Through My Eyes: What Can We Learn From Stories of Successful Candidates

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FUTURE CANDIDATES SCHOOL

I will start with the words

Get There…

If we are going to make an impact in any way we must first and foremost, pitch up. If we are ‘there’ (wherever there needs to be), God can use us. Get there, preferably prepared, but if necessary, unprepared and expectant! “

The following snapshot of my own story may be relevant in this regard for some of you who have not yet experienced party-life or Parliament – but for those who have, I beg your indulgence and hope you will humour me!!

It was 1999, when I told Demi (my husband) that my party leader had phoned to tell me I was one of 7 people going to Parliament to represent the party.

I  told him that I was however going to decline as I was concerned. “You don’t take kindly to me saying ‘no’ to you” I said. I would need to be me in this work, I would need to listen to the many voices I would represent and I would need to be able to respond as I was led – not as Demi felt led.  What I was trying to say was that ‘being there’ meant being there as ME.

This was a boundary I had to make clear before accepting and we all needed to ‘count the cost’ before stepping into what I saw as ‘so great a responsibility’.  

It didn’t make things easy but ‘clear’ was a good start. We had to pioneer a whole new way of life which continued to challenge every gender norm we had ever subscribed to (keeping in mind we were born in the 50’s).

There were many hurdles on route to Parliament including the fact that there was no way to ‘get there’ other than working within Party structures. You, on the other hand, will have other options, but more about that from others will follow.

Preparation…

While still very busy building the Party in the KZN province, I had made a presentation at a hearing on the KZN Constitution in our Provincial Legislature and, there, met the Hon Mario Ambrosini for the first time. When we spoke about some of the issues, I was aware that my conviction and confidence was based entirely on my being a child of God, while he on the other hand, was ‘a lawyer’. I decided I needed to know what lawyers knew.

When I was in high school, only those whose family’s had money, or the most brilliant kids, who could get bursaries, considered going to University. The rest of us never gave it a thought. I phoned Demi after my encounter with the likes of Hon Mario Ambrosini and the Hon John Jeffery that day. I told him, “I have this crazy idea that God is telling me I am supposed to go to University to study law.”

Demi let out a huge sigh and a groan, followed by: “No…Wait… Lawyer… Money… Cool!”  “No!” I said. “It’s not to be a lawyer. It’s in preparation for Parliament!”  Then came an even bigger groan and sigh but in truth I already had all the confirmation I needed and I proceeded to apply at UND (now the University of KZN) to study for an LLB law degree. We cashed-in pension policies to pay for it but it was worth every cent. I got to study not just Law, but Zulu, English, Social Science, Politics and People – especially young people.

I was renewing my mind in ways that connected me with a global perspective and a South African reality more and more, while increasing my awe of the Creator of our world, our planet, the universe, and all that is in it.

One of many things that stood out was the first legal essay I ever wrote. It was returned to me covered in red pen and very few marks. It contained 95% opinion (my opinion) and 5% legal precedent but I soon learned to make a legal argument supported by credible, authoritative and persuasive sources and legal precedent as opposed to an emotional one. I then used a simplified version of this discipline to more effectively argue biblical concepts using the Bible as one of many sources and not as a battering ram, which helped me enormously in my work in the years ahead.

I discovered that the global conspiracy theories I had read so much about were not some big secret. Many were well documented and openly playing out on the world stage – concepts the world was experimenting with, often inspired by idealists who wanted to stop the possibility of World Wars reoccurring. The fact that many agendas were at play was not hidden and I was reminded that the agenda of the one enemy of God and mankind was being played out overtly and subtly in so many ways, that focusing in on any one agenda to the exclusion of all others was not helpful. Finding the opportunities, despite the many agendas, became my agenda!

I was 43 years old at the time I decided to study law. I was nominated as the class representative, voted onto the Student Representative Council, and got a Dean’s Commendation—all in my first year.  In the Party, I had opened branches and held office as the Durban Regional Chairperson. And I was the Chairperson of the party’s Federal Council of Provinces (FCOP) – the policy making body of the party with oversight of the National Executive.

So what did I learn that lawyers know, you might ask… I learned that they don’t know that much but they do know where and how to find what they need to know – if they are prepared to put in the time and the effort!  This was invaluable.

