Ari Seirlis: Broken promises and trust betrayed

My cousin has just told me a most disturbing story of promises broken and trust betrayed that I want to share with you because it ruffled my tailfeathers too.

Sometime at the beginning of this year, a gentleman by the name of Ari Seirlis was asked by the Independent Democrats to stand as a candidate for them in the National Elections. He agreed, and resigned from his position as National Director of the QuadPara Association of South Africa (QASA).

“Ari Seirlis is the first National Director of QASA, and has held this position since 2001. Ari oversees the general running of the Association and also has particular responsibility for fundraising and for positioning QASA in the private and public sectors to make a difference to the lives of people with disabilities. Ari is a key figure in developing and implementing the strategy of the Association.

Ari became a quadriplegic in 1985 when he sustained an injury in a diving accident at an amusement park. He was Chairperson of QASA from 1997 to 2001.”  (QASA website)

When I checked the website of the Independent Democrats for confirmation, I found a press release of 09 March 2009. Among other things, it gave the following background summary:

“Seirlis is number three on the national list of the Independent Democrats, the fastest-growing political party in the country over the past two elections.

Dynamic, pro-active and outspoken, Seirlis’ nomination is sure to bring colour to the political scene.

With 20 years’ experience in the disability sector – six of these as National Director at QASA – he has initiated high-profile lobbying and information campaigns that range from the ‘Buckle Up – We Don’t Want New Members’ road safety campaign, to shocking awareness adverts on Etv about the dangers of diving into the sea as a cause of spinal cord injury.

Under his leadership, QASA has grown to become one of the most powerful disability rights organisations and service providers in South Africa.

‘It was a hard, emotional choice. Could I make more of a difference to the lives of people with disabilities by remaining at QASA, or could I help influence fundamentally important disability policy and implementation strategies from a seat in Parliament?

‘Ultimately, I believe that the Independent Democrats, with their steadfast commitment to supporting the most marginalized groups in society, as well as their commitment to not only fight for the rights of our people, but to also offer solutions to the challenges they face, offer the best chance of success,’ Mr Seirlis says.

‘The track record of the Independent Democrats when it comes to people living with disabilities speaks for itself and gives me confidence that together we can ensure the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.’

As a result, Ari Seirlis campaigned vigorously and passionately for the ID, focusing mainly on attracting the support of disabled and senior voters. As he said in a media statement of 06 May 2009:

“The partnership seemed so obvious. The disability sector was looking for an opposition party who would commit to their cause and the ID was looking for new support, a new constituency and growth. The disability sector (worth tens of thousands of voters) needs a champion in the highest political arena and de Lille seemed to fit the profile. She professed to whistle-blow on corruption, professed to uphold constitutional rights, and moreover, she professed honesty and integrity as a defender of minorities and other vulnerable groups.”

However, the ID didn’t do so well in the elections and won only four Parliamentary seats. Ari, who was no. 3 on the list, should have taken up one of the seats in the National Assembly as an MP. But he said that he was bullied and tricked by the ID’s Secretary General, Haniff Hoosen, into surrendering his seat to another ID candidate.

“He (Hoosen) asked (on April 26) that I reconsider the question of going to the National Council of Provinces and I agreed to think about it overnight. He asked that I sign two forms in the meantime, in case I decided to accept nomination for the council.

“The forms were blank; they did not bear my name and they had other fields which had been left blank. I said that to save him the trouble of having to visit me again the next day… I would sign the two forms, but we expressly agreed that their use was subject to my decision, about which I would advise him the next day,” he says in a letter to the ID.” (IOL article)

As Ari puts it in an emotional letter addressed to De Lille and her party leadership:

“It’s not just that I feel my trust has been betrayed, but I feel the same about the trust of the disability sector, the trust of those who voted for you and ultimately the trust of the general public. How can you convince anyone to remain loyal to the Independent Democrats when the party has behaved in such an unscrupulous way? How can you carry on blowing your whistle about the arms deal in light of the events of the past two weeks?

Patricia, you were hailed as a champion of the people. You seemed to want to uphold the rights of minority groups and vulnerable people. You proved us all very wrong. I was not only wrongly deprived from a seat in Parliament. The disability sector was cheated out of something that was rightfully theirs – the chance to have a representative on the national stage.”

