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Up in Arms
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“This book is not so much a political autobiography as an account from a personal point of view of a momentous series of events in the life of South Africa’s second democratic Parliament, and my role in them as a public representative, when the executive and legislature faced each other in a standoff on the issues of oversight and accountability during the arms deal probe. It also seeks to catalogue some equally tumultuous years in opposition politics in South Africa when the realignment of opposition parties for which many hoped failed to materialise.” – Raenette Taljaard As an independent review panel later concluded, Parliament either lost its way or lost the faith of the South African public during the process. Up in Arms documents this specific moment of institutional darkness in vivid detail and serves to remind us that it was not only reputations that were damaged by the arms deal saga but also core institutions of South Africa’s new democracy. Chief among them was Parliament, which, when faced by the challenge to hold the executive to account, failed dismally to engage the core ethical and moral concerns – among them, corruption – that continue to plague the country. This is the personal story of a young female parliamentarian who entered public life with expectations awakened by the Mandela presidency, only to become disenchanted with party politics and with the moral meltdown she experienced within Parliament during those years.
Published: Jacana Media an imprint of Independent Publishers Group on
ISBN: 9781431403691
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Pursuing Accountability for the Arms Deal in Parliament

Raenette Taljaard

This edition first published by Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd in 2012

10 Orange Street


Auckland Park 2092

South Africa

(+27 11) 628-3200


Job no. 001677

© Raenette Taljaard, 2012

All rights reserved.

ISBN 978-1-4314-0269-4

Also available as an e-book

d-PDF ISBN 978-1-4314-0341-7

ePUB ISBN 978-1-4314-0369-1

mobi file ISBN 978-1-4314-0377-6

cover design by publicide

Set in Ehrhardt 12/16.5 pt

See a complete list of Jacana titles at www.jacana.co.za

To Ursela, Philip,

Lucio and Valentina



1. Coming of age in a changing South Africa

2. Joining the party

3. The candidate

4. The Scopa saga

5. Witness to a whitewash

6. Drama, deceit and deception

7. The Joint Investigation Team’s Report and its aftermath

8. Beyond Scopa

9. Walking away from the DA and Parliament



Selected documents on the arms deal



This book is not so much a political autobiography as an account from a personal point of view of a momentous series of events in the life of South Africa’s second democratic Parliament, and my role in them as a public representative, when the executive and legislature faced each other in a stand-off on the issues of oversight and accountability during the arms deal probe. It also seeks to catalogue some equally tumultuous years in opposition politics in South Africa when the realignment of opposition parties for which many hoped failed to materialise.

Over a decade has passed since these dramatic events in our body politic but many of the issues are still as pertinent and red hot as before. Indeed, they are set to return to the forefront of public attention as a result of President Jacob Zuma’s recent decision to appoint a commission of inquiry into the arms deal.

I had the privilege, and the challenge, of being both a participant in and an observer of this maelstrom of events. I became a somewhat reluctant party politician in 1999 and I stepped out of public life close to eight years ago when I left Parliament in 2005. I now proudly serve the cause of academic endeavour and that of the Independent Electoral Commission. The IEC has charge of the very sacred act of voting, which lies at the heart of democracy and which has inspired me ever since I voted for the first time in South Africa’s uhuru election in 1994.

Much of this book reflects the impressions and experiences of the time. I hope they will be of value to those interested in contemporary South African politics as well as to historians and students of these stormy years of our transition when we were engaged in crafting patterns of behaviour and institutional interactions that continue to shape our democracy today.

Democracies the world over grapple with questions of democratic accountability on an almost daily basis. South Africa is no different. The vivid issues of accountability raised by the arms deal and Parliament’s efforts to probe it remain as relevant today as they were a decade ago. I have retraced my own steps during these years in the firm belief in the crucial value of accountability as a cornerstone of our democratic and public life.

