Inkatha’s future

2009-05-01 00:00

THE Inkatha Freedom Party is a waning political force. In last week’s elections its support shrank even further, concentrated on the ethnic and geographic heartland into which it has been retreating since the end of apartheid. Some commentators argue that its day is done.

Inkatha carries with it unfortunate historical baggage. In the run-up to democracy it chose its allies unwisely from the security establishment and white right wing; and held the country to ransom before the elections of 1994. Yet Mangosuthu Buthelezi had earlier played his cards skilfully, using Zulu nationalism to thwart apartheid’s grand plan. The commission that bore his name offered power sharing at provincial level well over a decade before it became a national reality.

Ten years ago Inkatha ran the province. Now it has the support of only a quarter of KwaZulu-Natal’s voters. Part of the reason for this is that it neglected the core concerns of its rural constituents in pursuit of wider, unrealistic political ambitions. When it had the chance to prove itself at local government level, it wasted opportunities.

With massive migration to urban areas, the once-powerful traditional hierarchy that underpinned Inkatha has weakened. An increasingly conservative African National Congress has supplied a Zulu leader. If it had not been for the shifting allegiance of rural KwaZulu-Natal voters, the ANC would have lost ground in all nine provinces.

But those voters now support a party with an essentially urban agenda. The ANC’s agriculture and land reform policies, for instance, have been notably undistinguished. The original Inkatha was a plaited grass head ring that bore a burden. Similarly, it is the rural people of South Africa who bear the greatest burden of the nation’s poverty and lack of access to modern amenities.

The ANC also has to satisfy its demanding middle class and unionised constituents. Rural people are easily forgotten outside election campaigns. In spite of the ambiguities of its past, it would be premature to call for Inkatha to disappear back into the ANC from which it emerged in the early seventies. And, as South Africa’s democracy matures, it is tailor-made for coalition politics.

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