He knows hard work, being poor, living in a shack for most of his life, walking with holes in his shoes and looking after his younger siblings while his mother was at work. City of Tshwane executive mayor Solly Msimanga says he is no spoiled brat. He knows what it is to struggle and have little.
“Nothing was ever given to me on a silver platter. I had to work hard for everything, right through university up until today. “The Democratic Alliance (DA) does not spoon-feed anyone. They don’t appoint you in positions as a favour. You have to work hard, prove yourself, apply and show that you are the best for the position,” Msimanga said.
“I was nominated as mayor and I had to do interviews, write psychometric tests and do more interviews and I came out tops. You had to prove your worth, show what you have done for your community, prove that you know the city and how it is running.
“I worked my way up and into positions. There was never a time where I was given any kind of position in the party,” he said with a serious face. Msimanga is married to Monde and the couple have two sons, Aobokwe, 10, and five-year-old Amogelang.
“I have one wife,” he laughs. “She is very stubborn but she keeps me grounded. I would not have achieved much if I did not have her by my side.”
Growing up in Atteridgeville, west of Pretoria, he learnt from a young age that education was important, and his mother, Dora Msimanga, always taught him that “you don’t have to be untidy just because you are poor”. “Even when I had only two shirts, I used to make sure they were always clean and that I looked good and presentable. I understand what it is to be poor and have little.”
The eldest of three siblings, Msimanga had to bath his younger brother every morning and take him to creche before he could go to school. “I only got one pair of shoes per year. No one has to know that your shoes have holes in them, because they were clean,” Msimanga said staring at the ceiling as if trying to hide the emotion.
Msimanga said he used to clean the house every day after school and then had to fetch water for cooking and cleaning. His mother later extended their humble home so that she had her own room and a kitchen.
Remembering his school days, Msimanga said he was called “Kleintjie” by one teacher because he was very short and the youngest in the class. “I first went to Mwore Primary School, then onto Patogeng Higher Primary and I finished my school career at Soulridge High School.”
He said he and his best friend Themba Fosie were “good boys” and used to sit next to each other in the front of the class until the day they finished school. “We always did our homework, were very vocal and we were the ones who, when the school inspector came to visit, would present our books to him,” he said laughing.
“Once we tried to teach ourselves how to gamble, but were caught by a teacher. Themba’s dad, a bishop at the time, beat us right there in the principal’s office.”
But he showed leadership signs even then. He used to play cricket, was captain of his school debate team, sang in the church choir and was part of youth structure in the community and at church. “I am still very involved in my church, the United Reformed Church of South Africa.”
He later helped his mother pay for his tertiary education at the University of Pretoria where he studied economics by working as a waiter for Union Caterers. “Sometimes my mother would sit still and look at me and cry. She says she is very proud of me. I love her to bits,” he said with emotion in his voice.
Msimanga voted for the first time in 1999 but it was only after he started working at the Liberian Embassy that he became interested in politics.
“I travelled a lot and I got to see first-hand what good government does and I started looking at where we were going as a country.
“After I married Monde and we had our first son, Aobokwe, I felt the need to do something. I looked at my son and I looked at the ANC and I asked myself what future I want for my son. “I then started looking around for a political party and read up on their policies and decided I liked the DA.”
After then DA leader Tony Leon came to Atteridgeville to address supporters, Msimanga wrote him a letter saying he felt he should have said more, done more. A week later he was in a meeting with DA seniors and a couple of weeks later Msimanga was offered a position.
He says as mayor of Tshwane, he would like to leave a legacy of not only starting projects, but finishing them and one of the biggest challenges is to better the lives of people by providing basic services.
“I know what it felt like living in poor conditions with no services. “I don’t want to think about five years from now. What I want to do is finish my term as mayor and if all goes well have another five years to finish the projects I will be starting in the current term. “That is my wish.”