% of them and ensured 90% of them have access to piped water and 66% of home cooking is  today done with electricity.

It has structural unemployment of over 25% of the adult population and yet one-third of all South Africans depend on state grants for their income, purchased on the back of just 6m personal taxpayers.

Its private sector scores in the top percentiles of global indices, while its public sector severely underperforms to the extent that public education, on which a greater percentage of GDP is spent than any other developing economy, produces results equivalent to those achieved in Yemen.

In the well -chosen words of Bill Keller, of the New York Times: "If South Africa does not leave you full of ambivalence, you have not been paying attention...it is inspiring and it is dispiriting. "

Leadership had much to do with our relatively peaceful, indeed against the odds transition from apartheid to democracy.  That special and transcending leadership embodied in Nelson Mandela and others from that time provides some of the explanation, and its loss today is keenly felt. 

From the perspective of 2014, I still believe - perhaps more emphatically today than when I delivered it - that my tribute to Nelson Mandel when parliament took leave of him in March 1999 holds true:

I am deeply honoured that I have been able to see from these benches the ending of apartheid and the beginning of democracy under the presidency of Nelson Mandela. My respect and admiration for him is unconditional. He graces this House. He graces this country. He graces humanity.

Mandela had, famously, special relationships with a vast array of people, from the famous and powerful to the obscure. In the former category fell Queen Elizabeth II, who once said of her own self-described  annus horribilis  in 1982  that ‘distance lends enchantment'.

In contrast, the years of Mandela's presidency constituted a sort of national and personal anni mirabiles, or years of wonder. It could be said that, today, our country , viewed against the weak leadership, corruption scandals, misgovernance and deeply frayed communal relations, is enduring its own annus horribilis, or indeed has suffered a succession of them.

But, a caution: his great personal characteristics aside, Mandela's presidency had the advantage of occurring at a time of transcending national and international change. He was the book end between the dying of the old order and the dawn of a new age.

By the time he took office, the fifty-year era of Communist rule over Eastern Europe, and forty-six years of apartheid rule (and three centuries of racial domination) at home, had just come to at an end. It was an era of new, brave and dramatic beginnings.

It was on Mandela's watch that a new constitution was negotiated and inked, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission commenced and concluded its work, and the country and its first citizen basked in the attention and admiration of the world.

Such an alignment of stars is rare in any country's history. It is equally true that sometimes it is easier to guide the ship of state through the high seas of big events than it is to navigate the shallower, but often swifter and more treacherous, currents through which it fell to his successors to manoeuvre.

But, some gaffes and missteps aside, Mandela led by example in opening up the free space necessary for a democracy to take root in this country. His rare combination of personal history and the enforced twenty-seven-year period of reflection and introspection perhaps uniquely equipped him for the task of being the country's cheerleader-in-chief for democratic freedom.

Gestures and symbols are hugely important, and often underestimated, in statecraft, and Mandela had an almost genius-like ability to use them to shape his nation and bind its component parts together.

Paradoxically, Mandela, the most partisan of politicians, was also able to look beyond the interests of the party and make tough calls on it to meet the needs of the country-in-the-making.

There was a critical moment just after the 1994 elections, during its chaotic counting process. Today South Africa's first democratic election is remembered in reverential terms, even tinged with a touch of the miraculous. For those of us involved in it, and even for others who can remember its detail, it was a far more jagged affair, with its mess of unreconciled ballots, pirate voting stations and other jarring irregularities.

During the long tallying process, the very future hung in the balance due to extreme electoral infringements in key places. At one point, senior ANC officials met in Johannesburg and demanded the party take action, and at least call a press conference, concerning what many insiders apparently regarded as ‘grand theft', which they believed had robbed the party of victory in KwaZulu-Natal and elsewhere. An eyewitness at the meeting describes its conclusion:

Mandela had said nothing during the discussion. Then he brought the room to a full stop. ‘Tell the comrades to cancel the press conference. We will not do anything to make the election illegitimate. The ANC will not say the election is not "free and fair". Prepare our people in Natal and the Western Cape to lose.'[i]

 He followed through on this example when, towards the end of his presidency, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission prepared to publish its interim report in October 1998, and both his predecessor and successor as president attempted legal action either to amend or to suppress its findings. In contrast, Mandela said the equivalent of ‘publish and be damned'. As his authorised biographer, Anthony Sampson, noted: ‘As head of state he saw himself as having loyalties which went beyond the ANC ...'[ii]

