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A Credo for Freedom & Democracy

March 18, 2008

FEBRUARY 13, 2009


Tony Leon's farewell speech - an interesting summary of SA's status quo - Submitted by Craig Field, CA (SA) owner of Wealth Design, Inc. based in Charlotte, NC


"A Credo for Freedom & Democracy"

This is my final address to the Parliament of South Africa.
Perhaps on this occasion, and in deference to our Deputy Foreign Minister, I may be permitted to tell an old Jewish joke:
The difference between Jews and gentiles is that gentiles leave without saying goodbye, while Jews say goodbye and never leave.
This is the last of many farewells for me: as Leader of the Opposition, as Leader of the Democratic Alliance, and now as a Member of Parliament.
I end as I began: a rank-and-file member of the loyal opposition, as determined to bring about change in South Africa as I was when I was first elected twenty short years ago.
As to the future, allow me to quote the great British parliamentarian Tony Benn, who said on his retirement: "I am leaving Parliament to devote more time to politics." I, too, look forward to a post-partisan life of engaged citizenry.
When I first arrived in Parliament in 1989 the tri-cameral system still stood as a barrier to political liberty for the majority of South Africans. Abroad, the Berlin Wall still remained the dividing line between East and West, between communism and freedom.
Within a few short months, both of those citadels crumbled, abandoned by leaders who realised they could no longer resist the human impulse to freedom.
From these benches, I witnessed the last white president turning his back on the convictions of a lifetime and inaugurating, from this very podium, an era of negotiation and democracy.
From these benches I heard the first black President renounce the racial nationalism of the past and reach out to the minority whose government had harassed and imprisoned him for more than one third of his life.
From these benches, I battled with his successor, who sought to revive racial resentment at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives, and who used his unprecedented power to amass ever-greater power.
From these benches, I watched the same president dismiss his deputy in an act of selective justice that, in the end, forced his own resignation and has led South Africa to a precarious political precipice.
From these benches, I have been privileged to lead the opposition, to participate in South Africa's national renewal through the writing of our new constitution, and to support the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was our imperfect, but necessary, memory against forgetting.
And from these benches, I have been proud to help grow a small party of seven into a large and ever-stronger political force that carries the hopes of our democratic future on its shoulders.
How successful or futile my contributions have been is best left to the judgment of my fellow South Africans, and of history.
But I believe I have passed the test prescribed by Winston Churchill, who said, "I have always felt that a politician is to be judged by the animosities he excites among his opponents." So, to the president, the cabinet and members of the majority party: thank you for all the excitement!
We often disagreed, sometimes in vehement and heated ways. But whatever the divisions in this House we all believe in the unity of our nation.
To my own party, thank you for your support through 13 tumultuous years of leadership, and nearly 20 years of collegiality and friendship. You continue to protect freedom and provide another, better way forward for all South Africans. It has been an honour to serve among you.
Outside my party, there are senior statesmen in the opposition, such as Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, whose counsel and friendship in often difficult times, I will cherish and remember.
In this, my final farewell speech to this House, it is not my desire to make new enemies but to reflect on the recent past with honesty and candour.
Democracy's advent in South Africa coincided with the greatest period of economic prosperity enjoyed by the world, and the African continent, since the Second World War. Thabo Mbeki described his nine-year presidency as the "age of hope," and for good reason.
But it was also a decade of lost opportunity. We failed to attract the high levels of foreign investment that we needed to grow our economy at a rate that could roll back unemployment.
We created laws and regulations that shut down job creation and chased skills out of key government departments.
In so doing we created a serious crisis in health, education, and energy, hurting those in greatest need.
We now have an unsustainable situation in which 25 percent of our population receives a welfare payment, but only about 10 percent pays personal income tax.
Unless we reverse those ratios and start to create real jobs in the formal economy, we will find ourselves in a fiscally unstable and socially dangerous situation. And we must create those jobs in the worst global economic circumstances since the 1970s and perhaps since the Great Depression.
We need the courage to admit the truth: that much of the growth we congratulated ourselves on in budgets past was illusory; that we spent more than we earned; that we imported more than we exported; and that we have borrowed to make up the difference.
To change our economic prospects, we are going to have to change our habits, government and citizens alike. That is the message we must deliver to the nation.
As deep as the worldwide recession is and may yet become, as profound as the challenges of poverty and inequality in our own country continue to be, we are gravely mistaken if we believe economic freedom is the problem rather than the solution, and if we see government as the only answer.
