IFP, a party of contradiction

2015-05-31 15:00
IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi

IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi

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Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s biggest struggle will be to convince us he was always on the side of the struggle, writes Paddy Harper 

It’s sometime in 1987. Then KwaZulu government chief minister and Inkatha president Mangosuthu Buthelezi is addressing the Bantustan’s legislative assembly in Ulundi.

Buthelezi is angry. A legislative assembly member from Phongola has been stopped at a roadblock, arrested and badly beaten by white police during his interrogation. The member’s crime: possession of photocopied versions of banned ANC propaganda material, including the magazines Sechaba and Dawn, which had been distributed at Buthelezi’s behest to members of his assembly.

The distribution of the ANC documents was not a clandestine bid to use the “parliamentary privilege” of the legislative assembly to build support for the underground. Rather, they were part of Buthelezi’s attempts to justify political conflict with the United Democratic Front (UDF) by showing its links to the ANC in exile and creating a context for the attacks on him and Inkatha by its leaders, including ANC president Oliver Tambo.

Buthelezi commiserates with the beaten member and promises action against Pretoria, whose offer of “full independence” for his KwaZulu homeland he rejected while taking up its post of chief minister in December 1977.

No action materialises.

It’s a contradictory situation, totally in line with the contradictory nature of Inkatha – which became the Inkatha Freedom Party just in time for the 1994 election – and its longtime president, who turns 87 in August.

This afternoon, Buthelezi, who has led the party since its inception, will be joined by friends of the party at a dinner in Durban to celebrate its 40 years of existence since its formation as Inkatha yeNkululeko yeSizwe at KwaNzimela outside Melmoth on March 21 1975.

It’s likely to be an emotional affair, attended by former MPs and MPLs, and the business backers and diplomats with whom Buthelezi and the party have worked over the years. Other invitees include former deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe.

The IFP today is a relatively minor political party in the National Assembly and the third largest in the KwaZulu-Natal legislature. Buthelezi – who has survived every challenge to his leadership of the party by contenders as varied as current National Freedom Party (NFP) leader Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi and Inkatha’s founding secretary-general, Sibusiso Bhengu – is the elder statesman of South African politics.

But the IFP’s fading parliamentary footprint and its leader’s increasingly grandfatherly profile are a far cry from the formidable political – and paramilitary – force it was in the years leading to the 1994 poll and everything that followed it.

The decision to participate in the KwaZulu homeland placed Inkatha on a collision course with the ANC, which had earlier given its blessing to Buthelezi’s intention to launch Inkatha as a cultural body that would be used to mobilise his supporters in support of the struggle for liberation.

With the formation of the UDF in 1983 and the subsequent civil disobedience campaigns, political violence, stoked by the apartheid security machine, ensued, leaving thousands dead throughout the province.

As the 1994 elections neared, the IFP threatened to pull out of the process and demanded autonomy for the Zulu king, greater provincial powers and the creation of provincial ballots. It only returned to the process when it became clear the most radical demands would be met.

In 1994, the IFP took control of KwaZulu-Natal, securing 41 seats in its 81-member legislature, and 43 in the 400-seat national assembly, with Buthelezi installed as home affairs minister.

It was to be the party’s benchmark, but its slice of the electoral cake got smaller at every subsequent poll.

Durban-based political analyst Protas Madlala believes that while the IFP may benefit from the current infighting in the breakaway NFP, it is unlikely to reclaim its status as the official opposition in the province.

“There will be some gains, but not enough for the IFP to become the opposition again. It will be very difficult for them to regain the lost ground,” he says.

Madlala believes Buthelezi’s attempts to position himself as an elder statesman are driven by his desire for history to see him as a leader who fought for liberation.

“There is a huge element of Buthelezi wanting history to see him as a part of the liberation struggle and to reinvent his role and that of the party. He is constantly going on about his contribution to the struggle, meetings with Tambo and so on. Buthelezi wants to reposition himself, to give himself political credentials as part of the struggle,” Madlala said.

“We all know that he was part of the system, not part of the struggle. He’s trying to rehabilitate his image and that of the party.”

Social anthropologist and violence monitor Mary de Haas also believes Buthelezi is anxious to be remembered in a positive light.

At a press conference in Durban in March, Buthelezi said the party had been formed to “reignite mobilisation among the oppressed majority in the hiatus left by the banning of political parties. From the very beginning, we spoke of equality, freedom, negotiations and peaceful resistance,” he said.

“Now, four decades later, the IFP has much to celebrate and many milestones to remember. We have victories under our belt, and tragedies. We have exceptional people within our midst whose legacy continues.

“But we have also lost many along the way, countless of whom fell to the People’s War and some who fell away through betrayal, misplaced ambition or poor judgement,” he said.
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