|27. February 2008
Asmal bows out
Veteran politician Kader Asmal bowed out from Parliament on Tuesday, Feb 26, appealing to MPs to follow the spirit, not just the letter, of the constitution and putting in a firm word for press freedom.
"We cannot afford to manoeuvre around the human rights our constitution has laid down. We must not attack the separation of powers laid down in our constitution. And we need to follow its spirit, not only the letter," Asmal said in his parting address in the National Assembly on Tuesday afternoon.
Asmal, one of the leading contributors to the constitution, came to Parliament in 1994 and served a decade in cabinet, first as minister of water affairs and forestry and then until 2004 as minister of education.
During a parliamentary tribute, MPs on Tuesday unanimously agreed Asmal had been an exemplary politician" and "custodian of democratic values" and gave him a standing ovation after senior politicians from across the political divide had paid warm tribute.
But it was not all bouquets. Finance minister Trevor Manuel, who paid the first tribute and shared a house with Asmal for a decade, jocularly warned that Asmal's culinary skills were non-existent and said the professor remained a technophobe who struggled with the basics of modern life such as sending an SMS.
On a more serious note, Manuel said that Asmal was driven by a zest for intellectual engagement - reading writing or interpreting - and read voraciously every day.
Asmal in his final speech in the house said that press freedom should be respected as a vital part of democracy.
Those who paid tribute to Asmal included former DA leader Tony Leon, who praised Asmal's commitment to true public service as well as his willingness to debate, rather than just dictate.
He said Asmal often thought "out of the box".
Former cabinet colleague IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi praised Asmal for speaking out about the situation in Zimbabwe last year. "The professor therefore can lay claim, like few can, to being consistent as well as being an honourable gentleman," Buthelezi said.