Thursday, May 30, 2024

Chris Pappas: Would-be Premier’s message of hope for embattled KZN

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Just as his party is able to use its governance of the Western Cape as a ‘prospectus’ for voters, uMngeni executive mayor Christopher Pappas (32) can point to his own record since taking office in November 2021. And the fluent isiZulu speaker believes it’s a message resonating in a province where there is a growing realisation what you do at the ballot box can make a difference. With support for the ANC collapsing in KZN after the emergence of Jacob Zuma’s MK party, Pappas offers thoughts on the issues which will determine how votes are cast on May 29 – and shares his own message of hope for those in the embattled province. He spoke to Alec Hogg of BizNews.

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Summary of the nterview

In the interview with Chris Pappas, the focus was on his campaign as the Democratic Alliance’s premier candidate in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). Pappas emphasized the need for change in KZN, positioning himself as a fresh alternative to the long-standing leadership that many feel has left segments of the population behind. He highlighted the DA’s track record in the Western Cape as a template for effective governance, emphasizing tested solutions to issues like water scarcity and crime. Pappas promoted a message of hope, steering clear of negative political bashing and focusing on the opportunity for positive change.

Regarding coalition politics, Pappas explained the DA’s approach of involving provincial actors in decision-making while aligning with broader national strategies. He expressed openness to coalition partnerships, particularly with the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), aiming to create constructive multi-party politics to address challenges and deliver on promises to voters.

Overall, Pappas’s campaign centers on presenting the DA as a credible and experienced choice for KZN, emphasizing tested solutions, hope for change, and a willingness to collaborate with diverse political partners for the province’s betterment.

Extended transcript of the interview ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

00:00:10:12 – 00:00:39:07
Alec Hogg: Well, Christopher Pappas has seemed to have been on the scene for ages now. He’s only 32 years old, but the executive mayor of the uMngeni Municipality in KZN has had quite an interesting journey. We’re going to catch up with him today on how things are going in that province for the premier candidate of the Democratic Alliance.

00:00:39:09 – 00:00:58:22
Alec Hogg: Yeah, Chris, I say a lot’s happened. My goodness, since we last spoke, the chief whip of the DA in your municipality was murdered. Before we go into more pleasant issues, have you had an update? Have the murderers been found?

00:00:59:00 – 00:01:21:10
Chris Pappas: Yeah. So there’s the official updates from the police. And then there’s what we know. Sorry. I mean, good afternoon. First of all, I haven’t seen you in a long time, so, yeah, there’s, as you know, the DA is working with private investigators on this as well, as one of a donor came forward and said they would offer a million rand for information that would lead to an arrest.

00:01:21:10 – 00:01:45:23
Chris Pappas: So that’s allowed us to work with AfriForum, with their investigative body, with Gerrie Nel and his team, and they’ve been working sort of parallel to what the police are doing, and that is to keep constant pressure on the case. What we saw at the end of last week, yes, about Friday, Thursday, Friday last week was a wanted notice put out by the police.

00:01:46:01 – 00:02:06:01
Chris Pappas: And that’s sort of a big break, sort of a big breakthrough. It’s put a face to just some of the crime in the area. And one of the crimes that is linked is this particular murder. So we are hopeful that progress is being made. We don’t think that progress would have been made if it wasn’t for this team working in the background who’s highly professional and very skilled.

00:02:06:03 – 00:02:23:07
Chris Pappas: But, yeah, we are still hopeful for justice, and it’s not just this particular case that is linked to criminal activity. There are a number of crimes around that area that all seem to lead back to the same person, same place.

00:02:23:09 – 00:02:38:08
Alec Hogg: Nhlalayenza Ndlovu was he in any way politically involved? In other words, we’ve known that in KZN, in particular, political assassinations happen quite often. Was it anything to do with politics in his murder?

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00:02:38:10 – 00:03:02:18
Chris Pappas: So yes and no. I mean, he exists and works within the political space, and the motivation for the murder itself is believed to be linked to the ongoing program as a municipality to reduce organized crime around electricity theft and municipal infrastructure-related issues. But within this mixture, you know, that’s where the politics comes in.

