Let me be clear, I am not a fan of FW de Klerk. Never was, never will be. He also does not like me. I know it, because he has told me so. Something to do with being a sell-out, writes Melanie Verwoerd
During the first democratic Parliament, I shared a bench in the National Assembly with the late Danny Olifant.
Danny was from Atlantis.
He was a larger than life figure and called a spade a bloody shovel when required.
From where we were sitting (close to the back door) we could see the seats in the gallery reserved for diplomats and guests of the president (Mandela) and deputy presidents (De Klerk and Mbeki).
At the time FW de Klerk was still married to the late Marike de Klerk.
On important occasions such as the opening of Parliament she would attend and take up her seat in the front row of the gallery, opposite from where De Klerk’s bench was.
Together with the rest of the gallery she would stand for the anthem, or moment of silent prayer and meditation.
However, frequently when President Mandela came in or made his way to the podium she would sit down.
This was clearly intended as a sign of disrespect and was very obvious given that everyone else in the gallery would stand as a mark of respect for the President.
One day, Danny Olifant, who had a booming voice, couldn’t take it any more.
During a momentary lull in the proceedings he shouted: “Marike, staan op, jy is ONGESKIK!” (Marike, stand up, you are RUDE!)
All eyes in the chamber turned to her and she glared at Danny with unmasked hatred.
However, from that day onward she stood up when Mandela entered.
I suddenly thought of this incident on Thursday last week when all the members of the EFF sat down as President Cyril Ramaphosa entered the National Assembly during the opening of Parliament.
How I wished Danny was there to tell them how rude they were.
I also could not help but reflect on the irony of them later making a fuss about De Klerk being in attendance.
If only they knew the Marike story.
Let me be clear, I am not a fan of FW de Klerk.
Never was, never will be.
He also does not like me.
I know it, because he has told me so.
Something to do with being a sell-out.
I also think that his statement that apartheid was not a crime against humanity (for which he has now apologised) was extraordinarily insensitive and tone deaf.
But of course the EFF gave him more airtime than he could have ever dreamed of.
It is also clear that if it wasn’t De Klerk, the EFF would have targeted someone else – Pravin, the Speaker, the President, the deputy president, some of the ushers – take your pick.
Because the EFF doesn’t do things out of principle – unless it is the “we like to disrupt and draw attention” principle as we saw again yesterday during Malema’s disgraceful behaviour in Parliament.
Remember a few years ago when the EFF gave Pravin Gordhan a lengthy standing ovation when he delivered a budget speech?
Then of course they liked him, because he was critical of then-president Zuma.
Now they can’t decide if he or FW de Klerk is their enemy number 1.
Honestly, if the best they can come up with is to protest against an elderly apartheid president’s presence and accusing Pravin Gordhan of not keeping the lights on (can they really have such serious historical amnesia?) – there is very little substance left in the EFF.
I started writing this column for News24 in 2016.
In May of that year (in my second column), I warned against the danger of the EFF’s behaviour.
Although I shared their dislike of President Zuma, I warned that the EFF could not be permitted to behave in the manner they did in Parliament.
I warned that their total disregard for the rules would cause serious problems in years to come.
“When part of an institution you have to abide by the rules or else change it. You can not scream like a two-year-old screams and throw your hard hat and bottled water out of the cot when things don’t go your way,” I said.
The chickens have now come home to roost.
The EFF’s behaviour in and out of Parliament was tolerated because people didn’t like President Zuma, but by doing so a dangerous monster has been created.
At least Thandi Modise handled the EFF’s shenanigans better than the previous Speaker.
She let them wear themselves out, until they basically had no choice but to leave Parliament of their own accord.
Finally the opposition parties now also seem united in the belief that drastic action should be taken against the EFF to ensure the smooth functioning of Parliament.
Exactly what that could be, is difficult to imagine.
But do something they must, because as I stated nearly four years ago: “Parliament should always be a place of rigorous debate, wit and passion. However, we can’t allow elected ‘honourable’ members to treat this important institution with disdain and deal with disagreements through violence and intimidation.”
– Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland