What 20 years at Parliament taught me! — Cheryllyn Dudley

Former ACDP MP Cheryllyn Dudley shared the message below during a keynote speech last Friday in the online September Elective: ‘The Great Reset: Be The Change’, hosted by the School of Governance

Sharing just a few of the many many things I learned or had confirmed during my years in Parliament is a great honour and a privilege. Thank you so much for this opportunity, thank you to everyone who has participated and thank you to all the speakers whose input has been and I am sure will prove invaluable in the days and years ahead.

I will start with the very important fact that:

PUTTING IN THE TIME PAYS OFF...

At some point during my time in office, I had decided to read Malcolm Gladwell’s books. I learned many things from these books, including that “researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: 10 000 hours.” By this reckoning, even I (a jack-of-all-trades) would very likely then be an expert in at least some aspects of my 24/7 job. In my twenty years at Parliament in a small political party, I got to do so many things so often that I, even noticed, I had gotten pretty good at some of them.

I loved Gladwell’s observation that “practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.” There are many who take shortcuts, but those who put in the time are, indeed, for me, the genuine article.

I learned:

IMPERFECTION CAN BE USED IN THE SERVICE OF PERFECTION

Having also gained from reading Steve Jobs biography, I particularly appreciated Gladwell’s comment that: “The great accomplishment of Jobs’ life is how effectively he put his idiosyncrasies, his petulance, his narcissism, and his rudeness in the service of perfection.”

I have watched so many, imperfect people, in their own way accomplish many things in the service of their country despite their often glaring flaws and struggles with their own demons. I learned never to write people off.

Jobs interestingly asked for no control over the content of his biography other than the book’s cover, and waived the right to read it before it was published. This impressed me. Was it extraordinary humility, arrogance, exceptional confidence, by this planet-changing man I wondered, or perhaps a combination of all three? Clearly, he trusted the biographer whose past work included other best-selling biographies, nevertheless, this is the kind of courage and risk-taking I admire. Know the risks but take the challenge — he set the bar high!

I learned:

WE HAVE A STORYTELLING PROBLEM

Yes, I very definitely learned, as Malcom Gladwell put it: “We have, as human beings, a storytelling problem. We’re a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we don’t really have an explanation for.” Far too often we also think we can read people’s minds and readily make assumptions based on very shaky evidence. We also claim to read God’s mind way too often. in my opinion!

Most people, I discovered (not just preachers and politicians) have their preferred explanation or story for many things and far too many people go to extraordinary lengths to defend what they believe they already know. At the same time, very few people are confident enough to listen to other views in order to stretch and test their own thinking.

This may be just arrogance but I came to see it as fear. Fear that other people’s perspectives on issues gleaned from their experience or research may disturb or challenge our confidence based on our own fixed ideas (often supported by cultural bias and just as often, conveniently supporting conscious or subconscious agendas).

I recall my own inclination, in my early days in Parliament, to reject anything that disturbed the neatly crafted story I had in my head. Conscious of this, I purposely set out to place my understanding within the context of the bigger picture… I made a choice.

Empathy was something I wasn’t seeing much of and I decided to hold my opinion on issues until I had considered — not only the possible impact on others — but what the situation might look like through other people’s eyes and experiences, sound like through other people’s ears and feel like through other people’s circumstances and pain. I had to practice having the humility to listen and observe.

My blinkers did not fall off accidentally — I chose to remove them and had to apply myself to the task — I suspect I will always have to remind myself that I do not have the whole story. Growing up, it was easy “not to see”, later it became easy to say “but we didn’t know”, now there is no excuse, it is my responsibility “to see” — and my responsibility “not to remain ignorant”.

I learned:

I CAN BE WRONG…

I was not a politician by accident nor by nature, but on purpose. I had a lot to learn and embraced dealing with my ignorance.

Very importantly, I purposed to always be open to the possibility that I could be wrong, as I was aware of how blind our cultural biases can make us, and how often we confuse our cultural norms, our faith and our politics. I know that even when I feel strongly that I am right, I am largely reliant on my own experience, knowledge, information and positioning and can have missed something. None of us have the full picture which is why we need to listen to each other and consider many things before we form an opinion.

I was also somewhat concerned that Christians were becoming better known for what we “hate” than for our “love”. I wanted to see the grace that had been extended to me, in our responses. Yes, tough love is important, but tough love, I was realising, could be expressed in brokenness and humility, and not arrogance and a bitter spirit.