00:03:02:18 – 00:03:27:08
Chris Pappas: ANC councilors instigating but bringing spreading misinformation. The person that we think ordered the crime is also very politically involved. So it’s not necessarily dubious ANC, you applaud him for that, you know, that sort of a situation, but it really does involve politicians as a whole.

00:03:27:10 – 00:03:58:12
Alec Hogg: It’s a very dangerous occupation to be in the political sphere in South Africa, but also at the moment, very turbulent, particularly in your province. We’ve seen the emergence of Jacob Zuma into the fray, the MK party getting a lot of support. According to the pollsters. We have a piece on business today. Where RW Johnson has tracked back, an organization, a media organization that’s supporting MK being funded by the Kremlin.

00:03:58:14 – 00:04:10:00
Alec Hogg: So it’s big stuff that’s going on there. Perhaps you can give us some insight from your perspective on exactly how this is all playing out, given that you are the premier candidate for your party in the province.

00:04:10:04 – 00:04:47:00
Chris Pappas: Yeah. So it’s a very, very interesting times in politics in KZN. I think it’s it’s always been an interesting province. I usually call it a bit of a, it’s a bit of an outlier. A lot of the English media attention is usually driven by Gauteng and the Western Cape, and we have in KZN this different phenomenon where the majority language is IsiZulu, so there’s a whole different sort of narrative, a whole different discussion that takes place here in KZN that often misses the English and Afrikaans media that happens at a national level, which does get which, which

00:04:47:00 – 00:05:07:16
Chris Pappas: is interesting when you’re on the ground. So again polls are a glimpse in time, and different people have different opinions on it. But I think what has emerged is that the MK has gained a lot of traction in this province, and you can actually see it on the ground, you see their motorcades, you see their banners, you see their t-shirts in places where you wouldn’t expect them, and it’s all over the province.

00:05:07:16 – 00:05:39:19
Chris Pappas: It’s not just in the urban areas or in the big centers. The ANC is not as visible as it usually is on the ground. Their big Door-To-Door campaigns are much smaller than they usually are. I mean, they we’ve still got a couple of weeks before the election and they and they’re good at pushing out numbers 2 or 3 weeks before that, but really not as much campaigning that we’ve seen from them. The IFP, a huge focus on the north, all over the province, sort of, you know, yond, beyond Balito.

00:05:39:20 – 00:06:04:07
Chris Pappas: So upwards, and into the, you know, traditional Zulu land area, and the DA gaining traction in a lot of different communities. So, you know, a traditional sort of support base remains strong here, and this new appetite within peri-urban and rural areas, which we’ve seen, which is very interesting and very hopeful for our growth.

00:06:04:09 – 00:06:23:15
Chris Pappas: But yeah, it’s such an interesting time in KZN every, you know, every time you think things are stabilizing, something profound in our sense happens, whether it’s snatching of the mic or the Zulu king issuing a statement or by someone losing a by-election. So there’s always these things that are thrown in to keep a political conversation going.

00:06:23:17 – 00:06:35:08
Alec Hogg: And as far as you’re concerned, being fluent as you are in IsiZulu. Does that give you an insight? Perhaps that people who don’t have that connection or that understanding would not have.

00:06:35:13 – 00:06:54:17
Chris Pappas: I think yes, it does. I mean, you know, as I say that we have the majority of the population in this province is IsiZulu speaking. So whether it’s engaging with this new media, whether it’s engaging with these Zulu influencers or sort of people who drive popular culture, whether it is just being with their communities.

00:06:54:19 – 00:07:20:22
Chris Pappas: Yeah. You’re able to gather a sense of what the political landscape is. And I think more so than before here in maybe 2014 and again in 2019, there’s a better understanding. And by everyone in KZN about the power of the vote, is that this loyalty that was given to the ANC sort of back in 2004 and beyond, it has waned.

