From John Vorster to Jacob Zuma - Graham McIntosh

COPE's new MP on his return to parliament, for the fourth time

"Parliament and the Parties of my Life"

On Thursday 2 June 2011 I was sworn in, as a member of Parliament, by the Speaker, Mr Max Sisulu, for the fourth time in my political life.  My first oath of allegiance was taken in April 1974 and John Vorster was Prime Minister and Louis le Grange was Speaker. 

P W Botha was head of state when I was sworn for the second time in 1981 and Alwyn Schlebusch was Speaker.

On the third occasion in 1999 the head of state was Thabo Mbeki and Frene Ginwala was the Speaker.

Then, in the group of new MPs taking the oath together was an ANC MP, Jacob Zuma, and we joked, as we signed the document that were both "msila" (new boys).

This fourth swearing in, the head of state is the same Jacob Zuma. My return to Parliament this time involved none of the rough and tumble and hard work of a by-election campaign. I was simply the next person on "the list" delivered to the Independent Electoral Commission by COPE. 

An interesting twist was that on 29 March 2011 and only minutes before I was due to be sworn in, the Speaker was interdicted from doing so. The High Court interdict was obtained by Mbhazima ("Sam") Shilowa, former COPE Deputy President, former Premier of Gauteng and former General Secretary of COSATU. 

He had been expelled from COPE for abusing COPE's Parliamentary funds but only after a fair, open, transparent disciplinary procedure.

This time, because Ms Anele Mda, whose obnoxious political values and behaviour make her a kind of female Julius Malema, had resigned from COPE to join the ANC, a vacancy arose.  

In politics they quip, "I have media coverage, therefore I am". If that is true, my political career started fifty years ago in March 1961. My photograph appeared on the front page of the Cape Argus when I was a seventeen year old first year student standing on the steps of the Jameson Hall and holding a placard protesting against the law to exclude people of colour from the University of Cape Town.

From then until now, my commitment remains to a society where there is a fair place in the sun for all South Africans.

Although people like Jonty Driver, Ilse Fischer, Fikile Bam, Adrian Leftwich and Stephanie Kemp were in politics on the UCT campus, the first party that I joined was the Liberal Party in 1963. 

I needed to put a stake in ground to resist the overwhelming tide of Verwoerdian racial and nationalist sophistry that seemed to engulf white South Africa. I resigned when prominent members of the Liberal Party became involved in violence.

I have never been a pacifist but I saw violence for political ends in our South African situation, as a short-term, sterile and self-defeating strategy.

In 1972 I joined the United Party and in 1974 I was elected the UP MP for Pinetown. I organised report back meetings to my black constituents in Clermont Township, got involved in trying to resolve the labour problems at the Philip Frame factories in Pinetown, gave temporary shelter at my home in Kloof to Clermont shack dwellers whose homes had been bulldozed and my wife and I went on an eight day hunger strike to demonstrate that Steve Biko couldn't have died, as the Minister Jimmy Kruger claimed, from refusing food for eight days.

When the UP dissolved I joined Japie Basson and Harry Schwarz in the PFP and in 1977 I lost my seat. In 1981 I won Maritzburg North for the PFP and so I moved through to the DP. I lost the seat in 1987.

During that time, apart from my constituency work,  I attended UDF rallies and funerals; monitored the State of Emergency including by using Parliamentary privilege to read out in Parliament the names of those we knew had been detained without trial; I called General Magnus Malan the Gaddafi of Southern Africa when I revealed, again using Parliamentary privilege, that the SADF was destabilizing neighbouring countries; I was court-martialled in Durban over a refusal to bear arms when I was called up to serve in Operation Buttermilk.

While outside of party politics I served on the Estcourt/Wembezi Peace Committee and also served the farming community to help bring about the transformation of the old white Natal Agricultural Union, of which I was the last President, into the non-racial Kwanalu, of which I was the first President. 

President Nelson Mandela, Dr MG Buthelezi, Premier Ben Ngubane and many other dignitaries, but more important, hundreds of commercial farmers of all races, were at the official launch at the Royal Agricultural Show Grounds in Pietermaritzburg.  

I went to Parliament for a third time in 1999 and for the DP, which became the DA.  I resigned from the DA in February 2004 because I felt insulted to be so low on their list and I was not prepared to become a "crosstitute".

I also decided that I would only become involved in a party with significant black leadership. In that sense I had two false starts with the ACDP and also with NADECO. When COPE appeared in November 2008, I knew that here there was a seismic shift in South African politics. Nothing has made me change that view although the administrative failures and the extraordinary ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory continues to amaze me. 

Despite that and our difficulties with the Shilowa supporters, our successes in drawing over 700 000 votes in the recent Local Government elections, shows that we are very much alive.

Dr Jake Jacobs former UP MP for Hillbrow and head of the Wits Business School remarked once, "longevity in Parliamentary politics is a direct function of one's ability to avoid controversy". 

I have never sought to avoid controversy nor have I been afraid of the "political wilderness". Loving one's country, while retaining one's personal political integrity and being true to one's personal political vision and values, has been paramount even though I have expressed that through many political vehicles.

If and when I write my Memoirs, a friend quipped that one chapter should be entitled "The Parties of my Life"!

Parliamentary government is surely the finest flower of human civilization but it is a fragile flower that needs to be fiercely defended. That is the primary responsibility of any opposition party. Needless to say I am delighted to be back in our Parliament with all its shortcomings but also its warm collegiality.

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