/ 26 May 2014

Van Schalkwyk resigns from Parliament

Former tourism minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk.
Former tourism minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk.

Former tourism minister and the last leader of the National Party Marthinus van Schalkwyk has resigned from Parliament, abruptly ending a 10-year stint a day after President Jacob Zuma left him out of his new Cabinet.

Van Schalkwyk, who served as a Cabinet minister for 10 years from 2004, resigned on Monday, but would not say why is he leaving nor is it clear what he plans to do next.

In a terse statement, he thanked Zuma and former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe for appointing him into their Cabinets. “I would like to thank President Zuma for the privilege to have served in his Cabinet for the past five years. I would also like to express my sincere gratitude to have served in the Cabinets of Presidents Mbeki and Motlanthe,” wrote Van Schalkwyk.

“It was a singular honour to have served the ANC in Cabinet and Parliament and I will continue to be an active member,” he said. Van Schalkwyk also vowed to ensure that “a smooth and seamless handover and transition takes place” between him and his successor, newly appointed Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom.

Van Schalkwyk served under two ANC administrations, starting in May 2004 when then president Thabo Mbeki appointed him the minister of environmental affairs and tourism as a reward for aligning his party with the ANC. He then took up ANC membership in August 2004, about a year before his party, the New National Party (NNP), was completely dissolved into the ANC. A number of NNP MPs crossed the floor with him to the ANC.

The party had only managed 1.9% of the national vote.

Van Schalkwyk’s chief of staff Riaan Aucamp would not say what his boss was planning to do next, saying the outgoing minister was not prepared to say more than what is in the statement. But after the snub by Zuma on Sunday evening, it is safe to say Van Schalkwyk is not prepared to occupy the ANC back benches in the National Assembly.

In March this year, Congress of the People (Cope) leader Mosiuoa Lekota, who is a former national chairperson of the ANC and one of the people who negotiated the merging of the NNP with the ANC alongside the late Steve Tshwete, revealed there was no sunset clause to the agreement between the two parties.

“When I came back from Robben Island after we formed the United Democratic Front, I kept saying to our comrades that it is very important we convince white South Africans that when we say we want a non-racial South Africa, we are not hoodwinking them. We are genuine, we are serious and we didn’t want anything contrary to that when freedom comes.

“When we negotiated a settlement with the National Party, we worked very hard to persuade the NP people to say ‘don’t persist in this wrong of keeping us divided. Come, let’s work together in the ANC.’ We brought them into the ANC,” said Lekota at the time.

“I am still very proud that we did that because the choice is for them now, whether they think the corruption is right or not right. But that we are working together as black and white. I feel vindicated about it.”

Political commentator Max du Preez, who also spoke to the Mail & Guardian, in March noted that Van Schalkwyk was one of the hardest working ministers in the ANC government, adding that he would keep him in to continue the good work he was doing. Du Preez added: “But they [former National Party members] bring a thin veneer of diversity to the ANC.”

He said the ANC-NNP “experiment” had not worked and had no impact at all as the former Nats had failed to attract whites or the minorities to the ANC.

“By all accounts, Van Schalkwyk is a hardworking successful minister, but he might as well be a government official, a civil servant. He doesn’t defend the ANC publicly, no electioneering or participating in public debates. If you are not convinced about the moral fortitude of the ANC or its policies, why stay then?” said Du Preez.

Parliament spokesperson Luzuko Jacobs told the Mail and Guardian that Van Schalkwyk, who was sworn in as an ANC MP less than a week ago, was one of two ANC MPs who resigned on Monday. The other is former ANC Youth League spokesperson Zizi Kodwa, who has been appointed as the ANC’s national spokesperson, a full-time position.