00:07:21:00 – 00:07:42:07
Chris Pappas: People have changed their votes in different municipalities. People have, I mean, we’ve seen a lot of municipalities shift hands. We’ve seen different political parties arise. The ABC, MK, and a number of other parties, NFP. So KZN, more than a lot of provinces, people change their vote when the message is compelling enough for people to do so.

00:07:42:07 – 00:07:46:03
Chris Pappas: And I think the ability to engage with that segment of the population really does help.

00:07:46:05 – 00:08:08:20
Alec Hogg: But that’s very, very constructive, Chris, if you think about a democracy where people are no longer blindly following a party because it is the favorite football team, but in fact, because they know what the party can do for them. And I guess there might be more maturity amongst the population than many people, particularly many pollsters, are giving it credit for, you.

00:08:08:21 – 00:08:28:14
Chris Pappas: Know, without shooting down political analysts. I mean, they’ve got a role to play in our political discourse. But I think a lot of the time when you’re actually on the ground, when you’re speaking to people in communities, when you have to deal with complaints, when you’re in people’s homes, you get a very different understanding of what the average South African is feeling like.

00:08:28:14 – 00:08:58:15
Chris Pappas: And in that and in KZN, that’s obviously a bit different. I think there’s a number of different things. I mean, this idea that democracy can change your future, in other words, your vote has an impact on your life circumstances. I think people are realizing that more and more. I think the narratives around race are weaker in this election. Apartheid is going to come back and all of this sort of propaganda that’s usually put out, ends.

00:08:58:17 – 00:09:26:20
Chris Pappas: So, there’s a different feeling and a different conversation that’s happening. And it’s what usually happens during elections. It is also, I mean, there’s a gap as well. A lot of what is happening in KZN is personality-driven. There’s relatively little conversation about plans now. You usually vote for a political party because there’s some sort of track record or plan to fix something.

00:09:26:22 – 00:09:52:18
Chris Pappas: But there’s a lot of personality politics that’s taking place in KZN. and figures that, most people on the national stage don’t know about, whether it’s P.G Mavundla. or I mean, everyone knows Jacob Zuma, but, we have our local, our local characters who carry some sort of command or influence over, the political discussions.

00:09:52:23 – 00:09:58:12
Chris Pappas: And those are always interesting to participate in that all lend to a changing political landscape.

00:09:58:14 – 00:10:07:12
Alec Hogg: What about the Zulu king? Does he have great influence? And indeed, does he endorse any party or any candidate?

00:10:07:12 – 00:10:24:01
Chris Pappas: So now he’s made his position clear, and many of his Amakhosi and izinduna do the same. They will say this when we allow free campaigning. We don’t take any side. But I think what we have seen is that I think he got off to a bit of a rocky start in the beginning.

00:10:24:01 – 00:11:04:05
Chris Pappas: Like you would expect any new leader who’s taking over something so big with such a big history. And possibly had some of the wrong people around him at the time, whether it was his spokesperson or others. And I think he’s really found himself now as a leader. He’s got good people around him. All these people are giving him better advice, and he’s able to be more authoritative in putting down the views of the Zulu royal household, as opposed to having to pander to political parties, as they flop and change their decisions and try to appeal to him for more.

00:11:04:05 – 00:11:30:00
Chris Pappas: for more political acknowledgment, I guess, which is great. I think that and it shows it shows that he’s finding himself in his new role, and also redefining the Zulu monarchy in this province, which for a while has been beholden or seemingly beholden to the provincial government, who’s a large funder of the, you know, of their activities of the household.

00:11:30:02 – 00:11:48:13
Chris Pappas: But yes, I think in terms of his influence over what people think and say in what the popular topics are when he does engage, when he does voice his concerns about things, people do listen in KZN.

00:11:48:15 – 00:12:11:02
Alec Hogg: At the BizNews conference, R.W. Johnson let slip ahead of eNCA’s poll, which he’s looking after, that the ANC was down to 13%, one 3% in KZN. That is something that has been reinforced elsewhere as well. And he said that if you didn’t know better, you would think that this was the province that was about to secede.

