Duma, Pappas or Ntuli – who would be premier of a volatile province like KZN?
Meet the three leading candidates for the premiership of KwaZulu-Natal in the 2024 elections. Whoever wins faces a tough job of trying to fix a region beset by violence, corruption and economic travails.
The ANC’s campaign to retain KwaZulu-Natal will be led by Siboniso Armstrong Duma, a suave 39-year-old who is also known by his clan name of Mthombeni.
Duma came to prominence when he led the youthful Taliban faction in a leadership coup at the party’s 2022 provincial elective conference in Durban – defeating then KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala.
Zikalala was forced to resign as premier two weeks after the conference and Nomusa Dube-Ncube became the ANC’s first female premier in the province. Duma took over as MEC for economic development, tourism and environmental affairs and leader of KZN government business.
Read more in Daily Maverick: KZN premiership one of the hottest seats around, as Nomusa Dube-Ncube is soon to find out
At the time, the province faced challenges as a result of Covid-19 and major flooding.
“We needed to create an image of a responsible government that is accountable, committed to clean governance and responds to the needs of the people. We wish to report today that … the Auditor-General of South Africa has heaped praises on the ANC-led KZN government for achieving clean audits for the financial year 2022/23,” Duma said recently.
Despite these achievements, the ruling party has not been doing well at the ballot box in recent by-elections.
A recent poll by the Social Research Foundation found the ruling party could lose the province in the 2024 general election to an IFP-DA coalition. After polling 2,434 voters, the foundation predicted that the ANC would win 40% of the vote if voter turnout was 66% and do worse if turnout dropped below 50%. With a 66% turnout, the IFP would win 26%, the DA 18%, and the two would have a combined 44% to the ANC’s 40%.
That means the ANC would relinquish power for the first time since deposing the IFP in 2004.
Duma disputes the veracity of the poll, saying his party is “unstoppable” and will win the poll comfortably.
A violent place
KwaZulu-Natal is one of the most violent places in the world, with crime, political killings, taxi wars and drug-related violence the order of the day.
Duma says the ANC is giving this issue serious attention.
“As the leadership of the ANC … we have decided to make it our mission to free our people from bondages of crime, drugs and other social ills,” says Duma.
After taking over from the IFP, Duma says the ANC has done a good job with the economy.
“The ANC has changed the face of KZN. Before, KwaZulu-Natal was regarded as the poorest performer in the country in the provision of piped water, sanitation, refuse removal and electricity. This situation prompted the declaration of a state of emergency … to fast-track service delivery,” Duma says.
“We draw strength from messages of appreciation from the majority of people. They appreciate that, since the ANC ascended to power in 2004, in deep rural areas that were neglected by both apartheid and KwaZulu governments they see roads being constructed, connecting them to economic centres.”
The IFP leadership is yet to meet to agree on who will stand as the party’s premier candidate. This may explain why Thami Ntuli, the IFP’s KwaZulu-Natal provincial leader, mayor of the King Cetshwayo District Municipality and provincial chairperson of the South African Local Government Association, was reluctant to agree to an interview, saying he didn’t want to “create controversy”.
Ntuli’s name is mentioned prominently among potential candidates for the job, but it seems he does not want to be seen as campaigning for a leadership position. He would be in the front line to be the new premier if the IFP were to take over the governing reins from the ANC with the help of the DA and possibly other opposition parties.
Says Ntuli: “Leadership transitions are an important part of any political party’s life cycle, but at this time my focus remains on serving the people of South Africa and the IFP in my current roles.”
Apart from being a shining light in the IFP, Ntuli has vast experience of running municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal.
“I was born in Nkandla. My upbringing was rooted in the values of family, community and public service. I believe that my personal and political journey is inextricably linked to my upbringing. I have dedicated my career to serving the people of South Africa as a teacher and unionist and now through my involvement in the IFP,” he says.
Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s legacy
The IFP recently lost its founder, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, whose often controversial presence dominated KwaZulu-Natal’s social, political and cultural life for decades.
“While we mourn his loss, we remain committed to upholding his legacy and continuing work he started,” says Ntuli.
The IFP has been winning a lot of by-elections at the expense of the ANC in recent months.
“Our candidates are connected to the needs of their communities, and our grassroots approach resonates with the electorate,” observes Ntuli.
The IFP has signed a cooperation agreement with the DA for the two parties to co-govern in several municipalities.
“The IFP has a positive working relationship with the DA. We have cooperated on various issues and share common ground on several policy matters.”
On rampant violence, Ntuli says: “It is a top priority for the IFP. We are committed to working closely with law enforcement agencies, civil society and communities to tackle the root causes of violence.”
He adds that the IFP has a detailed plan to fix the provincial economy, which includes providing job opportunities for young people.
“By providing access to quality education … we aim to uplift the youth and harness their potential.”
Mayor Chris Pappas of uMngeni Local Municipality was unveiled by the DA last month as its candidate for premier of KwaZulu-Natal.
Allegations immediately appeared on social media about Pappas possibly being guilty of corruption after a nonprofit organisation chaired by his former fiancé was hired to organise the Light Up uMngeni Festival. Pappas denies the claims and says they are the work of political opponents jealous of his achievements since he took over from the ANC after the November 2021 local government elections.
“The ANC is terrified of losing KwaZulu-Natal in 2024 and will use all available avenues to attack me. They have yet to produce a single piece of evidence,” says Pappas.
Many people have wondered how Pappas pulled off his 2021 victory, given that the ANC had dominated uMngeni since the 1990s and the vast majority of people in the area are black. Pappas speaks isiZulu fluently and campaigned hard in black areas, bashing the ANC for mismanagement.
Some say ANC infighting was to blame.
There is no immediate data to determine the success or otherwise of Pappas and the DA’s control in uMngeni, but the prevailing perception is they have been doing well.
“Change management is difficult in government. It is slow and frustrating. However, we have started to strengthen internal controls, improve performance management and build better mechanisms of delivery. We have stabilised the finances, improved our audit outcome and reprioritised budgets towards service delivery. We have done a number of investigations into maladministration and fraud and a number of employees have left us,” says Pappas.
He denies focusing his service delivery attention on white areas and ignoring black areas.
“The municipality spends more than R40-million on free electricity for places like Mpophomeni. We have spent in excess of R6-million completing projects that the ANC left abandoned. The majority of social programmes assist black communities. These include NGO support, training and skills development, SMME support and emerging farmers.”
Despite the ANC’s attention on Pappas, neither pollsters nor political pundits expect the DA to take over KwaZulu-Natal in 2024. He and DA colleagues can hope to get executive positions in an IFP-led coalition. But, if he does get to the premier’s office, Pappas says things will change drastically. “We will cut nice-to-haves and luxuries … and focus on building a strong foundation for future development.” DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.