There is a rare agreement among all parties that among the many failing sectors of state, the National Treasury and the SA Revenue Service shine forth as beacons of excellence.
You will recall that early on in the first Parliament, we removed SARS from the public service and let it employ its own staff, outside restrictions that apply elsewhere in government. We sacrificed service delivery, but not tax revenue.
And the reasons were the same here as elsewhere in the developing world.
To quote Paul Collier of Oxford: "Governments...were prepared to leave basic service delivery unreformed because the governing elite got its services elsewhere."
That is why South Africa has seen a better life for a few, but not for all the people.
The world and South Africa's greatest challenge today is not a deficit of money but a deficit of trust. Trust is the key ingredient for both economic markets and durable democracies.
At the core of the global financial crisis is a failure of credit markets, and the root of the word "credit" is credo, Latin for "I believe." The same is true of our democracy.
As public representatives, we ask people to believe in us, to trust the commitments we offer as consideration for a seat in this noble Assembly.
But we destroy the trust in which our constitution was forged when we weaken every independent institution intended to support it.
When we use the basic right of the lowest criminal accused, "innocent until proven guilty" as the standard of accountability for the highest office; when the lawmakers become the lawbreakers, we offer them exceptional excuses instead of exemplary punishment.
We have passed thousands of laws in this Parliament, from the sound and socially necessary to the constitutionally dubious and economically dangerous.
Too often we have confused real and necessary change with a muddled agenda of "transformation" that has served, more often than not, as a mask for greed.
We must remember the first law of a free people: that all are equal before the law, regardless of party or station.
We must remember the words of the great African and international statesman Kofi Annan, who reminded us in the 2007 Nelson Mandela lecture, "Africans must guard against a pernicious, self-destructive form of racism that unites citizens to rise up and expel tyrannical rulers who are white, but to excuse tyrannical rulers who are black."
If we do not practise at home and abroad what we preach in our constitution, then one day it may be said of us that we had the chance to build a new nation, and to forge a new and more just and humane international order, that "we destroyed better than we knew."
I believe we can succeed. We have defied the odds before.
We must recover the spirit of hope that guided us in 1994, and reunite it with the constitutional principles that we established as a foundation for our future.
We ought not to flee from the challenges that face us, nor give up in the fashion of Kevin Pietersen simply because circumstances are not to our liking.
As Graeme Smith and the Proteas showed us in Australia, no injury is too grave to overcome, no task is too great too overwhelm the South African spirit. It endures, and can lead to victory even in the most hostile of terrains.
And though I have only served South Africa from the benches of the constitutional opposition, I find myself in rare agreement with the radical communist Rosa Luxembourg, who wrote after the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, "Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party, however numerous they may be, is no freedom at all."
It is the high duty of both government and opposition, the media and civil society to protect and extend the freedoms we all enjoy.
No rainbow is monochromatic, and big majorities do not confer a monopoly on either wisdom or patriotism. When we encourage dissent and welcome a debate among alternatives, we allow ourselves and the nation we serve the widest of all choices and the truest test of alternatives.
If we condemn ideas simply because they come from the minority, we deny ourselves the highest good that a democratic republic provides its citizens.
Too often this Parliament has revived old battles and abdicated its responsibility to hold present administration to account.
There are some signs of recent change and we must hope and pray that the next parliament, government and opposition, follows the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, who said, "I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past."
Above all, the next parliament must remember that it serves the people, not itself. That was the promise I made to the voters of Houghton 20 years ago, when they sent a 32-year-old city councilor to be their voice in tumultuous times.
That is the promise I renewed to the South African people when they thrice returned me to a democratic Parliament, representative of all the people in their diversity.
I celebrate today the fact of South Africa's exceptionalism.
We are the only large, ethnically diverse and resource-rich African country to remain a free democracy.
We should acknowledge that achievement, not with the glow of self-congratulation but with an urgent and determined desire to repair the breaches in our democratic path; and to expand our lessons of democracy and freedom throughout the continent and the wider world.
As I step down from this podium for the last time, and as I leave the Parliament I have served for two decades, I will leave behind the two letters "M-P" that I have carried by my name as my honour and my charge.
And henceforth freed from that great and noble obligation, I will be honoured to carry a title that means far more than the ones I am leaving behind: "Citizen of the Republic of South Africa."
Long live South Africa in freedom. Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika.




