Calling for new blood

2009-05-21 00:00

The Inkatha Freedom Party’s obvious inability to regain control in KwaZulu-Natal in last month’s elections has compounded cracks which appeared after the 2004 elections. Recent calls by the party’s youth wing, the IFP Youth Brigade, for a change in leadership are a clear sign that all is not well within the province’s official opposition party.

Those cracks became more visible early this week when eight members of the Youth Brigade — seven of them senior youth leaders — were suspended from the party pending “further steps” by the IFP’s National Council and KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Executive Committee (PEC) members, after the youth wing made calls in the media for a change in leadership weeks before.

This latest leadership wrangle is a sequel to the rift which we saw in 2004, again after the party lost the province to the ANC. That earlier wrangle led to the formation of the National Democratic Convention (Nadeco), led by former IFP chairperson Dr Ziba Jiyane, the man who the Youth Brigade at the time reckoned should lead the party. Jiyane’s departure led to the IFP losing a few members of the Youth Brigade and councillors to Nadeco.

But Jiyane’s breakaway party was itself riddled with internal rifts and as a result the South African Democratic Convention (Sadeco) was born, also led by Jiyane after he surrendered Nadeco to Reverend Hawu Mbatha. Neither Nadeco nor Sadeco garnered enough support in last month’s elections to win seats in the legislature or the national assembly. So much for IFP splinter parties.

But if the mother ship — the IFP — is to survive, if it is to curb its dwindling support which paved the way for the ANC’s recent victory in the province, then urgent action in the form of an overhaul is needed.

The timing of the current IFP infighting is particularly unfortunate, given that the 2011 local government elections take place in just over 20 months’ time. The IFP faces the grim but real possibility of losing more than 30 local municipalities over which it currently has control. Change, if it is to come, must happen as a matter of urgency and the IFP leadership has to find some way to persuade the youth it has thus far cast aside to be part of the inevitable “new way” forward.

Change also has to start by revisiting the areas once described by the party as its strongholds. These are mostly rural areas of the KwaZulu-Natal province. By revisiting these areas and engaging with communities, the party can learn why its membership base has been tailing off. Was it related to service delivery or lack of development?

Or was it the way in which IFP-run municipalities operated? For example, recent reports, especially ahead of the elections, claimed that IFP-led municipalities sidelined non-IFP members when it came to service delivery and development.

Change is possible but only if the party leadership admits that change is indeed needed. And if it is prepared to do some navel-gazing.

Interrogating the reasons why the IFP’s support base has been chipped away since 1994 and why some structures within the party are calling for a change in leadership, needs to be the starting point in the IFP’s reinvention if it wants to retain the control of the municipalities it won just three years ago in the 2006 local government elections.

Although a thorny task, the IFP leadership needs to interrogate whether the Youth Brigade is alone in its quest for a leadership overhaul.

Internal plotters against the party leadership may have their own, narrow agendas, but to dismiss the current wave of dissent outright could also lead to further splits which may ultimately deliver a blow to the party from which it would be impossible to recover.

That the party now has only 12 seats in the provincial Parliament has by now sunk in for IFP leaders. In July, the party has a chance to elect new leadership. IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi has indicated that he is available for re-election if asked. Judging from the actions of the Youth Brigade, the call for new blood is growing louder. We are headed for some interesting times.

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