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A white, gay Zulu-speaking mayor is shaking up South African politics

ISiftu Semfondo is the only primary school within a few miles of the upper Mooi Valley in the Central Region of KwaZulu-Natal (Kunshan), the second most populous province in South Africa. It educates the children of the rural poor — or at least tries to do so. There has been no clean water here for a year. It also has no national transportation for its students. That ended abruptly after officials were threatened by private minibus owners who wanted the business. Several children now walk; some can travel 20 kilometers (12 miles) in a day. But many more are staying at home. Riding a minibus costs 450 rand ($28) a month, more than the 350 rand welfare payment for the poor.

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Running schools is the province’s job, which is controlled by the African National Congress (ANC) along with the national government and eight of South Africa’s nine provincesAfrican National Congress). But that didn’t stop the local mayor, Umngeni, from visiting. Chris Pappas (pictured) listened to teachers and mums and said he would do what he could to help. He does this in the ladies’ native language, Zulu, which he learned growing up on a farm. “It’s very, very important that someone speak their language,” says class teacher Nene Philpine. “It provides a better, more complete understanding.”

Mr Pappas is an unusual politician. He was white in a city where three-quarters of its residents were black. He is fluent in Zulu (few white people speak Afrikaans other than English and Dutch). At 31, he is about half the age of the average cabinet minister in the country. He is gay. He is from the Democratic Union (reach), the official opposition, with its stronghold in and around Cape Town.A year ago, Mr. Pappas became the first reach mayor wins absolute majority Kunshan municipalities directly under the Central Government. His story is both revealing and inspiring about the state of South African politics.

South Africans still vote mainly along racial lines.this African National Congress usually wins a majority of black voters, while reach Takes the majority of the vote for the two largest minority groups: whites and “coloured”, or mixed-race South Africans. Yet when South Africans of all races were asked what was most important to them, polls showed they cared more about jobs, corruption, crime and blackouts than race relations.

Pappas’ late 2021 election showed that talented candidates have the potential to win support across the department.Like voters across the country, Umngeni’s black voters “feel African National Congress’, he said. The mayor deliberately ran a “localized campaign,” promising tangible improvements rather than “miracles.” Although his narrow victory depended on reach relatively large number of voters, and many formerAfrican National Congress With supporters staying home, he also needs to boost his party’s share of the black vote from 8.7 percent to 11.7 percent.

The success of Mr. Pappas and his (black) deputy, Sandile Mnikathi, demonstrates that the African National Congress is reversible.until reach Since taking over, the city government has never had a budget surplus.like the most African National Congress– Manage local governments whose financial reporting has been deemed inadequate by the auditor general of the regulator. Over the past year, Mr Pappas has turned Umngeni around by freezing hiring and halting the fame program. “There will be far fewer projects where politicians can go around cutting the ribbon,” Mr. Pappas told provincial officials. That frees up money for new programs.

One is to outsource simple jobs, such as mowing the lawn, to individuals.This sounds basic, but it breaks the way African National Congress Councils typically operate by awarding large bids to politically connected cronies, often from outside the municipality, for kickbacks. Municipalities are also doing more to help the poor, such as making more households eligible for some free electricity.

The mayor’s brand of politics is not flashy. But he argues that the simple act of doing what you say is crucial in a young democracy. “South Africans have lost faith in democracy as a means of change,” he said. A 2021 poll found that two-thirds of South Africans are “willing to forego elections” if an unelected government can provide security, housing and jobs.

Mr Pappas’ optimism is welcome.The South African has been held for nearly 29 years by African National Congress Mismanagement. Black voters have become increasingly apathetic. Some abstained from voting, while many whites retreated into their affluent bubbles. “That’s the problem in South Africa,” Mr Pappas said. “Four hundred people complain on WhatsApp and nobody does anything about it.” If the next big shift in modern South Africa is from African National Congress For the hegemony of the coalition government to be effective, it needs this kind of pioneering spirit.

South Africa could also produce more whites who speak African languages. While in prison, Nelson Mandela encouraged blacks to learn Afrikaans to understand “the language of the oppressors.” Later, he sees it as an emollient gesture: when he speaks Afrikaans in their language, “reaching their hearts,” he says. The power of language in politics is evident when you hear Mr. Pappas conversing in Zulu. “The ability to listen [in Zulu] More important than the ability to speak,” he added. In this age of populism, that’s a valuable lesson.

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