Emotional scenes played out as MPs paid tribute to the DA’s deputy chief whip in Parliament during his last session in the National Assembly on Wednesday – but the moving farewell speeches were also leavened with humour.
Mike Ellis, 64, who is hanging up his gloves after nearly a quarter of a century on the opposition benches, was visibly moved when the first speaker – his ruling-party counterpart, Bulelani Magwanishe – said his “24 years of patriotism” qualified him “to be called a son of the soil”.
“In our engagements with you, sir, we have seen love for your country and its people,” Magwanishe said of the former headmaster, who came to Parliament in 1987 to represent his Durban North constituency as a member of the then Progressive Federal Party.
“You were able in times of difficulty to see the whole forest and not only the trees. You have been a leader of great vision and wisdom. You always think like a man of action and act like a man of thought.”
When ANC MPs entered Parliament in 1994 “there were high levels of mistrust among us”, Magwanishe noted. Ellis, among others, had given leadership that allowed friendships to be forged across political lines.
“You taught us that being in opposition is not equal to one being disloyal to his country. You have been a member of the opposition all your political life but you have been a patriot to the core.”
His warmth and humility had earned him the respect and friendship of many.
“What we have learnt from the honourable Ellis, through his conduct, is that one who looks for a friend without faults will have none.
“He embraced all of us, with our limitations and our strengths… and encouraged all his friends to strive for perfection. The teacher in him is always evident, full of encouragement and accommodative, also firm and decisive.
“We want to say to you, sir… we will die forever in debt to you for your kindness.”
Ellis was permitted by Speaker Max Sisulu to “cross the floor” to thank Magwanishe with an embrace and a robust handshake for “a truly wonderful speech” that drew praise from other speakers.
DA parliamentary leader Athol Trollip said Ellis – a “proud parliamentarian” and “loyal party servant” – was “a character” who’d “driven many a Speaker, present company included, to distraction” with his sharp repartee and deft ripostes.
Cope MP Nic Koornhof said the “open-minded and fair South African” had given him hope when, as a young National Party MP, he’d been treated like a mushroom – “kept in the dark and fed the wrong stuff”.
His voice catching at times, IFP chief whip Koos van der Merwe – Parliament’s longest-serving MP – praised Ellis as someone in a class of his own.
ID chief whip Lance Greyling sported a yellow tie in honour of Ellis, who’d been trying to get him to wear one “for years”.