IFP Motion of Condolence
on the Passing of Dr Van Zyl Slabbert

By Prince MG Buthelezi MP
President of the Inkatha Freedom Party


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 participate.


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 integrity.


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 and Johannesburg.


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 parties.


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 to me. 


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 passing.


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 Act.


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 politicians alone.


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