In the book of Esther, God shows that He created each one of us for a specific purpose, calling us to act with courage and boldness in a specific time.
Rachel Katlego Mathebe, the speaker of the City of Tshwane council is a devoted Christian who makes no apologies for her faith in Christ.
She has hosted several powerful prayer meetings in the council chamber this year. These include an Africa Leadership Summit prayer event on Holocaust Memorial Day (April 24), featuring prayers for national healing, and a prayer event against xenophobia.
However, boldly living out her faith does not mean she violates the rights of others, says Mathebe. In fact, her boldness as a Christian matches her abilities as a mediator and peacemaker.
“It is within everyone’s legal right to practice their faith, and we therefore should make space for all to do this. I respect that, and I think that our constitution, making the way for religious expression, saved us many a time from wars that could have been.
“Notwithstanding this, it does not mean I should participate in any of my fellow citizen’s religious practices.”
She says that picking a fight with others over their beliefs would only result in alienation.
“I want to set an example to others, inspiring them to learn more about my faith.”
Christianity is the main religion practiced by South Africans. According to the official statistics 80% of the country are Christians.
“Although statistics show we are in the majority, I believe, there is a lot of work to be done. The statistics should reflect our way of living, otherwise we are just Christians on paper. It is time that we take up our responsibility as true light-bearers to make this country great.”
Mathebe believes it is not in God’s will that anyone should live in extreme poverty.
“In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus asks God the Father to provide us with our daily bread; therefore we should trust in His promises of provision.
‘We should take poverty seriously and strive daily to enable and empower people to be free from the bondage of poverty.”
One of the ways Mathebe wants to tackle poverty is to focus on the development of entrepreneurs. She now has a political platform at her disposal to create opportunities for those who are in need.
As the speaker of the City of Tshwane council, she is obliged to serve the community. Her main task as speaker is to be a link between the executive council and the city’s residents, leading public participation and consultation processes.
Like many believers, Mathebe’s first encounter with religion was in her local church, where she feels the main message preached was condemning.
“Growing up I thought most Christians were hypocrites. We dressed up in yellow and green as a sign of our loyalty, but never learned of the power of prayer, the importance of studying the Word, or the magnificence of God’s love.”
Mathebe has been involved in politics from an early age. She had a burning passion to see change during the apartheid era, and at 13 was already an ardent activist. She joined various organisations, such as the Young Christian Students (YCS), which shaped her worldview. The YCS standpoint that God does not approve of discrimination and poverty, and created everybody equal, has stuck with her.
She obtained a degree in accounting, among other qualifications.
In 1993 she joined IDASA , formerly the Institute for Democratic Alternatives in South Africa, today known as the Institute for Democracy in South Africa. This NGO played a pivotal part in electoral education during a crucial transition phase in South Africa.
“After 1994, when we [the ANC] won, I thought my job was done!” she says.
Thereafter she took a break from politics and began her professional career in finance, working for various parastatals before moving to the private sector. It was during her time in the private sector, that she truly met Jesus.
“One of my colleagues at work invited me to a church function. It was called Super Sunday and sounded interesting. At first I was a bit sceptical, as most of the people talked in tongues and it was something I was not used to. But I was challenged on so many levels.
“I still remember the sermon to this day. It was the first time that I was empowered by the word of God.”
Little did Mathebe know, her life would change forever. She embarked on a journey to know Jesus, zealously studying the Bible, learning the power of prayer and steadily growing in her faith.
“I was stunned by what I discovered, so overwhelmed by the love of Jesus, and to this day, I am still on fire for Him,” says Mathebe, who is an elder in Eagle Revival Church Ministries.
Returning to the political scene
She could not escape politics though — it was just in her blood.
She returned to the political scene in 2011 after the controversial ANC Polokwane conference.
After Polokwane she decided to join Cope. The DA pursued her over time, and she decided to cross over to them last year and was elected speaker last August.
“Before my role as the speaker, I was only a councillor. I was so humbled by their decision to trust me with this responsibility and I am excited about God’s plan for me in this role,” she says.
Mathebe wants to have meaningful relationships with all of Tshwane’s stakeholders.
“I want people to understand the importance of good governance. In the end, it goes beyond party politics, for the government should be for the people, by the people and consist of the people. The political party of the day’s main role is to set the scene, leading the government by creating sound policies.
“My Christian viewpoint only helps me to understand the constitution on a deeper level, applying the legislation of the day, but also to help me search for solutions, rather than only relying on legislation to fix the problem.
“We must accept our responsibility to not only treat the symptoms of our time, but rather the disease. We should not be afraid to tackle the messy, difficult issues like human trafficking and poverty just by relying on legislation. It will not go away with a piece of paper, but rather with our commitment to find workable solutions,” she says.