Celebration in honour of Dr Olusegun Obasanjo





Abeokuta, Ogun State: 5 March 2019

Your Excellency Dr Olusegun Obasanjo, our guest of honour;

Chairperson of the Centre for Human Security and Dialogue of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, Professor Akim Mabogunje;

Members of the Obasanjo family;

Distinguished guests from within the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and distinguished guests from the many countries who have been honoured to work with His Excellency, the former President.

I find it difficult to describe what I am feeling as I stand here this morning. There is a sense of tremendous joy, knowing that we have the privilege of celebrating the 82nd birthday of His Excellency Dr Obasanjo with this great man himself. I feel deep satisfaction in having the opportunity to be in Nigeria again, knowing the ties of this country to my own country, South Africa.

But I also feel the weight of great responsibility, for I must convey through my remarks today the exceptional admiration we have for Dr Olusegun Obasanjo, not only in South Africa, but throughout the African continent, and indeed throughout the world. He is deserving of every accolade.

My very first visit to Nigeria in 1976 was sponsored by His Excellency Dr Olusegun Obasanjo. I am here today as his guest again.

When a leader reaches my age – and I am far older than Dr Obasanjo – people often talk about their legacy. Dr Obasanjo’s legacy has been cast in gold. It will outlive him through many future generations. But it is not a closed book. His legacy is still being written.

Indeed he himself is still writing it. Just a couple of years ago, in May 2017, Dr Obasanjo and I were together in Durban, South Africa, at the launch of his book titled, “Making Africa Work: A Handbook for Economic Success”. Dr Obasanjo continues to offer us the benefit of his vast experience, wisdom and insight for the sake of freedom, democracy, social justice and economic growth.

And who better to write on a subject of such central importance to Africa than former President Olusegun Obasanjo? Under his leadership as President of Nigeria, the GDP of Nigeria grew phenomenally. Any president who can secure economic growth for their country, provides their people with the two things most needed: development and hope.

No wonder former President Joyce Banda read his book and said, “I wish I had had this handbook when I was President of Malawi.”! 

We have learned so much from Dr Obasanjo’s leadership, and we continue to learn from him. He has had a deep interest in South Africa for several decades. I am not surprised therefore that he has asked me to speak on the theme: “Colonialism, Apartheid, Freedom and South Africa Rising”. But I fear he is asking too much; not of me, but of you as my audience! If I cover this theme in any reasonable detail, we will be here all morning!

So I ask your forgiveness, Your Excellency, if I skip over a great deal of history for the sake of speaking about those moments that must be spoken about.

History reveals that most of the conflict of the past two hundred years, and the threats of future conflict, hinge on the scramble for Africa’s mineral resources. With the signing of the Treaty of Berlin in 1885, different portions of Africa were allocated to each of the European powers, who began planning how to take Africa’s resources out of Africa.

Fifteen years later, the British Empire created the Southern Nigeria Protectorate and the Northern Nigeria Protectorate, which were formally united in 1914 into the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. After World War II, however, growing demands for independence forced the British Government to legislate constitutions that moved Nigeria towards self-government.

Finally, in October 1954, the colony became the autonomous Federation of Nigeria. And on the first of October 1960, Nigeria became an independent State.

At the time, independence was sweeping across Africa. But even as African countries achieved their independence, they were not satisfied that their freedom was complete until all of Africa was liberated. While South Africa remained in chains, the leaders of Africa were determined to continue the fight for freedom. They provided vital support to our struggle.

Thus in 1960 when our liberation movements in South Africa were banned, many of our activists fled into exile to countries like Nigeria, Zambia, Tanzania, and elsewhere throughout Africa. Even though citizens of those countries were facing social challenges of their own, such as poverty and unemployment, they embraced our countrymen and women. You gave sanctuary to our exiles.

Moreover, when the African National Congress began its armed struggle, several African countries allowed the ANC to train their guerrilla soldiers on their soil.

Indisputably, South Africa owes a debt of gratitude to Nigeria, and to all of Africa, for supporting our liberation struggle. We owe our freedom to our friends as much as to our own people.

