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Chris Pappas: The KZN mayor who threatens the ANC

Chris Pappas: The KZN mayor who threatens the ANC
Pappas takes part in a march on 27 May 2022 to the Pietermaritzburg office of the KwaZulu-Natal Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs MEC, demanding action against the dire state of affairs in the Msunduzi Local Municipality. (Photo: Darren Stewart / Gallo Images)

The DA mayor of uMngeni municipality in KwaZulu-Natal has upset the political applecart in a province where strongmen usually reign.

On 22 November 2021, the DA’s KwaZulu-Natal deputy leader Christopher Pappas took the reins as the mayor of the uMngeni Local Municipality.

He was catapulted into this position after his party snatched the municipality from the rival ANC in that month’s local government poll — the only municipality in the province that the DA won outright.

The municipality comprises the former Transitional Local Council areas of Howick and Hilton, the Worlds View area and a substantial amount of farmland. It is one of the tiniest municipalities in South Africa and has 1,567km² within its boundary.

Its council consists of 25 members elected by mixed-member proportional representation. Twelve councillors are elected by first-past-the-post voting in 12 wards, and the remainder are chosen from party lists so that the total number of party representatives is proportional to the number of votes received.

Previously, the ANC had won a majority in each of the 2000, 2006, 2011 and 2016 local elections. In 2021, the DA won a majority of 13 seats in the council.

This allowed Pappas, who speaks isiZulu fluently, to take the reins.

As the only DA mayor in KwaZulu-Natal, Pappas (31) has been getting a lot of media coverage. The DA has hoisted him as a poster boy of what its leaders should do once they are elected into a position of responsibility. Some have even suggested that he will be the party’s candidate for premier in the province.

Privately, some provincial and regional ANC leaders admit that “Pappas has been able to do what our [ANC] municipalities have failed to do … doing things the right way and ensuring that things work”.

Political target

This may explain why the ANC, especially in the Moses Mabhida (Midlands) region, has been training its arsenals and salvos at Pappas and the DA in the hope that some of the accusations will stick.

The tension between Pappas and the ANC peaked in July last year when Mpophomeni residents, who had been without power for a week after the explosion of a transformer, burnt tires on the R617 in KwaZulu-Natal, not allowing traffic to pass on the busy road linking Howick to several inland towns and rural areas.

The ANC labelled this an example of how the DA-led municipality did not care about black areas, whereas the DA accused the ANC of aiding and abetting the protest to spite the DA for winning the municipality and doing good work.

Speaking to Daily Maverick last week, ANC Moses Mabhida regional spokesperson Njabulo Mtolo did not mince his words. “As the ANC we are surprised by the inherent weaknesses in that municipality, especially when it comes to service delivery.

“The DA has completely neglected people who reside in black areas like Mpophomeni and others because … it doesn’t draw support from that community and … black people reside in those areas… For us that is the problem because it’s a separate development, that’s our main concern.

“Our view on Pappas is that he is not an effective person. He is just a populist who likes to appear on TV, who likes to appear busy when in practicality there is nothing that is changing in that part of our district.

“[It will be better] if he can … try by all means to equalise the delivery of services to all communities in those municipalities,” Mtolo said.

‘Jealousy’

But Pappas said he was aware that the ANC in the region regarded him as its biggest threat and that the ruling party was jealous and spiteful about his and the DA’s achievements in uMngeni.

These achievements, he said, included settling R12-million in debt from loans, increasing the number of households that have access to free basic services from 133 to 3,005, completing the valuation roll in record time after it had expired and had not been updated for years, improving the municipality’s audit outcome from qualified to unqualified, buying equipment worth R19-million and bringing stability to the municipality at senior management level.

“We are proving that when the DA comes into government we do not make the ANC propaganda come true. We do not take away grants, steal people’s RDP houses or make the poor pay for services. In fact, we make things progressively better.

“[As the mayor] I have disrupted their systems and processes in government, showing that there is a different way of doing things and that communities can trust democracy to bring change that leads to progress.

“We respond to all areas as equitably as possible, noting that different areas have different priorities. We have found that ANC councillors are not as proactive as the DA and EFF councillors in reporting, planning and reading reports that could benefit their communities,” Pappas said.

Municipality ‘was a shambles’

He said the municipality was in a shambles when he became mayor. “There were very few systems and operating procedures in place, which meant that the municipality was on autopilot… The finances were in a precarious position, with us having to choose between Eskom and salaries and delivering services. Our collection rate was below 85% and our debtors’ book was increasing at a faster pace.