A different set of attitudes prevails today in South Africa's inner councils of power. A gloomy, but, I fear, accurate, description of it appeared in an editorial of the local Financial Mail in August 2013:

‘Rightly or wrongly, the ANC struggles to bring itself to listen to any institution, organisation or individual outside its own ranks. The most important debates within the ANC happen within the ANC. In the minds of the cadres, many of whom think of themselves as part of a liberation movement rather than a political party, outside critiques are almost by definition wrong.'[iii]

At our first meeting after the 1994 election, Mandela told me, ‘It is important for the opposition to hold up a mirror to the government and point out where we do things wrong.' He used almost exactly the same formula when, in public, he benchmarked his soon-to-be-elected government's relationship with the media. In February 1994, Mandela told the International Press Institute Congress:

... the media are a mirror through which we can see ourselves as others perceive us, warts, blemishes and all. The African National Congress has nothing to fear from criticism. I can promise you, we will not wilt under close scrutiny. It is our considered view that such criticism can only help us grow, by calling attention to those of our actions and omissions which do not measure up to our people's expectations and the democratic values to which we subscribe.'[iv]

Four years in office changed Mandela's views, both on opposition and on media scrutiny. In December 1997, at the ANC's 50th conference in Mafikeng, he severely criticised the press, non-governmental organisations, the opposition and other elements of civil society. He identified them as part of some vast and ill-defined ‘counter-revolutionary movement'.

However intemperate those remarks, they are a far cry from the poisoned waters that seem to separate government and the media, the opposition and civil society today. They certainly did not lead to the introduction of any legislation to muzzle the media, such as South Africa was to witness in more recent times. But perhaps it sowed the seeds for a future showdown.

The years between his relinquishing office and his death were marked by tumult at home and abroad: the global financial crisis of 2007-2008 had tilted the balance of the world economy, although there were no apparent winners and an ever greater circle of losers, from southern Europe to the United States and even mighty China, whose roaring economy was starting to slow.

Nations and commodities fell in and out of favour, and in again and out again, with nervous and ever more fickle investor sentiment. South Africa was hit hard as its currency cratered, a reflection of its widening twin (trade and budget) deficits, oscillating global sentiment on emerging market economies and multiple own goals at home.

When Mandela left the presidency in 1999 the currency, the rand, traded against the US dollar in the R6.00 range; when he died in December 2013 it had fallen to around R10.69, a decline of over 40 per cent, on a measurement sometimes indicated as the ‘sovereign's share price'.

In 1998/1999, the country ranked top in Africa, at forty-seventh place, on the World Economic Forum's global competitiveness index of 148 nations; by 2013/2014 it had fallen six positions to fifty-third, now second in Africa to Mauritius.[v]

Far more precipitous - and explicable by the cascading corruption drenching the state - was South Africa's slide down the rankings in perceptions of corruption. When Mandela left office, his country was rated thirty-fourth on Transparency International's index.[vi] By the time of his death in 2013, it had fallen to seventy-second place out of 177 nations surveyed.[vii]

Mandela's presidency made little impact on the country's serious and structural unemployment crisis, a key and continuing failure of governance, and today the position has worsened, with fewer than two in five working-age adults having jobs in formal employment.[viii]

More consequentially, it was Mandela's attitude towards the courts and his faith in the supremacy of the constitution and respect for its institutions that separated him from his successors.

Indeed, President Jacob Zuma's own ascent to office can, diplomatically, be best described as a Houdini-like escape from the coils of court procedures and the multiple corruption charges he avoided before becoming president, rather than an embrace of them. In contrast to Mandela's high regard for the constitution, which he both championed and signed into law, the recent scepticism of senior ANC national executive member and Deputy Minister of Correctional Services Ngoako Ramatlhodi, provides a studied contrast.

In 2011, he stated that the constitutional transition was a victory for ‘apartheid forces' who wanted to ‘retain white domination under a black government'. This was achieved ‘by emptying the legislature and executive of real power' and giving it to ‘the other constitutional institutions and civil society movements'.[ix] Apparently, other powerful voices in Mr Ramatlhodi's party and government share this sentiment.

We might conclude from this contrast that, while the ruling party embraces Nelson Mandela and his early legacy of struggle, revolution and sacrifice, it is far more ambivalent about what I have termed ‘latter Mandelaism', such as his respect for the restraints on unfettered state power, and many of the presidential characteristics well known to this audience.