Today when we speak about South Africa’s liberation struggle, we tend to think in terms only of the struggle against Apartheid which began in 1948. We think of leaders like Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Inkosi Albert Luthuli and Robert Sobukwe. These men were my contemporaries, and I worked closely with all of them.

For those of us with a slightly longer memory, the liberation struggle in South Africa dates back before that, to 1912, when my uncle, Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme founded the South African National Native Congress, Africa’s oldest liberation movement.

But in truth, our struggle for liberation began long before that, with the Anglo-Zulu War, the so-called ‘kaffir wars’ in the Eastern Cape, and the colonial wars in which King Sekhukhune so distinguished himself, to the great admiration of my great grandfather King Cetshwayo.

This history is part of my very identity, for I am the maternal great grandson of King Cetshwayo whose Regiments participated in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. King Cetshwayo was the son of King Mpande, a brother of King Shaka, the founder of the Zulu Nation.

The Zulu Regiments defeated the British Army at Isandlwana on the 22nd of January 1879. They inflicted that crushing defeat on the British. My paternal grandfather Mkhandumba Buthelezi fought at Isandlwana and survived. His brother Mntumengana was amongst King Cetshwayo’s warriors who fell on that day. My paternal great grandfather, Mnyamana Buthelezi, was Commander-in-Chief of all the King’s Regiments during the Anglo-Zulu War.

In the end, in order to conquer the Zulu Nation in Ulundi on the 4th of July 1879, the British were forced to employ a force larger than that which they used to conquer India.

So, knowing this history, I understand that our struggle for freedom was waged for generations, long before my own turn came to walk upon that stage.

While delivering the Nelson Mandela Memorial Lecture in 2013, Professor Herbert Vilakazi succinctly explained colonialism. He said –

African people’s outrage in their encounter with Europeans, and all the wars waged by Africans against Europeans in Southern Africa, were over European civilization’s intention and practice of dispossessing Africans of their land, their freedom and independence, and the destruction of UBUNTU.”

Of course, one must draw a distinction between European settlers who became part of our country, seeing their future as intertwined with our own; and those whose mind and allegiance remained engulfed in the logics of colonialism. Colonialism pitted white against black, physically through conflict and psychologically through dispossession. But with the birth of Apartheid, racial segregation became institutionalised.

The grand scheme of Apartheid was to divide South Africa, portioning off the majority of its population into newly created independent states, in order to create a separate, new, white South Africa.

What the South African white minority regime tried to do is comparable with what the European Colonial powers tried to do at the Berlin Conference in 1885. Here was an illegitimate white minority regime arrogating to themselves powers to divide our country without any involvement of the Black majority indigenous population of the country.

What in fact they were trying to do was to make the Black majority foreigners in our own land. They then chose to deal with the 13 percent of the country which remained as bits and pieces of “reserves” which remained as Black areas when they dispossessed us of our land. The result was to make the whole of South Africa white territory and to make us, as indigenes, foreigners in the rest of our country.

This was to be done through the homelands system, which we in the liberation movement wholly rejected. Nevertheless, we were left with no choice. It was simply foisted on us. The only part that remained optional to the homelands, was taking independence. That was made optional so that the world could be told that we chose this foreign status of our own volition.

More than a decade later, in 1986, General Olusegun Obasanjo and Mr Malcolm Fraser, the former Prime Minister of Australia, co-chaired the Commonwealth Group of Eminent Persons. The Group spent five weeks in Southern Africa, observing, questioning and gathering information from Government Ministers, Members of Parliament, Ambassadors, businessmen, academics, journalists, trade unionists, civil rights activists, students, religious leaders and community organisers.

The Report they produced stands as eloquent testimony to the truth and the tragedy of the Apartheid system.

On the issue of homelands, their Report says the following –

“When in 1948 the incoming National Party Government, controlled by the Afrikaners, embarked on its systematic programme of apartheid, the Group Areas Act was passed. Under this law, urban blacks, coloured, Indians and whites, already segregated to some degree, were all to be compelled to live in their ‘own’ areas – areas designated by the State.

