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Van Schalkwyk’s Russian Roulette

Nicholas Myburgh
11 November 2001

It is disconcerting how some political commentators are attempting to give Marthinus van Schalkwyk’s perfidious somersault a veneer of respectability. In fact, the NNP leader’s oppertunistic leap toward the trough of state patronage is almost painted as a courageous and visionary move which deserves the support of all reasonable South Africans. His apologists are understandably puzzled, if not slightly vexed.

It is, after all, the very same Van Schalkwyk who is best remembered by party insiders for his role in taking the NNP out of Mandela’s government, and for leading the charge which scuttled the super-verligte Roelf Meyer’s best attempts at repositioning the NNP. It is indeed difficult to reconcile his recent trek with his own ideological pedigree and history within the NNP. Like his predecessor, Van Schalkwyk has clearly been blessed with a sudden and miraculous infusion of new light!

However, the decision by the Federal Council of the NNP to leave the DA has produced more questions than answers. Many of the more than 2 million voters who backed the DA, especially the NNP component, are engulfed by a sense of political malaise. Some feel downright betrayed. As one letter writer to Die Burger succinctly put it:

If I wanted to vote for the ANC, I would have.
It therefore comes as no surprise that in two (unscientific) opinion polls the vast majority have indicated their choice to stay with Leon and the DA. Certainly, for Van Schalkwyk and his loyal troupe of party apparatchiks, political oblivion seems inevitable.

More importantly though, the notion that our democracy will somehow benefit by reducing parliamentary opposition in favour of bolstering an already omnipotent government seems in crass defiance of all logic and common sense. Given the relatively fragile state of our democracy coupled with a scarcity of civilian watch-dogs and a growing apathy amongst all races, then the reveille for ‘co-operative government’ becomes a form of political Russian Roulette which this country can ill-afford.

Since 1994 much has been written about the ‘Miracle of the New South Africa’, a miracle which manifests itself in a myriad of changes and adaptations which ordinary South Africans create and experience on a daily basis. Perhaps the greatest miracle of all is the new Constitution to which all political parties have pledged their loyalty. The essential nature of our Constitution lies in the classic liberal democratic values and principles which it embodies.

The so-called ‘Rechtstaat’, with all its checks and balances, is indeed one of liberal democracy’s finest achievements. Yet, the most elementary understanding of what makes liberal democracies tick, will highlight the crucial role of an energetic and robust defence of personal, and hence, societal liberty. Without a fearlessly sustained drive for clean and effective government, independent jurisprudence, and the protection of private property all societies eventually witness the incremental erosion of freedom.

The implosion of basic services and the suspension of personal freedoms are the inevitable consequences of political hegemony. The virility of our democracy cannot be nurtured in the absence of a vigilant and principled opposition. The plurality of our political landscape ought to be fostered, not questioned, by commentators of all persuasions if it is the survival of our democracy which they desire.

The assimilation of political opponents merely serves to enhance the governing elite’s sense of unassailability whilst feeding the calamitous notion that total subordination is the true measure of patriotism. Already Van Schalkwyk is cynically casting aspersions on the DA/DP’s patriotism before he has even properly bedded down with the ANC!

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