But let me sound one note of hope on the theme of "now versus then". Between Mandela leaving office in 1999, and entering what we might call "a twilight of greatness" before his death last year, there has been, for all the collateral damage inflicted by his successors on key constitutional instruments, more of the open spirit of democracy, freedom and robust dialogue than at any other stage of our two decades of democracy.

During the Mandela presidency, South Africa's parliamentary opposition was deeply fragmented, its civil society was still finding its feet after the long dark night of apartheid, and the press, whose leading editors were mostly drawn from the minority, was at some quite decisive moments, mute and offside.

The radiance of Mandela's leadership, ironically, both warmed our hearts but also sometimes blinded ‘some among us' (to borrow a favourite phrase of former President Mbeki) to our roles and the rules of engagement needed for democratic deepening.

In this respect, at least, there has been a sea change today. Without the protection of what The Economist dubbed ‘Mandela's saintly aura',[x] both the ruling party and its leaders will be more harshly judged. Difficult for them, perhaps, but positive for the country's long-term democratic prospects.

Days after Mandela's funeral near his birthplace in Qunu in the Eastern Cape, the powerful National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) trade union announced it was disaffiliating from the ruling ANC, whose factiousness was starting to resemble a circular firing squad. Doubtless it will still remain in power for some years yet, but the Madiba aura appears to be non-transferrable to his political heirs, and thus normality begins to settle on the country's politics.

In June 2013, Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron delivered an influential address at the Sunday Times Literary Awards. He eloquently described how, in one vital respect, and despite the considerable damage done, the country's democracy remains afloat:

Our polity is boisterous, rowdy, sometimes cacophonous and often angry. That much is to be expected. But after nearly two decades, we have far more freedom, more debate, more robust and direct engagement with each other - and certainly more practically tangible social justice than 20 years ago.[xi]

The push-back by a diverse range of civil society actors and the delayed passage and marked improvement to the Protection of State Information Bill in the year of Mandela's death was a striking, encouraging example.

Just four years before Nelson Mandela's 1990 release and his walk back into freedom, another famous political prisoner was released from jail, the first in the Soviet Union to be freed by Mikhail Gorbachev.

Natan Sharansky had also been convicted and imprisoned for high treason. After nine years in jail, he went into exile in Israel and subsequently became a political leader there. In 2004, he published a powerful polemic, The Case for Democracy, in which he elaborates, with passion and clarity, the idea that freedom is rooted in the right to dissent, to walk into the town square and declare one's views without fear of consequence.[xii]

For the many things that have gone right and wrong with South Africa since our first steps under Mandela's leadership toward becoming a free society back in 1994, Sharansky's universal observation that ‘the democracy which sometimes dislikes us is a much safer place than the dictatorship which loves us' must serve both as guide and as inspiration into the future.


Last week marked the passing of the literary giant Gabriel Garcia Marquez. There is indeed more than a touch of the miracles and wonders he so brilliantly described of Latin America in the journey of our country in the South from apartheid to democracy. But like any other national or international achievement, the story needs to be renewed and refreshed, so we are not simply remembered, as a golden  historical footnote for the big thing we got right two decades ago and not for the  lesser  missteps since then.  We need to re-imagine the future and not succumb to the sclerosis of power, corruption and complacency.

My concluding wish is that, in our own narrative going forward, we never lose the vision of our own "shining city on a hill" that we set for ourselves and the world.

With purposeful renewal comes the reality of hope.  As Marquez expressed it: "It is not true that people stop perusing dreams because they grow old. They grow old because they stop perusing dreams."

Tony Leon served as Member of Parliament from 1989 to 2009; Leader of the Democratic Alliance (Official Opposition from 1994 to 2007); South African Ambassador to Argentina from 20009 to 2012 and has just published his latest book "Opposite Mandela-Encounters with South Africa's Icon" (Jonathan Ball. 2014)


[i] Stanley Greenberg, Dispatches from the War Room, p15.

[ii] Anthony Sampson, Mandela - The Authorised Biography, p532.

[iii] ‘Politics the Victim of Vavi Debacle', Financial Times, 2-7 August 2013.

[iv] Nelson Mandela, ‘Nelson Mandela's Address to the International Press Institute Congress', 14 February 1994, http://www.anc.org.za/show.php?id=3651.