Surviving Party Politics…

Through the years I diligently guarded our unity in the Party, believing the vision of the Party to be bigger than any differences we may have had.  At one point in our journey somewhere around 1997, the Party’s Member in the KZN legislature had been recalled. The two people that were in line for the position were myself and a colleague who had previously expressed a desire to be the replacement MPL. I decided my time would come and that I did not have to get there by stepping over anyone. I supported her nomination and stepped aside.

It had not crossed my mind for a second, that our listing process in KZN for the 1999 Election would be anything other than honourable and was taken aback when several new-comer pastors appeared high on the Provincial List. My colleagues name topped the list and I was at number seven.

As a consolation prize (or out of guilt), I was number three on a list no-one yet fully understood—the Regional List. Once again, my colleague topped the list and at the meeting where all this was announced, the confident young man at number 2 on the Regional list stood up and declared he was prepared to be on the list but would not be available for campaign due to the stigma attached. Of course, we were all suitably horrified. What I did not know, (and I suspect he did not know either), was that his name was somehow, dropped down the list leaving me at number 2.

I worked 24/7 on policy documents, contacted churches and groups, set up speaking engagements, organised rallies and motorcades all over the province and was speaking whenever and wherever I could. I remember my sister, who is seventeen months younger than me, saying to me on one occasion that it was not normal to work for nothing for six years. “Especially you!” She said. “You had so much potential.” Of course, I was flabbergasted, as I thought I had the most important job in the world, besides it would have been harder not to do the work than it was to do it.

As it happened, my colleague had asked to take the Regional seat and not the KZN seat, had her desires been acceded to, I would NOT have been placed in Parliament or the Provincial Legislature.

Taking Credit…

There were times when those with whom I worked would question me, saying, “Why do you do that? Why do you do all the work then let others take the limelight”.  I would assure them that I was confident to let everyone do what they were good at, and quoting Harry S Truman would say, “There is no end to what one can achieve if you are prepared not to take the credit for it.” This gem is what I credit in part, with having got me into Parliament. Making other people look good makes them less inclined to want to do the job without you!

It was in the third year of my law studies, having just finished writing a constitutional law exam in 1999, that I got that call to Parliament. Although Demi had somewhat condescendingly supported me in my Party work he had not been really convinced.

He also thought I should have stood up for myself more aggressively during the listing process and wanted to wade in to do battle on my behalf, but I was getting different advice from my conversations with God—Not by might nor by power but by my spirit says the Lord.”  Now, however, Demi was a total Party Convert and has never looked back!

20 Years with Successful Candidates…

At the end of every year political parties in Parliament make farewell speeches and on 20 March 2019, this really was to be a farewell. I could hardly contain the feelings of gratitude bubbling up inside me and blurted out, “Nothing I could say today will come close to conveying how incredibly grateful I am for the opportunity I have had to serve the people of South Africa as a member of the National Assembly. It has been an honour and a privilege to work alongside everyone of you; members, officials and staff!”

Listening and Learning…

The first day I stood at that podium in 1999 and thanked God for the opportunity was the day I met Professor Ismail Mohamed.

He had written me such a special letter of encouragement after I had given my speech and we went on to work together in the Minerals and Energy Portfolio Committee amongst others. I have since paid tribute to some of the many heroes and mentors I had encountered over the 20 years of my tenure, one of whom was Kader Asmal. Unlike Prof Mohamed, a committed Catholic, Prof Asmal was, in his own words, a committed humanist. Of course we bumped heads and exchanged words—something we both enjoyed—but we also became good friends in the process.  Ben Turok first got my attention by tearing to pieces a speech I had made and I so wanted to respond with equally cutting words but managed in that moment to remember that I would do better to learn from him instead. We too, became friends.

I mostly chose to see past the ‘party posturing’ which goes with the job but I also recognised that the sincerest of people can be sincerely wrong!  Once I understood this about myself as well, I was far more effective in my job. Repeat after me “I can be wrong” or even just “wrong enough”!  Giving our perspective is important but it is never the whole picture.

Being Defensive…

When I think of people who made an impact and what made them successful, I recall my earliest weeks in Parliament and how defensive people were, our own insecurities making many of us difficult to work with.
It was the ANC Ministers that helped me recognise my own need to deal with my tendency to be defensive – quick to take offence and quick to react. I watched as time and time again they let themselves down being touchy and reactionary. I observed how easily the opposition could press their buttons because of it. Over time, however I watched many of these same Ministers purposing not to be defensive and to answer graciously and generously showing respect even in the face of provocation. This elevated them in my eyes, and made a significant impact on the way I chose to respond to friend and foe alike. It was and is entirely possible to respect people with whom I disagree and to separate the issue from the person.

