James Selfe

James Selfe. Image via Facebook

RIP: DA stalwart James Selfe dies aged 68

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has confirmed the death of party stalwart, James Selfe, who passed away on Tuesday afternoon.

James Selfe

James Selfe. Image via Facebook

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has confirmed the death of party stalwart James Selfe, who passed away on Tuesday afternoon.

He was 68.

Selfe died peacefully, surrounded by family and loved ones, following a lengthy battle with illness.

He was born in Pretoria on 23 August 1955 and attended Bishops and the University of Cape Town (UCT)

After earning a master’s degree, Selfe worked between 1979 and 1988 as a researcher for the Progressive Federal Party, the forerunner to today’s DA.

He became the party’s communications director in 1988, and a member of the President’s Council a year later. In 1992 he became an executive director of the party.

After 43 years in politics, Selfe announced his retirement in November 2021 due to deteriorating health.

On 10 December 2021, the National Assembly bid farewell to Selfe in its final sitting of the year,

During this sitting, members of parliament from across the aisle praised Selfe for his contributions to South Africa.

Selfe spoke to Newszroom Afrika shortly after calling it a day:

DA mourned James Selfe’s passing

In a media release on Tuesday, John Steenhuisen MP – Leader of the Democratic Alliance – mourned Selfe’s passing.

‘The DA would like to extend its sincerest condolences to those closest to James, and our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Sheila, and three daughters, Chloe, Stephanie, and Emma, during this very difficult time.

‘James Selfe led a quietly influential life in contemporary South African political history, having made an immense contribution to South African democracy. In the late 70s and 80s, James worked tirelessly as a researcher for the DA’s forerunner, the Progressive Federal Party, to combat divisive and regressive apartheid laws by the National Party in parliament. James then served as the party’s communications director, later becoming an executive director.

‘Upon his election to the National Council of Provinces in 1994 in South Africa’s first democratic parliament, James served in the Constitutional Assembly, participating in the drawing up of South Africa’s democratic Constitution. Over his nearly 30-year parliamentary career, James served on various portfolio committees, most notably the Committee on Justice and Correctional Services, where his oversight of South Africa’s judicial system was crucial to ensuring that fairness and accountability were always upheld in South African society.

‘However, it is James’ work for his political home, the Democratic Party (DP) and later the Democratic Alliance (DA), which solidified his legacy as a true democratic stalwart. Through his service to three Federal Leaders as the party’s first Chairperson of the Federal Council, James operationalised the establishment and fortification of the DA as South Africa’s formidable official opposition.

‘James Selfe helped finetune the party’s systems and processes, tightening its Federal Constitution and turning the fast-growing DA into a modern, internationally-renowned African liberal party of rules and fairness.

‘More crucially, James pioneered the DA’s lawfare programme responsible for some of the most groundbreaking legal judgements in post-democratic history, setting a variety of legal precedents which strengthened public accountability in our young democracy.

‘From the Zuma spy tapes to Nkandla to blowing the whistle on state contracts awarded to Bosasa, James led the charge against corruption and maladministration levelled against the South African people by some of the governing party’s most unethical figures. James was always committed to building and sustaining a democracy in which transparency and accountability would ensure that our government served its people and not the politicians holding the reins.

‘In many ways, James was a pioneer in South African opposition politics because he was one of the first politicians in post-democratic history to begin the work of opposing the unfettered power of the ANC’s majority and turn South Africa into a living, breathing democracy where the opposition took up its role as society’s ultimate watchdog. This vital development cannot be understated in a country where democratic accountability is still so worryingly evaded. James set the example for many of us in the DA, and we will continue this work for our country in his memory.

‘The DA is a vast, diverse, and expansive political home for millions of South Africans today because of the decades of work and sacrifice made by the right honourable James Selfe. Even the party’s youngest and newest members today admire James for his immense contribution not only to the DA but to South African democracy as a whole. It is this profound impact that will be James’ proud democratic legacy.

‘We will miss James for his wry, sharp wit, his deep love for his family and his miniature schnauzers, and his proud annual proclamation of ‘Dezemba’ at the end of every parliamentary year. For as serious as a politician he could be, James was also a dear and cherished friend who savoured the sweetness of life in a career that can often be exhaustively personally taxing. The Democratic Alliance is indebted to James not only for his contribution to our party, but the many wonderful connections he made with the people who belong to it.

‘James will live on in the values and principles at the core of the Democratic Alliance in which he so fervently and passionately believed, and which have stood the test of time despite any setback in the party’s history. He will also be remembered for setting the example with his ability to show immense resilience even under the most dire of circumstances – a trait that will stand any politician in good stead.

‘James Selfe is one of the unsung heroes of South African democracy, having dedicated his life to the liberation of the South African people and the betterment of our country as a newly-realised democracy. His legacy will live on in the corridors of parliament and in the memories made with family, friends, and colleagues alike. Fare thee well, James.

‘Thank you for everything.’

The South African website extends its thoughts and condolences to James Selfe’s family and friends.