The Presidential Years

Things have always been a bit rough in Parliament, with regard to the discipline of members attending and so on and taking the place seriously. Governing a multi-party parliament is not easy, because in many ANC minds, ‘We are the ruling party not just the governing party and therefore what we say goes.’ But that doesn’t work in a multi-party parliament because the principle of a multi-party parliament, by definition, is that parties govern together. Certainly you can’t pass legislation if you don’t act as a multi-party parliament because you can’t impose all the time, you simply can’t. The machine doesn’t work like that.

But many ANC people, including leaders, took quite a few years to adjust to the idea that we’re a parliamentary democracy and not just a dominant party. And so, in the early years, that was a major difficulty and Madiba of course had to smooth the way to setting the atmosphere where you respect the opposition, which he did very well. But ANC didn’t want to respect the opposition. That is why when you said he apologised for not attending, I said that’s typical. He wanted to convey the idea that the opposition had to be respected and of course it was a Government of National Unity and that made it even more essential.

Ben Turok