Cape Town - A visibly emotional Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe bid farewell to MPs in the National Assembly on Tuesday, along with National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel.
Motlanthe wiped tears from his face at the end of his farewell speech, when MPs gave him a standing ovation.
Both are bowing out of public life – neither of their names featured on the ANC 2014 election candidate lists.
As in May 1994, when Manuel came to Parliament, his mother was in the public gallery on Tuesday. Along with Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, Manuel is the only member of the first cabinet under Nelson Mandela who is still serving in the executive.
Turning to Radebe, who shares a parliamentary bench with him, Manuel said: “You are on your own.”
A United Democratic Front activist, Manuel served first as trade and industry minister before becoming finance minister in 1996, a position he held until 2009, when he became national planning minister.
It was one of the personal moments in more than two hours of tributes to the two politicians which saw both sides of the House united in acknowledging their leadership contributions.
The constitution, Manuel said, was “a truly magnificent document, not forced upon us, but a product of what we have been through” and a “bridge to the future”.
“We take an oath of service and loyalty to our constitution and that should be the acid test of who we are and the relationship (we have) to our people... You can’t take the oath... and be a racist or a bigot. We are all bound together by the same oath we take.”
Manuel cautioned that once elections were over, people still woke up to the realities of poverty, inequality and unemployment. “We must maintain our collective responsibility to all people of this democracy and the ability to improve lives,” he said. “Let’s not destroy all rationality, all hope.”
Motlanthe said his farewell was a “moment of mixed emotions” after six years of history. “I stand in this House that makes the laws of our land caught in an ambivalent frame of mind. He was “disconsolate” over parting ways with members of the ANC, which he described as his extended family.
However, Motlanthe also said his time in Parliament as deputy president and leader of government business, the link between the executive and legislature, had enriched him, even if engagements were frequently bruising.
“Our system of democracy is ultimately about creating a multi-vocal society, thriving on irreconcilable differences, none of which, paradoxically, can survive without the other,” he said.
“Going forward, let us consolidate the principle of social dialogue as the central defining tenet of our nationhood.”
Both Motlanthe and Manuel served as leader of government business, although Manuel admitted he was “pretty useless”.
In paying tribute to Motlanthe, Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor said: “I am not happy at the retirement of the deputy president. He is a tried and tested freedom fighter. He has experienced South Africa from all perspectives. He is… a strong-willed person of integrity.”
The DA’s Wilmot James described him as “no armchair revolutionary”. ANC stalwart Andrew Mlangeni said: “What you don’t know is that comrade Walter Sisulu always wanted you to be the president of this country. When you became president (in 2008), his dreams came true.”
“I know that I leave here wiser than I came,” said Manuel, before raising the question of whether parliamentarians really used the chamber to improve people’s lives.
“This floor of this House is fundamentally important so our people know we care… The floor of this House needs to be used more extensively to persuade each other, and our people, of the values of our constitution,” Manuel said.