South Africa

ROAD TO 2024 ELECTIONS INTERVIEW (PART TWO)

Chris Pappas: ‘An incredible journey so far’ — on the campaign trail with DA’s would-be KZN premier 

Chris Pappas: ‘An incredible journey so far’ — on the campaign trail with DA’s would-be KZN premier 
Chris Pappas, the mayor of uMngeni Municipality and the DA’s premier candidate for KwaZulu-Natal, says the challenges facing the province are ‘an unparalleled opportunity for transformation’. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

Daily Maverick follows Chris Pappas, the DA’s KZN premier candidate and mayor of the uMngeni Local Municipality, for a weekend as he campaigns for his party in Chatsworth, Verulam and Ntuzuma, ahead of voting day on 29 May.

The Democratic Alliance’s KwaZulu-Natal premier candidate, Chris Pappas, has been a whirlwind of activity as election day on 29 May draws closer. He’s been engaging communities – hearing about their challenges and promising what he and the blue party will do for them – and addressing summits while also keeping an eye on the uMngeni Local Municipality, where he has been a mayor since November 2021.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘We need new policies, new systems, new leaders,’ says DA’s Chris Pappas

Zuma’s Nkandla homestead and surrounding houses.(Photo: Chris Makhaye)

The village of Ntolwane. (Photo: Chris Makhaye)

Since becoming mayor, Pappas has been attracting positive press coverage for changing things at the municipality, which was beset by challenges of governance and service delivery and was at the centre of factional fighting in the ruling ANC, with one faction leading a violent protest against the sitting municipal officials at one stage. This is the first municipality in the province to be run by the DA alone after it won an outright majority, thus relegating the ANC to opposition benches and the occasional protest ever since.

Pappas’ achievements at the municipality are part of the reason that the DA has catapulted him to run for the premiership of the province.

On a cloudy, drizzly Saturday, on 6 April, he and his entourage were outside the colourful Bangladesh Market, in the predominantly Indian suburb of Chatsworth, handing out his party’s manifesto to passing motorists and market-goers.

Informal trader Bawinile Mhlambo, selling her wares outside the Ntolwane government’s multi-purpose centre. She decried the high cost of living. (Photo: Chris Makhaye)

The market – which was established in the 1980s and houses a variety of hawkers selling anything from fruit and vegetables and live chickens to religious items – forms the heart of the community and is always teeming with buyers, especially senior citizens and pensioners from the area, who can buy items at affordable prices. 

Many shoppers and hawkers told the DA entourage about their problems and challenges, which included crime, lack of jobs and rolling blackouts. Pappas and his team’s central message to them was, “go out and vote in numbers” to bring about change.

Among those the DA spoke to was Vanida Mani (72), one of the pioneer hawkers at the market, who sells pickles and chilli sauces packaged in small containers. She started selling her wares on the veranda of a nearby building, but municipal police often chased her away, destroying her goods in the process. She said the market was located on a bushy hill, which had been cleared to make way for it.

“When it opened it was a very busy area and we were making decent money,” she said. “Now there are many people who are unemployed and the money is scarce.”

Mani would not say whom she will vote for, but said: “I would like to see more jobs being created. Young people are not working and they end up doing wrong things and smoking drugs and stealing.”

Next to Mani, hawker Kenny Naidoo (55), who sells cosmetics, various creams and lotions, artificial sweeteners, batteries and roasted nuts, agreed with her.

“During apartheid there were many restrictions; you could not go to that beach, you could not do that. But at least things were working and the law was strong. In the 70s and 80s, when we were growing up, you walked central Durban without fear. Today there are high levels of crime; you cannot even venture outside your own home at night. What life is that?

“We as, as Indian people, feel like the middle of a sandwich, a barrier between black and white rules. Under apartheid we were discriminated [against]. But now, under democracy, we are still discriminated [against],” he said. “I think, above anything else, this country needs a lot of prayers because everything is falling apart.”

Another hawker, who said she was known as MaNdlovu, said she didn’t know who Pappas was.

