Cape Town - In 1980, when I was 17 years old, I received my first call-up papers for conscription into the apartheid army, the SADF. As a young South African who grew up in Newlands, the heart of Progressive Party liberalism in Cape Town, which had influenced my young thoughts, there was no way I could with any conscience go and fight for apartheid. I managed to avoid that call-up by enrolling at UCT.
The following year, during orientation week at UCT, I went to a table of Helen Suzman’s PFP and asked them what I should do with my call-up papers. They told me to go and serve for two years in the apartheid army.
It is this experience which showed the big gap between their nice words and their actions – in essence whether they were prepared to make any sacrifices to end apartheid – that turned me off the Progressive Party’s kind of liberalism for life.
For thousands of young white South African men, conscription was the key way in which apartheid affected them – were they prepared to give two years to fight and perhaps give their lives for apartheid? While most did serve in the SADF, many others refused to become cannon fodder in apartheid’s war on our neighbouring countries, the colonisation of Namibia and the increasing use of the SADF to quell uprisings in the townships.
It is also through this experience that I and many others learnt that non-racialism must mean that whites also need to be honest to their principles and be prepared to make sacrifices to help end apartheid and create a democratic South Africa.
This is what the fake liberals of the PFP refused to do and this is why they became completely irrelevant to a generation of white youth who were expected to sacrifice their lives so that their parents could continue enjoying the benefits produced for them by apartheid.
This is why I later joined in helping to found the End Conscription Campaign.
In fighting conscription we were strenuously opposed by Helen Suzman and the “liberals” in the PFP, whom had many years before decided that in order to win votes in white elections, they would never question the legitimacy of the key armed force of apartheid – the SADF. To win white votes by proving her loyalty to the apartheid state, Suzman supported conscription into the SADF, she supported arms sales to the SADF in defiance of the UN Arms Embargo and even went to visit SADF troops on the South West Africa-Angola border. What did she expect these conscripts were there to do but kill those fighting for national liberation in southern Africa? Against who did she expect those weapons to be used?
With this background I can never accept that Helen Suzman, the lone proponent of this strategy for many years in the white Parliament, did not support the destruction of the army I later joined, Umkhonto weSizwe, and its cadres. This is my legitimate belief. Deputy Speaker Pretorius cannot restrict my constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech and tell me what to believe and say.
As Erskine May, the authoritative work on parliamentary procedure, says, “a Member may state whatever he thinks fit in debate, however offensive it may be to the feelings, or injurious to the character, of individuals; and he is protected by his privilege from any action for libel, as well as from any other question or molestation.”
Somehow the deputy speaker seems to think that Helen Suzman, as a dead, former member of the National Assembly, is a special case who cannot be criticised. However, Erskine May also says clearly, “It is not out of order, however, to cast aspersions on former Members of the House…”
There is no support for Pretorius’s views in parliamentary procedure. It has no precedent in South Africa. As the DA has been defeated time and again by the ANC’s arguments in debates and even been forced to cry, it has become more desperate. It is not the role of the deputy speaker to find some way of saving his party. What is expected is impartiality and independence from his party, the DA, and the courage to also rule against its members.
Otherwise we face the prospect of the rights of members being trampled on, with the legislature eventually becoming a toy telephone where only the views of the DA with its sanitised history are allowed.
* Max Ozinsky is an ANC MPL in the Western Cape legislature.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.