Redefining KZN politics

2014-06-09 00:00

THE National Freedom Party may have just shown its true colours and offered an end to the speculation by its former godfather that it is in the pocket of the ANC.

Zanele Magwaza-Msibi’s acceptance of a junior cabinet position in the fifth South African government is political suicide that will result in her party coming to an undignified end in about a decade. But this is entirely speculation, of course.

It could also be manna from the Zulu-vote heaven for the Inkatha Freedom Party, which despite having faced massive poll defeats and losing its position as official opposition in the province, is still fighting after 20 years. Her acceptance of a deputy minister position in the Department of Science and Technology is reminiscent of Marthinus van Schalkwyk’s capitulation of the NNP brand although it was probably always doomed to fail post 1994 anyway.

This is not to say a party cannot join some kind of united front with the governing party. The opposition benches do it all the time but for the NFP it is different. Since its formation in 2010-11 and its breakaway from the IFP, Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi has repeatedly claimed the NFP is nothing more than a stooge of the ANC, that it is funded by ANC donors and it obtains its direction from the ANC.

Post 2011, the NFP went into a number of pacts across the province with the ANC, ultimately clinching more municipalities than its former master.

Magwaza-Msibi reflected the new face of the traditional Zulu vote — outspoken, female, ambitious, successful and smart unlike Buthelezi’s IFP, which is stuck with the reputation of being rural, uneducated, violent, patriarchal and unquestionably subservient to its all-male-dominated leadership that garners its strength from royal lines.

The NFP’s creation is largely the fault of the IFP for failing to change from a Bantustan-type leadership organisation into a modern political party.

I remember driving through Zululand to various election locations in 2011 on election day. Among the various hitch-hikers I picked up, the conversation often gravitated towards Magwaza-Msibi. She was redefining KZN politics not by spewing hate for her former party but by modernising with an IFP constituency that felt its leadership was losing control. And right they were in many respects. The IFP had lost control of the province, it had lost control of the entire South Coast region and it was being pushed into a corner in the northern parts of Zululand. It controlled no major economic town, was infatuated with its leader and lived by a mantra of too old to fail.

Buthelezi spoke about his friends Jimmy Carter and Maggie Thatcher, and how the ANC had devised a plot to oust him. With Buthelezi, most debates degenerate into how any issue affects him. Magwaza-Msibi on the other hand spoke about empowerment, poverty and unemployment.

But now Magwaza-Msibi may be like a rabbit caught in the headlights of power. She has sold her party to the ANC. Her inexperience at negotiation, with which Buthelezi is well versed, may be her undoing.

We have seen this happen several times in 20 years of democracy. Parties that have aligned politically with a major player have disappeared or have not made another term. Coalition governments inevitably weaken the weaker party. For instance, the Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom have lost major hard-earned constituencies since their foray into power with David Cameron’s government. The LibDems, who for years were poor cousins to both Labour and the Tories, tried to grab power before their time but Cameron has grown in strength, delivering a sound economy amid a crisis in Europe.

While it was important for Magwaza-Msibi to go to national Parliament, keeping her autonomy should have been paramount. Traditional IFP-NFP voters are adverse to anything ANC. They spilt blood over their ideals, so this could send out the impression of selling out.

With Buthelezi expected to step down, although this is never guaranteed, a resurgent IFP with its established political roots could claw its way back to relevance — first by taking back its voters from the NFP and then targeting its lost generations from the ANC.

Of course, this is only possible if the IFP can live beyond Buthelezi’s grip. The net result is that there is yet another realignment of politics in a province where national power currently rests.

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