Indeed, former President Nelson Mandela spoke memorably of accountability in the early years of his presidency. Reflecting on the lack of democratic accountability which the ANC had inherited from the apartheid era, he spoke forcefully of the need to act differently to redress this grotesque legacy. ‘We were mindful from the very start of the importance of accountability to democracy. Our experience had made us acutely aware of the possible dangers of a government that is neither transparent nor accountable. To this end our Constitution contains several mechanisms to ensure that government will not be part of the problem, but part of the solution.’¹

My very simple desire in publishing this book is that it may contribute to debates on this essential value of accountability in our democracy.

I would like to thank all my loved ones, friends and colleagues for their forbearance during the writing of this manuscript. I am especially grateful to the Library of Parliament and Tom Schumann for assistance in the research for the book as well as my part-time researcher, J.P. de Jongh, for slaving away at tasks that may at times have appeared arcane.

Most importantly I’d like to thank Russell Martin of Jacana – Dr Syntax! – for his care of the text as well as all the rest of the staff at Jacana who made this book possible.

Lastly, I’d like to thank the late Helen Suzman for everything I learnt from her and for her magnificent friendship, mentorship and, at crucial moments in my life, maternal instincts that stretched over many years both while I was in public life and after.


Coming of age in a changing South Africa

I am a child of our country’s transition to democracy and came of age in the midst of a negotiated revolution. I belong to the cusp-of-change generation who witnessed great moments of leadership and hope, and also great failures of courage and morality, as I hope to record in this book.

I was not yet born when the National Party won their election victory in 1948, when the armed struggle for liberation commenced or when Nelson Mandela and his co-accused were sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964. It’s not that these events have no meaning for me or no emotional resonance and impact. Mandela’s famous words at the conclusion of the Rivonia Trial fill me with a wellspring of emotion every time I read them. The Hector Pieterson memorial, which I have visited many times in Soweto, often causes my eyes to fill with tears at the thought of the incomprehensible oppression and grave loss that surround the June 16 uprising. Nor do I feel personally unconnected to these momentous events of our history. My beloved Helen Suzman would often recount the history of the apartheid years she had lived through. The other Helen, Helen Zille, with whom I shared the benches of the new democratic Parliament, had reported on the death in detention of Steve Biko for the Rand Daily Mail. But I grasp historic moments like these with the hindsight of a later generation.

For I came to awareness during the death throes of the old order and the birth pangs of the new. I started adolescent life as the Cold War came to an end and as the irreversible forces of history brought change to South Africa. I was 17 when Nelson Mandela was released from Victor Verster prison. Though I had not lived through the early years of the struggle for freedom, I was to have the privilege of participating in the historic birth of a new nation. I voted in my first-ever general election on 27 April 1994, which was South Africa’s first democratic poll. As a young parliamentary researcher in the mid-1990s I witnessed from my ringside seat the final hours of the birthing of the country’s new Constitution, painstakingly negotiated by our first democratically elected Parliament. Subsequently, as a young MP, I had the privilege of being able to raise my voice publicly amid the events of a fascinating era.

I never set out to become a politician. I was not a militant youth activist nor was I a party political animal. I never had a burning desire to be a grand-standing politician nor did I ever crave a career in narrow party politics. I had no parents, grandparents, uncles or aunts who were ever involved in parliamentary life and therefore I never thought of a parliamentary career as a birthright. I was a young South African emotionally engulfed by – shaped and inspired by – the heady days of our country’s transition to democracy in the early 1990s. I found my life’s turning points entangled with those of our country. I became caught up in the currents and counter-currents of change in a changing South Africa.

Much of the 1980s – the decade when South Africa came to the brink of civil war – I spent being schooled in a racially segregated education system, the child of Afrikaans parents of modest means living in Johannesburg. Even though our society was tightly controlled in the name of Afrikaner nationalism, I remember my parents actively encouraging us always to look beyond the surface of our society for the truth about human solidarity. This truth was often muddied by the mixed and confusing messages we would receive from Dutch Reformed Church pulpits.

