Changing leadership

2009-05-28 00:00

THE already troubled political career of the once untouchable Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi took another knock last week when the prime minister of the Zulu nation was ousted as chair of the provincial House of Traditional Leaders.

Buthelezi declined to stand for re-election as chairman last Friday after he received only 24 out of 53 nominations, conducted by secret ballot. The other 28 nominations went to the now new chairman of the house, Bhekisisa Felix Bhengu.

For some, Buthelezi’s refusal to accept the nomination and to stand for the election was seen as confirmation that he no longer holds power in the province. To others, his utter refusal to participate in the process suggested he was moping because he failed to receive a unanimous nomination.

Take a closer look and patterns can be discerned in his behaviour.

Just last month, Buthelezi’s party had a disastrous showing in the national and provincial elections, losing the province, perhaps for good, to the African National Congress.

As usual, the IFP went on the offensive ahead of last month’s elections, alleging that there were ballot papers being printed in Pietermaritzburg already marked in favour of the ANC.

The IFP leader pulled the same trick before last week’s House of Traditional Leaders elections, alleging that President Jacob Zuma and KwaZulu-Natal Premier Dr Zweli Mkhize had schmoozed amakhosi by wining and dining them, and by paying them substantial bribes to vote against him. The IFP leader reiterated this in a press briefing later that day.

The headlines that accompanied the story of Buthelezi’s ousting as chairman of the house seemed to herald a looming end to his political career. Could 2009 be the year of demise for the IFP leader?

So far, in the final week of May, it’s not looking good for him.

Over the weekend, the eThekwini IFP Youth Brigade rebelled against the suspensions of seven provincial Youth Brigade leaders, saying that the suspensions were unconstitutional. The youth wing branch reiterated the call for a senior leadership overhaul. With the IFP elective conference taking place in July there will be another opportunity to assess the prospects for Buthelezi’s political career.

But we should remember that the IFP leader is not in unfamiliar territory. In the past 15 years, Buthelezi has been at the helm of a party that has taken more knocks than possibly any other political party in the country. The party was frequently accused of perpetrating political violence in the late eighties and nineties and was at the receiving end of a host of allegations of political intolerance in the province ahead of last month’s elections. But the party leader has shown, over the years, that he can give as good as he gets and is not afraid to take negativity in his stride. So it might be premature to dismiss this seasoned politician.

But in the wake of his exit as its leader, the KZN House of Traditional Leaders has a host of urgent matters to address. The poorest communities in KwaZulu-Natal are those which fall under traditional leaders. These communities are underdeveloped and service delivery is attained at a snail’s pace. These are also the areas in which HIV/Aids is on the rise at an alarming rate. Lack of education and high rates of illiteracy are cited as reasons.

There are continuous squabbles between ward councillors and amakhosi about who is supposed to lead the upliftment of communities. The councillors have political mandates to fulfil; amakhosi are compelled to improve the lives of “their” people. The two “commands” sometimes clash, often at the expense of the people.

Chief among the tasks for Inkosi Bhengu in his new position, then, is to unite amakhosi. A united provincial traditional leadership institution is crucial if it is to be respected and recognised, not only by its “own”, but by the more “modern” citizens of the province. Only a united institution can map a common way forward that would seek to improve lives and to develop, among other things, infrastructure, improve agriculture and promote education in the areas they control.

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