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Political parties mourn passing of James Selfe

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Political parties mourn passing of James Selfe

James Selfe
Former DA federal council chair James Selfe

22nd May 2024

By: Thabi Shomolekae
Creamer Media Senior Writer

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Political parties expressed deepest condolences at the passing of former Democratic Alliance (DA) Federal Council chairperson and MP James Selfe, noting his contributions to the opposition political landscape. 

Selfe died on Tuesday following a lengthy battle with illness.

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Selfe led a quietly influential life in contemporary South African political history, having made an immense contribution to South African democracy.

“The DA would like to extend its sincerest condolences to those closest to James, and our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Sheila, and three daughters, Chloe, Stephanie and Emma during this very difficult time,” said DA leader John Steenhuisen.

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In the late 70s and 80s, he worked tirelessly as a researcher for the DA’s forerunner, the Progressive Federal Party, to combat divisive and regressive apartheid laws by the National Party in Parliament.

Selfe then served as the party’s communications director, later becoming an executive director.

Steenhuisen said Selfe was always committed to building and sustaining a democracy in which transparency and accountability would ensure that government served its people, and not the politicians holding the reins.

He explained that Selfe helped finetune 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, he noted that Selfe pioneered the DA’s lawfare programme responsible for some of the most ground-breaking legal judgments in post-Apartheid history, setting a variety of legal precedents which he said strengthened public accountability in the country’s 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,” said Steenhuisen.

He said that the DA was indebted to Selfe not only for his contribution to the party, but the many wonderful connections he made with the people who belonged to it.

Inkatha Freedom Party leader Velenkosini Hlabisa described Selfe as a dedicated public servant, having spent most of his life serving the people of South Africa with distinction.

He noted Selfe‘s commitment to serving South Africans in Parliament for over two decades, saying he would be remembered fondly by all who had the privilege of knowing and working alongside him.

“Selfe’s contributions to the opposition political landscape were significant, and his legacy will continue to inspire future generations of leaders,” said Hlabisa.

ActionSA president Herman Mashaba extended the party’s sincere condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Selfe, noting his career featured a “commendable” track record of genuine dedication to strengthening the country’s democracy and constitutional order.

Mashaba highlighted that having been elected to Parliament in 1994, Selfe participated in the Constitutional Assembly, contributing to the drafting of South Africa's Democratic Constitution.

“…his contribution, dedication, and service to South Africa will always be remembered. ActionSA honours his memory, which we believe serves as an inspiration for the vital role that Parliament plays in holding the executive to account, a principle that James Selfe understood, respected, and ensured guided his work,” he said.

Build One South Africa leader Mmusi Maimane said Selfe was a great friend, a trusted adviser and a true Statesman, who he was privileged to serve alongside for many years in the DA.

He noted Selfe's ability to develop the country’s legal landscape and jurisprudence, which he said played a pivotal role in safeguarding the country’s institutions of State from abuse.

RISE Mzansi leader Songezo Zibi said Selfe exemplified how leaders and public representatives in open democracy should behave – caring, respectful, diligent and deeply committed to the Constitution.

“…he was also willing to work across the party divide in the interest of South Africa and its people,” he added.

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