Vasco da Gama makes a comeback – and this time he’s in Johannesburg

His name first made headlines centuries ago when he arrived at the Cape of Good Hope and offended the Khoikhoi when his crew took water without permission from the chief in 1497. And the name Vasco da Gama is back, this time not in the form of a Portuguese colonialist, but as a black man from the Democratic Alliance (DA) who has just been elected as speaker of the Johannesburg council.

Da Gama is a former DA caucus leader and has previously stood as a mayoral candidate. DA leader Mmusi Maimane reacted positively to his appointment as Johannesburg speaker saying it was an “historic day”. An apt choice of words.

And the reactions seem to mimic what everyone is thinking: too soon?

In December 1497, the original da Gama passed by a South African coast that his compariot Bartholomew Dias had never reached. He called it Natal, which loosely translated to “birth of Christ” in Portuguese. Alas, this time around,  Jesus really has come to Jo’burg and he’s brought some old admirers. 

Just 19 votes swung the majority in Da Gama’s favour on Monday during Johannesburg’s inaugural council meeting. Maimane has promised that this da Gama will, however, prioritise the poor.

The DA candidate beat the ANC’s Constance Bapela after a voting procedure that was swathed in irregularities. At one point, voting was discontinued after some councillors revealed their ballot papers. The IEC and city manager Trevor Fowler told parties that their ballots must be kept secret from the time they are issued until they are safely inside the box.

The IEC also noted a discrepancy of one extra vote, which means there had been 271 ballot papers but only 270 votes. The commission said, however, that the extra ballot would not be significant enough to declare the procedure unfair.

The wait is now on to see who will be selected as Johannesburg mayor. The decision between the two mayoral candidates, the DA’s Herman Mashaba and the ANC’s Parks Tau, will be made today.



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