[v] ‘How the world rates South Africa', http://www.southafrica.info/business/economy/globalsurveys.htm#competitiveness.

[vi] http://archive.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi/previous_cpi/1999.

[vii] http://www.transparency.org/cpi2013/results#myAnchor1.

[viii] 'A Giant Passes', The Economist.

[ix] Justice Edwin Cameron, ‘Constitution Holding Steady in the Storm', Sunday Times, 30 June 2013.

[x] ‘A Giant Passes', The Economist.

[xi] Justice Edwin Cameron, ‘Constitution Holding Steady in the Storm'.

[xii] Natan Sharansky, The Case for Democracy - The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny & Terror, pp41-42. 


Sunday, April 27, 2014

MPs should be accountable to the four Cs - Dene Smuts

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20 Apr 2014 | Dene Smuts | Original Publication:  PoliticsWeb

Outgoing DA MP notes that the undiluted list system has been devastating to our democracy

Farewell speech by Democratic Alliance Member of Parliament, Dene Smuts, April 13 2014

I am honoured by the presence of members of the executive of the provincial and metropolitan spheres. But I am honoured most of all by the presence and participation of Tony Leon, and Michal Leon who is a guest in her own right - she is quite simply the wisest woman I know.

It was Tony's vision of the "shining city on the hill" that guided the DA to the point where we can say to the electorate: here is the proof that we can govern, that our ideas work. It was also Tony who built the party to the point where it is poised to break the 20% barrier nationally.

You can't do that unless you can do what a party political leader is supposed to do: bring jou skapies bymekaar, en hou hulle bymekaar. He is revered for the way in which he kept his flock together inside the party, but he is not sufficiently acknowledged beyond its confines for the party political leader that he was.

He was a party political leader, I am a lawmaker and I bid you goodbye in that capacity.

At the opening of Parliament on 13th February this year I could not help thinking, as we sat in the Chamber awaiting the President's arrival, that South Africa was falling down Alice's rabbit hole into Wonderland.

One female MP undulated across the floor like a giant caterpillar. She is the poor lady whose attire featured in many newspapers after she cut the dress off and wore only the lining. (I am not going to say her name because she is a very nice young woman.) What newspaper stills could not capture was the rippling and undulating effect of flesh under the thin and shiny lining. She was a giant deep yellow caterpillar undulating across the carpet after coming to the NCOP front benches to greet the Premiers. If, like Alice's caterpillar, she had been blue, we would have had a blue wave right there.

My benchmate James Selfe and I surveyed the general scene and agreed we were drifting into a whole different dimension here.

In the front benches proper on the ANC side, Minister Malusi Gigaba was wearing an SAA pilot's uniform and peaked cap. We have witnessed a touch of the Gilbert and Sullivan before, but never before I think, not inside the House, a politician in full fancy dress faked uniform.

At the closing sitting on 13th March, a month later, to be fair, there was some flamboyance on the opposition side. Graham McIntosh, once of this tribe and now I forget of which, wore his Scots clan kilt and had himself piped out of the Chamber for the last time by the wailing lament of a bagpipe. He had a video cameraman walking backwards recording bagpiper and departing MP all the way to and through the lobby.

But it was Malusi Gigaba who remained in my mind's eye the next day, when four SAA flights were delayed by three hours or so at Cape Town International (while BA flew off at the appointed hours). We were nevertheless assured that the international flights with which we were connecting would wait for us.

As my plane came in to land at OR Tambo, we were told that SAA staff were standing ready to take us to our waiting international flights. Our designated young man had not been briefed but gave my boarding passes for Frankurt and Geneva one look and started sprinting, calling out like Alice's white rabbit that we would be late and also "time is money, time is money".

He left many of the international travellers behind at the pace he was running, whipped those of us remaining through passport control and then disappeared. We all scattered in different directions to find our departure gates, where no planes were waiting and in my case only a lonely cleaning lady could be seen, disconsolately mopping the floor. That left us all lost and each alone somewhere in an empty airport. We had left South Africa. We had passed through the looking glass.

However, this year is not the first time I have found the work of Lewis Carroll useful for comparative purposes in Parliament. Wonderland arrived more or less simultaneously with President Zuma.

For example, the procedures adopted to dispose of a perfectly good SABC Board which however contained two or three Mbeki appointees reminded me (as I wrote at the time) of the Queen of Hearts who insisted at the trial of the Knave of Hearts who Stole Some Tarts that the sentence came first and then the verdict, not that there had been an inquiry yet.