To make the Group Areas Act effective it is, of course, first necessary to classify each and every individual. This is provided for in… a rigid system based on appearance, general acceptance and descent, which divides up the population first into black, white and coloured…

…to diffuse power sufficiently… each black was (then) assigned to a particular part of the country according to his tribal origin, language and culture, even though these distinctions had faded…

Blacks now form ten ‘national units’, each with its ‘reserve’. Thus has the so-called ‘nation of minorities’ been fashioned by government fiat.

The ‘reserves’… were used by the architects of apartheid… to create the so-called ‘homelands’… giving some 86.3 percent of (the country’s) land to whites and a meagre 13.7 percent to about six times as many blacks.

The ‘homelands’ lack of geographical unity gives the lie to any basis in history. One ‘homeland’, KwaZulu, is now a jumble of some ten jigsaw pieces – an archipelagic ‘state’ scattered across a continental white ‘sea’.

In 1972… KwaZulu had as many as 29 separate island blocks.

Those living outside the areas designated for them were moved – voluntarily if they agreed, forcibly if they did not… Millions were moved, often to be dumped without compensation in distant, arid areas designated as their ‘homelands’.”

The ‘homelands’ are in reality rural slums, reservoirs of labour for the ‘white areas’ where more than four fifths of economic activity is located.”

The Eminent Persons’ Report goes on to recount the desperate circumstances in the homelands. It then says –

We were reminded by Ministers and white businessmen that there are worse slums in other parts of the world. ‘Here there is a First World and a Third World,’ we were told. ‘Do not judge the Third World by First World standards.’

Yet this is to ignore the calculated creation and maintenance of these different worlds in one country, and the determination that the demands of the First World should be met at the expense of the Third.

There is abysmal poverty elsewhere in the world, but nowhere is it institutionalised as in South Africa and with as little prospect for its victims to escape the poverty trap.”

When the homelands were first created, I was deeply engaged in the liberation struggle. Mr Oliver Tambo and Inkosi Albert Luthuli sent a message to me that if our people asked me to lead the KwaZulu homeland, I should not refuse. Realising that this system could not be avoided, they strategized on how we might undermine the system from within. That was the mandate I was given.

And I was able to fulfil it. For when the Apartheid regime approached me as the Chief Minister of KwaZulu to take independence, I refused.

I refused to do so. We rejected it. So the bits and pieces that the Eminent Persons Group referred to, which were called KwaZulu, never became a Bantustan. The Bantustans were the TBVC countries, as they were called, which acronym stood for Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei. KwaZulu remained part of South Africa until 1994 when we attained our freedom. In fact at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission President FW de Klerk admitted that it was our rejection of independence a’la Pretoria which forced them to abandon their grandiose scheme of Apartheid in 1990.

I wanted to ensure that not only could we pursue liberation within our own country, but that, when liberation was achieved, we would have an inheritance.

President Olusegun Obasanjo supported our stand against the homelands system. When the first homeland took independence in 1976 (the homeland of Transkei), President Obasanjo feared that I would be dragooned into attending the ceremony, as the Chief Minister of KwaZulu. I had no intention of attending. But I was delighted when President Obasanjo gave me a way out.

He arranged for me to be in Lagos on the very day that Transkei took independence, by inviting me to speak at the Nigerian Institute for International Affairs. In fact, he sent plane tickets for me, for my wife Princess Irene, for my Private Secretary Mr Eric Ngubane and for Mr Gibson Thula.

We were received by the Foreign Minister, General Joseph Garba, and stayed at the Federal Guest House where Mr Sam Nujoma, who later became the first President of Namibia, was also staying.

President Obasanjo arranged for Mr Tambo and I to meet in Lagos, knowing that we took every opportunity to see one another, in London, Mangoche, Lusaka, and Nairobi.

It was a tremendous honour to be made an honorary Oba during that trip. I was also flown to the north, where I was received by the Emir of Zaira and where I addressed the students at Ahmad Bello University. And I was taken to visit the grave of the assassinated Head of State General Murtala Mohammed.

I will forever be grateful to Dr Obasanjo for enabling me to avoid attending that first independence ceremony which took Transkei out of South Africa.

When I heard the remarks that had been made on the eve of the ceremony by Prime Minister John Vorster, I was livid.

Let me quote the opening paragraphs –

Since Union in 1910 successive South African Governments have consistently recognised the differences among the peoples of South Africa.

