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.