IFP President Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
IFP President Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

” Democracy means  freedom to choose” –  PRINCE MANGOSUTHU BUTHELEZI

I didn’t know quite what to expect when I attended the Inkatha Freedom Party’s 2014 Manifesto launch at the weekend.

Sunday 7:30 am. We arrived at the King Zwelithini Stadium in Umlazi the second largest township in South Africa, and the hi-jacking capital of  KwaZulu Natal according to those who live there and  I still had no idea what was going on….. actually.

Preparations for the launch set to start four hours later,  at around 11:00 am  were already underway. At the entrance a row of women were busy at work setting up  their  stalls from which they would be selling fried, boiled and cooked meat: chicken, beef sausages, stakes, fruit and all manner of beverages to IFP supporters still on their way to the stadium.

It was as if I was intruding into a private family ceremony. Familiar images of relatives aunts, sisters, grandmothers, mothers, fathers, uncles, brothers, husbands, cousins, nephews, nieces, friends all dressed in the tried and tested uniform of blue overalls, multi-coloured aprons, pinafores, petticoats, head scarves, hats and white face masks – helping each other off-load pots, pants, trays and buckets full of this and that, the stuff they would need to serve  hundreds of hungry men and women filled my eyes – They all worked quietly and calmly.  A  peaceful scene of activity.

During our drive  to the venue  we saw  groups  of police officers  positioned along the man road leading  towards the stadium. I couldn’t help but wonder if I should be anxious.  Armed police men leaned casually on white police Casper’s which have become synonymous with the sometimes violent service delivery protests flaring up across the country since, before and after Marikana.

The IFP – a party founded by the crown prince, Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi in 1975 is infamous for political intolerance and has been for as long as I was old enough to tell the difference between the ANC and the IFP.

The party is feared from  the Gauteng province  to  the East Coast of the country for threatening bloody murder and mutiny to anyone opposed to their leader, uMtwana, Shembe, Buthelezi.  At least that’s the talk about town. Images of the ubiquitous red arm and head bands  worn by Zulu-Inkatha  warriors brandishing  sticks, pangas and  spears piercing into  the blue sky accompanied by feverish calls to war come to mind as I stepped out of the car and surveyed the large image of a smiling Buthelezi wrapped around a tall pillar at the edge of the stadium. My memories of the early 90’s are clouded with red dust.

What could Mr Buthelezi have to say that other politicians haven’t said?

Just last week the party and its break- away faction  the National Freedom Party  {NFP}  met to discuss pockets of violence  between party members in KwaMashu   in February.  Tensions had been simmering between the two parties since the break-away in 2011 when  then IFP National Chairperson  Zanele  kaMagwaza-Msibi broke away from the IFP to form a new party the orange NFP.  Tensions reached a climax outside court one day  in 2012  when an NFP member shot at an IFP member  point-blank in front of police officers, in broad day light  killing him on the spot.  The NFP member  was arrested but released due to lack of evidence.  Violence re-surfaced again last month resulting in the shooting of four women . Two  died after they were shot within days of each other,  they were friends, and  members of the IFP and NFP respectively.   An IFP youth league leader in KwaMashu has since been arrested on two charges of attempted murder for two of the shootings in which both victims survived.

“It is so much like her to call for peace talks” offered  one of  Magwaza Msibi’s admirers during an ANC rally earlier in the week after I asked her  what she thought of political violence in the province.  “She is  gifted that woman and is a  huge  threat to the IFP.  The IFP lost a great leader in her, she is a good person, a people’s person and she is a great orator too. I have so much respect for her  because of how she treats people and because of what  she is trying to do – the ANC has been trying to get her  on-board but it seems she knows her power. The IFP has lost a lot of support since her departure.” She said nodding her head emphatically. Grief stricken images of Magwaza Msibi crying helplessly while comforting the bereaved family of a deceased NFP  member come flashing back to memory. He empathy was undeniable on the Television screen.

Except it was not Magwaza-Msibi who called for the round of peace talks, it was Prince Buthelezi who requested the meeting between party leaders in writing.  I wondered why (informed) people would automatically assume that it was Magwaza- Msibi who called for peace talks between the warring parties.  Clearly the IFP hadn’t managed to shake off the image of its bloody past.  Why, I can still remember anecdotes of people accounting stories of how they were being terrorized by Inkatha fighters in trains and hostels to and from work during the 1980’s and early 90’s as black on black violence spread across the country from Thokoza, Boipatong, Soweto, and KwaZulu Natal which was attributed largely to third forces (Apartheid government) using the IFP as its front men. Prince Buthelezi was a puppet of the Apartheid government : a sell-out who used the money apartheid money to fund more bloodshed in the province which he declared a no-go area for non-Zulu’s during the 90’s. They say  he connived with the then National Defence Force (SANDF)  under the apartheid government  to fuel violence which saw at least 20 000 people being killed in KwaZulu Natal.  Whatever he may say, it would be hard to erase  memories of blood-shed which ravaged the Natal Midlands in the lead up to the 1994  National Elections that ushered in a new democratic dispensation and a government of national unity.  I personally” remember stories “I was told by my aunt Zozo who arrived one day to live with family relatives close by, of horrifying stories of the violence in the Kwazulu Natal Midlands – of people fleeing burning huts, and being stabbed brutally by unknown men, how she escaped the violence to come and live with us in Gauteng.  KwaZulu Natal was never a place I wanted to live in.

