Hon Speaker, hon Deputy Speaker, hon Ministers and Deputy Ministers, hon members, distinguished guests and friends, I sincerely thank you for this farewell tribute to me today. It is truly humbling to have time set aside for oneself for a farewell tribute by as august a House as this National Assembly of our Republic.
Mr Speaker, at times life seems inscrutably hard to make sense of, precisely because one has to study life while still living it. I wonder whether Charles Lindbergh was moved by the selfsame realisation when he memorably remarked that:
Life is like a landscape. You live in the midst of it but can describe it only from the vantage point of distance.
Forgive me upfront, therefore, for the fact that, since I am still a serving member, albeit only for a few more days, I may not be able to lift myself from the spatiotemporal limitations imposed by my formal presence in this House so that I share a retrospective account that may appeal to your sense of history. In other words, my adjacency in time and space to the NA makes any reflection on the historical landscape covering my six-year experience all the more difficult.
Mr Speaker, on an occasion such as this, I stand in this House, which makes the laws of our land, caught up in an ambivalent frame of mind. After six years of history, I am running the whole gamut of human emotions - from melancholy to elation. Humanity is conditioned to experience emotions attuned to the peculiarities of the moment. Yet for me right now this is a moment laden with mixed emotions.
For one thing, I am disconsolate at parting ways with the members of the party I come from, the ANC. You will know that my presence in this House is attributable to the ANC, which has, for all this time, been my extended family. [Applause.]
As this was so, I stood here, about six years back, on an ANC platform, in a prospective mood, looking forward to making my own little contribution to the vision that defines our nation. Entailed in this vision was, and still is, the need to consolidate unity, democracy, nonracialism and nonsexism, all of which constitute the strategic goals of postapartheid South Africa.
On the ticket of the ANC I took oath of office, both as Minister in the Presidency and subsequently as President of our country. Both these occasions were of historical moment in various ways. As a Minister, I assumed office intent on serving our nation in keeping with the philosophical tenets of the ANC. At the same time, as the President of our Republic, I took office under anomalous circumstances.
This was the time during which our nation, for the first time since the start of democracy, faced an extremely stern test. Eight months before the end of the third term of office of the sitting President, hon Thabo Mbeki, destiny commandeered me to assume the reins of the Presidency to see the term through.
As the world turned many were beginning to wonder whether this conjuncture signalled the beginning of the end for our nation. Unprecedented, it was a defining moment. This House knows, as do many of us, that there is a standing assumption that our nation is no exception to having the sad experience that has befallen many a postcolonial country, not least on our continent, Africa.
No sooner had we disarmed Afro-pessimists with a smooth transition to democracy than this difficult historical period emerged, seen in some quarters as sounding the death knell of our nation. Those less given to hyperbole saw our country as being on the cusp of a new era, the contours of which, though, were as yet indistinct. In the event, we proved the doomsayers wrong. But I am losing my bearing. The story does not begin here.
Into these murky conditions of uncertainly thrown up by the unrelenting hand of contingency I was plunged. As it turned out I was, in this epochal task, guided, supported, assisted and encouraged by the ANC. Instinctually, I would affirm that whatever I managed to help our nation do correctly during those trying times, I did leaning on the ANC as my pillar of strength. For this, I am eternally grateful. [Applause.]
Yet, Mr Speaker, I would be insincere if I stood in this House right now without acknowledging the support that members of this House as a whole gave me, both as President of the Republic and later, as Deputy President.
I have always understood our relationship in this House as elected representatives of the people of our country in their diversity in the light of the advice of Joseph Joubert, the French philosopher, that: "The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress." I submit that largely proceedings in this House lent colour to this conclusion.
Yet, Mr Speaker, it looks to me as if by definition politics, especially parliamentary politics, is at least partly about self-preservation, to the extent that key players strut and preen themselves on the political stage, all with the tacit aim of capturing the hearts of the electorate. This much seems to be a permanent feature of democratic politics across time and space. Happily, while we have not been an exception to this universal characterisation, we have also been able to hold onto the purpose for which we are here, that is, to serve our people.
While bare-knuckle engagements were par for the course, with bruising exchanges that went beyond the pale not uncommon, I have found this House to be an epicentre of rational and level-headed discourse that left many bloodied, but not bowed. I dare say, at the end we are all the richer for it.
Our system of democracy is ultimately about creating a multivocal society, thriving on irreconcilable ideological differences, none of which, paradoxically, can survive without the other.