Tributes pour in for veteran DA stalwart James Selfe

Former DA federal chairperson James Selfe.

Former DA federal chairperson James Selfe.

Published May 22, 2024


Former DA federal chairperson James Selfe, 68, died on Tuesday afternoon after a long battle with illness, the party’s leader John Steenhuisen said.

Steenhuisen said Selfe died peacefully surrounded by his family and loved ones.

“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,” he said.

Selfe served under various leaders of the DA such as Tony Leon, Helen Zille and Mmusi Maimane until he retired from active politics in 2021.

“James Selfe helped fine-tune 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 judgments in post-democratic history, setting a variety of legal precedents which strengthened public accountability in our young democracy,” Steenhuisen said.

Selfe worked as a researcher in the late 1970s and 80s for the DA’s forerunner, the Progressive Federal Party, and later became the party’s executive director.

After his election to the National Council of Provinces in the 1994 democratic elections, he served in the Constitutional Assembly, participating in the drawing up of South Africa’s democratic Constitution.

He served on various portfolio committees, most notably the committee on justice and correctional services.

Steenhuisen said Selfe’s work in the Democratic Party and later the DA 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.”

Maimane said: “He was a great friend, a trusted advisor, and a true statesman, who I was privileged to serve alongside for many years in the DA.

James and I weren’t just colleagues. He allowed me to become close with his own family, having the privilege of officiating his daughter Emma’s wedding. I wish to send my condolences to James’s wife Sheila, his daughters and his extended family, loved ones, as well as his DA family.”

DA leaders and others took to social media to express their condolences to Selfe’s family and friends.

Former party leader Tony Leon said he was deeply saddened at the news of Selfe’s death: “When the history of the democratic project here and the building of a viable opposition is properly written, his name will be written in letters of gold.”

Western Cape Premier Alan Winde said they mourned the loss of a dedicated servant to their party and the people of South Africa.

“James Selfe’s unwavering commitment to liberal democracy and justice leaves an indelible mark on our nation. Rest in peace, democrat. Your tireless commitment to our country and her future will never be forgotten,” Winde said.

ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba said he too was deeply saddened by the passing of Selfe.

“It was a privilege to work alongside James, a man for whom I had the utmost respect and admiration. I will always remember his genuine desire to build a better South Africa. He was a true patriot and a dedicated public servant who served his country with distinction,” Mashaba said.

Build One South Africa leader Mmusi Maimane sent his condolences of Selfe, saying he was a committed South African who spent three decades in service to the people as well as the courts where his legacy of “lawfare” will long outlive him.

“He was a great friend, a trusted advisor and a true statesman, who I was privileged to serve alongside for many years in the DA,” Maimane said.

Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Groenewald said: “My deepest condolences to the DA and loved ones of James Selfe on his passing. He was an MP who was an asset to Parliament and SA.”

Cape Times