He witnessed his older brothers and sister being chased by Bophuthatswana soldiers in the 1980s.
He was inspired by his father and grandfather, who were both community leaders in the plots of Winterveldt, north of Pretoria.
But it was an advert placed in The Citizen in 1999 by the former Democratic Party which attracted new Tshwane Mayor Stevens Mokgalapa to full-time politics.
Mokgalapa left parliament as shadow minister of international relations and cooperation to lead the city with one goal in mind – service delivery. His first day in office included receiving a memorandum from protesters in Kanana, Hammanskraal, and scores of media interviews.
As a young child playing skop-die-bal and morabaraba in the streets of Winterveldt, Mokgalapa had not yet imagined that his fate would lead him to running the country’s capital. All he wanted to be was a geologist.
“I went to a science school – Mabopane High School. I did physics and mathematics but my marks were not good enough to do geology. I didn’t want to study law like my father and my brother. So, since I grew up in a politicised area, after I matriculated in 1994 I enrolled at University of Pretoria to study political science.”
And that is where he met his wife, a psychometrist with her own practice in Pretoria, who was doing her first degree at the time, while he was studying a course he was yet to complete to graduate – public administration. They married in 2002 and had two children.
But coming across the advert in The Citizen changed his life. “If you want to fight corruption, cronyism and crime, volunteer yourself,” it said.
“I took down the numbers of the regional office and made an appointment. When I arrived, I asked for a copy of their constitution and it resonated with me. I joined the party and became the first black ward councillor for the new Democratic Alliance in 2000.”
His time in the party catapulted him to parliament, where he served on several committees including SADC parliament. He is currently the president of the Africa Liberal Network and served in the Liberal International Human Rights committee.
While eyes are focused on whether the new mayor would successfully suspend Tshwane City Manager Moeketsi Mosola for his role in awarding the irregular GladAfrica contract, Mokgalapa and Mosola handled the issue professionally.
Mokgalapa agreed that the multimillion-rand tender hindered service delivery in the city, but preferred mutual talks between the city and the company to extricate Tshwane from the contract without heading to the courts.
Since coming into office, he has been meeting with Mosola to discuss city programmes and how to escape the costly contract.
“It was the strenuous relationship between previous mayor Solly Msimanga and Mosola that led to problems of service delivery. If the key people in the city – the city manager and the mayor – can’t work together, everything stops. We have good, professional relations. We have gone through the auditor-general’s report and the recommended remedial actions will be taken. This can be done without suspending him.”