SA Politics 2.0: ‘Impossible’ being achieved by DA mayor of uMngeni, who is facing down ANC thugs, balancing the books and fixing infrastructure

Last November, Chris Pappas was elected executive mayor of the KZN Midlands municipal district covering Howick, Hilton and Nottingham Road. His eight months in office have thrown up challenges ranging from potential bankruptcy to dealing with politically instigated violence. But the 30-year-old DA Young Lion is proving more than equal to the task as you’ll hear in this interview with Alec Hogg of Pappas is to deliver a keynote address at the fourth BizNews Conference at the Champagne Sports Resort in the Drakensberg from August 30 to September 2.

Chris Pappas on the situation with the ANC and what went down

The concern started as a genuine electricity related issue. The transformer blew and we purchased a new transformer. We were ready to fix it. But in accordance with our strategy for electricity loss reduction before we install blown transformers, we must have a look at what is wrong with the infrastructure on the other side. 

The first contact that the municipality had with the protesters was at our gate. The protesters were dressed in ANC regalia. And many of the people weren’t even living or affected by the issue that was the subject matter. From that point it was no longer about the actual services, about those few houses that were affected. And we started to prepare accordingly and to counter that, to combat that. And then, I think we were successful partly because we were able to react and communicate and plan and put in place mechanisms, but also because the opponent or the enemy, in this sense, in terms of fighting back against a particular issue, was reckless. 

On ANC losses and if he believes they will continue ruling the country after 2024

The election results of 2021, half of the municipalities in the province are no longer governed by the ANC. So it’s an indication, and we are largely a rural province. So the big urban areas, Durban and Pietermaritzburg, are still a bit less than 50% majority. They are relying on coalitions, but in rural areas and many rural municipalities like the one that I’m in, there has definitely been a shift. I can’t prove this scientifically, but it’s just through my experience with voters that there’s a continuum of how people vote in South Africa, specifically rural black voters and township voters. If you vote ANC, then you don’t vote, you don’t change your votes, and that’s how it works. So we’re in that stage now where people are not voting, and particularly ANC voters, but that is sort of the area that in the end leaves a lot of voters up for grabs. 

On how the finances are looking in the municipality compared with last year

So much better. We haven’t got a problem with cash flow. We have challenges with access to capital. That’s a challenge for all small municipalities that are not not entirely rate dependent, but have grown dependent. But we are working on access and capital for quick interventions. And there’s a number of things we’ve put in place, but we have managed to pay off two of four loans. We have managed to increase or collect just over 21 million rands in outstanding debt to us. And we are up to date with our Eskom account. So we’ve got cash on hand, incredibly. Usually in municipalities our size, when it comes to the 1st of July and you get your first tranche of equitable share, in most municipalities our size it just disappears. It goes to pay creditors, it goes to Eskom and then it goes very quickly. So we got an allocation of 34 million rand a week ago and there’s just over 29 million rand in the bank making babies. So we are in a good financial situation at the moment. 

On if he’s looking to follow DA compatriot Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis in Cape Town in terms of electricity

I told Jordan, I’m waiting for him to kick in that door because they’ve got a lot more money for lawyers and what they do down there. So once there’s a kick in the door, we’ll come running through.  I’m working on two things. Firstly, we want to take over the Hilton electricity supply. Well all the law supports us taking it over and it makes financial sense, it makes service delivery sense. So we’ve allocated 150,000 rand towards legal support for that so that we can draft the relevant papers and can follow all the different procedures. It’s not, it’s not a quick thing, but we’ll do that.

And then the second thing is that Salga, a sovereign local government association, took or is taking Eskom to court. They say that municipalities have the right to distribute electricity in their jurisdiction and that wall to wall should either be the municipality, or there should be a service level agreement with Eskom because we have the constitutional right to distribute within our areas. For us that would mean an increase in revenue because it’s a service we can have a surcharge on which would be beneficial to the municipality. 

On if he’s looking at a national role within the DA party come 2024

The answer is no. The focus is on uMngeni. I want to learn. and get things right. I want to serve the community that came out in good faith for myself and my team. In 2024, when there is a coalition government here between the IFP and whoever, if there is a need for specialised skills, if it’s going to make governance in the province better. But it’s not something I’m putting my name down for or pursuing actively. I’m quite focused here. And the coalface and the real change in South Africa is going to happen once we get local government right. 

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