I learned:

A BETTER WAY MUST BE A CHOICE

In 2014, Landa Cope asked me to write the foreword to her book, God and Political Justice. I found myself explaining why this book had had such an impact on my work in politics. Landa put into words, concepts with which I had wrestled that conveyed with simplicity, yet brilliance, exactly what I often had either wanted to say or needed to say.

The most impactful for me, in terms of navigating democracy, were these few words “as God’s people we are called into civil governance for the glory of God and the good of the people. Our goal is not to perfect the world or nation, but to offer God’s perspective, a better way, and allow society a choice”.

When I took office as an MP in the National Assembly in 1999, five years after the dawn of democracy in South Africa, I did so with the understanding that South Africa needed godly government and I was sold out to the idea of influencing legislation in line with my understanding of biblical principles. More and more, however, I found the practical expression or application of my understanding of biblical principles did not produce anything that resembled the God we wanted to emulate and please. It was disturbing to me that I, and my colleagues in the party, were sounding legalistic, judgemental and frankly, irrelevant in today’s world.

This observation became the motivation for my ongoing scrutiny of all things pertaining to our work as Christian democrats. The need to radically change our approach to our work was clear to me and the increased clarity regarding what was, and what was not, our job as Christian politicians which Landa’s work provided, had helped me move from closing people’s ears with my words, to being listened to and actually achieving results.

I learned:

PROGRESS REINVENTS SOCIETY

It was in 2010 that I first read A Journey by Tony Blair, and had felt strongly that aspects of it were relevant to the ACDP.

This account of Tony Blair’s years in office and his role in shaping recent history includes the way in which he managed to reinvent his party, his relationships with colleagues, the negotiations for peace in Northern Ireland, the implementation of huge reforms to public services and his relationships with colleagues and global leaders. Blair’s story added fuel to the fire that had been ignited in me for change. Words like, “all progressive movements have to beware of their own success. The progress they make reinvents the society they work in and they must, in turn, reinvent themselves to keep up… .” made perfect sense to me.

It was no secret that I was in favour of reinventing the ACDP, as, in my view, what we said and did was inconsistent with what we said we wanted to achieve. I had also thought a lot about Blair’s observation that “religion starts with values that are born of a view of humankind. Politics starts with an examination of society and the means of changing it. Of course, politics is about values, and religion is about changing society, but you start from a different place.”

Whatever one thinks of Tony Blair’s politics, he did become the UK Labour Party leader in 1994 and he did miraculously transform his party within a few short years. He rallied the country behind him (from all political persuasions), became Prime Minister of Britain in 1997 with the biggest victory in Labour’s history and brought to an end 18 years of Conservative government. Then, he took Labour to an historic three terms in office. Astounding!

I learned:

YOU CAN BE RIGHT BUT IRRELEVANT

What stood out the most for me were the words: “There is no point in being right if you have lost the ability to persuade, otherwise you may be a fine example of a person who is right, but irrelevant.” In my estimation the ACDP had found itself in a similar position to the UK Labour Party of old. It had become a dinosaur, and was in danger of becoming extinct. We too needed to consider separating our “commitment to our values,” which were timeless, from the application of these same values, which was time-bound. In other words, stand for what we believe to be right but express and apply our values and principles more consistently and in ways that are relevant in the 21st century and on our continent.

I was and am of the opinion that I serve a big God who does not need me to protect Him or me, from reality. I felt this was, for me at least, a key to being relevant. I am fully conscious of my need for, and privilege of, having the Spirit of the living God leading and guiding me from within but am in no doubt that If we do not have both feet on the ground and the relevant facts on issues and situations, we will not be able to connect and convince people we have viable solutions. Unless people are convinced that doing the right thing is the best thing for them, their families and their communities, they will not make the changes necessary to move in that direction.

Convincing politicians also hinges on being relevant. One has to convince them that doing what is right is not only constitutional, but is what people want. In other words, it will result in more votes!

I learned:

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Showing respect for other people and acknowledging their right to differ with me was another aspect of my learning along the way, that was invaluable. Our views as a political party on abortion, terrorism, and violent crime, for example, left people in no doubt about our respect for life with regard to victims, but our respect for life when it came to those who were perpetrators, deceived or simply disagreed with us was not quite so evident.

The fact that I believe that words have power and we are accountable for them, I felt death rather than life was being spoken over far too many people and situations. And the fact that I believe we live in a fallen world but that everything and everyone is redeemable, was not coming through.

