Why cabinet should have listened to me

2009-02-19 00:00

TWO pieces of this past week's news illustrate how many things I proposed in the interest of South Africa while in the governments of both president Mandela and president Mbeki were not taken seriously, merely because I was not trusted.

The first refers to the case decided last Tuesday by the Pretoria High Court, in which the Freedom Front Plus party challenged the constitutionality of the denial since 1994 of the right to vote for many South Africans abroad, including those working and residing there. I was minister of Home Affairs from 1994 to 2004. In that capacity I pleaded very hard with my colleagues in cabinet to let me make provision for the right to vote of these South Africans in the legislation I formulated for cabinet's consideration. This was the Electoral Laws Second Amendment Bill.

They would not let me do so.

I abided by my duty, which required me to respect cabinet decisions. But I reported the matter to Parliament. That speech in the National Assembly on November 25, 2003 was quoted in, and relied on, in last Tuesday's Pretoria High Court judgment, which declared the Electoral Act unconstitutional on the basis of concerns I expressed. It could have been avoided had cabinet accepted my good faith in 2003.

Now, Mr Willem Stephanus Richter, the plaintiff in that case and a teacher abroad who is supported by the Freedom Front Plus, has a chance to vote, subject to the final say of the Constitutional Court.

The litigation would have been unnecessary had I not been slapped down by my cabinet colleagues. I think they did so to remind me that, although a minister and their peer, I was nonetheless an outsider as the leader of an opposition party.

The second piece of news that illustrates how what I proposed in the interest of South Africa was not taken seriously by cabinet is the saddening announcement that the United Kingdom will impose visa requirements.

In respect of this issue, I sounded many warnings in my capacity as minister of Home Affairs, which were again ignored. I identified the need to restructure the department in order to address its chronic shortcomings, including potential corruption and lack of security of its internal procedures. My proposals were frustrated and dismissed.

The South African passport has all the required security features. The problem lies in the many opportunities that remain open for people who are not entitled to have passports to obtain one through corrupt practices or by resorting to weak or non-secure steps in the chain of documentation and actions.

One may remember last year's extraordinary event that found American film star Wesley Snipes with a South African passport. That is how far this rot in Home Affairs has gone.

It will be recalled that my cabinet colleagues opposed just about every provision in my Immigration Bill. Ministers were given authority by the president to tear apart my draft bill and they took full advantage to vent their spleen. This whole drama ended with my president suing me in the Cape High Court to proclaim my regulations for the Immigration Act null and void and to ask the court to order me to pay the costs. That is how angry he was with me. But he lost on the cost issue. And I was doing nothing but fulfilling my duty to give our country the best and strongest immigration system I could. They did not listen to me and the results speak for themselves.

All these inconveniences could have been avoided had there not been such mistrust between me and my cabinet colleagues in the ruling party. What we see now in the courts are the consequences of that mistrust. It is this mistrust that, notwithstanding my participation and the participation of the other IFP colleagues of mine in the government of national unity for 10 years, makes it impossible for real reconciliation between the ANC and the IFP to stabilise.

* This is an edited version of the IFP leader's weekly newsletter published at www.ifp.org.za

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