Johannesburg - New finance MMC Professor Rabelani Dagada, who describes himself as a “reluctant politician”, got his first pair of shoes when he was in Grade 8.
Dagada, now in control of the City of Joburg’s R55 billion budget, was born in Alexandra, but was sent to Venda to attend school, due to political upheaval in the area.
“I would walk 6km to school and back, barefoot, in the summer and winter, in all weather conditions - there were no shoes and no umbrellas.
In Grade 8, my uncle, who was a policeman, gave me his shoes. “We had classes under trees but this taught me resilience and how to work hard. I have developed a thick skin,” he said.
He had only two pairs of trousers to his name when he started studying at the University of Johannesburg.
Among his many accomplishments are author, associate professor, development economist and a policy fellow at the SA Institute of Race Relations. His academic career involves four institutions: Wits Business School, University of Johannesburg, Unisa and the Vaal University of Technology.
He “thinks he has about five degrees” and many diplomas - too many to remember.
Dagada lives in Midrand with his wife and four children.
“When I see children running around Alexandra, I see myself before I left. I tell them this was me in my youth. I had no shoes and slept on the floor of a shack most of my childhood - but there is hope for them.”
He became involved in DA politics in 2011 when he saw Mmusi Maimane on TV one day.
“He was my former student at university, so I called him. I had joined Cope but the party was breaking up and Mmusi convinced me to join the DA.
“I have risen through the ranks in the party and have found my political home there,” he said.
His family were initially shocked at his joining the DA, but soon accepted his decision.
“I have actually taken a loss in salary by accepting this position, as I was offered the position of deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Venda. But, as clichéd as this may sound, I am really hoping to make a positive impact on the people of the city.
“I want to make a real impact on poverty. I want to also make an impact on eliminating corruption, which is rampant in the ANC.”
He said that after his five-year term of office, he would return to the love of his life - teaching.