I persistently reminded myself that a Christian’s super-powers are love, forgiveness, patience, kindness and longsuffering. They have never been hatred or bitterness. I called this #Christianity101 and lamented what seemed to be the power of politics to make Christians forget the basics.

I learned:

WHAT MY JOB WAS AND WHAT IT WAS NOT

I came to understand that my job in Parliament was not to impose my beliefs or lifestyle on others, but to be a living testimony of those beliefs and that lifestyle.

It was also to build relationships of trust and mutual respect so that I did not find deaf ears when I brought issues affecting my constituency to discuss in Parliament.

Then, there was the aspect of ensuring that people’s freedom to make choices for themselves was not curtailed unnecessarily, and to do what I could to ensure legislation did not impose secular or other values on the Church or other sectors of society.

I learned that conflicting opinions did not have to result in conflict and that finding common ground and peaceful solutions in Parliament could impact positively on communities and service delivery.

Sharing our lives and resources will always necessitate practical compromises. Resources themselves may not be limited in the broadest sense but access to resources can be. This does not mean compromising on values, but does require us to love our neighbour as ourselves and a large degree of tolerance.

My work as a Christian in politics, mostly required me to be authentic (to be myself) and to connect with people as they are, and not as I wanted them to be. I needed to understand that we can only do for others, what they allow, and that imposing our way is not The Way!

I learned:

THERE WERE MANY HILLS TO DIE ON…

Another aspect of this work was the need to be a risk-taker. The risks I took were, however, not knee-jerk reactions. Each was considered and I counted the potential cost of my words and actions in advance. While I have been known to say “you must be prepared to crash and burn along the way if you want the rock-star moments,” I have also cautioned many a young, overzealous politician, that while there is probably a hill they are meant to die on, they should be careful not to die on any old hill! I am convinced I lasted as long as I did (apart from the grace of God) because I learned quickly to stick my head up only long enough to get the job done and to keep it down in between so I didn’t get it chopped off. Politics is treacherous territory. Success makes you both popular and a threat!

I learned:

TO THINK ABOUT WHAT I AM THINKING

Largely because our thoughts become words and our words become actions. Both have repercussions and we will answer for them.

I learned that I do not always have to say what I think because it is not only unnecessary but unwise to share every thought. I also had to learn to be more circumspect about crediting God with every thought I had. The “God said” or “God told me” habit had to be broken along with getting out of preacher mode, so I could communicate appropriately, using legal or political jargon when necessary, but mostly speaking to people in ways they related to and not in ‘Christianese’ or with that self-righteous air that so easily attaches itself to so many of us who mean well!

As a politician, I kept the party vision and mission in mind at all times and constantly checked my thinking, and the thinking (or lack of it) behind the voices I was hearing, against foundational Christian values. Many people had a lot to say and many Scriptures to quote, but I wanted to know whether, in the specific context, was what they were saying true, was it kind, was it necessary?

I wanted to see the grace that had been extended to me, in our responses. I wanted to see love that was patient and kind, that did not envy or boast, was not proud, did not dishonour others, was not self-seeking, not easily angered, kept no record of wrongs, did not delight in evil, rejoiced with the truth, always protected, trusted, hoped and persevered. In short, anything that resembled the God-kind of love spoken of in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.

I learned:

TO VALUE GREATER PERSPECTIVE

I always wanted to share the different opinions and perspectives to which I was privy, often without comment. In my opinion, a broader perspective helps us see more clearly and discern more accurately. I do not believe God gave us a brain or the ability to reason, for the purpose of switching it off. It became more and more important to me to understand as much as I could about present and past circumstances which impacted communities before assuming I had anything relevant to contribute. I had also spent a fair amount of time over the years trying to encourage others to think about what they are thinking, especially before “sharing” information that is second hand or hearsay.

I learned:

TO BE BRIEF AND TO THE POINT

Speaking truth to power, whether you are an MP, an NGO, or individual, requires you to firstly state your concern clearly and precisely (long preambles do not help). Explain how your concern is affecting people and what you are asking Parliament or government to do about it. Recommend what you believe is the best way to solve the problem and how you think this can be done in the simplest and most effective way. Link your recommendation to what relief it would bring and what consequences there would be for others and how this could be mitigated. Make available the names of who you have consulted and who you represent on the issue. Express your concerns briefly, honestly, accurately (without exaggeration), respectfully and graciously. It will make you so much easier to listen to.

