I did not walk these last 42 years alone - Buthelezi, as he bows out of politics

2017-10-31 07:23
Mangosuthu Buthelezi. (File, Netwerk24)

Mangosuthu Buthelezi. (File, Netwerk24)

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Johannesburg - As he closes a chapter on his political life, Inkatha Freedom Party leader Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi says he plans to spend more time with his wife, Princess Irene.

After more than four decades at the helm of the party he founded in 1975, the IFP leader announced during a press briefing in Durban on Sunday that he would be stepping down at the party's next national general elective conference.

Velenkosini Hlabisa, mayor of Hlabisa, in northern KwaZulu-Natal, has been nominated by a meeting of party members to take over the reins.

READ: Buthelezi a foremost leader of SA's 'transition to democracy' - DA

News24 spoke to Buthelezi about his achievements, setbacks and what the future holds for him.

In a written response, Buthelezi, 89, said letting go of the position was bitter sweet.

"Naturally there is some sadness in seeing this particular chapter of my life draws to a close. But we have been working toward this moment for several years now, so the transition feels peaceful and right.

"I have confidence in the leadership of the IFP," said Buthelezi.  

High hopes for 2019

Asked about the party's comeback in the 2014 elections after scores of its members left to join the then newly formed National Freedom Party, led by Zanele KaMagwaza-Msibi, Buthelezi said it was not himself that had performed well but the party.

"Following the engineering split in the party in 2011, the IFP regrouped and came back more united. We were able to rally under one vision. Our legacy of integrity became more prominent in the public eye as South Africa moved further into a crisis of corruption and weak leadership. Thus our message resonated with the electorate in 2014, and I believe it will do so again in 2019."

READ: IFP's Mangosuthu Buthelezi to step down

Buthelezi said the party's greatest achievement was remaining true to the principle of non-violence, under the most torturous circumstances.

He said the party's last proud moment was when it participated in the negotiations for a democratic SA.

Buthelezi has over the years been criticised for holding on to power, with suggestions that when he did finally retire, it would spell the end of the party.

"I am one man. This party is more than that the sum of its parts. Aside from the strong leaders we have, the IFP has membership of active citizens. Their loyalty is to the principles and legacy of the IFP. I have no doubt that the party will continue.

"After all, I didn't walk the last 42 years alone."

Internal battles not expected

On whether a date had been set for the party's national elective conference where Buthelezi is expected to officially step down, Buthelezi said several congresses had to be held first.

"According to our constitution, our national elective conference must be preceded by provincial elective conferences and elective conferences of the IFP Women's Brigade and the youth brigade. We have been engaged in preparations for these conferences, so that they can take place without delay."

Buthelezi said he did not foresee any internal squabbles as the party elects new leadership.

He said during the party's extended national council meeting at the weekend, members were given a chance to stand for nomination for party president and Hlabisa was the only nominee.

So where to now for Buthelezi?

"Obviously I will stay in the country!" he quipped.

'Money and prestige'

"I love South Africa and have given my life to serving it. I intend to spend a great deal more [time] with my wife and family. I may also submit to the many calls for me to pen memoirs. But I have made myself available to assist the IFP and to work alongside its new leader for as long as the Lord keeps me in good health.

"I will play whatever role my party requests."

Giving advice to other politicians, Buthelezi said: "Politics is not something you should get into for money and prestige. You need to have a calling to serve."

On overcoming the scourge of corruption, Buthelezi said he believes the power to overcome corruption lies in the hands of the people.

"It is a power exercised through the ballot box, but also through the everyday decisions not to tolerate or engage in corruption. It is the refusal to take a bribe, even when it would be easier.

"It is the willingness to turn in a colleague, even when friendship will be ruined... We have the power to stop corruption, but we need to do it now," he said.

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