As far back as 1913 legal recognition was given to the right of the various Black peoples to the land they themselves had chosen as their own homes and where they had established their own economies within their own cultural contexts and norms which were acceptable and comprehensible to them – economies differing not only from those of the Whites, Coloureds and Asians, but also differing among the Black groups, so that each economy bore the distinctive mark of the character, culture and traditions of that particular Black people.

These facts demanded to be recognised in the policy of the South African Government, and were indeed recognised. Non-recognition would have meant a disregard of the aspirations and identity of each population group and a negation of all they are proud of.”

That was the kind of rhetoric we were dealing with. It stands in sharp contrast to the facts as reported ten years later by the Commonwealth Group of Eminent Persons.

At the time of that visit by the Eminent Persons Group, in 1986, the South African Government had no intention of negotiating political liberation. I was working at that stage to unite South Africans across racial divides, with the common purpose of securing freedom. I had chaired the South African Black Alliance, which brought together Inkatha, the coloured Labour Party, the Indian Reform Party, and other African political parties like the Dikwakwentla Party from the Free State and the Inyandza Movement from KaNgwane. Two years later, my administration established the Buthelezi Commission.

Building on the work of the Buthelezi Commission, the KwaZulu/Natal Indaba succeeded in creating the KwaZulu-Natal Joint Executive Authority. This was South Africa’s first non-racial, non-discriminatory government, established long before constitutional negotiations began. It gave the example of how governance by all, for all could be achieved.

This was all around the time of Dr Obasanjo’s visit with the Eminent Persons Group. We admired Dr Obasanjo for his consistently bold approach. During that visit to South Africa in 1986 he did many defiant things. He invaded sections of a beach reserved for whites, by taking a walk there. He sat on benches reserved for whites, and even used a public restroom that was reserved for whites. Clearly these were the actions of an angry young man that he was at the time.

Years later, Dr Obasanjo shared with me something else that had happened during that visit. He told me that as an ‘Eminent Person’ he had been allowed to visit Nelson Mandela on Robben Island. He took the opportunity to ask Madiba about me and the work I was doing to liberate South Africa. Madiba responded with these words: “Buthelezi is a freedom fighter in his own right.”

These words are significant, for by that time Madiba’s his own party, the ANC, had been waging a vicious campaign of vilification against me and against my organisation, Inkatha yeNkululeko yeSizwe, for several years.

I had founded Inkatha as a national cultural liberation movement in 1975. It was intended to reignite political mobilisation in South Africa, in the hiatus that followed the banning of the ANC and other liberation organisations. Its formation was suggested to me by President Kenneth Kaunda, when I visited Lusaka in 1974 to thank him for giving sanctuary to our exiles.

I must pause here to mention that I had the privilege of meeting with Dr Kaunda again just a fortnight ago, in Zambia. He spoke about this advice he had given to me in 1974, to form Inkatha. So perhaps it is best if I quote him in his own words.

He said –

“Clearly conditions in Apartheid South Africa made the struggle for liberation waged from outside the country necessary. But at the same time this was not completely ideal because it made the internal mobilisation and organisation of your oppressed masses difficult. We were facing a real difficult situation and ordinary people in (South Africa) were beginning to lose hope in the struggle. This is the challenge the African National Congress in which you were a prominent member was faced with. We therefore decided to come up with other means of mobilising the masses inside South Africa. It was then that we agreed to instruct you to form a mass based organisation from within. Because a dangerous vacuum was developing in that country. I and other leaders of the frontline states, together with comrade Oliver Tambo of the ANC were convinced that you should take up a new role in the organisation. You were the most suited for this job because you came from the Zulu royal family. When you visited in 1974 you were encouraged to go back to Apartheid South Africa and form a membership based organisation…

You shouldered that responsibility and advanced the struggle for liberation… during that critical period of our time. Let me thank you for taking up that historical instruction and task with such dedication and honour.

I know there were difficult days in the struggle especially in the 1980s when brother turned against brother resulting in unfortunate violence and death among black people. It is during that period that you showed your unwavering courage and commitment to the cause of liberation…

Thank you once again for the course you took with such dedication…. Your role in the struggle is never in doubt.”