I would think that any impeachment proceedings now would follow the same course. President Zuma, like the Cheshire Cat, is going to vanish quite slowly until only the grin remains, with perhaps a pair of glasses intermittently pushed up the nose.

By then, Julius Malema may be sitting roughly where Prince Buthelezi now sits, wearing heaven knows what costume.

Now it is 13th April and I depart, having completed five Parliaments. The question is not the one people keep asking me - why I am leaving or how I can leave - but how I stayed for nearly a quarter of a century when the work so consumes a person's life.

I have stayed because it has always been possible to get much and sometimes almost all of what I argued, and where all else failed, to effect damage control. It would have been nice to end on achieving my own two Private Member's Constitutional Amendments on the JSC and the NPA, but the arguments are out and have developed traction.

There are two approaches to opposition lawmaking work: making a noise and making a difference. Sometimes you have to make some of the former in order to achieve the latter, but mostly not. I have never been interested in work that does not have effect, and consequently I have always had a sense of agency.

My advice to an incoming caucus is that it is their job now to wake the ANC up out of ideological Wonderland (the ANC had a worse ideas about public and private enterprises when we started) and that making a noise will get you no more than President Zuma quoting Macbeth to great effect: "it is sound and fury, signifying nothing", he will say, then giggle, and bring the House down.

But my real interest is the caucuses that went before, and I am so happy and honoured to have some of our original people present at this farewell. I think it is worth looking at the reasons why we were successful as lawmakers over the years.

The first reason is the one which Dr Zach de Beer invoked: the long obedience. You will know the quote from Nietsche: "there should be a long obedience in the same direction, there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living". I have Dr de Beer's version of it, in his hand, in ink, somewhere among a quarter of a century's papers.

All of us from the old days know what that means. Our convictions were forged in adversity, because there was no profit and there were no rewards in being liberal before we had the Constitution in place.

On the contrary, there was only trouble. But both the Constitution and the policies produced as the fruits of the long obedience have stood the test of time - to this day we draw on the work of Ken Andrew on issues ranging from affirmative action to the youth wage subsidy, and on the work of Prof David Welsh on, for example, an electoral system.

The second reason why we were successful over the years flows from the first: we each knew exactly who we were, and that makes an effective MP.

The abiding formative influence for me on what a Parliamentary caucus and what an MP should be was the DP caucus after the 1989 election, some forty fiery souls. Everyone was a real MP, a full blown personality. The long obedience was in the same direction, it allowed for different positions and personalities. The battles were of epic proportions given Harry Schwartz's presence.

I thought I was the only person who got on with Harry until I learnt from my friend and relation Adv Izak Smuts, brother to Julia of the Claremont committee, that he was the other one. Our number included Robin Carlisle, Jasper Walsh, the late Tiaan van der Merwe, David Gant. And only Peter Soal and Roger Burrows, with Sandy Slack supporting, could have kept the show on the road so authoritatively and so elegantly.

We were, of course, the babies: Tony, Mike Ellis, James Selfe and I. But after the 1994 election, we were three of the seven left, in the Assembly, together with Colin Eglin and Ken Andrew, Douglas Gibson and Errol Moorcroft.

So what if were only seven? We had in the 1989 election provided the tide on which FW changed history, and we were more effective than far larger parties because the Constitution which we were then completing was itself the fruit of the long obedience and we knew how to use it as sword and shield.

Also, the whole of the seven was more than the sum of its parts because we sparked each other off because we were still real MPs, despite having come in in 1994 on the list system.

The effects of an undiluted list system on political parties is just as devastating to democracy as we always said it would be. The effects are exacerbated by the modern practice of substituting marketing for the political persuasion of voters.

Accountability for an MP should lie to conscience, country, Constitution and constituency. Tony and Mike Ellis and I were perhaps the last of the real, directly elected Assembly MPs, genuinely accountable to the constituencies which elected us.

Tony and I won old Prog safe seats. They were difficult seats to account to. His was Houghton, where I was given a terrible time because I believed in affirmative action from the start. I still do. Mine was Groote Schuur, right here.