Working together with the community or NGOs on issues, I have found produces results and increased success in engaging the hearts and minds of decision-makers. With all the noise, agendas, attention-seeking, speaking for the sake of speaking, uninformed and ill-informed propagandists, it is a great blessing to have people around you that you can rely on to apply their minds responsibly to issues and offer information that is informed by biblical standards, academic research, an understanding of the law of the country and feedback from relevant stakeholders, not just hearsay.

I learned:

BEING DEFENSIVE MAKES YOU VULNERABLE

One of the things I had to deal with when I first got to Parliament was a tendency to be defensive. I was too quick to take offence and too quick to react. Interestingly, it was the ANC ministers that helped me with this. I was very aware of how they let themselves down when they were defensive and how easily the Opposition could press their buttons because of it. Over time, I had watched many of these same ministers purposing not to be defensive and to answer graciously and generously. This elevated them in my eyes, and made an impact in my life. I have found it is entirely possible to respect people with whom I disagree and to separate the issue from the person.

Sadly, playing the man and not the ball had become the politics of many opposition members in Parliament, and it was disappointing. I had realised early in my life at Parliament that my white face, Christian beliefs and just being a woman, had the ability to offend people even before I opened my mouth. I would remember that harsh angry words and actions aimed in my direction, said more about the person reacting to me than it did about me, but I knew I had to have the courage to face and hear their pain, and not run from it. This also did not relieve me of the responsibility to use my words with great care.

I learned

ETHICS AND INTEGRITY TALK

The clearest testimony of a believer, I discovered, is our work ethic and integrity. For example, do our actions line up with our words, and are we dependable and trustworthy? People can say many things but their actions eventually speak louder than their words if there is consistency. I had observed that people saw me as a person of integrity precisely because I was conscious of hypocrisy and guarded against applying different standards for different people, and if I did, I welcomed correction. I did not expect more grace than I extended.

I also learned that as a woman working in what was once a man’s world, I valued being who I was as a woman but realised I should not expect men to be less authentic. This linked with integrity for me. When we put too much pressure on each other to “play-act” we are weaker, not stronger together.

Integrity also has a “fit for purpose” aspect. A metal used to build an aircraft would be different to that needed for a door handle or jewelry. The integrity is in the suitability for what it is used for. Let me elaborate on what I am thinking here. Take a person like Jacob Zuma for example: did his worldview, his words and his actions align? — yes. Would this be suitable for a traditional leader? — quite possibly yes. Would it be suitable for a president?- quite clearly no! Or take the DA who I felt lacked integrity until I considered that I may not have liked their design but their worldview, words and actions aligned with their stated mission and goals and the results at the polls backed this up. So I had to consider that for them there was integrity in terms of their purpose. When what we believe, say and do don’t align with our stated mission and goal — then we lack integrity. Just thinking out loud!!

I learned:

BIBLICAL JUSTICE DOES NOT DEMAND PERFECTION

In fact, biblical political justice, I came to understand, accepts the imperfection of the world and seeks to serve, preserve and bless, making society as just as possible.

It does, however, measure political systems by the quality of justice the system secures for the poorest of the poor and weakest of the weak. It seeks ways to work with whatever political leadership we have, not accepting the myth that one leader will be all good and another all bad, and it is always looking for ways to move our justice system away from punishment towards redemptive restitution and restorative justice.

I learned:

ABOUT AUTHORITY

I had examined the topic of authority and boundaries as they applied to my work as a Christian in politics before even becoming a member of parliament and was familiar with the four spheres of God-given authority being the individual, the family, civil governance and the Church. This included the boundaries or limits of that God-given authority being the tension between all four spheres. Everyone having rights and responsibilities with NO one sphere having all rights and all responsibilities at all times in all places over all things. I learned, over time, to ask not only “what, if anything, is the right thing to do” but also “who has the God-given authority to make that decision?”

An example of this being the High Court judgement on disciplining children in August 2017. MPs, democratically elected by the people of South Africa, had considered this issue for many years and concluded that it was not desirable for reasonable chastisement to be abolished. The judge’s conclusion in this instance was in my view, a breach of judicial authority. It was an elected Parliament that had the authority to make such a decision and not the appointed judiciary. This was a case of judicial activism in my opinion.

