The following speech was delivered today by the DA Chief Whip, Siviwe Gwarube MP, during a Special Joint Sitting of Parliament to honour the life of the former Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Frene Ginwala.
On behalf of the DA, I would like to formally extend our deepest condolences to the friends and family of Dr Frene Ginwala; her political party the African National Congress (ANC) and all those whose lives were touched by her work over the course of a life well-lived.
Siyayazi ukuba uwile umthi omkhulu.
The death of the first speaker of the first democratic Parliament comes at a seminal time in our country and indeed for this institution too.
The angst, despair and anger among South Africans is palpable.
This country-wide anxiety about the future coincides with the deaths of some of the founding figures of our democracy, a symbolism which cannot be ignored.
It does require the leaders in South Africa to recommit themselves in word and deed to the very promise of 1994.
It requires us to interrogate what legacy has been left behind by people like Dr Ginwala and how best we can carry on the path that they charted for us all.
The death of this formidable feminist, academic, freedom fighter and trailblazer has made me – a young leader in South Africa – pause for thought about the role that we are playing in bettering the lives of the people who elected us to serve them.
Are we building on the gains of people like Dr Ginwala so that their life’s work and sacrifices are not in vain?
Or have we abandoned the hope and commitment of 1994?
Many have spoken of the gravity of the moment when that first democratic Parliament was founded.
It was an institution built on the foundation of a racially segregated South Africa; a country that many had written off; pointing to examples of civil wars across the continent.
However, many committed themselves to building a democratic South Africa where the colour of your skin does not determine your lot in life.
Parliament as an institution was critical to that national project.
It was in those Houses that laws were passed that would go on to give effect to our Constitution, a document lauded world-over for being progressive.
Dr Ginwala began the work of establishing the culture, rules and procedures of Parliament; working from a completely blank slate.
But from the work that was done then, we know what an effective Parliament ought to do.
It elects a President; pass laws; holds the executive to account and provides a platform for issues affecting South Africans to be ventilated.
Lo msebenzi siwenza apha namhlanje suwuhlakulelwe ngoo Dr Ginwala.
In preparing for this tribute, it was important that I not limit my preparation on all that is written about Dr Ginwala, but to speak to people who were in Parliament during her tenure as the Speaker of the National Assembly.
I spoke to James Selfe, who has since retired but spoke warmly about Dr Ginwala. He too was part of that historic class of 1994. Someone who differed with the Speaker politically but had immense respect for her work and her commitment to the institution.
He recalled to me how fair she was. How – her political persuasions – never clouded her judgement when it came to instilling discipline in the House.
He recalled how detail- orientated she was, committed to the spirit and the letter of the rules of Parliament as a presiding officer.
He spoke of how her work as the inaugural presiding officer truly deepened South Africa’s democracy.
This is no doubt, an incredible legacy.
And so the responsibility is now ours, honourable members.
We need to restore this Parliament to standard and caliber of the first Parliament.
If we are to honour the life of Dr Frene Ginwala, we must rebuild Parliament.
We need to make sure that the rubble which was once the House that changed the course of South Africa is rebuilt, without any delay.
We need to make sure that contribution of the first Speaker of the National Assembly is recorded in the Parliament that will be rebuilt, similar to the Mandela Bust which stands proudly in front of the Assembly.
Honouring her work cannot be just in the form of memorial material.
It needs to be reflected in how we treat this House.
We need presiding officers who will commit to the rules of the institution; unmoved by their own political affiliation.
We need to bring back the spirit of working across party lines. South Africans need to see us united in our commitment to bringing change to their lives.
We need to abandon the unprogressive tendency of shooting down ideas because they do not come from our own political party.
The issues facing South Africa are urgent. And they require the kind of political maturity the likes of Dr Ginwala had.
And so as we bid farewell to her, we also express our deep gratitude.
Silapha nje, sine Palamente enemithetho nemiqathango, yimisebenzi ka Dr Ginwala nabanye.
Singu Mzantsi Afrika Siyabulela.