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00:12:11:02 – 00:12:37:04
Alec Hogg: Rather, forget about Cape Independence. It ties it in with only 13% to the national government. It appears as though there’s a very different view that happens in the province. Now, when you look at that from the way forward and the breakdown of the different parties, where it seems like it’s going to be quite difficult for any coalition to get or any obvious coalition to get control.

00:12:37:09 – 00:12:46:02
Alec Hogg: Are you seeing that being a stress in the future or being at least, a demand for greater devolution of power for that province?

00:12:46:02 – 00:13:09:21
Chris Pappas: I think, yes and no. I think there’s a lot of political sort of agreement across all parties in KZN. I mean, we are a big province that has a lot of national influence. So there is a lot of agreement across different political parties for a call for devolution of different powers. You know, the Gauteng ANC has called for a devolution of policing powers not so long ago.

00:13:09:23 – 00:13:28:06
Chris Pappas: That’s the thing. That’s something that the DA is obviously pushing hard for in both the Western Cape and as part of my pledges to the voters here. And there’s a number of different things that we’re asking for in local government. I know that the ANC here is calling for greater devolution to the local government that the IFP wants more power.

00:13:28:06 – 00:13:49:09
Chris Pappas: I mean, they are a federal party as well. So, yes, I think there is a broad consensus amongst political parties in KZN that provinces need more, need more power. Obviously, that needs to be done in a way that doesn’t undermine national government. It needs to be done in a way that keeps the unified states, and it needs to be done in a way that doesn’t support incompetence.

00:13:49:09 – 00:14:12:05
Chris Pappas: You don’t want to devolve power to an incompetent government. In other words, a government that is not capable of delivering. So while the notion might be the same, the practicalities of devolving those different powers are different. But I do think that there is a sense of unity amongst KZN voters that KZN is a different province.

00:14:12:05 – 00:14:36:05
Chris Pappas: We have our own history. We have our own problems to deal with. We have our own unique traditional structures of leadership that we have to deal with. We have obviously the Ingonyama trust. We have the IFP and the ANC history. So there is definitely a unique identity that the people of KZN feel and see for themselves across different racial backgrounds, religious backgrounds.

00:14:36:05 – 00:14:57:20
Chris Pappas: There really is a sense of being in KZN. The polls are interesting a glimpse in time they’ve got margins of error. How you calculating all differs. But I think what we’re seeing is exactly what you’re saying is that an almost complete collapse of the ANC in this province, which is the ANC stronghold, really?

00:14:57:20 – 00:15:15:10
Chris Pappas: It’s their birthplace. It’s their stronghold. And it is. I would be worried about them. I don’t think they’re going to end up as bad as some of the worst polls have them up. It’s still a very big organization with a long history of deep structures. But the MK, in particular, has done some serious, serious damage to the ANC in this province.

00:15:15:13 – 00:15:34:22
Alec Hogg: And what about you personally? Because you are the provincial premier candidate. So how does that all work? Could you just explain that to us?

00:15:34:23 – 00:15:54:06
Chris Pappas: I’m number one on the KZN list, which means that the first seat that is allocated towards the DA in the provincial legislature is mine. And that is party policy. Usually, the premier candidate ends up number one on the list.

00:15:54:07 – 00:16:17:14
Chris Pappas: So does the party’s presidential candidate. That’s going to be interesting to see where the results end, you know, will I be premier in a DA outright majority? Will I be a premier in a coalition? Will I be an MEC in a government where we are a minority partner? Or will we have to go to the opposition benches to keep doing the good work there?

00:16:17:16 – 00:16:19:08
Chris Pappas: So that’s what we’re pushing for for the 29th.

00:16:19:13 – 00:16:24:12
Alec Hogg: So it does mean that you’re going to be leaving your position as the executive mayor of uMngeni.

00:16:24:12 – 00:16:34:04
Chris Pappas: Well, yeah. So if I take up a position in the legislature, whether it is in opposition or in government, that would mean that I’d have to step down as mayor.

