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Mark Whelan
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Was Mangosuthu Buthelezi Right?

05 May 2014, 18:30

Years ago, long before the so-called Born Frees, now eligible to vote in South Africa's fifth democratic elections, former chief minister of Kwa-Zulu, Inkhosi Mangosuthu Buthelezi had rejected repeated calls by successive prime ministers to accept apartheid-styled home rule, much like the former homelands Transkei and Ciskei, amongst others did, while Nelson Mandela languished on Robben Island and Steve Biko was murdered by the apartheid state's security police.

Today, the ageing leader of the near-defunct Inkatha Freedom Party would appear to be a pale shadow of his former self. But, to me, he is still a very wise man, say what you will.

But in the violent years leading up to CODESA and South Africa's first democratic elections, Mangosuthu Buthelezi advocated for a federal dispensation which essentially devolves power, cultural, economic, municipal and political, from the ground up, and not the other way around. In light of the violence mainly between factions of the Inkhatha movement and that of Harry Gwala's factions of the then-banned ANC, there were widespread and understandable fears that Buthelezi's motives for a Federal South Africa were devious and a means to entrenching his Zulu hierarchy within the borders of KwaZulu-Natal.

And so, at the conclusion of CODESA, led by the ANC's deputy president, Cyril Rhamaposa and the National Party's Roelf Meyer, a centralised form of government was agreed to. Buthulezi and the IFP were not in agreement, entering into a very uncomfortable alliance with the right-wing sectors of the white minority political movements, including the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging.

In the interests of a peaceful transition to democracy, specifically through the one-man one-vote system, Nelson Mandela persuaded Buthelezi and his party to participate at the eleventh hour.

Twenty years on, rampant corruption, incompetence at most levels of government and widespread unaccountability towards the very people that voted for the ANC, leads me to ask the question once more, would federalism not have been a better and more pragmatic option for a country as large as South Africa?

For various historical and even cultural reasons, various models of federal government have been tried and tested, and while it certainly is experiencing abuse, these models are working. The United States of America under Barack Obama is probably the best example today. As a Democrat-elected president, Obama's movements are continuously kept in check. That his predecessor, Republican George W Bush was able to persuade an ignorant Congress and Senate to wage war against the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein has nothing to do with the workings of federalism.

Most states today have pressurized their legislatures into affording equal human rights towards minorities, from African-Americans to today's gay and lesbian communities. And while Bush's Texas state still uses the death penalty, however ineffective it has been proved to be, most other states have abolished it. Hollywood movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, can even be credited for presiding over the most progressive environmental laws in a highly polluted Californian state.

In the aftermath of the second World War and the defeat of Hitler and National Socialism, then-West Germany evolved into a fully functioning federal state which now boasts one of the world's strongest economies. Cultural and religious rights are fully protected, even neo-Nazi's, however dangerous, are allowed to promote their evil cause. Germany's environmental laws stand head and shoulders above most other nations in the world today.

Australia, too, is both a young and federal nation, progressing and evolving culturally and economically. Federalism, like centralised power and even communism, has its faults, but the balance of power always seems to tilt in favour of the nations' diverse populations where politicians are not able to abuse power to the degree that Jacob Zuma and his ANC are doing today in South Africa, and neighbour, Robert Mugabe has already done.

Nigeria's federal model arose out of colonialism and not through the people, by the people and for the people, so it is easy to understand why there is so much ethnic and religious tensions there at the moment.

It is only now that the system of constituency-based elections is being discussed amongst politicians in South Africa, but, sadly, the day that the electorate can fully and powerfully hold their politicians accountable for their actions is still far off.

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