DA stalwart and former MP James Selfe dies at 68

DA stalwart and former MP James Selfe has died. He was 68.

Party leader John Steenhuisen announced that Selfe passed away on Tuesday afternoon.

“James departed us peacefully, surrounded by family and loved ones, following a lengthy battle with illness,” he said.

Steenhuisen described Selfe as one of the unsung heroes of SA’s democracy, who dedicated his life to the liberation of the South African people, and the betterment of the country as a newly realised democracy.

Selfe worked for the DA’s forerunner, the Progressive Federal Party, in the 1970s and 1980s as a researcher to combat divisive and regressive apartheid laws by the National Party in parliament. He later served as the party’s communications director, then became an executive director. He was elected to the National Council of Provinces in 1994 in SA’s first democratic parliament and served in the Constitutional Assembly, participating in the drawing up of SA’s democratic constitution.

“Over his nearly 30-year parliamentary career, James served on various portfolio committees, most notably the committee on justice and correctional services where his oversight of the judicial system was crucial to ensuring that fairness and accountability were always upheld in South African society,” said Steenhuisen.

“However, it is James’ work for his political home, the Democratic Party (DP) and later the Democratic Alliance, which solidified his legacy as a true democratic stalwart. Through his service to three federal leaders as the party’s first chairperson of the federal council, James operationalised the establishment and fortification of the DA as SA’s formidable official opposition.”

Selfe helped fine-tune the party’s systems and processes, tightening its federal constitution and turning the fast-growing DA into a modern, internationally renowned African liberal party of rules and fairness.

“More crucially, James pioneered the DA’s lawfare programme responsible for some of the most ground-breaking legal judgments in post-democratic history, setting a variety of legal precedents which strengthened public accountability in our young democracy.

“From the Zuma spy tapes to Nkandla, to blowing the whistle on state contracts awarded to Bosasa, James led the charge against corruption and maladministration levelled against the South African people by some of the governing party’s most unethical figures. James was always committed to building and sustaining a democracy in which transparency and accountability would ensure that our government served its people, and not the politicians holding the reins.”

Steenhuisen described Selfe as a pioneer in SA opposition politics, because he was one of the first politicians in post-democratic history to begin the work of opposing the unfettered power of the ANC’s majority, and turn SA into a living, breathing democracy where the opposition took up its role as society’s ultimate watchdog.

“This vital development cannot be understated in a country where democratic accountability is still so worryingly evaded. James set the example for many of us in the DA, and we will continue this work for our country in his memory.”

He said the DA was a vast, diverse and expansive political home for millions of South Africans today because of Selfe’s decades of work and sacrifice.

“Even the party’s youngest and newest members today admire James for his immense contribution not only to the DA, but to South African democracy as a whole. It is this profound impact that will be James’ proud democratic legacy.

“We will miss James for his wry, sharp wit, his deep love for his family and his miniature schnauzers, and his proud annual proclamation of ‘Dezemba’ at the end of every parliamentary year.

“For as serious as a politician he could be, James was also a dear and cherished friend who savoured the sweetness of life in a career that can often be exhaustively personally taxing. The DA is indebted to James not only for his contribution to our party, but the many wonderful connections he made with the people who belong to it.”

Steenhuisen said Selfe’s legacy will live on in the corridors of parliament and in the memories made with family, friends, and colleagues alike.

He extended his condolences to Selfe’s wife, Sheila, and three daughters, Chloe, Stephanie, and Emma, and those close to Selfe.


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