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‘We need new policies, new systems, new leaders,’ says DA’s Chris Pappas

DA mayor-elect Chris Pappas in the municipality of uMngeni in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. (Photo: Facebook)

No party is expected to win a majority in KwaZulu-Natal and DA premier candidate Chris Pappas believes voters have seen what his party has done in uMngeni and will back the DA, giving its Multi-Party Charter a chance to lead the province.

None of the pre-election polls suggests that the DA, on its own, will be able to win KwaZulu-Natal, but this does not prevent its premier candidate from promoting his party manifesto, and Chris Pappas believes gatvol KZN voters see the DA as a solution to their many problems. In a brief interview with Daily Maverick, Pappas revealed his strategy.

After launching the DA’s KZN election manifesto in Durban last week, Pappas is going around the province to sell it, hoping to convince both converted and undecided voters that his party means business.

In Verulam, about 26km north of Durban, a community that has for years been battling intermittent water supply from eThekwini Municipality, Pappas and the DA promised hope and an end to their plight.

During his manifesto launch he made seven pledges that include creating 300,000 jobs, sorting out the persistent water shortages, creating a police force and anti-fraud and corruption unit to fight high levels of violent and white-collar crime, and incorporating province-level independent power producers into the power grid.

Pappas says he will make wholesale changes in the running of local municipalities, sort out issues with the healthcare system, cut the fat from the provincial budget and direct resources where they are needed most.

“The DA understands that each province has issues that may be unique to the local circumstances. That is why the DA in KZN has crafted a local manifesto.”

The DA in KZN had seven pledges to the people of the province. 

“We plan to implement these seven pledges by drawing on our experience in government from around the country, especially the Western Cape where the DA governs. By employing capable and ethical administrators we can achieve these goals,” he told Daily Maverick.

Chris Pappas

Chris Pappas, the DA’s KZN premier candidate, on an oversight visit to a municipal tent shelter in Durban on 12 March 2024. The aim was to assess the conditions of the shelter, identify challenges and outline the DA’s solutions that will promote access to opportunities for the most vulnerable. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

‘Wild allegations’

Pappas (33) was an unknown entity before the campaign for the 2021 local government elections. 

Before those polls, TV screens showed a young white man seen addressing mini rallies and gatherings in the rural KZN Midlands, talking in pure isiZulu – which is rare in South Africa where whites seldom speak an African language fluently – as the DA’s mayoral candidate for uMngeni Local Municipality.

That and other factors seem to have worked because the DA managed to pip the ANC for control of uMngeni, which was previously led by the latter but had been beset by in-fighting, resulting in the floundering of service delivery.

So it was a historic feat when the DA took an outright win in uMngeni, taking 13 of the council’s 25 seats and propelling Pappas – then 29 years old – to the mayoral position in the small municipality in the Umgungundlovu District. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Chris Pappas: The KZN mayor who threatens the ANC

It’s been a roller coaster ride. In 2023, the ANC led a protest to unseat Pappas after an anonymous person posted on social media that he had been involved in fraud and corruption by using municipal funds to support a project initiated by his ex-fiancé and former DA councillor, Jean-Pierre Prinsloo. 

In February 2024, the KZN Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) said the allegations against Pappas were unfounded.

“The protest was politically driven with the aim of tarnishing my name. The allegations and ensuing noise were timed to coincide with the announcement of my premiership (candidature) despite the issue being dealt with a year before. I feel vindicated to have CoGTA produce the report that clears my name, although not surprised,” he said.

“However, there is an inherent unfairness because the allegations were unfounded, without evidence and came from a nameless Facebook page. The burden of proof to clear my name was on me, not on the person throwing out wild allegations.”

Chris Pappas

DA KZN premier candidate Chris Pappas talks to a man who is sorting cans for recycling at a municipal tent shelter in Durban on 12 March 2024. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

Triumphs and challenges in uMngeni 

Pappas said that since taking over at uMngeni he has faced resistance from some ANC-affiliated staff in the municipality and also has had to undo the patronage system which he said ensured ANC-affiliated tenderpreneurs benefited from the municipal coffers without delivering value-for-money services.

He said: “The main challenges have been the financial resources available to a small, grant-dependent municipality when compared to the developmental demands. The scale of the backlog has also been a challenge. Lastly, the capacity of the municipality to deliver has over the years been hollowed out and needs to be rebuilt. 

“The success includes achieving two consecutive unqualified audits, spending R34-million on specialised service delivery equipment, increasing the number of households getting free basic services from 133 [under the ANC] to over 1,600, clearing all bad loans, and increasing the roads budget from R11-million to R31-million.”

In 2021/22, uMngeni improved its audit outcome to “unqualified with findings” after receiving “qualified” audits for the previous three years. It maintained its “unqualified with findings” status in 2022/23 but the Auditor-General raised concerns, particularly regarding revenue collection.

