National 31.8.2016 11:18 am

New Jo’burg speaker ‘knows city inside out’

Vasco da Gama. Picture: Northcliff Melville Times.

Vasco da Gama. Picture: Northcliff Melville Times.

The man behind the City of Johannesburg’s 270 councillors, Vasco da Gama, can also speak all 11 official languages.

After years serving as the opposition’s caucus leader, Vasco da Gama – Louis Trichardt-born, Alexandra-bred and now Eldorado Park resident – will now ensure all the 270 councillors work cohesively, “irrespective of their political party”, reports the Northcliff Melville Times.

The new speaker also believes that the City might not deliver change as fast as people expect.

The DA’s Vasco Da Gama was elected as the City of Johannesburg’s new speaker on August 22 as the new council’s speaker with 145 votes, defeating the ANC’s Constance Bapela, who received 126 votes.

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When the news broke, he received more than 2 000 WhatsApp messages, more than 500 emails and countless SMSes, and said he was still working through them.

Da Gama prides himself on knowing the city “inside out”, and served on bodies such as the Federal Executive and headed the Association of Democratic Alliance Councillors.

“I will now delegate powers to the mayor, and the mayor will further delegate his powers. I will keep control in council, oversee items passed and reports that are approved in council.

“I will ensure service delivery to all citizens, irrespective of which party they support,” he said.

‘Officials are nonpartisan and are being paid to serve the citizens of the City. Once they understand that, we will have a City that works.’

In his new office on the second floor of the Civic Centre in Braamfontein, Da Gama met up with us to map out his plans as the speaker of the economic hub of South Africa. Getting more public meetings held, opening up the lines of communication between the City and its residents and making sure ward councillors have the resources to serve the people, are all on his list.

Speaking about the obstacles he is faced with, Da Gama said he planned on changing the attitude of staff within the speaker’s office, the biggest department in the City.

“Once you are elected, you are a councillor. Yes, you come from a political party, but you have got to service everybody.”

Staff that still believe they are serving an ANC government instead of understanding they are officials will be the biggest obstacle, according to Da Gama.

“Officials are nonpartisan and are being paid to serve the citizens of the City. Once they understand that, we will have a City that works,” he said.

The new speaker also believes that the City might not deliver change as fast as people expect, “but if we continue to engage, people will understand”.

A previous member of the ANC, Da Gama was born in Louis Trichardt, where his family was later forcefully removed in 1969, and Da Gama was forced to relocate to a ‘coloured’ school. Later, he moved to Alexandra, and now he lives in Eldorado Park with his wife, where he said he would never leave.

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“Living in Eldorado Park motivates me everyday to ensure that we bring improvement to South Africa.”

Da Gama can speak all 11 official languages.

“It’s about what you think of culture. Once you understand and have an interest in different cultures, language develops itself.”

Da Gama confirmed that he would review employees’ qualifications, but said there would be no purge in the administration.

Caxton News Service

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