Coming from an overwhelmingly large extended family, of whom the vast majority are women, I’ve been very lucky to have some incredible and diverse role models since day one.
I can tell you quite honestly that I’ve learned something valuable from each and every one of these ladies – from my wise and tenacious 91-year-old grandmother to my feisty youngest cousin.
However, if there’s one woman who stands out head and shoulders above the rest in my walk of life so far, it would have to be my mom. Lisel Krige.
She’s been a friend, a confidante, a spiritual guide, a career advisor, an inspiration… To me, but also to many others along the way.
Professionally, she’s taken on a range of roles, most recently shouldering the huge responsibility of being a DA Ward Councillor in the Overstrand Municipality.
Inspired anew by her passion for people during the run-up to last week’s municipal elections and on the eve of Women’s Day 2016, I wanted to pick her brain a bit and share her answers with you guys.
1. You’ve just finished your term as the DA councillor for the Ward 10 in the Overstrand Municipality. What inspired you to take on this responsibility back in 2011?
A deep-felt desire to reach out to the poorest of the poor, and the previously disadvantaged people in my community: to become acquainted with them and serve them if possible. The challenge to serve my entire community by representing and speaking for them was one that arose and inspired me to take it on.
We find ourselves in a crucial political era in South Africa. Tradition and blind loyalty can no longer dominate people’s choices. I wanted to be a part of this tide-turning time.
2. This was your first foray into politics after years of practicing as a journalist/communications expert. How did your writing career prepare you for this new role?
Building bridges between individuals, communities and cultures with words – through communication in one form or another – has for years been one of my daily missions and priorities. Therefore to continue doing this as a ward councillor in a multi-cultural ward with extremely diverse needs and challenges came pretty naturally.
I was once again consistently reminded and convinced of the necessity of sincere and profound communication as a foundation upon which trust relationships are built…
And remember: everyone has a good story to tell!
3. Being a public figure is often deemed glamorous, but it also comes with a good deal of harsh criticism. What advice do you have for anyone aspiring to step out into a ‘limelight’ of sorts?
To have your feet planted firmly on level ground is essential, as well as to be well
acquainted with the field of knowledge and expertise that is needed for your task.
Also, be sensitive to all people you encounter in all walks of life – never forgetting that you will undoubtedly learn from each and every one.
While a great deal of the criticism is unfair and uncalled for, it was my conscious decision from the outset to conduct myself with dignity throughout. I am, after all, a follower of the radical doctrine of Jesus Christ.
An important coping mechanism which is taking more and more prominence, is to find a peaceful place within. Inner peace is my most essential and most desired state for coping. (I dare say that ‘Women Who Run with the Wolves’ by Clarissa Pinkola Estes many years ago played a role in refining my thinking processes…)
4. You’re handing over the reins to a new councillor, who happens to live in the same home as you (my dad). Could you maybe describe what you’ve learned about the importance of teamwork in a marriage, gained both from past experience and, now, working together as political partners?
Interestingly enough the image of two cart horses, harnessed side by side and combining their strength to pull the cart has always been one that has worked for me. It has helped that we are professionally qualified in the same field: we have a good mutual understanding of skills sets that are relevant to the fields of media, communication, liaison and management.
However I have found that the (apple)cart can easily be overturned or wobble when unison is lacking and self-interest gets the upperhand.
Regular ‘stock-taking’, comparing of notes and ‘regrouping’, as well as collaboration, strategising and realigning are useful and essential if team work between us as marriage partners is to be successful!
5. Can you pick out a few highlights from your time as a councillor? And what are you going to be focusing your energy on now?
The precious trust relationships I have cemented will hopefully grow and continue regardless of the fact that I have chosen to hand over the reins. I have had the privilege of hearing and feeling the heartbeats of men, women and children. It has enriched me; but at the same time it has humbled me and even made me feel helpless with the frustration of not being able to play a bigger role in making things better!
I have many times over told people that taking hands with the Democratic Alliance would certainly pay off, reminding them that one of the party’s slogans is ‘Better Together’.
The state-of-the-art soccer field alongside the informal settlement, and also the day the lights were switched on throughout the same informal settlement were huge highlights…
Now I trust that my love and talent for writing – for releasing meaningful and thought-provoking messages through words – will again take flight. I also intend adding value to our family business, Solid Stuff, in whichever way I am able to…
6. Can you maybe run us through the various fields of study you followed, what attracted you to each and how you ended up being a journalist?
