South Africa’s journalist-turned-politician and Parliament’s longest-serving MP, Dene Smuts has died.
Smuts died on Thursday night at the age of 67. She served in Parliament for 20 years, from 1989 to 2009. Prior to her political career, she was the managing editor of Leadership magazine and the editor of Fair Lady magazine.
Smuts was also the DA’s spokesperson for justice and constitutional development and contributed significantly to the writing of the Bill of Rights and in defining a proper process for judicial appointments.
Dene Smuts’ Political Career
Commenting on the life and times of the deceased, Western Cape Premier, Helen Zille, said Smuts was a very strong woman with strong leadership abilities. She described her as a very good analyst, a true-blue liberal, who played a key role in all negotiations and added that her death is a great loss for the country. Zille also offered her condolences to her family and two children.
Also, the Democratic Alliance (DA) has expressed shock at the sudden demise of Dene Smuts. The party remarked that Smuts “established herself as being unwaveringly committed to the founding principles of the Constitution, and always fought for them in Parliament.”
The party noted that while Smuts served as the DA’s Shadow Minister of Home Affairs, Communications, and later in Justice and Constitutional Development, she distinguished herself.
“Whether it was in her work on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission legislation, on a modern communications policy, on working for the independence of the legal profession or in her heroic work on the Protection of State Information Bill, Dene always worked incredibly hard and with total devotion to the Constitution and the principles it enshrines,” it added.
Smut was the first female MP to serve as a whip in Parliament, and served as a mentor to many younger MPs and staff. The DA stated that Smuts never accepted laziness or fuzzy thinking from colleagues, and did not hesitate to scold them if necessary. She was a fearsome debater in caucus and in the House, and many a government Minister withered under her trenchant questioning.
“Dene Smuts will be remembered as a truly great parliamentarian, who stood unswervingly for a cause far bigger than her own personal advancement – an enduring set of principles and beliefs. Her service to a democratic South Africa has been profound, and we mourn her loss. We convey our deepest condolences to her family.”
Speaking also, the Congress of the People (COPE) said Smuts was a great MP who was treated with so much respect. Cope spokesperson Dennis Bloem however asserted that, “She is no longer with us but her contribution to the Bill of Rights will live on.”
Dene Smuts is largely remembered for her words two years ago. In 2014, Smuts wrote,
‘Now it is 13th April and I depart, having completed five Parliaments. The question is not the one people keep asking me – why I am leaving or how I can leave – but how I stayed for nearly a quarter of a century when the work so consumes a person’s life. I have stayed because it has always been possible to get much and sometimes almost all of what I argued, and where all else failed, to effect damage control. It would have been nice to end on achieving my own two Private Member’s Constitutional Amendments on the JSC and the NPA, but the arguments are out and have developed traction.”
Smuts was the daughter of a former judge president of the former Orange Free State, and was born and raised in the Free State. She graduated from Stellenbosch University with a BA honours degree in literature.