Motlanthe bids farewell to Parliament

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

South Africa's Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe is retiring from the government.

Parliamentarians bade a fond and, at times, moving farewell to Motlanthe on Tuesday afternoon, and he in turn, portraying the humility he is well known for, thanked the ANC for giving him the opportunity to serve.

Political parties put aside their differences to pay tribute to Motlanthe, who first joined Parliament in 2008, when he was appointed the minister in the presidency, following the ANC's Polokwane conference, and later became president of the republic when the ANC recalled President Thabo Mbeki.

It's not every day that opposition MPs would sing praises of an ANC leader, but every speaker praised Motlanthe for his "qualities of integrity, humility and honour".

Many applauded the role he played in championing the supply of antiretrovirals to boost the country's fight against Aids.

"There is no question that the person we honour today, Deputy President Motlanthe has altered history for the better, for reasons to do with his strong inner belief in justice, his devotion to public service rooted in the episcopalian tradition of the Anglican church," said the Democratic Alliance's Wilmot James.

Motlanthe was an altar boy in his youth and he wanted to be a priest.

Honour and respect
"And this ability in his conduct based on the notion of reciprocal honour and respect, we could all do well to emulate in this world dominated by so much noise, instability and the curse exercise of power.

"He exemplifies the qualities of a personality that are rare, in the world of politics, such as honour; to be held in public esteem, showing an unusual and merited respect for others once whose work invites respect and the quality of integrity," added James.

Congress of the People's Thozamile Botha said opposition parties didn't always agree with everything Motlanthe said, "but your humility and demeanour with which you responded to questions persuaded even the sceptics to let go and agree to disagree".

The Inkatha Freedom Party spoke about the role Motlanthe played while he was the secretary general of the ANC in getting the IFP and the ANC to talks in an attempt to ease the tensions between the two parties.

IFP MP Velaphi Ndlovu said: "The IFP wants to place on record, that when you were the ANC SG, the understanding between the IFP and ANC made it possible for discussions between the two parties.

"On behalf of IFP, we will always cherish your honesty and integrity."

Ndlovu said the IFP appreciated how Motlanthe conducted himself inside and outside the National Assembly "in your own manner of accepting all others despite your high office".

Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor, one of the National Assembly’s loudest hecklers, had earlier opened the debate with an "apology" to Motlanthe for her heckling.

"I wish to begin by saying that I do regret that you had to tolerate my heckling in your time in this House. And if I caused you not to hear the intelligent contributions from the DA, then I apologise, but I assure you that you missed very little," she said to laughter from her comrades and heckling from the DA.

Pandor described Motlanthe as a "tried and tested freedom fighter".

"He has experienced South Africa from all angles; apartheid state, emerging democracy, fledgling constitutional state and an increasingly robust nation of the world.

"And in each of these stages of the state of South Africa, the deputy president made an honourable contribution.

"He is a dignified person, a strong-willed man of principle, very suited to his name: Kgalema [SePedi for caution, correct, guide]. The name befits you in an extraordinary way," said Pandor.

She said that while Motlanthe served well when he was president, it is his service as leader of government business that has most impressed her.

"In a context, when many executive leaders seek to diminish Parliament, he has asserted the importance of Parliament and the need for the executive to account to Parliament."

Pandor said that within the ANC, Motlanthe could be relied upon to assert principle over expediency. "He knows the movement, lives its belief and fully merits the decision that he will head the ANC political school, I can think of no better leader for the ANC political school."

She urged him to consider assisting the future leader of government business by offering orientation to the next leader of government business to ensure a similar commitment to keeping Parliament "vibrant, transparent and accountable".

'Mixed emotions'
In response, Motlanthe was his old humble self.

"After six years of history, I am running the whole gamut of human emotions from melancholy to elation. Humanity is conditioned to experience emotions attuned to the peculiarities of the moment.

"Yet for me right now this is a moment laden with mixed emotions."

Motlanthe said he was disconsolate for parting ways with members of his party, the ANC.

"You will know that my presence in this House is attributable to the ANC, which has, for all this time, been my extended family.

"As such I stood here about six years back, on ANC platform, in a prospective mood; looking forward to making my own little contribution to the vision that defines our nation.

"On the ticket of the ANC I took oath of office, both as minister in the presidency and subsequently, the president of our country. Both these occasions were of historical moment in various ways."

Motlanthe acknowledged that he became the president of our republic under anomalous circumstances.

"This was the time during which our nation, for the first time since the onset of democracy, faced its sternest test. Eight months before the end of the third term of office [of the democratic state] for the sitting president, Honourable Thabo Mbeki, destiny commandeered me to assume the reigns of the presidency to see the term through.

"As the world turned many were beginning to wonder whether this conjuncture signalled the beginning of the end for our nation.

"Unprecedented, it was a defining moment. This House knows, as do many of us, that there is a standing assumption that our nation is no exception to the sad experience that has befallen many a post-colonial country, not least our continent, Africa."

Motlanthe said while bare-knuckle engagements were par for the course in Parliament, "with bruising exchanges that went beyond the pale not uncommon", he had found the House to be an epicentre of rational and level-headed discourse that left many bloodied but unbowed.

"I dare say, at the end, we are all the richer for it. Our system of democracy is ultimately about creating a multivocal society, thriving on irreconcilable ideological differences, none of which, paradoxically, can survive without the other."

He said he was filled with sadness at his departure after about six years, being asked to serve one's country at any point in history was always an honour.

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