An insider’s account of Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s political career

2017-10-19 06:00

WAY back when Mangosuthu Buthelezi was chief minister of KwaZulu, the Pretoria government sent an apparatchik to Ulundi as director-general to control him and undermine his increasing popularity.

However, the official, Stan Armstrong, soon underwent a “Damascene” conversion and pledged his loyalty to Buthelezi, while pretending that he was carrying out his brief. This is one of a number of fascinating bits of information in the memoirs of Dr Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, who was a key adviser to Buthelezi during the constitutional negotiations before the 1994 transition and afterwards, when he was minister of Home Affairs for 10 years in the governments of national unity led by Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.

The memoirs — The Prince and I: A South African Institutional Odyssey — were published this year by the estate of Oriani-Ambrosini, who died in 2014.

Oriani-Ambrosini introduces a new concept into the analysis of the violence which plagued South Africa in the years preceding and immediately after the first all-race election, which took place 23 years ago. The ANC and the media portrayed the violence as a two-sided affair between the ANC and the National Party (NP) government and its supposed surrogates in a “third force”. However, the memoirs argue, the conflict was essentially “triangular” in that the ANC was concerned not only to confront the NP, but also to eliminate black opposition. According to Oriani-Ambrosini, neither the Truth and Reconciliation Commission nor the Goldstone Commission wanted to probe this aspect of the violence. Turning to the constitutional negotiations, the memoirs argue that F.W. de Klerk might have wanted to create an alliance with Buthelezi, but that Roelf Meyer was determined on a deal with the ANC. The result was the “record of understanding” between the ANC and the NP signed on September 26, 1992, in which the NP had “sold its soul to the devil”.

After coming to power in 1994, the ANC sought a merger with the IFP to unify blacks. Several key figures in the IFP favoured such a merger. Their argument was that “black people should set aside differences and pursue their common liberation agenda in an environment in which politics would forcibly be racially divided and polarised.” Buthelezi, however, “relentlessly” resisted this argument as inimical to democracy and any kind of black-white partnership.

Says Oriani-Ambrosini: “He doubted that black people could achieve more for themselves in separation from and with hostility towards white people.”

Experience had taught Buthelezi that he could work with whites to achieve results that would benefit the poor in his “vast constituencies”.

Among the book’s concise 79 chapters are several dealing with Buthelezi’s tenure as minister of Home Affairs, and his attempts to introduce a liberal immigration policy based on market principles and free of political control. Written by an insider, this book is an important contribution to rectifying the one-sided view of South Africa’s transition that is still so prevalent.

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