James Selfe found common ground where others couldn’t resist conflict

James Selfe was a fundamentally good man, marked by his intelligence and humour, work ethic, kindness and loyalty and his ability to disagree with grace and civility. What stands out is the encouragement and support he gave countless young members of staff and budding politicians. Always generous with his time and wisdom, he was never too grand to lend a hand to those less important than he.

In the end, the sustained pressure of politics took its toll on his health. I wasn’t alone in exhorting him to resign as chair of the Federal Council much earlier than he did. He deserved a more relaxed final lap as a revered elder statesman. But it wasn’t in him to let go until ill health left him no choice. His final years were spent battling multiple systems atrophy, a rare — and fatal — neurological condition.

For all that he achieved in politics, James’ legacy is crowned not by his work, but by the three daughters on whom he doted, and the loving marriage he shared with his wife, Sheila — the true mark of greatness.

My friend James was able to preserve his principles, prosecute his politics without compromising civility, and find common ground where others couldn’t resist conflict. With less than a week to go before a general election in which no party is likely to win a majority for the first time since James was elected to parliament in 1994, perhaps SA’s leaders should honour him by heeding his example.

• Ryan Coetzee is the DA’s former chief political strategist 

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