The difficult days to which Dr Kaunda refers, when brother turned against brother, arose out of an ideological difference between Inkatha and the ANC.

In 1976, the year that President Obasanjo arranged a meeting between Mr Tambo and I, Tambo addressed the United Nations General Assembly as the recognised representative of the South African people, and launched the ANC’s call for international sanctions against South Africa and large scale disinvestment.

I could not agree to this call, as I understood then what is common cause now; that sanctions and disinvestment hurt the poorest of the poor the most, and lay the foundation for monopolies and cartels. I therefore travelled extensively, meeting Heads of State, including Prime Minister Thatcher, President Jimmy Carter, President Reagan, President Bush, Chancellor Kohl in Germany and Prime Minister Den Uyl in Holland, persuading them against sanctions and disinvestment.

In 1977, the leadership of the ANC on Robben Island agreed to appoint Mr Tambo as the President General of the ANC. It was in that year that guerrilla warfare began in earnest, as the strategy of an armed struggle was launched by the ANC’s mission-in-exile. The ANC’s top leadership had visited Vietnam to learn about the strategy of ‘people’s war’ which they then imposed on South Africa.

This finally caused a split between Inkatha and the ANC. I could not abandon the principle of non-violence which had been laid at the foundation of our liberation movement by my own uncle, the founder of the ANC, Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme.

Inkatha and the ANC’s leadership-in-exile met in London in October 1979 to discuss these ideological differences. Mr Tambo, whom I still regarded as my leader, invited me to London with a delegation of the Inkatha National Cultural Liberation Movement. Tambo was accompanied by a delegation of the ANC.

For two and a half days we discussed two matters which Mr Tambo put on the table: the imposition of economic sanctions and disinvestment on South Africa, and support for the armed struggle.

While our discussions were cordial, we could not find agreement. I hoped that we could continue with a multi-strategy approach, without Inkatha’s structures being used to channel weapons and violence into South Africa.

Tragically, after that meeting, it became evident that the ANC disagreed. It was felt that I was refusing to toe the line, and immediately I became the enemy. I was vilified in my own country and internationally, and my life was in danger more than once. Indeed assassination threats became par for the course.

Over time, the animosity stirred by this campaign of vilification against me, between supporters of Inkatha and supporters of the ANC, degenerated into a low-intensity, internecine civil war. In the end, some 20 000 lives were lost to black-on-black violence. Inkatha became the target of a people’s war, brought to South Africa by the ANC.

I thank God that, somehow, more than a decade of propaganda and lies could not erase the truth. Throughout Africa and the world, my credentials as an opponent of Apartheid were known. I was warmly received by Heads of State, including President Nyerere in Tanzania, President Kaunda in Zambia, President Obasanjo in Nigeria, the King of Swaziland and the King of Lesotho. This was apart from Heads of State in Europe and the USA.

I was a guest of President Hastings Banda at the celebration of Malawi’s independence in 1972, and attended the Africa-American Dialogue Series in Ethiopia where I met His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie. In Liberia, President Tolbert bestowed upon me a National Order, The Knight Commander of the Star of Africa.

In Addis Ababa I was well received by the Under-Secretary of the OAU, Dr Peter Onu, one of Nigeria’s great sons. The role of the OAU in the decolonisation of Africa and the dismantling of Apartheid cannot be underestimated. The OAU played a great role, and Nigeria was in the forefront of this battle.

But the years of black-on-black violence and propaganda created a wound in our country that is yet to be fully healed. I appreciate Dr Obasanjo’s ongoing pursuit of reconciliation between the ANC, and my Party, the Inkatha Freedom Party.

In 2004, when my term of office as Minister of Home Affairs ended, President Obasanjo sought to negotiate what he called “a soft landing” for me, in recognition of my role in South Africa. I salute him for his efforts to address this with the then Head of State, Mr Thabo Mbeki.

President Mbeki had great respect for President Obasanjo. I know that he still does, for just a few years ago Dr Obasanjo addressed Mr Mbeki’s Africa Day commemoration in Johannesburg, where we were delighted to see each other again.