I always had a way with words. According to my parents I talked long before I was a year old – probably because it was such a useful and powerful way of communicating with them!
However somehow I did not initially consider wrapping my career around this talent. I launched into landscape architecture but realised within a year that perhaps I was missing the boat and switched to law, as becoming an advocate was one of my very real passions.
I enjoyed the studies and obtained a B.A. Law degree from the Stellenbosch University, majoring in Private Law and Roman Law. (Interestingly enough, one of my favourite fields of study during this phase was Latin! I completed two years of it with flying colours.)
Firmly determined to continue my law studies in order to ultimately be admitted to the Bench, I was at the last minute unexpectedly distracted – almost seduced – by the option of doing a prestige course in journalism under the hand of media guru Piet Cillié. At that stage he was the chairperson of Naspers.
I loved every minute and eagerly embarked on a career as a journalist, initially as a reporter for the Gauteng daily Beeld during the extremely interesting times of the 80’s.
7. When motherhood presented itself in your late 20s, you made a decision to focus your attention on raising your children, instead of following a conventional office-bound career path. What are the things that made this decision worthwhile? Do you have any regrets?
At the time, around the mid 80’s, it was a pretty tough decision to make: I was still dreaming of climbing the ladder towards journalistic greatness. I launched into conscious and serious soul-searching, ultimately finding peace with the hitherto unwavering knowledge that nothing would ever compare or compete in importance with the whole-hearted nurturing of my two precious children.
I have no regrets about this choice.
How blessed I am to be witnessing the unfolding and flourishing of the two young lives in whom the vast majority of my personal time, love, energy and resources are invested. Not only was I able to do a balancing act in order to keep my pencil sharp as a wordsmith; I now also taste the sweet privilege of cheering my offspring on from the sideline in their respective professional media and communications-related roles!
8. While running your own communications business from home, you were involved with so many intriguing projects. Take us on a quick trip down memory lane of a few of your favourite assignments/ventures during this era.
Indeed my endeavours and adventures as a self-employed writer have brought a mixed bag of delights and highlights.
My childhood fascination with lighthouses was substantiated during the time that I was in charge of compiling an internal newsletter for the lighthouse authority and got to visit most of the lighthouses around the South African coastline!
The most exciting encounters were those that involved helicopter flights to the islands. I was also thrilled to witness first-hand the precarious operation of constructing a helicopter landing pad adjacent to the mid-ocean Roman Rock lighthouse off Glencairn on False Bay.
Writing for De Kat in the 90’s was exciting and fulfilling, as was the era of being a regular contributor to the Christian family magazine LIG for a few years after the turn of the century. I have encountered intriguing people and their equally enthralling stories. Many meaningful relationships have been forged.
My most difficult writing project was to put my mother’s character and her premature, earth-shaking death into words and see the humble tribute published almost nine years down the line.
9. Who would you consider to be/have been your mentors throughout life?
Without any hesitation, I can freely say my parents were my main role models. Whilst they are both no longer with us, their legacies live on and their lessons in living will for me remain alive for as long as I do… and hopefully beyond.
Other role models include King David, the apostle Paul and Moses from the Bible; as well as contemporary men and women of wisdom and grace whom I have been privileged to cross paths with.
Mentors I have many: siblings, colleagues, marriage partner, children, friends! I am keen and eager to face my strengths and shortcomings in any trustworthy mirror held up by a trusted fellow pilgrim, choosing at the same time to surround myself with kindred spirits who do not tolerate foolishness and fruitless frivolity.
I also despise falsehood and hypocrisy in any form…
10. If you were in a room with all of South Africa’s women (heck, all the women everywhere), what would your words of encouragement be?
‘Your ultimate strength lies in your very vulnerability and you should never underestimate either.’
As a self-proclaimed realistic idealist (maybe more than an idealistic realist), I further want to refer and resort to the words of Kahlil Gibran in ‘The Prophet’:
“Among the hills, when you sit in the cool shade of the white poplars, sharing the peace and serenity of distant fields and meadows – then let your heart say in silence, ‘God rests in reason’.
“And when the storm comes, and the mighty wind shakes the forest, and thunder and lightning proclaim the majesty of the sky, – then let you heart say in awe, ‘God moves in passion.’
“And since you are a breath in God’s sphere, and a leaf in god’s forest, you too should rest in reason and move in passion.”
Viva South Africa! Land of indescribably majestic challenges…
Who are the women who have most inspired you?