National Assembly: 26th May 2010
On May 14th South Africa lost one of the
best minds ever to have graced our national discourse. The passing
of Dr Frederick van Zyl Slabbert was met with a flood of tributes
from politicians, academics and journalists, all singing the praises
of a man who deserved every good word that was spoken.
Today, we in this House honour the memory of
a former colleague, in the hope that what we say may capture the
magnitude of our loss.
I had the privilege of enjoying a long and
sincere friendship with Dr van Zyl Slabbert. We first met in the
seventies, when he was a young lecturer at Stellenbosch University.
At the time, there was a group of businessmen and intellectuals
which met to discuss current affairs. Dr van Zyl Slabbert was part
of this study group, called Synthesis, in which I was invited to
My first impression was of a man with
remarkable intellect, yet authentic humility. This humility spoke of
a depth of character that I grew to respect and admire. More than
anything, I was drawn to Dr van Zyl Slabbert because of his
I was chatting with my son, Ntuthukoyezwe ("Zuzie"
to his friends) during the weekend, and he said something about
integrity which stuck in my mind.
He quoted that if one has integrity anything
else doesn't matter, and if one hasn't got integrity, again anything
else doesn't matter.
When Dr van Zyl Slabbert was elected Leader
of the Progressive Federal Party, I invited him to address Inkatha's
conferences in Ulundi. Together with members of our two
organizations, we participated in many protest meetings in Durban
We shared a vision for the liberation of
South Africa, for which I later became ridiculed and vilified. Dr
van Zyl Slabbert and I both believed that the liberation of our
country should be pursued through negotiations, and not the barrel
of the gun. In 1985 we formed the National Convention Movement which
emphasized the need for government to negotiate with all political
The depth of our friendship became a cause
for concern to the nationalist government at the time, which
attempted to drive a wedge between us. The government released a
transcript of a private conversation which Dr van Zyl Slabbert had
with the then Prime Minister PW Botha, in which he was quoted as
saying, "He thinks he is the only bull in the kraal", in reference
But, to the government's dismay, this did
not affect our good relations or our genuine friendship. I respected
Dr van Zyl Slabbert's incisive criticisms as well as his directness.
He was a man who could always be trusted to speak his mind with
sincerity, and not tickle the ears with falsehoods. This trait cost
him the friendship of other leaders, but it earned him my respect.
He was a great asset to our country, which today is poorer for his
I was not surprised when, asked about his
time as the Chairman of the van Zyl Slabbert Commission, he remarked
that it was "a disgusting and eminently forgettable experience". As
the Minister of Home Affairs, I appointed Dr van Zyl Slabbert to
chair the Commission which was established to redraft the Electoral
The van Zyl Slabbert Commission brought
together some of the best domestic and international minds; genuine
democrats drawn from across the political spectrum, because I
understood that the Electoral Act is the contract between the
politicians and the people, and thus cannot be written by the
The van Zyl Slabbert Commission recognized
that the present electoral system lacks accountability and proposed
a system akin to the Local Government model, which combines
constituencies and proportional representation. It was a
well-considered recommendation based on comprehensive research; and
Cabinet rejected it.
However, Cabinet committed itself to
implement the recommendations at a later stage. I regret that Dr van
Zyl Slabbert never lived to see that day, but I hope that the good
intentions will not be forgotten.
On behalf of the Inkatha Freedom Party, I
offer my sincere condolences to the family of Dr van Zyl Slabbert,
and to the many who mourn his passing. He has left us a tremendous
legacy and for that we thank him. May he forever rest in peace.
Liezl van der Merwe
082 729 2510