Another interesting scenario on this topic was the Terri Schiavo case in the United States from 1990 to 2005, involving a woman in an irreversible persistent vegetative state. Schiavo’s husband elected to remove her feeding tube. Schiavo’s parents, supported by a broad Christian coalition, wanted to keep her on life support. This was interesting because from a biblical perspective the husband had the God-given authority to make the decision (not the parents or the church or the government who were called on by Christians to intervene). Yet, the Christian community globally lobbied for the parents to be allowed to keep their daughter on life support.

So often we just re-learn that there needs to be a healthy tension between the strength of our emotions and our intellect.

I love this quote by Iraj Abedian which touches on this: “…the overuse of heart without the balancing influence of intelligent inputs can lead to fanaticism or superstition; and the overuse of mind without the balancing influence of human heart can lead to egocentric, selfish, individualistic pursuits that culminate in negative outcomes for both the individual and the community. Clearly, neither of these two faculties is perfect on its own.”

I learned:

OUR FALLEN WORLD IS INDEED IMPERFECT!

The lightbulb moment I had with regard to there being no perfect solutions in this imperfect world — a concept that I believe is critically important to internalise, if we are to balance our idealism with practical input that is relevant — changed my approach to my work in Parliament radically. Moving me from an all or nothing mentality of opposing everything on the grounds that it was imperfect.

My aim changed to influencing decisions in a way that would move us in the direction of God’s values and rightful authority. The words of Scriptures I had often quoted about “not despising the day of small beginnings” and “little by little” became even more meaningful.

I learned:

NOT TO CONFUSE THE ROLE OF CIVIL GOVERNMENT AND THE CHURCH

When the Church has the ear of the people who vote for politicians, it then has the ear of those politicians. In this way, the Church has persuasive authority even if politicians do not know God’s word. Because preachers have persuasive authority over congregations, they also have an increased responsibility and will be answerable to God for how they use or abuse that authority.

As the Church is made up of individual people, some of those people are likely to represent their communities in local councils, provincial legislatures and the national legislature, where they will hold the respective level of civil government to account. In this way, through them the Church will be asking the relevant questions and holding government accountable — hopefully not ranting, raving, cursing, threatening or capturing, but interacting respectfully and responsibly, modelling Christ in our attitude and behaviour.

Being an MP for a party based on Christian principles, the topic of Church in relation to government held particular relevance for me in my work. Both have authority from God but, while government reflects the will of the people, the Church reflects the will of God. Government, therefore, reveals the standard of the people, while the Church reveals God’s standard. Government must represent and please the people, both the majority and minorities, while the Church must represent and please only God.

Both seek to convince people of the best route to take. All things considered, I tend to agree with Landa Cope that Church and government are in fact “divinely disagreeable,” and this is not a bad thing. They have different purposes.

I learned:

CIVIL LAW CAN ONLY BE AS MORAL AS THE MAJORITY

In a democracy, civil law can never be more moral than the majority of the people. However, the more moral the majority of people are the more likely they will be to want laws that reflect these morals.

This is particularly relevant, I believe, for Christian politicians who would do well to realise they will not be able to take people where they do not want to go. They could, of course, try but to be successful, they would need huge military and police forces and arms spending that would bankrupt the country — even if it wasn’t just wrong! Patience is not only a virtue, but an absolute must.

All law is moral in that it sets a standard of “acceptable behaviour” but it does not necessarily reflect God’s moral law. Another important point is that law cannot eliminate sin, it can only seek to limit abuses.

I learned:

TO NAVIGATE DEMOCRACY

Like many Christians, I was sceptical of democracy and I am always careful to side with Sir Winston Churchill in explaining that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others”.

With this in mind, I chose to embrace democracy, with all its faults and shortcomings. I do not expect democracy to deliver perfection, only a degree of consensus and order and a consciousness of human rights which acknowledges the dignity of people.

While I see democracy as a framework within which I can work in order to point people to a better way, I also see aspects of God in some of its characteristics. God is transparent. He tells us His purpose for mankind and how His creation works. He tells us what brings success and warns us of the repercussions for disregarding how things work. He passionately argues for us to choose what is best for us BUT ultimately, He gives us the freedom to choose.

I would argue, therefore, as best I could, for what I understand to be a better way, but would be careful to stop short of manipulation and control. People have to be allowed to choose. The consequences for bad choices are sometimes immediate, and sometimes deferred. Some only impact on the hereafter.

This, I rationalised, should inspire us to be better-prepared and better-equipped to make relevant arguments that people understand as we put forward policy and strategies that reflect that better way.

