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Pappas premiership bid in KwaZulu-Natal a threat to SA political opponents

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Picture: Khaya Ngwenya/African News Agency (ANA) – DA KZN Premier candidate Mayor Chris Pappas with supporters during the community meeting to discuss the state of eThekwini at the Hellenic Hall in Durban North.

By Professor Bheki Mngomezulu

The announcement by the DA that it has endorsed its uMngeni mayor, Chris Pappas, as its premier candidate has received mixed reactions.

One view is that at 32 years, Pappas is moving up the political ladder rather too quickly. Conversely, those who are constantly calling for inter-generational mix in the South African political landscape see this as a move in the right direction.

Both views are credible and sustainable. But it would be fair to judge Pappas on his own merits and political acumen. Such an analysis would focus on him as a politician and not as someone who is being elevated simply to respond to the public outcry about the exclusion of the youth from leadership positions.

There are several factors that make Pappas a force to be reckoned with. First, his fluency in isiZulu, which is spoken in KwaZulu-Natal, gives him an edge over his fellow white DA colleagues. Therefore, the competition starts from within the party.

Second, his age counts in his favour. Pappas is the youngest mayor in KZN and is among few such mayors nationally.

Third, since becoming the mayor of uMngeni Local Municipality, Pappas has proved to be a good ambassador for his party. He has been hard at work delivering services to communities without privileging areas that are dominated by DA membership. This makes him stand out. Many of his colleagues use their positions to serve certain communities, leaving others stranded.

These factors make Pappas a threat even to other political competitors. But the working relationship between the DA and the IFP in KZN eliminates the IFP as a potential competitor. Depending on the secret and open deals the two parties have, an arrangement could be reached on how they would contest the 2024 general election. This leaves the ANC as the main competitor. The EFF is a small party in KZN. The National Freedom Party (NFP), which would have been another significant competitor, is facing internal leadership challenges which have forced the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) to suspend the party.

Relations between Pappas and the ANC in KZN have not been good. At one point Pappas labelled ANC leaders amaselesele (probably meaning amasela, or thieves). As would be expected, this did not go down well with the ANC, and it did not take it kindly. While it is true that corrupt activities have been happeningin the public and private sectors, as the governing party in eight provinces (except the Western Cape) and nationally, the ANC has been in the limelight. Reported cases involving ANC leaders have not helped the party’s cause.

Pappas joined the bandwagon with his scathing attack on the ANC. In July, there was another stand-off between the ANC members from Moses Mabhida region in uMgungundlovu when Pappas was due to use the Mpophomeni Stadium. The venue was also booked to host an event organised by the Office of the Premier. The incident left one person injured. As a result, relations between Pappas and the ANC were further strained.

In another instance, Pappas said his life was under threat, resulting in him avoiding sleeping in one place all the time. Here, too, the ANC was accused number one although no concrete evidence was immediately available to buttress such claims.

Given the background and context, the confirmation of the Premier candidacy of Papas poses a threat to the ANC on two fronts.

First, the ANC’s support has been going down. This is evidenced in what has been happening in various municipalities, among them eThekwini where the ANC clinched the municipality at the 11th hour during the 2021 Local Government Election, with the support of Philani Mavundla from Abantu Botho Congress.

The results of recent by-elections in KZN have seen the IFP dominating. Some interpret this to signify the IFP’s resurgence in the province while others blame the IFP’s victories on election irregularities wherein people are brought into areas where they do not reside. Be that as it may, no one can deny the fact that the IFP has benefited from internal squabbles of the NFP and the ANC’s factional politics.

The situation works in favour of Pappas. In 2016, the DA became the official opposition in KZN. With the working relationship between the DA and the IFP, the ANC must up its game.

But the prospects of Pappas winning the premiership will depend on two things. The first will be the nature of the deal between the DA and the IFP. The second will be the ANC’s political maturity. Despite its many mistakes, the ANC enjoys support. If the party can regroup and humble itself in time before the electorate, it can beat the DA/IFP pact.

*Professor Bheki Mngomezulu is director of the Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy at the Nelson Mandela University