Successful candidates in my view will be those who, will dare to  put down their defences, stop being easily offended, sarcastic, reactionary and even retaliatory.  They will rise above petty politics and choose to become statesmen and women.

So many people left an indelible mark on my life through the years. I recall people like Prof Myatula—who would preface his sentences with the words, “seated where I am seated” and so many other exceptional committee chairs but keep in mind that there is always much to learn from the best and the worst.

Minister Naledi Pandor, who held views that were very different to mine stood out for me as she would always listen closely to my speeches and took the time to tell me that she appreciated my approach to my work.

Then, there was the Speaker of the National Assembly, Baleka Mbete, who was, in my eyes, a champion of parliamentary oversight at a time when oversight in the ANC was not popular. She was concerned that Parliament was not being taken seriously by ministers and identified areas that we as Parliament needed to strengthen to ensure we would not be at a disadvantage when doing oversight. Like her, I was a woman competing in a man’s world.

However, she never downplayed who she was as a woman and courageously embraced it in every detail of her work. I was at first alarmed but curious enough to try it.

Parliament…

Members of Parliament make laws, they discuss and debate government policy and other political and social issues, they consult with the people and do what they can to represent these views in Parliament, they help people in their constituencies, interrogate and approve the budgets of departments, check that public money is not being wasted and try to make sure that the work that government promises to do is being done—they do this and so much more.

There can in fact be no Parliament without Members of Parliament, just as there is no Rugby match without Rugby players. And being human, MPs, NOT unlike rugby players, behave in ways that require rules and a referee. It is the Speaker of the House, the principal office bearer of the National Assembly, who is that referee that is there to protect the rights of ALL MP’s – as the representatives of the people of South Africa.

Dr Frene Ginwala was the first democratic Speaker of Parliament from 1994 to 2004. She was highly respected by opposition parties who saw her as able to execute her duties fairly, without fear or favour. Hon Baleka Mbete, who was Parliament’s Deputy Speaker at that time, was viewed as somewhat more partisan in her approach and when she became the Speaker of Parliament in 2004, although she had matured, she was never able to convince the opposition that she was there for them. A big reason for this was the political office she held within her own party structures.

Gender Issues…

An increase in the participation of women in lawmaking and other professional occupations, and the way we conduct and express ourselves, has helped change the way women are perceived. Men have, for so long, held these respected professional positions and now women have the opportunity to gain that respect in the same way. While men are not better than women, women are not better than men – it is not a competition. The fact that we have no future unless it is a #sharedfuture is never more true than in this matter.

In my view, both males and females have blind spots, and while it makes sense to balance the collective strengths and weaknesses of men and women, every woman and every man is uniquely individual and they bring their own something special to the table which has little to do with being male or female. We have much in common as females but we are also unique and designed for many very different purposes.  In recognising our value and giving ourselves and each other permission to be ourselves, we will be empowered and will empower each other.

Respect…

People communicate, not only through words but through actions, facial and bodily expressions, hygiene, how we dress etc. We should absolutely have the freedom to express ourselves as we wish but it makes sense to weigh the consequences.  My point here is that it is disempowering if we convey unintended messages and each of us has some control over what people see and hear from us. So we have some influence over how they respond to us.  

For example, when I graduated from wearing sandals to wearing stilettos in Parliament, people seemed to subconsciously see it as a sign of respect and I got respect tenfold in return.  I realised how my casual attitude with regard to my appearance had conveyed a disrespect for the institution of Parliament and my efforts to show respect even increased my own regard for this remarkable People’s Parliament. Now I am not suggesting you all wear stilettos, but possibly, that you find what ‘stilettos’ represent in your individual situation.

As a Christian by choice, and a feminist by virtue of having lived my 68 years of life in a world with systems and traditions designed to sustain a male dominated world, I have learned to appreciate the sacrifices and achievements of those who stood up for women on many fronts. I am however aware of the remaining strongholds in much of our thinking that still disempower us as women. As empowered as I have been by virtue of the fact that I was born white in a colonised part of Africa, it has taken courage to confront gender equity issues on the home front and in the work-place. It has also required wisdom to know when and how to do it.