I learned that:

POLITICS IS ALL ABOUT POWER

Politics should be about policies and strategies to facilitate development and opportunities for people to prosper and in my early days of sharing the vision of the ACDP I would say, very seriously: “We are going to do politics without the power play.”

Politics, I soon discovered, is all about power and people vying for power within parties and across party lines. It is virtually impossible to have one without the other. In order to be the legitimate government, or even get into office within your own party, you would have to convince a majority of people to vote for you. Too often the power play goes to even the heads of Christians who can find themselves considering “dirty tricks” a necessary evil, creating division for political gain at the expense of unifying a nation or party, displaying arrogance and having an air of entitlement.

I learned that:

INFLUENCE MATTERS

Having learned early on in office that in a democracy, it is the majority that calls the shots, I understood that if you can’t convince the majority you will not make the changes needed on route to a more “just” society.

When, in 2018, I called on the majority party to mandate and capacitate parliamentary committees to investigate all accusations of state capture, I would have had this in mind. I called on them through their Chief Whip in the Chief Whips Forum and while he was sceptical, he took the proposal to the ANC Caucus. A week later, he acknowledged the proposal and said the caucus had supported it. This was phenomenal!

Taking the initiative in this way, Parliament succeeded in accelerating efforts to uncover and deal with corruption and I couldn’t be more grateful to God for the inspiration I felt to motivate this at the time. I had said that we, as Parliament had dropped the ball and we had lost the respect of the people of South Africa. This was a chance for us as Parliament to make amends and restore respect for this important institution, and its dignity. In my opinion, this was a victory for democracy and would move us in the direction of a more just society and the shared future Madiba foresaw.

I learned:

DEMOCRATIC LEADERS HAVE CONSTRAINTS

I constantly hear people complaining about a lack of leadership in South Africa, which is frustrating because these people want democratic leaders and democratic leaders can only lead to the degree that people will allow. Even Christian political leaders in a democracy can only provide the highest justice and freedom people will allow.

Yes, democratic leaders are constrained but the upside to this, of course, is that leaders like Jacob Zuma and Donald Trump with all their strengths and weaknesses, only get enough rope to either show constraint or eventually hang themselves. We would be hard-pressed to find any leader throughout the ages who was a perfect man or woman — even people of biblical fame. And even if there was such a thing as a perfect man or woman, they would fall short of the expectations of people. I am thinking of Jesus of Nazareth.

To qualify as a good leader you must, it seems, have the best traits of all past leaders and none of their faults, you must solve every problem a country faces, impeccably address every issue and have no human failings. For me, excellence in politics demands courage and bravery to face, both enemy and friendly efire, resisting the temptation to take offence or fight back, staying focused, serving and believing the best of the very people who are behaving the worst. You have to keep standing, knowing that to be in the game you must be IN the game.

Mandela, the international icon and hero, is a traitor in the eyes of some. He managed against all odds to inspire just enough people to commit to the concept of forgiveness and reconciliation and reached the tipping point. Zuma was the same man who became the president as he was when he was persuaded to resign. He did not grow horns during office. People changed. Despite his obvious weaknesses, he accomplished something others would not have dared do. He freed Parliament and the ANC to do real oversight and actually hold both the executive and himself accountable. President Ramaphosa will not be perfect either, but I am hoping people will give him the opportunity to do what only he can do at this time in our history and that is to tackle inequality while being in no doubt as to the realities of global business and finance and how they impact on the country.

Success puts a target on your back, so to say a leader has to be mentally strong is an understatement. No power and position comes without blood sweat and tears. I am also thinking here of what it takes to grow a leader and how many lessons can only be learned by way of mistakes. I am thinking of so many people I have worked with and am grateful for the policy of growing leaders and not chopping them off at the knees at their first mistake. Left to the Opposition, who call for everyone’s head on a block except their own, we would have a serious lack of leadership in the country. As Winston Churchill said: “Success is never final and failure is rarely fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”

People, in my experience also want instant satisfaction and if the rewards are not instant, they turn on the plan or those implementing the plan before it can bear fruit. Presidents coming into power immediately after dictatorial, corrupt or destructive regimes, for example, have huge responsibility and all-but-impossible missions to accomplish. For democratic leaders to manage security and defence forces used to operating under brutal dictatorships, is no walk in the park. When people are impatient they make it even harder by undermining efforts and sabotaging their own futures — Zimbabwe, as always, on my mind and a case in point! The problem as I see it, is that imperfect people demand perfection from their leaders, and although it would be wonderful, it is a fantasy, an unhelpful fantasy that causes unnecessary unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

There is also a huge temptation to see the past through rosy sunglasses, the good-old-days syndrome. When people get despondent I encourage them to read a factual unsanitised history book and then honestly consider if they prefer to face the challenges of being human in this age or in a past era.