00:16:34:09 – 00:16:55:18
Alec Hogg: You don’t feel that the job isn’t quite done. I was looking at Good Governance Africa. And you’ve surged up the charts but still 55 in the country. I’m sure you would have liked to have been number one in the country before you handed over the reins. Did you do you have someone competent to give it to it’s or you comfortable that you’ve done as much as you can?

00:16:55:19 – 00:17:33:13
Chris Pappas: No, I mean the job is not done and there’s still a lot, a lot more to do. There’s massive issues that we have to resolve with finance and with infrastructure backlogs. And those have to be solved. So the work is it isn’t done. But to have a sympathetic, competent working provincial government, if I get the opportunity to do that, to bring what I’ve learned, especially around local government with the bread and butter of service delivery is then I think that not only helps the DA and people of uMngeni, but it also helps other small municipalities across KZN who feel now the provincial.

00:17:33:13 – 00:17:52:07
Chris Pappas: Government in this province. And if you’re not an ANC-run municipality, you get constant love letters. You’re getting, you know, constantly scrutinized. You never get assistance or very seldom get assistance. And to have a government that looks beyond just political lines to make local government work, to make small towns and cities work which I think will be helpful for KZN in general.

00:17:52:09 – 00:18:23:08
Chris Pappas: But yes, I’m not alone. I work with a great team of very competent councilors that, you know, stretch from rural to urban, from old to young, women, men learned people, sort of life experience people. So it’s it really is a capable team. And my deputy mayor, has over the years or over the last sort of 28 months found himself, in having a lot more responsibility, especially now in the last sort of 5 or 6 months with campaigning.

00:18:23:10 – 00:18:51:16
Chris Pappas: And we also built a good, staff team is to get staff proponent in the municipality. We’ve got rid of nine senior managers. We’ve filled a lot of I think we’ve we’ve hired 42 staff members. Many of those with very specialized qualifications are on engineering or, legal or whatever it might be. And that is starting to see the municipality move in a way where we as those political oversight don’t have to be involved in, you know, sort of nitty-gritty day-to-day stuff, but things are starting to flow easily.

00:18:51:16 – 00:19:07:16
Alec Hogg: So you’ve got the template there. It’s almost like the DA has got the template of the Western Cape for the rest of the country. What’s your campaign in KZN? How are you positioning yourself as the premier candidate that will attract voters to your party?

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00:19:07:16 – 00:19:29:21
Chris Pappas: So, there’s a few things. I think the first thing is that I’m working in a space with much older people, and there’s a large segment of the population in KZN that feels left behind. That’s the people who have been in charge for a long time. I think what John uses the expression, “the same people at the same table making the same decisions,” and they have been there for a very long time, and people are looking for something new.

00:19:30:01 – 00:19:46:11
Chris Pappas: And that’s something, not just new, but something that has been tested. And I think that’s the first thing. So I’m young but not too young, not too old. The tested part is, well, I’m in government, I’m running a municipality, I’m trying to fix something that is broken, and there are visible signs of it getting better.

00:19:46:13 – 00:20:04:15
Chris Pappas: The other thing is then, I mean, the DA as an institution. We’re the only other political party that runs a province in this country. So in terms of like for like, you can compare our ANC-run KZN to the DA-run Western Cape, and of course, there are still problems in the Western Cape and they have their challenges to solve.

00:20:04:17 – 00:20:22:19
Chris Pappas: But on a comparative basis, there are things that are happening that are not happening here. So you can make that comparison, to two people at the end of the day is that we’ve actually got a credible plan, credible message. You know, what are those solutions to water? Well, we got through day zero and we’ve learned lessons there.

00:20:22:19 – 00:20:43:18
Chris Pappas: What about solutions to crime? Well, we’re implementing them in different parts of the country and in municipalities, in infrastructure, well, all the rest of things that are problems as a province. So I think that’s the main message that we are tried and tested. We have a candidate who is young, dynamic, that can actually go out, engage across different communities.

00:20:43:19 – 00:20:54:10
Chris Pappas: That’s rural, urban, black or white, whatever it might be. And that we are a party that is, that is even in this province, tested our own policies to try to turn things around.