Self Awareness…

If Successful candidates want to remain successful they must be more self aware and check their own attitudes, such as attitudes of entitlement.  It is easy to recognise entitlement issues in others, but an awareness of our own vulnerability is critical. With the corruption saga unfolding and exposing so many former colleagues who, I have admired for so many reasons, believe it or not, it is easy to see how they managed to fall into these traps and make choices that have now come back to bite them. “There but for the grace of God go I” is a useful reminder if we are to resist arrogance and pride which go before a fall.  

I am reminded here of the ‘travelgate’ saga. In those days we had travel vouchers which we had to fill in, sign and pass on to the travel agent who would make the booking. As a new MP getting to grips with so many systems and requirements, I was thankful when the helpful agent said “don’t worry just sign the voucher and I will fill in the details”.  It was only when ‘travelgate’ revealed the misuse and abuse of vouchers that I realised, I could easily have been unknowingly caught up in it.  

I wasn’t thank God but my view of those that were was tempered and my attention to detail increased.  

Ethics…

After delivering my farewell speech in 2019, I received a treasured message from a colleague who came to Parliament in 1999 when I did: Cedric Frolick, was by then, the House Chairperson of Committees in the Office of the Speaker. It reminded me of the day he told MPs who were demanding seats in the front of the House at the beginning of the 5th Parliament, that “honourable Dudley outshines you all, and she does it from where she is, right at the back.” Our unspoken membership of what I dubbed the 99 club was often evident, although I did tease him about being a miser with Parliament’s budget and keeping MPs on a tight leash. I bring Cedric up because, you can’t be successful without becoming a target and just being human makes us all vulnerable. As straight down the line as Cedric was, he is one of many who have had to face accusations for choices made while holding public office.

Declaring gifts for example is not a rule to penalise MP’s, on the contrary, it protects MP’s from allegations that one might be hiding payoffs and involved in corrupt activities.  Ulterior motives will always be suspected when you are holding public office as money, power and politics are a breeding ground for corruption and many get caught up in the many schemes inadvertently but so often irreversibly.

Successful candidates will therefore not despise the scrutiny they are under and will take responsibility for what they say and do, resisting the temptation to blame others.  I see it something like this: just as God is not impressed by the words, “the woman made me do it” (Genesis 3:12), He is not likely to be impressed with the words, “the man made me do it”, “my party made me do it”, “my boss made me do it” etc. This takes courage and is easier said than done, of course!

Billy Graham’s view that “each life is made up of mistakes and learning” is such an apt description. Bruce Lee’s reminder is just as valid: “Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them”.

My farewell speech continued, acknowledging the many other memorable characters I had encountered along the way, and yes…wait for it…even Jacob Zuma… at that point I stopped and promised to “write that book” – which I did!  Yes I do have copies with me which are available out front – and yes I do speak in greater depth on the Jacob Zuma that I encountered.

I found it easy to love these colleagues of mine. In some ways that made my job easier, and in other ways, so much harder. I really did not want to fight with them, yet, as I told them that day, “you all LOVE FIGHTING so much!”

That was the last speech I made in the National Assembly and I was touched and honoured by a standing ovation and wonderful words of appreciation from colleagues from all sides of the House—words I will treasure always. Two months later, the National Election took place and on the 8th of May 2019 I became a former member of the Parliament I had grown to love and respect.

The Hopes of a Nation…

During the first sitting of the 6th Parliament, Cyril Ramaphosa was elected President of the country, promising to work day and night, to the best of his ability, to deliver on his mandate and to do so in the best interests of our people. Minister Jackson Mthembu’s prayer for the President was especially poignant: “May our Almighty God be with you,” he said, “in this most important journey of your life”.
It reminded me of Moses in Exodus 33:15, saying to God, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us.” At the time, I could feel the weight of the hopes of the nation that as Hon Mthembu had said, now rested on the President’s broad shoulders and felt encouraged that the President and his right-hand man (Mthembu) knew how important it would be for the Almighty God to be with them on this journey. Their collective experience would have left them with no rosy view, as to how difficult this job would be.  Sadly Jackson Mthembu has since died, a great loss to SA politics, in my eyes.

Generosity…

Being generous, is for me, not just about giving materially but giving people undeserved kindness and respect, the benefit of the doubt, etc.

