/ 21 May 2024

Veteran politician and pioneer in South African opposition politics James Selfe dies

While James Selfe said that De Lille had been using “delay tactics” to “frustrate” the disciplinary hearing processes
Former Democratic Alliance federal council chair James Selfe.

Former Democratic Alliance (DA) federal council chair James Selfe, arguably one of its most notable veterans, has died aged 68 after a lengthy illness, the party announced on Tuesday. 

DA leader John Steenhuisien described Selfe as having led a quietly influential life in contemporary South African political history, making an immense contribution to its  democracy. 

Selfe first came into active politics in the late 1970s and 1980s, when he worked as a researcher for the Progressive Federal Party, which would later become the DA. 

Selfe was widely known in the corridors of parliament for having the respect of his political foes, including those in the ruling ANC.

He served in the legislature for nearly three decades in various portfolio committees, most notably that on justice and correctional services, where his oversight of South Africa’s judicial system was crucial to ensuring that fairness and accountability were always upheld in South African society, Steenhuisen said.

“Through his service to three federal leaders as the party’s first chairperson of the federal council, James operationalised the establishment and fortification of the DA as South Africa’s formidable official opposition,” the DA leader said in a statement.

“Selfe helped fine-tune the party’s systems and processes, tightening its federal constitution and turning the fast-growing DA into a modern, internationally-renowned African liberal party of rules and fairness.”

Selfe has been credited as having pioneered the DA’s most notable legal strategies including on the Zuma spy tapes, the Nkandla scandal and state capture.

“In many ways, James was a pioneer in South African opposition politics, because he was one of the first politicians in post-democratic history to begin the work of opposing the unfettered power of the ANC’s majority, and turn South Africa into a living, breathing democracy where the opposition took up its role as society’s ultimate watchdog,” Steenhuisen said. 

“This vital development cannot be understated in a country where democratic accountability is still so worryingly evaded. James set the example for many of us in the DA, and we will continue this work for our country in his memory.”

He said Selfe would be remembered for setting the example with his ability to show immense resilience even under the most dire circumstances. 

Calling him one of the country’s unsung heroes, the DA leader said Selfe dedicated his life to the liberation of the South African people, and the betterment of the country as a newly-released democracy.