I so appreciate the role which Peter Fischer has played in arranging this farewell, and the choice of venue is indicative of the care with which he has worked. It is also poignant and pleasing that the Rondebosch Councillor and general constituency election leader Matthew Kempthorne is the son of my friend and first constituency secretary Vicky Kempthorne. I have known Matthew since he was a boy in our old Mowbray office and I am mightily encouraged by the quality brought not just by him, but also our election candidate from Rondebosch, Bronagh Casey, as well as their new Chairperson Tammy Evans.

But let me talk to the old people, if you will let me, and turn this into the last report back meeting, also to the spirits of those departed, and also to those personalities who endorsed me, like Morne du Plessis and the friends who ran voting stations for me, like Jenny du Plessis. I think I fulfilled the undertakings I made when I ran for office.

Campaigning then was a personal matter, not a scripted message. I campaigned on a new liberal democratic Constitution, and it was my privilege to be part of the creation of that Constitution from day the first to day the last, alongside Colin Eglin and Ken Andrew, with Tony, too, playing a major part.

If you will further allow me, I want to recall two things I said to the electoral college, part constituency part DP, which way after midnight on the relevant night in 1989 elected me over seven other candidates running against the sitting safe seat MP.

I was reminded relatively recently by someone whose mother was on the electoral college that I said I would be an MP until I was an old lady. That promise too, I have fulfilled. The other thing I said, and which I think may have influenced Colin Eglin to swing the vote my way, was that I saw sitting before me a sea of white faces, and that we needed to change that in the DP just as we needed to change South Africa.

Now tonight, the constituency to which I bid goodbye, is called Athlone 1. The Rondebosch ward and Claremont committee were assigned for some time to other MPs under the present random allocation system, but were recently added to half of the larger Athlone constituency which I shared for some years with Sheikh Shahid Esau.

To the original Athlone, I say from the bottom of my heart, thank you for taking me in. To Shehaam Sims, shukran, shukran, shukran. To Shahid, shukran. To Magedien and his family, shukran. To the chairwomen then and now, Bonita and Konieta, thank you and shukran. To Suzette Little, Zainu Waggie and Anthea Green and Mark Kleinschmidt and Ruth Gordon, thank you and God bless.

It is really good to see how the new wards and the old committees have integrated. Claremont over the years has often benefited from strong Jewish membership and also leadership - to Grace Richman, we will always remember Gerald.

If anyone wants to know why South Africa works, there it is: we are Coloured and white, Jewish, Christian and Muslim. But I think we can say that we live by the motto which our indispensable Constituency Operations Manager Berenice Lawrence features at the bottom of her emails. Taken from George Eliot, it asks: what do we live for if not to make life easier for each other?

Berrie, you are our compass in more than one way.


DA’s Dene Smuts a rare bird in SA’s political aviary

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14 Apr 2014 | Tony Leon | Original Publication:  BDlive

Democratic Alliance MP Dene Smuts
 Although Smuts always stood for principle, she adapted to meet the dramatically changed circumstance she lived through, writes Tony Leon

ON SEPTEMBER 6 1989, the voters of the Groote Schuur constituency elected a well-known journalist and prize-winning author to Parliament for the first time. Her name was Dene Smuts. She was then 40 years old.

On the same day, more than 1,500km away, the voters of Houghton, Johannesburg, also elected me, for the first time, to Parliament. And thus it was, a few days after that watershed election, which propelled FW de Klerk to the presidency of South Africa, that I first met Smuts in the caucus of the Democratic Party (DP). Smuts is made of far sterner stuff than me and she lasted in Parliament five years beyond my own departure in 2009.

When any career of political significance ends, I believe there are three important questions to answer. I have taken the liberty of posing them and providing the answers in respect of Smuts:

• Did the person who held public office make a difference for the better and leave behind a legacy for others to emulate?

• Did the person fundamentally uphold the first principles of the causes she was entrusted to serve?

• Did the person keep faith with these values, but also adapt to the changed environment so that her contribution would not just be about consistency but also about achievement and relevance?

When we reflect on the performance and the role played by Smuts, we can say with great certainty that her 25 years in Parliament answer each of them with a "yes".

• In all her roles, as the first female whip in Parliament, as a constituency MP, as a front-bench opposition spokeswoman on home affairs, communications, and latterly in justice and constitutional development, Smuts made a huge difference. Perhaps for us, being at the coal face and in the negotiation chamber as the 1993 and the final 1996 constitutions were being inked marked our finest hours. In each of these varied roles, Smuts brought that rare trifecta of attributes to the fore: a keen intelligence, a fierce commitment to, and understanding of, the cardinal issues, and what Malcolm Gladwell calls the "10,000 hour rule": the backbreaking, line-by-line hard work needed to move beyond rhetoric and aspiration toward concrete achievement and credible result. She did not succeed at all times — objectively as a member of a minority party she could not.