But I had to keep an open mind.

The IFP’s election manifesto messaging was surprisingly simple and uncluttered with promises, it simply read: “The power is  yours” – “You have the power” a few banners admonished followers.  The stadium which had been empty for the large part of the preparations  was filling up rapidly. Party organisers were friendly and welcomed the media with open arms. “We are not fighting with the media” newly appointed IFP spokesperson Alco Ngobese  after I requested an interview with the president  of the party.” we want to work together with you”.

The SABC’s outside broadcast vans were already stationed at the edges of the stadium. The party’s 2014 manifesto launch would be broadcast live on the public broadcaster’s 24 hour news channel and the SABC’s Nguni commercial TV channel SABC one. By the time the crown prince arrived – waiving to crowds who had filled up the main amphi- theatre the mood was euphoric. Praise singers praised and crowds sang , Is’cathamiya, and traditional hymns swaying in unison  in honour of a leader they said “never changed”. Mr Buthelezi wore a distinctive black and gold hat, a simple shirt and chino pants.  The program quickly got underway by one o’clock following messages of support from the party’s youth league and women’s’ brigade who were all very brief.  Soon it was time for President Mangosuthu Buthelezi to deliver his speech.

It was the first time in many years that I stopped to listen.

Mr Buthelezi, a former ANC youth league member, began by his speech by recounting how he was trained and mentored by the founder of the ANC, Dr Pixley kaIsaka Seme while he was still in matric ( Grade 12).  Pixley kaIsaka seme   needed help writing  political documents for the ANC while undergoing an eye operation, and asked the young Buthelezi to assist him. ” I was his assistant, I sat with him for hours learning from his  beautiful mind – of his visions and values for the struggle”

“I also learnt from King Albert Luthui, the first black Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, while still in my youth fresh from University, I learnt from him how to serve the people,  about the values of freedom and democracy.” Buthelezi  said over his 60  year career in politics and public service he learnt from men of integrity and honour, from heroes and heroines of the struggle.  As the leader in the opposition he told  his supporters that in the ten years that he  governing  in KwaZulu Natal – no single allegation of corruption was leveled against him.  He founded Ithala Bank, built 6 thousand schools, a University of Technology which he counts as one of his proudest moments in his political career as I sat next to him hours later at a sea-food restaurant in morning side.   Infact – the IFP he said was  a bridge between the values and Ideas of  the struggle and the future prosperity of the country.  On my way to the interview I asked a young IFP supporter why we supported the IFP. “Ubaba taught us values, especially respect, values that I learnt from home. That you must always remain humble, and never raise your voice even when the other  person is screaming ans shouting at you, you must remain calm and speak with them with respect, because that’s the most important thing. That is why I support him”

Between The Lines:    Are you happy with the  show of  support for the IFP today?

Prnce MangoSuthu Buthelezi:   Yes I was very happy with the turn out of voters, I had not expectations but as far as turn out is concerned I am very happy

BTL: Are you confident of increasing support for the IFP in the province  for the upcoming elections?

MB  Yes. The  recent by-Elections demonstrate that there is a growing support  for the IFP i the province especially in  Nongoma. We didn’t rig votes like others.

BTL: You have spoken a lot about the failures of the ruling party and you spoke a lot about your years of experience in politics  and public service. Are there any mistakes that you have you  have made as  the  leader or the IFP have made over the years?

MB: What mistakes are you talking about? it is for my critics to say.

BTL: Baba.. I mean  as we are all reflecting  on  what we have achieved in the past  20 years and working on where we want to go  certainly  there are things we did wrong and things we did right? at this point no one wants -to admit any wrong doing –  are the any mistakes that you could identify that we could learn from?

MB: I don’t think I should be answering questions like that, I have always been fair in my criticism of the ANC. I have praised them were they have done well and have pointed out  where they were

going wrong.

BTL:  What has been your proudest achievement in your political career?

MB:  Every victory in one way or other has made me proud, there are many  things I could talk about, one of them is building six thousand schools and the  University of Technology .

BTL:  What is unique about the IFP, why should people vote for you?

MB: We don’t make unrealistic promises. We’ve been in Government for many years, we have a track-record.

BTL:  What is Your greatest fears for this country?

MB:  Corruption.

BTL: Greatest Hope?

MB:” I wouldn’t be contesting the elections if I had  lost hope”

BTL: Thank you very Much for your time.

MB:  Thank you for taking the time to speak to me.

BTL: Everyone deserves to be heard.


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