“I am not going to vote, because that voting has not helped me at all. We are still suffering; we are not working. Where I live, in the township, jobs go to pals of those in power,” she said.

A cow rests below the bridge and next to the highway that was built during the Zuma years. (Photo: Chris Makhaye)

This is the Hlongwane homestead, part of which was built by the EFF and handed over by EFF leader Julius Malema in 2014 ahead of the general elections. The family endured media attention and now family members say they dont want to talk to the media.(Photo: Chris Makhaye)

Overall, Pappas was well-received in Chatsworth, which is considered a DA stronghold, and he was preaching mainly to the converted. Later in the day, he addressed a packed DA meeting in a local Chatsworth hall.

In the latest by-elections, in Ward 71, in May 2023, the DA won the vote by 81%, defeating, among others, the ANC, which was fielding a former DA councillor who had resigned from his position months earlier.

Addressing the water crisis

On Sunday, 7 April, the DA team visited several communities including in Ntuzuma, a Black township north of Durban, where the main contestation is expected to be between the ANC, Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) party and to a lesser extent the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). But speaking in isiZulu, Pappas tried hard to convince voters to give his party a chance to deliver water, electricity, other basic services and jobs to end crime.

In Verulam, a community that has been in the news lately for acute water shortages, Pappas and the DA promised the end of the water crisis should the community vote to help the party to victory in the province.

Pappas also visited the family of Junaid Naidoo, a father of three in his 50s who suffered a heart attack and died while collecting water from a borehole at the local primary school. 

Of his election trail, Pappas said: “It has been an incredible journey so far. The reception has been warm and more importantly, our seven pledges to turn KZN around are resonating with voters. Sadly, many people are feeling very depressed about the state of South Africa.

“However, there is a palpable realisation that this is a very important election and that the power to restore hope, whatever that means for different people, lies in changing the political make-up of government,” he said.

Chris Pappas

Chris Pappas visits the family of Verulam father-of-three Junaid Naidoo, who died after suffering a heart attack while collecting water on 5 April 2024. (Photo: Darren Stewart / Gallo Images) 

‘Opportunity for transformation’

On Monday, 8 April, Pappas delivered a speech at his party’s one-day Ready to Govern summit in Durban, which was attended by many DA representatives.

In his speech, Pappas reflected on his party’s challenges and achievements in uMngeni. He said KwaZulu-Natal faced its unique challenges that required innovative solutions.

“In KwaZulu-Natal, we are at a critical juncture. The challenges we face, from persistent unemployment and water crises to threats against the very fabric of our governance through cadre deployment and corruption, are daunting. Yet, within these challenges lies an unparalleled opportunity for transformation.

He added: “Our province is literally starving. Government has lost control and cannot guarantee our safety to a point where non-state actors are providing more security than the state. And the ANC has invented a new class of citizen in this province. We have a new class of citizen called amaphara (short for parasites) created and accepted by the ANC government due to the failure to create jobs that bring dignity.”

Later in the week, Pappas sat down to answer questions from Daily Maverick.

On the dangers of being a councillor or a mayor in KZN

Chris Pappas

Chris Pappas talks to a man smashing cans for recycling during an oversight visit to a municipal tent shelter in Durban on 12 March 2024 in Durban. (Photo: Darren Stewart / Gallo Images)

In addition to myriad service delivery challenges, KZN faces a situation where councillors are murdered with alacrity.

“I believe that being a councillor in any system that is failing is very difficult. Firstly, many people now see being a councillor as a means to an income as opposed to an opportunity to represent their community interests. It is a popularity contest where the ‘reward’ is a salary for five years. 

“In the context of KZN where there are so few opportunities, the allure of an income, especially for those who would not be able to gain employment elsewhere, has created a system of dependency. 

“I am very apprehensive about what will happen in 2026 with the local government elections. But more generally, when you have a breakdown of law, order and justice, you create a society where there is impunity around committing crime,” he said.

On the MK party 

He said the new party posed a challenge to all in the political fraternity in the province, including the DA.

