Parliament - A visibly emotional Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe bid farewell to MPs in the National Assembly on Tuesday.
Motlanthe wiped tears from his face with a white handkerchief at the end of his farewell speech which saw MPs giving the deputy president a standing ovation.
“After six years of history, I am running the whole gamut of human emotions... from melancholy to elation. Humanity is conditioned to experience emotions attuned to the peculiarities of the moment,” he told MPs.
Motlanthe will be retiring from government and Parliament this year after serving as deputy president of the country from 2009.
He was promoted to president of the country in 2008, just months after being appointed minister without portfolio in the presidency.
“For one thing, I am disconsolate for parting ways with members of the party I come from, the African National Congress,” Motlanthe said as he thanked MPs on his side of the house.
“You will know that my presence in this House is attributable to the ANC, which has, for all this time, been my extended family.”
Motlanthe reflected on his rise to the presidency, which preceded an uncertain period in post-democratic South Africa.
“No sooner had we disarmed Afro-pessimists with a smooth transition to democracy than this difficult historical period emerged, seen in some quarters as sounding a death knell to our nation,” he said.
“In the event, we proved the doomsayers wrong.”
Over the almost six years of observing heated debates and loud heckling in the National Assembly, Motlanthe mostly sat calmly watching the discourse.
Speaking about the nature of politics inside the chamber, Motlanthe said: “While bare-knuckle engagements were par for the course, with bruising exchanges that went beyond the pale not uncommon, I have found this House to be an epicentre of rational and level-headed discourse that left many bloodied but unbowed.
“I dare say, at the end, we are all the richer for it.”
While he was sad to be leaving Parliamentary and government, Motlanthe indicated it was time to hand over the reins to younger hands and minds.
“The truth is our nation is replete with luminous talent,” he said.
“Not only that, at some point serving leadership must give way, so that new blood, fired up with life-changing ideas, can take society to a higher level of development.”
Prior to taking the podium, MPs from across the political divide paid glowing tribute to Motlanthe and his contribution to the country.
Motlanthe is set to head up the political school of the ANC.
“I can think of no better leader for the ANC political school,” Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor said.
Pandor reflected on Motlanthe's dedication to the liberation movement as a member of Umkhonto we Sizwe, and later to the union movement.
Motlanthe is a former general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers.
“That is why he continues to work today to create stability in the mining sector and is trusted by workers in it as an honest broker,” Pandor said.
“We are proud of this servant of the nation.”
Rivonia trialist and ANC stalwart Andrew Mlangeni revealed a secret to Motlanthe and those in the house.
“What you don't know is that the late Walter Sisulu had always wanted you to be the president of this country. When you became the president I'm sure his dreams were fulfilled,” Mlangeni said.
Motlanthe was imprisoned on Robben island for ten years from 1977.
“The honourable deputy president helped turn the lemon that was the harsh conditions of Robben Island into the lemonade of political... and intellectual development,” said Mlangeni who is also a former island inmate.
“He was instrumental 1/8in ensuring 3/8 that newcomers especially the young that came to Robben Island were welcomed and put through an appropriate political education.”
Democratic Alliance MP Wilmot James, who first met Motlanthe during his union days, said Motlanthe's example should be emulated.
“He exemplifies the qualities of personality that are rare in the world of politics such as honour...,” James said.
The way Motlanthe carried himself reminded James of the Nelson Mandela presidency, not the “self-serving, crass materialism of today”.
It was Motlanthe's contribution to ending the denialist approach to the HIV pandemic that was singled out by most MPs.
“The role you played in championing the supply of anti-retrovirals... yielded positive results for the country,” said Congress of the People MP Thozamile Botha.
United Democratic Movement MP Stanley Ntapane described Motlanthe as a “true gentleman”, while Freedom Front Plus MP Corne Mulder said the deputy president reminded him of the word dignity.