By Benjamin Trisk


Without faces or names; with neither spine nor heart; unseen and uncaring - these now are the people with power over our children. The blood of parents washes the feet of the young. Who is there left to care for us? South Africans can no longer care for themselves.

Eighteen months ago I wrote in this newspaper that armed men in our house had robbed my son of his childhood. Eighteen months later it has become a most trivial incident. This week I am reminded how trivial: the Lapp family live in Parktown North. They too were involved in the end of weekend routine of marshalling children for school; forcing them into readiness; asking their son if his kit was prepared for rugby or hockey trials ahead of a new season. I don't know the family, I wasn't at the house. But we all know the drill.

Nothing in their experience, or mine, or yours, might have prepared them for the onslaught to come. Armed men fortified with the knowledge of an incompetent police force and a crumbling justice system, secured by dope or arrogance (it matters not) burgled an urban life. They killed the father: his son and his wife are critically injured.

Regrettably, it is often only proximity that spurs us to action. We cannot raise ourselves to outrage every time death in this country takes on the all too frequent garb of an obscenity.Is this any more outrageous than the murder a month ago of Sheldon Cohen or Emily Williams or other murders that were reported as common-place over the weekend.

Certainly not.

Five hundred years ago we were reminded that "no man is an island....any man's death diminishes me.." But in this instance I am pricked by the knowledge of my own family's good fortune. Moreover, my son and the young Lapp attend the same school although in different grades. So I know their routine and ours last Sunday night could not have been too different.

We are a nation dying from the pornography of crime.

And yet, even so, something has been sucked out of South Africans: it is our ability to respond in a sustained way to the travesty that parades itself as national politics. We have an inability to confront the malignant voice of a regime that, having occupied the moral high-ground, now sustains itself (and feeds its adherents both philosophically and by manipulation of the economic system) with cries of racism at every turn. In truth, politics today is no less racist than it was twenty years ago; excepting that it is allied to a monumental incompetence in respect of service delivery that harms black and white alike.

The Visigoths fatten civilized people do nothing. They shrug helplessly at a country of tears and they act in their own interest; which thus far is to shore up their domestic defences or, increasingly again, emigrate. The international community is unconcerned, we hear no voice joining our trading partners in condemnation; and even if we did our leaders have no ears to listen. The most immediate issue on the mind of the President of France, in the great tradition of French venality, is to sell power generation capacity to this country.

And yet the People are never helpless. In 1960, during the course of the Treason Trial, the Apartheid government under Verwoerd, implemented a State of Emergency. The defence team for the accused were denied access to their clients during this period. As a result both the lawyers and their clients agreed that it was impossible to continue with a formal legal defence. The proceedings became a mockery. The defence continued to keep a watching brief in court but the accused enjoyed themselves by conducting their own defence and deliberately making the proceedings trivial and inconsequential. This took place in full view of a watching international community. Once the State of Emergency was lifted the defence team returned to give their clients proper succour. The outcome in 1961 was an acquittal for all the accused, who numbered Mr Mandela among them.

If men of great stature, accused and defence alike, could act together to defy an unworkable system, why should it be impossible for the Parliamentary opposition to signal its concern that the South African political corpus is sick and likely to become terminal. Take conventional opposition politics out of it; forget about the trite nonsense of oaths of allegiance for school children, and the drivel spoken by the Chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Sport. Forget that stuff, as irritating as it may be.

Let the opposition step back a moment: the President-in-waiting faces serious charges around criminal conduct, ditto the former Chief of Police. We are led to believe from affidavits that the President may, at the very least, have misled the country about his knowledge of the Police Chief's conduct. The only independent investigative and prosecutorial arm of the judiciary is to be dismembered and reorganized and the National Executive Committee of the ruling party includes individuals who have faced or been charged with (and found guilty) of criminal conduct Incompetence is no reason to dismiss a Cabinet Minister and no politician has even faced censure over the Eskom debacle.

Meanwhile the citizens of this country die from violent criminal acts every day in their homes, at their places of work, in the street. Being a child brings no immunity and the deaths of our children inure others to the enormity of the loss.

This right now is our society: sick doesn't begin to describe our plight.

There are no doubt obstacles, but if Zille, de Lille and Holomisa et al could convince their constituencies, the correct approach right now (with respect) is to announce an Opposition withdrawal from participation in parliament and a set of non-partisan guidelines for return. I would not presume to comment on the nature of a set of non-partisan principles but I would guess that issues around mandatory sentencing would be one of them. For my own part I am no longer opposed to the death sentence for certain crimes.

An Opposition consensus on withdrawal (and implementation) would most certainly galvanise world opinion on the affront that our current regime represents to civilized behaviour.

There also can no longer be any argument that this country deserves to stage the 2010 World Cup; our own leaders by their very conduct have given away our claim to represent a new African era. They have shamed us by their deceit and their greed. By their inaction and indifference they have frittered away the birthright of our children. By their adherence to the politics of race and denial they have wrung from our hearts the optimism and hope we won in 1994.

South Africa is run by men behind masks whose currency is the barrel of a gun. The politics of arrogance allows them free reign.

Have we reached the end of hope?

Benjamin Trisk

March 3, 2008

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