When I see people being what I call ‘small minded’ or short sighted, I am sorely tested.  Like the times I have referred to opposition members as ‘cry babies’ who need to learn to take what they so easily dish out. While it is imperative that the majority respect the job of opposition to hold them accountable, in my view opposition should also respect the job of the majority to actually govern.

Something small but powerful that I noticed over the years was that some Committee Chairs would generously make a point of amplifying the proposals of female or smaller party MP’s in a committee, by reiterating, for example, “as the Honourable Dudley has said etc… “ which forced MP’s in the room to recognise the contribution, and denied them the chance to later claim the idea as their own.

I say this conscious of August being women’s month and for most women in the workplace, this phenomenon is all too familiar—a woman offers an idea in a meeting, but nobody notices or acknowledges it until a man later says the same thing. This is not just our imagination either – as decades of research backs it up.

Another example of generosity I experienced that shone through the otherwise petty politics was linked to the Labour Laws Amendment Bill – a Private Members Bill I had proposed, which was actually passed by both Houses of Parliament and signed into law by the President of SA.

Cyril Ramaphosa was still Deputy President at the time the legislation passed in the National Assembly on 28 Nov 2017 and generously wrote the following:  “Honourable Dudley, I write to congratulate you for making history. The bill you introduced is particularly progressive. Thank you for this. Congratulations!”

Do Not Close Ears…

What you will also realise here is that this could not have happened if the majority had not supported the legislation. 
Having learned early on in office that in a democracy, it is the majority that calls the shots, I understood that if I could not convince the majority I was wasting my breath. So 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 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. My proposal was accepted  and subsequent action by Parliament has moved us in the direction of greater accountability and transparency.

Humility…

Successful candidates will work diligently and grow in experience and expertise but will value humility. Humility I believe is another non-negotiable in terms of making an impact.  I am thinking here about the fact that I sadly benefited little from the input of the Largest opposition party in Parliament because their arrogant approach simply shut my ears.

On the other hand, speakers who valued humility held my attention. I guess it had something to do with feeling respected.

Confidence…

Arrogance however, should not be confused with confidence, as there is something compelling about a person who has confidence which is balanced with the knowledge that they are fallible and can be wrong. I have found, interestingly, that behind people with confidence there is often a pattern of discipline and a strong work ethic, coupled with a positive attitude.

Your Job Is to Not Panic…

Last but not least I am reminded of the words I always feel God uses to encourage me. “Your job is to not panic!” and am of the opinion that while our challenges are daunting and they will continue in one form or another throughout our days on earth, they will not be worse than those faced historically nor will they be worse than the challenges being faced by every other country in the world presently or in future.

So… your job will be to NOT PANIC and to see that the people you represent do not panic either.  DO NOT SELL THEM SHORT BY  CAMPAIGNING FOR PANIC VOTES – if we the people do not have confidence in the South Africa we say we love – no one will and we will be the losers collectively.

There is a difference between GREATNESS and FAME – you can achieve fame and still never achieve greatness!  My prayer for you is that ‘greatness’ will inspire you and ‘fame’ will not be your goal, just a possible necessary hazard on route to Greatness!

I hope I have provoked you enough to inspire a conversation that renews our energy and drive on route to finding our ‘real selves’ and pursuing our God-given purpose. Now I am looking forward to our conversation and any questions you would like to ask.

THROUGH MY EYES…

Many of these concepts and thoughts are reflected in my book, “Through My Eyes: Life Politics Religion

Available in book stores in South Africa or:
Delivered anywhere in SA for R300.00 plus R80 delivery, or A Digital copy emailed to you on receipt of R200.00 proof of payment

WhatsApp me on: (0828906520) or
email dudley.cheryllyn@gmail.com
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name and address for delivery by post OR nearest PEP store (quicker than posting)
Cell number

Nedbank acc no: 1308029829
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‘Through My Eyes: Life, Politics Religion, is the story of a veteran politician and a girl, who takes you on a journey from small town life in Bulawayo, a Southern African colonial city to serving as a Member of the South African Parliament for twenty years, reinventing herself along the way to be fit for purpose.

This is a conversation about how life and politics relate to ones beliefs and vice versa but it is also a call to people everywhere to CHOOSE HOPE AND REJECT FEAR… ‘

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