“There was also a dire leadership gap. Staff, and the institution as a whole, had no direction and departments were floundering with no strategic vision or plan.

“It is not true that we have reversed transformation… ‘Transformation’ is ANC terminology for cadre deployment, abuse of the supply chain and preferential treatment of ANC-aligned people.

“The work that the new government is doing has opened up doors to more previously disadvantaged people, bringing fairness to many processes. We have also invested heavily in our SMME, tourism, youth and social development programmes by more than doubling most of these budgets.”

Pappas said he had inherited staff members from the ANC administration who were dispirited. “The staff have also largely been victims of ANC policy and ideology. They have also suffered from a lack of leadership, training and investment into a good working environment.”

Racism vs ‘race debate’

Pappas found himself in hot water when, in December last year, a person on Twitter asked him about his take on the racist saga involving white men who attacked black youth at the pool of a private lodge.

Pappas responded: “South Africans get distracted by the ‘race debate’ and do not focus on the life-changing issues. Poverty, inequality and unemployment. We let politicians drive hatred or distractions based on colour and don’t fix our real problems.”

Many slammed him for being insensitive to racial incidents, but he maintains that his comments were taken out of context. “My comment was about ‘race debate’ and not racism. Racism and all other discrimination must be rejected. It has no place in the world. Twitter took my comment and turned it into what it wanted, and that was to try and paint me as a racist.

“I am not fazed. I believe there are much more crucial discussions to be had than worrying about the colour of people’s skin, but that is not an excuse or a reason not to tackle racism and discrimination.”

Wayne Sussman, an independent political analyst, said of Pappas: “He doesn’t epitomise the idea of a strongman in KwaZulu-Natal politics in any shape or form. He seems to be highly effective and responsive… Unless the ANC is able to overturn the results through by-elections, the DA and Pappas will have a five-year opportunity to turn things around and it is up to the ANC to decide what type of an opposition role it plays there.” DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • R S says:

    Pappas is a clear example of what can be done if the DA is given a clear majority in areas that the ANC has run into the ground.

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    Viva Pappas! Viva DA! The DA and IFP can work together in KZN to remove the sub-standard ANC

  • William Stucke says:

    Sounds like my kind of man! Good luck, Chris Pappas!
    Go for it and make the changes our people need.

  • L Dennis says:

    Well done Pappas and staff be blessed

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Solidly behind this man in our uMngeni – he needs to make DA principles (as opposed to ANC lack of any) more explicit. Most of what Pappas has done is to stop the (ANC) rot but having done that, where are we headed?

  • suederkinderen says:

    How encouraging to read an example if good leadership and real change. Let’s hope it spreads.

  • Geoff Woodruff says:

    Now if only there were more politicians like Chris, the country could still be saved.

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    Cudo’s for Pappas. He has put the finger in the middle of the sore. ” ‘Transformation’ is ANC terminology for cadre deployment, abuse of the supply chain and preferential treatment of ANC-aligned people.” That sums up just about all of SA’s problems, from Eskom and Transnet to local government failure and the sanitation water that runs into the sea at Ekhwetini. It also sums up why even Ramaphosa is unable to fulfill his original mandate – the ANC is not willing to compromise on that definition of ‘transformation’. Please DM, but that phrase into all the media you can lay your hands on, so the ANC can be exposed for all the crimes they are doing against SA and its’ people. And I generally am not a DA fan, but hopefully the Pappas administration, like a few other DA ones, can become the yardstick against which SA municipalities measure themselves. Another one is Kouga in the Eastern Cape.

  • Rob Martin says:

    I encourage all to follow Mayor Chris Pappas on facebook or instagram where you will see what the folks in Mpophomeni are excited about. Completed so many failed ANC projects like sports stadiums, he’s getting grass cut at schools and electrifying streets that never were. What the ANC failed to mention is that electricity in Mpophomeni is NOT supplied by Umgeni, but from nearby Msunduzi which is ANC controlled. Umgeni are desperate to take this over, but the Msunduzi municipality won’t give it up as they are earning revenue from this. Just lies, lies, lies!

  • Riel Meynhardt says:

    Pappas is demonstrating that, if people stop voting along ideological lines, a better life can indeed be had by all – not only the lying & thieving scumbags of the ANC

  • John Smythe says:

    Well done, Chris Pappas. KZN needs change and the ANC must now finally be put out to pasture. It’s clear that the ANC is fast running out of ammunition when they can’t really defend what they did right when in power (because there isn’t anything) and all they can do is stand at the sidelines and pull the usual race card and accuse Pappas of neglecting black people. Really? Is that the best they have? Sigh! So boring!

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