Waiting for Mangosuthu Buthelezi

2014-05-04 06:00

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The leader is running late. Very late. The election rally is meant to start at 10am but his aides have received word that he has been held up at another important function.

The thousands who have gathered in the large marquee at the Sabuyazwe sports ground in Maphumulo, 65kms from Durban, are patient. IFP national organiser Alco Ngobese keeps them entertained with witticisms, funny stories, party songs and cultural groups.

At 12pm, the time IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi is scheduled to speak, he has still not arrived. At 1pm, the time of the interview with City Press, there is still no sign of the leader. At 1.30pm, umholi (the leader) has still not arrived. Lunch packs containing a chicken thigh and bread and a little juice bottle each are distributed to the crowd.

“Let us eat so that by the time the mholi arrives, we will be ready to hear him properly,” they are told.

As they eat, there are more witticisms, funny stories, party songs and cultural groups.

Umholi finally arrives after 4pm. The programme is now very rushed as dusk is setting in and the temperature is dropping fast.

By the time Buthelezi speaks, some buses and taxis are revving their engines. He apologises for his lateness and explains he was stuck at Mangosuthu University of Technology where there was a graduation ceremony and the celebration of 35 years of the institution.

There was also the honouring of Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, who was one of the first to pledge funding to Buthelezi for the establishment of the institution. With dignitaries such as chancellor Lindiwe Sisulu and businessman Nicky Oppenheimer present, he could not break protocol and just up and go.

“I also shook lots of hands, which can also be considered campaigning,” he reassures them.

Halfway through his speech, the marquee is emptying fast. And noisily. By the time he finishes his speech, only two rows of supporters are left.

The marquee was almost left empty after IFP supporters started leaving while Mangosuthu Buthelezi was still speaking. He had arrived six hours after the start of the rally. Picture: Elizabeth Sejake/City Press

We have agreed with the IFP officials that because of the lateness of the hour and the heavy day Buthelezi has had, we will reschedule the interview.

But Buthelezi will have no such. He overrules us and insists he is up to it.

So we head for the venue of the interview.

He is visibly tired, having driven hundreds of kilometres and addressed several meeting in the week. The following morning he is off to Cape Town at the crack of dawn to speak to supporters there.

He reflects on the momentous days that led up the April 27 election. His recollection is encyclopaedic and one thing still riles him: the failure by the ANC to honour “solemn agreement” on the need for international mediation, the very condition on which he agreed to enter into the 1994 elections.

Asked about his state of mind as he took the oath of office and assumed responsibility for the Home Affairs ministry in 1994 he delves into the history of his family, going back several hundred years.

Because his royal forbearers were at the forefront of the wars of anti-colonial resistance he has never been daunted by any task, he says.

“As a hereditary leader, the purpose of my life was always to serve. The history of my people is such that I learned leadership at the knees of my mother,” says Buthelezi.

He recalls the days of the Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki presidencies as a period in which national unity could have been consolidated.

“Mr Mbeki and I got on like a house on fire. He always suggested closer cooperation between the ANC and the IFP,” he recalls.

This would have resulted in him becoming deputy president of the country in 1999 but this was “torpedoed” by KwaZulu-Natal ANC leaders, who insisted the party get premiership of the province in return.

“The problems of the ANC and IFP have always been hardened by the leadership of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal. Even when Mandela wanted the two of us to market peace in the 1990s, [the late ANC KwaZulu-Natal leader] Harry Gwala took a busload of people to Johannesburg to convince him not to meet with me,” he says.

Read: Harry Gwala, where are you?

Buthelezi is convinced that the ANC’s huge mission is to obliterate the IFP. To this end, he believes, the ANC championed Zanele Magwaza-Msibi’s breakaway from the IFP and her formation of the National Freedom Party (NFP).

ANC bigwigs have financially aided and abetted the party. The ANC-NFP coalition agreement, which wrestled power from the IFP in many KwaZulu-Natal municipalities, is proof that Magwaza-Msibi has added nothing to the South African political equation except to help the ANC in weakening the IFP, he says. “What has she brought into the politics of South Africa? Nothing. The big project is to destroy me and the IFP.”

Unlike his lieutenants, who are talking up the IFP’s chances in this week’s elections, Buthelezi is more realistic. He believes South Africa can never have free and fair elections as long as the ANC is allowed to “abuse” government institutions and resources.

“Money is the milk of politics. Even though the ANC has businesses and gets money from those who help themselves to tenders, they still use government resources to fight,” he argues.

This includes using teachers’ union Sadtu to infiltrate Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) structures. Given that Sadtu is the third-biggest affiliate of ANC ally Cosatu, the likelihood of manipulation is high, he believes. It is for this reason the party is challenging the IEC’s appointment of Sadtu members as temporary election staff.

“I really don’t know how we get out of this bush of abuse of state resources,” Buthelezi says despondently.

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