News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Tuesday March 26th 2019

Van Zyl Slabbert ‘the greatest president South Africa was never even able to consider”

Bianca Silva

A ‘visionary’, a ‘fallen great tree’ and a ‘courageous man’ were some of the descriptions of the late Dr Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert at a memorial held at the Institute for Democracy in Africa’s (IDASA) Cape Town offices today. Slabbert, who died on May 14 at age 70 after a prolonged illness, led the liberal Progressive Federal Party (PFP) from 1979 to 1986, was best remembered for his contribution to democracy and a non-racialised society following his arranging groundbreaking talks between the then exiled African National Congress (ANC) and the National Party in Senegal in 1985.

Memorial keynote speaker, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, who addressed a packed venue of about 100 people, among them top academics, politicians, civil society leaders and businesspeople, described Slabbert as a “South African patriot” and “visionary”, who worked against hypocrisy as he “upheld, in word and deed, the truth to be self-evident that all men were created equal”.

Radebe commended Slabbert’s “innovative thinking”, saying Slabbert, by example, showed that every South African had a role play in the aftermath of the “second Great Trek of Afrikaaners into the great unknown” which led to a post-1994 democratic state.

“The nation is forever indebted to him for his tireless and selfless work. His spirit will continue to inspire us to raise the bar.”

DA MP and shadow minister of higher education, Wilmot James, referred to Slabbert affectionately as “Van”, and spoke of Slabbert’s outstanding academic career as a sociology Professor who lectured at four different South African universities, and was Chancellor of Stellenbosh University in 2008.

Slabbert was an “engaging academic”, with an “enquiring mind that was unstoppable,” said James. “He wore his justice on his sleeve and clutched it in his heart.”

University of Cape Town Professor Michael Savage described Slabbert as a great fallen tree, under which many people had taken shelter and would now miss the shade of what James haddescribed as the “greatest president South Africa was never even able to consider”.

His work in NGO’s and civil society, such as his temporary position as Founding Chair of the Open Society Foundation for South Africa, was amongst some of the things that were often not noted, as Slabbert conducted much of his work for social justice out of the public eye.

Co-founder of IDASA and close friend of Slabbert’s, Dr Alex Boraine, reminded the audience how Slabbert left Parliament after 12 years as MP for the official opposition to the National Party, a move which was a “protest against the bankruptcy of whites-only democracy”.

Although “cynical of fame”, as he “believed it was illusionary”, Boraine said Slabbert was nevertheless warm and loving to his friends and family.

He said while Slabbert never took himself too seriously, he upheld the utmost integrity, advocated clean and efficient government and understood that struggles created progress.

“Tot siens my maat, peace be with you,” he said, before challenging those left behind to step up and take Slabbert’s place.

Following the memorial service, James went to Parliament to attend a motion to be raised during a condolence debate, that Cabinet should be elected through both direct and proportionate representation according to the findings of the Elections Task Team (ETT), which were dismissed in 2003. – West Cape News

Tags: borraine, idasa, radebe, slabbert

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