Quite frankly, Patricia de Lille lost any support or respect I had for her after the 2004 elections, when – despite announcing arrogantly and smugly in the weeks before the elections that she would be ‘going it alone’ and that she would *never* go into any alliance with the ANC (Press release on ID website) – she did exactly that.

Politicians – why are they such an untrustworthy and treacherous lot?

And even more to the point – why do we keep voting for them?!

I am waiting with bated breath to see what is going to happen with this story.


More information can be found here:

5 thoughts on “Ari Seirlis: Broken promises and trust betrayed

  1. Are unscrupulous people attracted to politics or does the political world make honest men and women unscrupulous? I don’t know, but I do share your concern. Nevertheless, I do make it a point to vote.

    I’ve always believed that if you don’t like any of the candidates on the ballot you can spoil your ballot in protest. In large numbers, these spoiled ballots would send a message that people care enough to vote but are disappointed in the quality of candidates.

    • Hi Amy-Lynn

      A good question. I think it’s probably both – though that probably sounds like a cop-out. I think one has to have a lot of moral fibre in an environment where backstabbing, corruption, nepotism, favouritism, and betrayals of trust are so prevalent in even the smallest respects. Perhaps playing the game that way is the only way to get things done? An awful thought, actually. Particularly if you DO want to encourage ethical behaviour.

      But yes, I also do agree that it is not only our right but our duty to vote – responsibly and intelligently. But then I think it’s also our responsibility as citizens who have just voted a party into power to hold them accountable… to get involved in our neighbourhood associations, to make an effort to communicate with the local ward councillor, and to (at the very least) attend ratepayers’ meetings or community forums, even if we don’t stand for office in any of those. Being willing to get involved or at least keeping track of what is happening in our neighbourhood – and clamouring loudly when things go wrong – is imperative, and probably the best thing we can do to change our little bit of society.

      I’m not sure I like the idea of spoiling a ballot that much. The people doing the counting are under such time pressure to get the job done and the results finalised, that such an attempt to protest probably gets lost in the big picture. And there’d have to be big numbers spoiling ballots – and other forms of protests in the run-up to the elections to reinforce the fact that we ain’t happy with the candidates on offer.

      Actually, in the South African context, we don’t have a say about the candidates, as we vote for the PARTY, not for the INDIVIDUAL. It’s the party who compiles the lists of candidates and who then allocates these however they want. We as voters have bugger-all input on that.

      And also, in the South African context, you might not know that there are actually not that many big enough political parties: the ANC is huge nationally, and they pretty much run the country all on their own (except for the Western Cape, where I stay, which is now under the control of the Democratic Alliance – yayyyy!!). The DA is the only other opposition in the country with a big support base – but TINY in comparison to the ANC. (you can see the distribution of our political parties here: Wikipedia article).

  2. That is a bit of a different system Reggie – where you elect a party and they provide the candidate of their choice to fill the position. Here in Canada, both the candidate’s name and the party he or she is affiliated with is on the ticket. It’s not unheard of for candidates to switch parties once they’re elected. It doesn’t happen often but it does happen.

    Our provincial government fell due to unacceptance of its budget recently, so we’re due for another election here in June. Canadians are notoriously apathetic. Voter turnout is often dismal, especially in municipal elections. We take far too much for granted, including our access to a fair and safe voting system.

    • Well, our candidates often switch parties, though it’s limited to certain times. It’s called the ‘floor-crossing’ legislation. According to the Wikipedia (amazingly, there’s even an entire article devoted to it!), the practice was abolished in January 2009. Well… let’s wait and see, shall we?

      Good luck with your upcoming elections in June. I just wish the political representatives were more communicative towards their voters for the rest of their term in office… and not just when they are canvasing for votes. Mind you, our local ward councillor, Brian Watkyns, is excellent – he often sends out emails to keep us up to speed with developments that affect our area. I hope he doesn’t resign for a long, long time.

  3. hey just look at Ireland – the same party pretty much (Fianna Fail) have been in power for most of the past 35 years, wherein the country has gone from the strongest economy in Europe to approaching 1930s levels in terms of infrastructure, health and voter apathy …

I'd love to hear your views

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