12 March 2014
The Parliament of South Africa said goodbye to Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel in an emotional session in the National Assembly in Cape Town on Tuesday. The two are retiring from government and Parliament this year.
Motlanthe retires after serving as South Africa’s Deputy President from 2009. He was promoted to President of the country in 2008, just months after being appointed minister without portfolio in the Presidency.
Manuel was appointed Trade and Industry Minister after the first democratic elections in the country in 1994. Two years later, on 4 April 1996, he was appointed Finance Minister, a position he held until the April 2009 general election, making him one of the world’s longest serving finance ministers.
On 11 May 2009, President Jacob Zuma appointed Manuel as Minister in the Presidency responsible for the National Planning Commission. He has been instrumental in the development of the country’s National Development Plan (NDP).
During Tuesday’s session, MPs took a trip down memory lane as they hailed the two for their dedication to public service.
“[F]or me, this is a moment laden with mixed emotions,” Motlanthe said in his response. “For one thing, I am disconsolate for parting ways with members of the party I come from, the African National Congress (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.”
He reflected on his journey to the highest office in the country, when he took over after the recalling of former president Thabo Mbeki.
“No sooner had we disarmed Afro-pessimists with a smooth transition to democracy, than this difficult historical period emerged – seen in some quarters as sounding a death knell to our nation. Those less given to hyperbole saw our country as being on the cusp of a new era, the contours of which, though, were as yet indistinct. In the event, we proved the doomsayers wrong.”
Turning to his experience in the National Assembly, Motlanthe said he was leaving the chamber with a clear understanding of political liberalism, conservatism, nationalism and socialism.
“While bare-knuckle engagements were par for the course, with bruising exchanges that went beyond the pale not uncommon, I have found this 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 multi-vocal society, thriving on irreconcilable ideological differences, none of which, paradoxically, can survive without the other.”
While he was sad to be leaving Parliament and government, Motlanthe said it was time to hand over the reins to younger hands and minds.
“The truth is our nation is replete with luminous talent. Not only that, at some point serving leadership must give way, so that new blood, fired up with life-changing ideas, can take society to a higher level of development,” said Motlanthe who is tipped to head up the political school of the ANC.
Going forward, he said the country needed to consolidate the principle of social dialogue as a central building block of nationhood.
“Right now, South Africa [needs] bold visionaries, whose sights transcend the frontiers of time. The imperatives of our time enjoin this august House to rise above beguiling but small-minded discourse adorned with rhetorical embroidery to think realistically about the future of our nation.”
‘A journey of discovery’
For his part, Manuel said his journey in government and Parliament had left him wiser.
“Twenty years has been a journey of discovery and learning, of getting to know myself, my colleagues and comrades, understanding our country and the world,” Manuel said. “There were discoveries of the many possibilities and of where the boundaries were and of how to push back those boundaries. Through all of those experiences, I leave here wiser and richer.”
He said his time in government and Parliament had brought with it many lessons in many different forms.
“I have had the privilege to be part of that first Parliament that included people in this House still who served with me, inspired me, supported me, reprimanded when required and enriched my experience.”
Parliament will take a recess starting on Thursday, ending its five-year-term, and will reconvene after the general election in May.