But if you look at the attempts to carve out a coherent and modern communications policy, the Bill of Rights in the constitution, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a proper process for judicial appointments, the independence of the legal profession and latterly the significant improvements in the Protection of State Information Bill, you might wish to go to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. And not just because it is both beautiful and was part of Smuts’s first constituency. If you wander around, you will find the burial stone of its pioneering botanist, Henry Harold Pearson, who died in 1916. His epitaph reads: "If ye seek his monument, look around."

Smuts has a singular advantage over Pearson as she is still happily and vigorously with us. But if you look into the detail and depths of her legislative and constitutional achievements, those words provide an apt and living tribute to her accomplishments.

• On the second question, Smuts and I probably had as many disagreements as we had meetings of the mind. But when she and I and other colleagues clashed with her, it was always about a big issue, not about personal slight. In a political world where disagreement and dissent are often a synonym for disloyalty, I can attest to the fact that not once did Smuts ever advance a point to gain personal advantage or ingratiate herself with the leadership. But she always advanced her view, often in the teeth of immense resistance. When I think back to the most difficult days of survival for this party and its cause, when Smuts and I were two of the surviving seven MPs after 1994, I never had to watch my back as leader, because she always had it covered.

And when fortune or the electorate smiled much more favourably upon us in 1999, she took not just a front rank in the caucus of the official opposition and Parliament, but provided a role model to new and inexperienced MPs, a mentoring role she continued to play after 2004 and 2009. And as this party expands further in size after the May 7 election, new MPs would do well to emulate another of Smuts’s attributes when the party machine makes demands of its MPs and reduces the role of the individual legislator to a sort of glorified constituency manager. It is this: there are two types of politicians. You can either be a weather vane or a signpost. If you are the former, you will twist in the wind, depend for your key adviser on the last person you spoke to and try to suck up to those in power and trim your sails to the prevailing winds. That is the easy path of least resistance, but it usually leads, over time, downhill. Or you can be the rarer bird in the political aviary, a signpost, which does not bend to the vagaries of the moment but stands for a cause greater than personal advancement or temporary vote-winning, for an enduring set of principles and beliefs. Beyond argument, Smuts belongs in the second category.

• The answer to the third question appears to be a contradiction of the second answer, but on examination it is not. Because, although Smuts always stood for principle, she adapted them to meet the dramatically changed circumstance we lived through. Whether it was the modernisation of old Afrikaans institutions such as her alma mater, the University of Stellenbosch, or the placement of second- and third-generation rights in the constitution, Smuts was a modernist. And so, to create a liberal and democratic state of meaning to the bulk of South Africans, you had to, in her view, make it relevant beyond the traditional and narrow confines of simply containing the power of the state, important though that is.

But I don’t want to simply reflect a worthy political life of high achievement and no light-heartedness. Smuts can be uproariously funny. I leave you with two nuggets I can repeat in public. On the 1996 local government election day in Cape Town, Smuts and I were visiting the Fernwood polling station. Our reception from voters was very muted and Smuts waspishly observed to me: "Ja. You know why those people were looking at their shoes instead of at us?" "No, why?" I responded. "Because they know they should be voting for us, but actually they are going to be voting for someone else."

Around the same time, we were having a tiresome debate in Parliament about the underperformance and maladministration of the Gender Commission — a chapter 9 institution, then, as now, of some constitutional importance but, in practice, of unsurpassed uselessness. The chair of the commission came to Parliament and demanded a larger budget. Smuts’s response was classic: "You don’t need more money; you need a good brain between your ears and a good pen to write with!"

Although we associate her with the southern suburbs and much of her public life has been conducted in English, it is worth recording that she is "’n trotse Vrystater" of origin and her mother tongue is Afrikaans. So allow me to conclude with one of the great poems from the canon of Eugene Marias:

’n Druppel gal is in die soetste wyn;
’n traan is op elk’ vrolik snaar,
In elke lag ’n sug van pyn,
In elke roos ’n dowwe blaar.

• This is an edited version of a speech by Leon at Bishops (Diocesan College) on Sunday night.