Unstoppable Magwaza-Msibi

2011-02-04 09:16

On Wednesday we were crossing the swollen Umfolozi River on our way to the first rally by ­National Freedom Party (NFP) leader Zanele Magwaza-Msibi in the Inkatha Freedom Party’s (IFP) heartland of Nongoma and Ulundi.

My companion, a self-styled ­Zululand comedian, quips: “I’ve never seen this river so full. I’m sure the IFP wish they could throw Zanele in there. Then their ­problems would be over.”

The joke was in poor taste, but he was right. IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi and his inner circle must be cursing the day they decided to put the squeeze on arguably their most effective leader for the heinous crime of doing what they had groomed her to do: ­showing real, decisive leadership.

For all his claims of betrayal and ANC-inspired plots against him, Buthelezi has nobody except himself and his own political paranoia to blame for the creation of ­Magwaza-Msibi’s breakaway ­party, which – if its first two days are anything to go by – may well do what the ANC has so far failed to do: bury the IFP.

The Prince of KwaPhindangene’s handling of Magwaza-Msibi – a hardcore IFP member who worked her way up through the ranks since the party’s launch in 1975 to the elevated post of national chairperson – has been so misguided that it smacks of political suicide.

In 2008 Magwaza-Msibi, the party’s woman of the future who had been constantly endorsed by Buthelezi and nominated as the IFP’s premier candidate for ­KwaZulu-Natal, joined councillors and youth activists in calling for a shake-up of the parliamentary lists for the 2009 polls.

She, like the rank-and-file, wanted change: the IFP’s parliamentary cadre was thick with elderly white members of Parliament with no constituency and decommissioned warlords unsuited to parliamentary or organisational work. T

he ­people who were the IFP on the ground were nowhere to be seen when it came to the plum jobs.

The response was both petty and brutal. Posters of her as premier candidate were withdrawn.

A whispering campaign began.

She was accused by Buthelezi of corruption, despite the Zululand district municipality, of which she was mayor, receiving a clean audit eight years in a row. Her loyalty was questioned. All of a sudden Buthelezi’s heir apparent was ­being slammed as an ANC plant.

When party members took a stand in her defence, creating the Friends of VZ as a support structure, a purge of her supporters ­began, with councillors, ward chairpersons and even members of the provincial legislature being suspended and then axed around the province.

The IFP elective conference was postponed six times in a clear bid to prevent an elective takeover while starving her out.

Then, last year, Magwaza-Msibi was removed from Zululand and ­redeployed as a backbencher in the provincial legislature in Pieterma-ritzburg, with Blessed Gwala, a Buthelezi acolyte and former MEC fired for abusing hotel facilities, being installed in her place.

She was repeatedly summoned before the IFP national council for a disciplinary hearing, a move which she resisted, taking the party to court in an unsuccessful bid to force it to delay her hearing until ­after an elective conference.

While the campaign against her gained momentum, she and her supporters weren’t sitting on their hands. As ANC president Jacob ­Zuma and his supporters did after he was charged in 2005, Magwaza-Msibi and her backers went to the branches, the rank-and-file, to state her case.

While their initial plan was, like Zuma’s, to take control of the party from the bottom up, they realised by the time the case went to court in November that they were unlikely to get a positive result, especially after Durban High Court judge Chiman Patel asked both sides to settle the issues between themselves.

As Mpiyakhe Hlatshwayo, the iDumbe mayor suspended for backing her, puts it: “It was clear that we had to go this route (of forming a new party).

We went to the branches and told people to keep quiet but get ready, that the only way forward was to move out.”

On the 13th of last month one of ­Magwaza-Msibi’s supporters, Duduzile Mhlongo, quietly registered the National Freedom Party (NFP) with the Independent ­Electoral Commission.

Over the festive period the ­underground mobilisation continued, gaining momentum with last Monday’s judgment in which the court refused to intervene in the IFP’s internal fight.

On Christmas Day Magwaza-Msibi visited the annual ingoma (choral) festival at Enhlungwane outside Ulundi – which she had sponsored every year – with the message that, should she come back to office, there would be two beasts to slaughter and not the usual one.

By Tuesday, when she went public about the NFP, it was clear that a massive amount of groundwork had been done.

T-shirts with her image and the slogan “VZ kaMagwaza-Msibi rocks” were everywhere, while several thousand of her followers pitched in an impressive show of strength.

On Wednesday, when she arrived at Nongoma’s Holinyoka hall for her first above-ground ­campaign meeting, the Magwaza-Msibi show was in full cry.

Several hundred residents heard IFP councillors, ward chairpersons, amakhosi and izinduna declare their move from the IFP to the NFP in numbers: by the end of the day’s campaigning 49 of 62 IFP councillors at iDumbe, Nongoma and ­Ulundi had crossed to the NFP.

The woman herself was something to be seen, part headmistress, part messiah, all leader, reworked IFP slogans mixed with gospel riffs from a Roland keyboard punctuating her call on local leaders to roll up their sleeves and get to work. The underlying ­message: take your whole branch with you and move to the NFP.

Forget about personality issues and work.

The rest of the day was the same, with walkabouts in ­Ulundi, Nongoma and Melmoth slotted around business meetings with ­local leaders. The punters lapped it up.

Their leader was back and was calling them to arms. All the while, youthful activists were signing up new recruits who flocked to pay the R10 NFP joining fee.

Magwaza-Msibi faces what she herself calls a “mammoth” task in building the party and may never see it going beyond KwaZulu-Natal.

She has, however, shown remarkable political acumen and nerves of steel thus far and promises to change the political landscape of KwaZulu-Natal forever.

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