Pretoria — Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi says there was nothing wrong with him criticising former president FW de Klerk at the funeral of 16 children killed in taxi crash, since he is a politician.
“I am a politician, not a priest. So wherever I go, I talk politics. That is what people should expect,” he said.
He was defending comments he made in Verena, Mpumalanga, on Saturday at the funerals of 16 of the 18 schoolchildren and one of the two adults killed in a minibus taxi crash on the R25 in Wolvenkop on Friday, April 21.
Maswanganyi had said De Klerk and other apartheid-era presidents belonged to the “dustbin of history”.
He said when De Klerk was president, the Road Accident Fund (RAF) only benefitted rich whites. Under ANC rule, it benefitted everyone, he claimed.
He said after the accident, the RAF offered to help with funeral arrangements, purchased the coffins and helped with the transportation and storage of the dead.
Speaking on the sidelines of the launch of Metrorail’s new trains this week, Maswanganyi said it was not inappropriate to speak about De Klerk and the apartheid legacy at a funeral.
“We have inherited the bad transport infrastructure from the De Klerk government and I will continue to say that. If you want to tell me that we don’t suffer from the legacy of apartheid and colonialism, that person is disingenuous.”
The new government was addressing inequalities in society.
“We are dealing with the legacy of apartheid and colonialism and De Klerk was a president during the apartheid government, that is history that we can’t change and it was in that context,” he said.
National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete used her speech at the funeral to criticise anti-President Jacob Zuma protesters.
She claimed she was surprised that some of them even knew how to march, referring to two protest marches to the Union Buildings to demand that he resign following his Cabinet reshuffle. “In the name of these children, let us continue the work that OR Tambo and Nelson Mandela left us with when they died.
“Even if they march and realise that they too can participate in demonstrations, they forget that we are just as big as them, they are busy making noise.”
Speaking about public disputes within the ANC, Mbete said children should be taught that when there were problems at home and family members differed, they should not go and tell all the neighbours about it. “We do not do that. What we do when we are not getting along, we get in the house, fetch the uncles and aunts, talk about it and find common ground.”
Maswanganyi said Mbete, as national ANC chairperson, could not keep quiet. “It would not be proper for leaders to keep quiet when there are conflicts in the country or in certain areas,” he said.
DA Chief Whip John Steenhuisen said Mbete should issue a public apology for her “shameless politicking” at the funeral of children, which he said was indefensible.
“Furthermore, doing so in the name of Parliament is opportunistic and reprehensible. As the [National Assembly] Speaker and representative of Parliament, Mbete speaks on behalf of a multi-party institution, not just the ANC.
“As the chairperson of the ANC, Mbete may speak her mind, but when she represents Parliament she is held to a far higher standard.
“Mbete should be condemned for encouraging children to not speak out about ‘challenges at home’ in a country that experiences high levels of abuse against women and children,” he said.