I learned:

CHAMPIONS OF ACCOUNTABILITY MUST BE ACCOUNTABLE THEMSELVES

Because I purpose to believe the best of people, this doesn’t mean I don’t expect them to mess up or let themselves or others down. I am even more convinced, however, that our focus should be on learning from our mistakes. And we can’t do that if we are busy pointing fingers, blaming others, justifying or covering up.

The goal must be for each of us to take responsibility for our mistakes and have the courage to face the consequences, not to write each other off. It disturbs me when Christians in particular, simply repeat every negative word spoken over our country and its leaders without a second thought, knowing the words we speak have power and we can speak both life and death into situations.

In a similar vein, because a vibrant opposition, multi-party democracy and a free media are important safeguards in our democracy, their indulgence in sensationalism, exaggeration and framing all efforts in a negative light is also frustrating.

I have of course learned in no uncertain terms, that when party politics is elevated above the house rules and is allowed to cover corruption or disrupt, trample on and undermine the work of Parliament in the name of chaos and anarchy, it has gone too far.

Excellence in politics is often confused with winning or keeping power, with the end justifying the means. When those in power abuse people’s rights in order to hold onto power or the Opposition resorts to what I call “sabotage politics” and purposely create divisions and spread fear, I see the opposite of excellence. I see inferiority!

Gaining or keeping power at any cost is not acceptable and certainly not the Christian way. We, at least, must be different. So, fudging the truth, bearing false witness, slandering people or sharing what we do not know to be the truth, are for me, not options. If members of parliament and the public, expect to hold the executive accountable, these champions of accountability must be accountable themselves.

Last but not least I embraced the concept of:

A SHARED FUTURE

When Reverend Ian Paisley, Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party in Ireland, died in 2014, I had wanted to show my appreciation for his leadership and courage as he came to recognise and work toward the ideal of a shared future for the people of Northern Ireland. I also wanted to recognise his courage in stepping down from his leadership role when the time came for change.

Known as a Protestant rabble-rouser, Paisley pioneered a work combining strong religious views and politics, eventually embracing the peace process and then moving aside as the party made the changes they wanted to see, starting with themselves. He led a power-sharing executive with former adversary Sinn Fein.

The DUP’s message of a “shared future” was something I took to heart. It became my rallying cry and has been ever since. I had been carrying in my heart a vision of transformation for my own party at the time, and their example was a great encouragement and motivation for me.

The message of a shared future however resonated on a much broader scale and encompassed for me not only all of South Africa, the SADC region and Africa but the whole world.

 

4 Comments

  1. Hendrik Cronje

    An excellent and very insightful article. Giving insight into a place and situation that many of us do not always understand or agree with. You have clearly lived out your purpose and made an impact. Well done!

  2. Sannie Snell

    Thankyou Cheryllyn for sharing what you have learned during your time in Parliament. To be able to “zip one’s lips” when your opinion is not what is relevant at that particular time, is a most valuable lesson to learn. To be able to see the world through someone else’s eyes give one a deeper understanding of why they are saying or doing why they say or do it and to respect their opinion is also of great value. I have prayed for many years for South Africa to be united in being able to work together across colour and cultural divisions and build a better future for all, which, because of my Christian beliefs, would always begin with having a faith based on the bible, but I have come to see over the years that folk from different faiths hold the same thinking, to build a better future for all and respect them for that.

  3. Rona van Niekerk

    These are thoughts that we can all take to heart in our daily dealing with other South Africans. If we all start doing them, we will go a long way to reconciliation and nation building in our beautiful land. Thank you so much for sharing Cheryllyn. And thank you also for being a great ambassador for the Lord and accomplishing the task He gave you to do.

  4. Mrs J Stoll

    Dear Cheryllyn,
    What a interesting and informative read. What an insight into the very challenging world of politics. Thank you for sharing with us your own experiences. There is much good advice to one considering the political way. I pray that all you have learnt will be passed on to others so as to prepare people of integrity to take the leadership role. One can certainly learn so much from reading books and hearing from the Lord. God bless you. Jill Stoll

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