00:20:54:10 – 00:20:56:06
Alec Hogg: So a message of hope rather than fear.

00:20:56:09 – 00:21:18:08
Chris Pappas: Absolutely. We really do try to stay away from engaging in other political party bashing. We try and, most if you go into my campaign, if you go onto any of the provincial platforms, we’re saying, you know, it is about hope. For the very first time, we have an opportunity to change government.

00:21:18:10 – 00:21:42:14
Chris Pappas: In this province, you know, so we had what we had to after democracy. We’ve had the same thing for a very long time now. Now we once again been given that opportunity. So it’s about hope and winning. I think it will actually be part of a winning team. And in KZN, we have an opportunity for people to be part of a winning team, whether it’s winning against unemployment or winning against infrastructure backlogs or winning the election.

00:21:42:14 – 00:22:04:23
Chris Pappas: We have a credible path to change the circumstances of what we have. We have great communities in KZN. I was just at Margate yesterday, communities, businesses come out, fix their roads and the beaches that have washed away. And it happens everywhere. We just really have great people, great communities who look after each other, and people want to harness that to rebuild our province.

00:22:05:01 – 00:22:34:09
Alec Hogg: Now Helen Zille and John Steenhuisen have been asked many times about their coalition partners in the future. But let’s look at it on a provincial level. Would the DA in KZN make its own decisions, or would it have to come from the Federal Council, for instance, if you, the IFP and the ANC had enough votes to get above 51% theoretically, just hypothetically, is that something that you, as the premier candidate, would make a decision on?

00:22:34:09 – 00:22:39:20
Alec Hogg: And would you go into a coalition with those partners, or would it have to come from somebody else?

00:22:39:23 – 00:22:57:00
Chris Pappas: So how we work is that we try and remove people from the decision-making process who have a vested interest. In other words, you know, I really want to be premier. So if someone comes to say to me, can I make a government to work with whoever it might be, I’m going to tell you, yes, it might be really difficult and I might not be able to see through some of the fog.

00:22:57:02 – 00:23:27:13
Chris Pappas: So what we do is that we have provincial actors, whether it is the provincial leader or the province chairperson, whoever it might be who are involved in the negotiations, but those people form part of a much broader national team as well. At the end of the day, we are a party that has a national footprint and we don’t want to do is have decisions made at a provincial level, even at a local level, that compromise the values of the organization over the long-term strategic use of the organization, our promises to voters, promises to partners like in the multi-party charter.

00:23:27:15 – 00:23:52:16
Chris Pappas: So, yes, it’s a bit of a mixture, but I don’t get involved directly, my opinion is solicited. My inputs are involved in there but at the end of the day, it is a national and provincial function to go and put that together, considering all the other discussions that happen around other provinces. And, our pledges to voters, I think we’ve made it absolutely clear that the ANC is not a partner that we can work with at the moment.

00:23:52:16 – 00:24:11:13
Chris Pappas: It is that it is it is to why would we work so hard to remove someone from government only to go back into government with it. IFP is a bit different. We are actively trying to work with IFP. We have been even before the multi-party charter. Charter, with two main objectives.

00:24:11:13 – 00:24:35:10
Chris Pappas: One is to remove the ANC from government, but the other is to actually make sort of multi-party politics work. We started service delivery agreements here in this province before the multi-party charter. And that was how do you take organizations with independent identities and independent voter bases that are trying to grow themselves, but at the same time not compromise on each other’s ability to hold each other accountable.

00:24:35:12 – 00:24:43:15
Chris Pappas: But then also to do so constructively where there are problems. Let’s try to fix them before we engage in the sort of politics that we’ve seen over the last 30 years.

00:24:43:15 – 00:24:51:07
Alec Hogg: Christopher Pappas is the premier candidate for the Democratic Alliance for KwaZulu-Natal. And I’m Alec Hogg from

Read also:

  • How poor governance has caused SA’s unemployment crisis: Ann Bernstein
  • Migration has become an election issue in SA and across the globe
  • Election’24: Is the ANC-MPC coalition the “least worst option”? – Katzenellenbogen

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