One of my earliest ‘political’ memories dates from my primary school years, when we were all ushered into the school hall to watch the signing of the Nkomati Accord between South Africa and Mozambique on television. By leaning heavily on its neighbour, South Africa was able to compel the Mozambican government to eject the ANC and its combatants from that country; in return South Africa would continue to give covert support to the Renamo rebel group, which sowed terror and destruction in the Mozambican countryside. As we watched the signing of the ‘non-aggression pact’, the import of this early encounter with state propaganda was completely lost on us.

My second political memory, or more accurately politicised memory, is one steeped in personal family tragedy. On 27 March 1985 a school bus careered into the Westdene Dam in Johannesburg, claiming the lives of 42 schoolchildren, including a cousin of mine. My sister Karin, my only sibling, and another cousin were also on the bus but miraculously survived. I knew most of the 42 children personally – we were all in primary school together. At the time there was much speculation as to whether the disaster was an act of organised political violence, though this was subsequently discovered, in a commission of inquiry headed by Justice Kriegler, to have been completely unfounded.

I have dim recollections of the states of emergency in 1985 and 1986. I couldn’t fully understand why there were images of violence, death and destruction daily on our television screens. For a young child from a close-knit community, the search for truth amidst all this abnormality was not an easy one and the images of violence left an indelible impression on me.

Even though I was only 15 at the time I can remember grown-up conversations conducted sotto voce about the group of Afrikaners who went to talk to the ‘communists’ in Dakar in 1987 and the furious gesticulations that would accompany the hushed discussions. Much later I would have the privilege to meet and befriend the man – Frederik van Zyl Slabbert – who had shown great bravery in leading the delegation of Afrikaners to meet with exiled ANC leaders in Dakar. A few years previously, he had walked out of Parliament, thereby shaking the foundations of the Progressive Federal Party, of which he was leader.

In 1989 F.W. de Klerk became State President. On 2 February 1990 South Africa changed forever when he rose to address Parliament and unbanned the liberation movements and announced the release of all political prisoners, key among them Nelson Mandela. I remember 1990 as if it were yesterday, not only because of the monumental change that the events of this year brought about in our country’s history but also because it was an important time for me, being my matriculation year.

Our English teacher, Mrs Simpson, a staunch Houghton liberal who voted for Helen Suzman, tried to make us aware of our wider country beyond the confines of our segregated school. While F.W. de Klerk’s speech in Parliament was being broadcast, she scurried about as we read aloud from our set work, The Merchant of Venice, listening in to her small radio that was perched on her desk or rushing to the staffroom where she might glimpse the address on television. Her palpable excitement was infectious.

At times life has an impeccable sense of timing even when we may be entirely unattuned to it. It is only with hindsight that I realise the significance of our having to read aloud Portia’s speech on the quality of mercy as South Africa embarked upon fundamental change.

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

’Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown;

His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,

The attribute to awe and majesty,

Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;

But mercy is above this sceptred sway;

It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,

It is an attribute to God himself;

And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

When mercy seasons justice.

At this early stage of the transition no one, certainly not we 17-year-old matriculants, could have grasped the extent to which Portia’s words would shine through the life and example of the man whose release from prison De Klerk had announced and who himself became, four years later, South Africa’s first democratically elected President – Nelson Mandela.

Within a few months of his release, Mandela began talks about talks with De Klerk. The Groote Schuur Minute of 4 May 1990 committed the NP government and the ANC to dispelling the climate of violence and removing all obstacles to negotiations. This was rapidly followed by the Pretoria Minute of 6 August, which paved the way for the signing of the National Peace Accord. Thereafter, formal negotiations between the various political players began with the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa 1), which convened in Kempton Park on 20 December 1991.

I recall this period vividly. I was a first-year student majoring in law and political studies at the Rand Afrikaans University (now the University of Johannesburg). In both courses our teachers used developing events as case studies in our curriculum. The Codesa 1 plenary was broadcast live on television and I stayed glued to the screen, transfixed by the changes evolving right before my eyes.

