South Africa


DA’s James Selfe to retire from Parliament after 43 years in politics

DA’s James Selfe to retire from Parliament after 43 years in politics
Former chairperson of the Democratic Alliance Federal Executive and Member of Parliament James Selfe. (Photo: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Jaco Marais)

Former DA leader Tony Leon said James Selfe had devoted his entire working life to the DA and its predecessors, and that, like the old Western movie, he possessed ‘true grit’.

Long-serving former chairperson of the Democratic Alliance (DA) Federal Executive and Member of Parliament James Selfe has announced that he will retire from Parliament on 31 December because of deteriorating health.

Selfe, who has been an MP since 1994, remains a member and supporter of the DA.

His decision, which he took in consultation with his family and the political structures in his constituency (parts of Cape Town’s South Peninsula), brings to a close a career in politics which started in 1979 – a full 43 years ago – when he joined the research department of the Progressive Federal Party (PFP), a forerunner of today’s Democratic Alliance. 

Selfe served as its communications director from 1988, continuing in the same position when the PFP merged with other groupings to form the Democratic Party (DP) in 1989. In 1992, he became the executive director of the DP, and served as chairperson of the DA’s Federal Executive from its inception in 2000 all the way through to 2019.

Reflecting on his career, Selfe said: “I was elected to Parliament in 1994 and it has been a privilege serving our democracy in this capacity for more than 27 years. I participated in the Constitutional Assembly which drew up the democratic Constitution (which I am immensely proud of) and I have served as DP and DA spokesperson on Correctional Services since 1999, having learnt the craft from the late Helen Suzman. 

“She very largely moulded my political views and conduct, as did many others, including the party leaders I have served under – Colin Eglin, Dr Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, Dr Zach de Beer, Tony Leon, Helen Zille, Mmusi Maimane and John Steenhuisen.

“In politics, I have been guided by the principles of progressive and compassionate liberalism, as defined by Alan Paton: ‘By liberalism I don’t mean the creed of any party or any century. I mean a generosity of spirit, a tolerance of others, an attempt to comprehend otherness, a commitment to the rule of law, a high ideal of the worth and dignity of man, a repugnance of authoritarianism and a love of freedom.’ I have tried to make our beloved country a better place. I hope my input and efforts contributed to this ideal,” Selfe said.

Selfe thanked his family, friends and colleagues for their support, and wished the DA and its leader strength and success on the road ahead.

Reacting to the news, former DA leader Tony Leon said Selfe had devoted his entire working life to  the DA and its predecessors, and that, like the old Western movie, possessed “true grit”.

“His accomplishments – largely unsung and often unnoticed – both paved the road to the DA’s successes and cushioned the fall from its defeats. 

“I would rate him as one of a tiny handful of truly indispensable people in leadership roles who led the party’s growth from a tiny parliamentary splinter in 1994 to its unchallenged role as official opposition and governing party in Cape Town and province of the Western Cape,” Leon said.

“James Selfe, alongside the late Colin Eglin and Dene Smuts – and in his many jousts rolling back State Capture in the courts – proved that the finest legal minds occasionally have no formal legal training. 

“He served alongside every party leader since Slabbert. During my 13 years as party leader, James’ role was exemplary. He matched iron-clad attachment to principle to a ruthless pragmatism and a ferocious work ethic almost entirely free of the prima donna ego found among lesser politicians 

“Go well Jimmy – I salute you (except for your lousy track record as an election forecaster),” Leon concluded. DM

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  • Demetri Qually says:

    Not a seeker of the limelight, and often not acknowledged, he has made a massive contribution to liberal democracy in South Africa.
    James, you should justly be proud of your many efforts to create a better democracy in our beautiful country. Thank you.
    You will be sorely missed by both Parliament and the country.

  • Charles Parr says:

    Agreed, a quite man that has worked hard to make SA a better country.

  • Paddy Ross says:

    The words of Alan Paton, if espoused by everybody, would make South Africa a wonderful country in which to live, work, and relax. Let’s hope that there are still more James Selfes out there.

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