Chief Whip of the Inkatha Freedom Party, Koos van der Merwe during a press briefing in Morelete Park, Pretoria. File picture: Phill Magakoe

Parliament - It went past like a bullet, the National Assembly's longest-serving MP told his colleagues on Thursday.

“Today, is an historic day in my life. In fact, it is the last time I will be speaking in Parliament, as I'm retiring,” Inkatha Freedom Party Chief Whip Koos van der Merwe said in a farewell speech.

“I've come to the end of more than 60 years of being an activist... I remember 1/8the election of 3/8 1948 Ä I was distributing pamphlets and putting up posters.

“(I've) been in Parliament 37 long years, but it went past like a bullet.”

Van der Merwe told the House he had served under seven heads of state, starting with John Vorster. He was first elected to the National Assembly on November 30, 1977, as a member of the National Party.

He planned to write his memoirs.

“I will be writing about my life in Parliament Ä from the days of apartheid until now, because I have seen the whole movie.”

Van der Merwe, who turns 77 later this year, revealed that Thursday was also his son and wife's birthday.

A qualified lawyer, he said he was proud of the 18 years he had served on the Judicial Service Commission.

“For me, as a lawyer, this was the pinnacle of my legal career, and the one I'm most proud of, in assisting to build a solid South African judiciary.”

Van der Merwe then offered some sage advice to members.

“Be always respectful. To your parents, your grandparents, your teachers, your employers 1/8and 3/8 the elderly. Be respectful.

“Be disciplined. You must always arrive in time, properly prepared so as to make meaningful contributions.

“In short... be humble. To be humble is the road to political success.”

He then doffed his black hat and said he wanted “to thank the Almighty for granting me the privilege of having served so long in Parliament”.

His voice breaking slightly, Van der Merwe than said it was time to say goodbye.

“Goodbye, Hamba Kahle. Fluit-fluit, my storie is uit (whistle, whistle, my tale is done),” Van der Merwe said.

As he walked from the podium, both sides of the House rose and gave the veteran politician a standing ovation.

Thursday is the last scheduled sitting of the National Assembly before the May 7 elections.