The man who broke barriers by becoming the first openly-gay mayor in the history of South Africa, Chris Pappas, is on a desperate quest to disrupt the status quo when it comes to anti-gay beliefs.
Pappas, 30, mayor of the DA-run uMngeni local municipality in the heart of KwaZulu-Natal, said although Pride Month was celebrated against the backdrop of GBV violence and homophobia, there’s still hope.
“People should not let labels and society’s view of who you are define you,” Pappas told Weekend Argus.
He added: “There’s no need to limit yourself based on a fear that is actually irrational. Whatever you put your mind to, try and achieve it.
“Don’t let thoughts, prejudice and bias limit you. Rather let your own failures and inability lead to your downfall and not the rest of society’s thoughts.”
Pappas, who grew up in Mooi River, came out to his friends at 21 and his parents at 24.
“My family is not conservative – they were welcoming and accepting,” he said, adding that “there were some who did not understand, but they were not dismissive or discriminatory.
“There’s the saying that gay rights are human rights, but so are women’s rights. Everyone has the power to fight in a different way – mine is to show that you don’t vote for a gay man, you’re voting for a capable individual,” he said.
The 30-year-old is engaged to JP Prinsloo, a former DA councillor from eThekwini, and will “probably get married in the next year and a half”.
“When we were still dating, we said our first objective was to pay off our student debt then get engaged, something we already did, so the next step now is to buy a house together and once we put down the deposit or get the bond approval then we will get married,” he said.
The couple stays together in a home they’re renting.
Pappas said he doesn’t like to think of himself as a queer role model.
“I think of myself as someone who is openly gay and that shows people you should not limit yourself and as someone who was not afraid to openly campaign.
“Whether I’m a good mayor or not – the people should decide if I’m a good role model. I think there’s still a long way to go, we’ve just scratched the surface.
“The recipe for (our) success is that you need to pay attention to detail when you’re in government, you need to be hands-on, always. I don’t own the municipality, the municipality is not mine, it belongs to the community,” he said.
Pappas said everything he does was for the citizens. “You need to bring people into your confidence.”
He speaks five different languages fluently, namely English, Afrikaans, Zulu, French and Xhosa.
When not busy in his official capacity he likes to trail run and enjoy time with his friends and family.
“I also enjoy time out on my parents’s beef farm and spending time with my friends.
“I was elected not because I’m a fake politician that hides behind suits and stuff ... I like to go out to pubs and bars with my peers and just let my hair down and pretend like I’m a normal human being,” he said.
Professor Sipho Seepe of the University of Zululand described Pappas as a brave politician.
"Politicians in South Africa always tend to be more conservative, so for Pappas to be openly gay is an act of courage. People might see it as anti-establishment, someone who is pushing the boundaries, I see it as someone who is brave.
"It is clearly a significant community, but remains suppressed, and politically that cannot be acceptable. Young people need role models, in the same way that many of us in a political space were influenced by the likes of Mandela, the likes of Joe Slovo for taking a stand. So he is being the modern voice for the community's struggle," he said.