Premiership ambitions

Pappas said many people in KZN have seen the progress he has delivered in uMngeni and many see him as someone who will bring practical solutions to the province’s many challenges.

“When I become the premier of this province after the elections, I will bring law enforcement closer to the people. I will establish a provincial police service,” he told The Witness, adding that local crime situations required local and fit-for-purpose solutions.

“Moreover, you can’t expect a police minister based in Pretoria to fight crime in Mbali, Verulam or uMlazi.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘We need to commit to fixing the state’ – political newcomers on how to repair SA

As premier, his first priority would be to cut spending.

“The first thing would be to cut wasteful expenditure. There are tens of millions of rands going to events, imbizos, etc. The second thing would be to institute lifestyle audits on DGs and DDGs. The third thing would be to reprioritise the budget to critical services such as health and water.

“[Last] would be to rationalise the workforce. There are thousands of people in the provincial government, many of them earning over R1-million, who are not doing anything. It will be tough in the beginning but we must do what is tough now so that we can reap the benefits as the people of KZN in the future. 

“Currently KZN faces the challenge where senior administrators and politicians are unable to prioritise the basics and put systems in place that ensure that services are delivered. They have created a government that serves political interests and has become overpoliticised rather than a government that is able to deliver. We need new policies, new systems, new leaders, and new administrators.”

Cadre deployment

The issue of cadre deployment is one of the burning issues ahead of the forthcoming polls. The DA and the ruling ANC have been locking horns over the issue, with the DA saying the deployment of cadres in the government and state-owned enterprises is one of the causes of South Africa’s persistent challenges. The ruling party, in turn, accuses the DA of also practising cadre deployment where it governs.

“Cadre deployment has crippled public service. It has overpoliticised government administration and built a government system that serves the interests of a political party and not of the people. We do not practise cadre deployment in uMngeni,” said Pappas.

“We have a fair and transparent process with the aim of hiring fit-for-purpose employees. There are many people who have been hired who have openly been ANC or IFP in their public service careers. Our sole focus is on the ability to deliver on the council mandate which is adopted through thorough public participation.”

Chris Pappas chats to people living in a Durban municipal tent shelter on 12 March 2024. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

Race and racism

Pappas believes it is a sad indictment on the country that, 30 years after the attainment of democracy, South Africa has failed to build a truly nonracial nation, based on a meritocracy.

“I think that more than race South Africa suffers from racism. Although our race is part of our identity and is something that cannot be ignored, I do not believe that our respective races define our collective existence. However, I do believe that we still have big challenges with discrimination, including racial discrimination,” he said. 

“In addition, the country has failed to make meaningful strides in overcoming inequality. In fact, inequality and exclusion [have] deepened under the current government. This means that their policies have failed and need to be scrapped.

“As a young person – I am 33 years old – I feel betrayed by the older generation of leaders. It was up to them to build the rainbow nation and realise the dream, including overcoming the challenges.”

Ulundi or Pietermaritzburg?

Pappas’s DA forms part of the Multi-Party Charter (MPC), a pact made up of 11 opposition parties, including the IFP, ActionSA, the FF+ and ACDP, working to unseat the ruling ANC.

In KZN, the DA is already working together with the IFP in various municipalities. But the IFP has been unequivocal in saying that once it takes the reins of power it will relocate the provincial capital to Ulundi, where it was before the IFP lost power to the ANC in 2004.

This is in contrast to the DA’s position on the matter.

“Pietermaritzburg is the capital of the province with all the necessary infrastructure to support the administration of both the executive and legislative arms of the provincial government. The costs associated with moving the capital are astronomical as well as the operations of the capital,” said Pappas. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: 2024 elections

“After more than two decades of ANC governance there are huge challenges to overcome before we can get to topics like this. However, there is a need to decentralise the provincial government considering the vast geography of the province.”

In 2019, the ANC won 54% in KZN, followed by the IFP’s 16%, the DA’s 13% and the EFF’s 9%, with the NFP, Minority Front, ATM and ACDP all winning under 2% to take one seat each in the provincial legislature.

No party is expected to win a majority in the province in the 29 May elections and many polls suggest the ANC’s support could significantly decline while the IFP and DA are expected to increase their share of the vote. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • K Nkala says:

    If I were a voter in KZN I would vote for this boy. A breath of fresh air to the usual depression of the ANC.

  • H M says:

    More air straight from the DA Play book…Yes ANC has failed us but the DA remains rotten to the core

    • Roger Burns says:

      How so?? Out of extreme boredom I have a slight interest in hearing your explanation as to your “rotten to the core” comment? If you cannot explain your “fact” then such a comment about the DA is just plain stupid. Rather in that case just be quiet and not embarrass yourself…..

    • Louise Wilkins says:

      Please justify your ‘rotten to the core’ comment.

  • Kenneth Arundel says:

    KZN is a dangerous place. I’m sure there is a target on this young mans back. He has more guts than most of us. If more young people come to the fore as he has I see a future for our beloved country.

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