“Whether or not the MK will survive as a significant player as years go by, is yet to be seen. As their members realise that there is no real structure, and they must contest for internal positions, they will begin to fracture. These cracks are already showing. When the people at the top of MK get bored, their money runs out or they start to fight, the party will begin to shrink. It will either settle at a small percentage of the vote or disappear altogether. 

“However, I do believe that they will finish as one of the top three parties in KZN and top six nationally. [But] the DA will not enter into a coalition with the MK,” he said.

On the Multi-Party Charter and who will be KZN premier 

chris pappas mayor

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)

Despite Pappas’ achievements in the uMngeni Municipality and busy electioneering schedule, opinion polls continue to predict that the party, on its own, will not be able to capture KZN voters and win the province. It can only do so using the Multi-Party Charter (MPC) as a tool.

“The aim of the Multi-Party Charter is not to agree on positions before the outcome of the election. This would create unnecessary conflict. The common aim is to unseat the ANC and gain power to effect reform. 

“The IFP and the DA have a good working relationship. The lessons that we are learning as the relationship matures will be valuable when we run government together. 

“The DA is in this election with the aim of being the biggest partner in a coalition. I am sure that the IFP has the same objective. At the end of the day we are independent parties and must go out and grow our respective organisations,” Pappas said. DM

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  • Dave Reynell says:

    A very brave young man. I wish him success.

  • Malcolm McManus says:

    I like this guy. He walks the talk. He may have an inconvenient skin color, but seems to resonate with all cultures. A great asset to the DA.

  • Bob Dubery says:

    So muuch for the DM being DA bashers.

  • Willem Boshoff says:

    So nice to see an article on the DA’s performance where it matters. All strength to Chris who is an exemplary leader and servant of the people.

  • Nnete Fela says:

    I’d definitely vote for this chap, pity I can’t separate him from the Hellen, John and the DA

    • dexter m says:

      Same here for Kzn in the hope that IFP and DA can get a majority without the smaller parties . Also if he can increase the vote for DA in non traditional DA strongholds will give him leverage to influence DA national policies.

    • Grenville Wilson says:

      Agreed, it’s time for the Zilles, JS’s etc to move on. Pappas and youngsters like him are the future.

    • Denise Smit says:

      So where are the gods in the other parties who have nothing to say against them. Can you please name these parties with only blemishfree gods in their leadership. Definitely not the ANC or the EFF or the MK. What about the PA for you

    • John Smythe says:

      What is the problem people have with Zille and Steenhuisen?
      I’d agree that they’re both somewhat irritating. But then so is Ramaphosa for many reasons. One can’t fault the leadership of the DA. The DA isn’t built around one or two people or factions. It’s a well functioning party with many good and capable leaders who can take over if Zille and Steenhuisen stepped down. On the other hand, the EFF, PA, MK and other small parties are all centred around one central figure. If that figure goes, the party will collapse. I think SA has been collapsing for 30 years and it’s time to let capable people fix the country. There aren’t any other viable options left.

  • Philip Machanick says:

    More like this, fewer like Zille.

    If DA is to grow, it must address real people not point-scoring.

    • Pierre M Durand says:

      Would vote for this guy at municipal level no doubt. Just can’t with steenhuizen and zille still the main players

      • Denise Smit says:

        All of you anti. Zilles know little about her. As member of the Black Sash and a young journalist she exposed police murder of prominent ANC member. Under her mayorship Cape Town was graded the best run city in the world. She was and is a principled progressive driven leader. Or would you rather vote for Julius Malema or Cyril Ramaphosa or Gayton Mckenzie. Or Zibi who has lots to say about DA but not any info on his plans to fix anything

    • Denise Smit says:

      All of you anti Zilles know little about her. As member of the Black Sash and young journalist she exposed murders of prominent ANC members by the police. Under her mayorship Cape Town was graded the best city administration in the world. She was in is a progressive principle driven leader.

  • Jean Racine says:

    Regardless of the election outcome, either Pappas or Hill-Lewis must stand for DA leader at that party’s next conference!

  • Sergei Rostov says:

    A vote for the DA is not a vote for Zille or for Steenhuizen. It is a vote for good governance. Do we want good governance or not? That is the question voters should be asking. ,

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