During the course of negotiations it became clear that the National Party was conceding ground to the right-wing Conservative Party. It lost a crucial by-election to the Conservative Party in Potchefstroom, despite the personal intervention of President De Klerk. This was an ominous sign of a possible hardening of opposition to change among whites. The Conservative Party promptly challenged De Klerk to resign and call a general election. But instead of an election De Klerk announced that a ‘whites only’ referendum would be held on the issue of reform and the future of negotiations with the ANC. I voted for the first time in my life on 17 March 1992.

The referendum presented me with a moral dilemma, which as a second-year student of law and politics I fully understood. On the one hand it was the last vote of a privileged group within a segregated society, and participation in it was thus problematic for me in principle. On the other hand, the referendum was the first opportunity to signal my support for change and participate in the formal funeral arrangements for the system of apartheid. The desire to read the last rites to apartheid won, and I voted.

This was also the first poll in which I took an active part. I worked as a volunteer at the local school where the voting station was established. I recall the strained faces of those who had fear and apprehension in their eyes and who regarded my exuberance with hostility. As it turned out, those hostile faces were in the minority: the result of the referendum was a landslide victory for De Klerk, with 68.6 per cent of the voters supporting change. After the results were announced, De Klerk declared: ‘Today we have written in our history the fundamental turning point.’ I was a very proud first-time voter.

Despite the positive outcome of the referendum, Codesa fell apart after the Boipatong massacre in June 1992. The ANC accused the NP government of complicity in the attack and a rift emerged between Mandela and De Klerk. I remember the constant tensions of this time and the uncertainty that the Boipatong massacre generated. The inflamed political violence had the effect, however, of putting pressure on both parties to re-enter negotiations and achieve a political settlement.

While I was a student, my teachers – constitutional law lecturers and political scientists – were not only academic observers of national events. Many of them were deeply involved in the process of negotiating the interim constitution, helping advise various players about the different state systems and constitution-drafting options that were being discussed. They enabled me to understand the great importance of involvement in times of change. In addition, many National Party politicians then engaged in the negotiations – such as Roelf Meyer – frequently met with and spoke to us students and kept us abreast of developments. Their constituencies were located in and around the university campus. I remember how with great glee we students of constitutional law would rip entire chapters out of our textbooks as the evolving negotiations rendered many aspects of the apartheid constitutional edifice entirely irrelevant.

After the Record of Understanding was signed in late 1992, the Multi-Party Negotiating Forum (MPNF) gathered for the first time on 1 April 1993. This structure was very different from Codesa and had much broader participation, including the Conservative Party and the Pan Africanist Congress. But the path to a final settlement was neither smooth nor inevitable. The Rand Afrikaans University was often caught up in the vortex moments that engulfed South Africa during this time, largely because of its proximity to the centre of Johannesburg, where the ANC was headquartered, and to Kempton Park, where Codesa and the MPNF were situated. When the senior ANC and SACP leader Chris Hani was assassinated by right-wing activists outside his home on the East Rand on 10 April 1993, the university campus was awash with fear and panic. But the calm dignity with which Mandela and the Gauteng ANC leader Tokyo Sexwale called for peace instead of revenge left a great impression on me.

Fear again racked the university campus when negotiations at the MPNF were violently interrupted by members of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging, who stormed the World Trade Centre in Kempton Park. I watched the mayhem on television with incredulity. At about the same time the Inkatha Freedom Party, unsatisfied with the progress it was able to make on its negotiating positions at the MPNF, withdrew and started the Concerned South Africans Group (Cosag). With its appeal for international mediation unheeded, the party threatened to boycott the 1994 elections unless its demands were met.

After such fits and starts South Africa’s interim constitution was finally adopted on 18 November 1993, paving the way for the country’s first democratic elections. But more tremors of fear would grip the RAU campus in early 1994 when IFP members marched on the ANC’s headquarters at Shell House in protest. The march soon turned violent as IFP supporters, brandishing traditional weapons