During their time in office, President Obasanjo and President Mbeki worked well together, initiating the New Partnership for Africa’s Development. The goal of NEPAD was to eradicate poverty in Africa and to enable sustainable growth and development for the countries of this continent. Accordingly, NEPAD was focussed on the need to promote democracy across Africa.

It was a unique pleasure for me to see Dr Obasanjo elected to a second term of office as President of Nigeria, in 1999. Serving in the Cabinet of President Mbeki, I was able to support the work of President Obasanjo. Our friendship, forged in the fires of South Africa’s liberation struggle, deepened as we laboured in the fields of democracy.

I recall how the whole world expressed its admiration for this great democrat, Dr Obasanjo, when he handed over the reins of government peacefully to President Shagari Shehu.

Even after his retirement, Dr Obasanjo retained his great interest in South Africa. In 2009, as a guest of the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, Dr Obasanjo observed South Africa’s fourth democratic elections. I was touched by his presence at the offices of the Buthelezi Traditional Council as I and my wife cast our votes.

Elections, of course, remain the cornerstone of any democracy. Like Nigeria, South Africa is in an election year. Just 63 days from now, we will go to the polls again to vote for a national and provincial leadership. The IFP will be contesting these elections as the third largest opposition party.

The Democratic Alliance, which is presently the official opposition, is still perceived by many as representing white interests, despite the fact that it is now led by a very able African leader and boasts today of a large African membership. The Economic Freedom Fighters, who broke away from the ANC several years, is challenging the Democratic Alliance, whom it must defeat in order to challenge the ANC for leadership, or to be the official opposition instead of the Democratic Alliance.

The issues of poverty, inequality and unemployment are high on the agenda in South Africa. But taking centre stage is the issue of land expropriation without compensation. This is a burning issue in our country at the moment. It goes back to the vast inequality in land ownership and access to land created by our past of colonialism and apartheid. We are still seeking way to redress the past.

While we do that, the ANC is fighting its own demons, in the form of corruption and state capture. The Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture is revealing shocking evidence of the depth of corruption that has taken root amongst the leadership of the ruling Party. 

There are many challenges facing the African continent right now, but to my mind the biggest is undoubtedly corruption.

It pains me to see South Africa ranking so poorly on the Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International. That simple statistic speaks volumes about the mistakes we have made, allowing resources to be consumed by greed and abuse.

Our people have been struggling for so long, against so much hardship. We must ensure that every cent set aside in the budget is used for what it was intended. When corruption rises, services dry up and social justice falters.

The problem of corruption is pervasive throughout Africa, which tells us that a proactive response is needed. Only six countries in the African Union have ranked above 50 on the Corruption Index.

This is difficult to hear and perhaps it stirs our anger. But we must accept the facts, and fix it. When we look at countries like the Seychelles and Botswana, who have become paragons of excellence, we need to ask what they did to achieve this. We know that Botswana, for instance, reinforced its legal and institutional frameworks, and made resources available specifically to fight corruption.

There are measures we can take, and we must take them. I remember the words of President Nelson Mandela when he was speaking to international journalists more than twenty years ago. He said, “Little did we suspect that our own people, when they got a chance, would be as corrupt as the apartheid regime. That is one of the things that has really hurt us.”

If we can overcome this challenge in Africa, we will open the possibilities for growth, development and social justice that were the dream of my generation.

I must reassure you; there are signs that a line has been drawn in the sand in South Africa. One year into office, President Ramaphosa is determined to place our country back on a path of economic recovery.

I am grateful that the President is also mindful of social cohesion and the need to recover unity among our people through reconciliation. Clearly South Africa is at a crossroads, for we have no future without unity, and unity is severely under fire.

The role of the IFP in all this is as a voice of reason. We call for social cohesion, reconciliation, unity and shared development. We believe in building, rather than tearing down. And we believe that social and economic justice cannot be achieved simply by seeking vengeance for past injustice. It will take a decision by all our people to see one future for all.

Above all, the IFP is a champion of democracy. It is this that makes us great admirers of Dr Olusegun Obasanjo.

There is a long-proven connection between the development of democratic institutions and social and economic development. We must therefore promote democracy as an African project. Across Africa, we need to become intransigent about human rights protection. And we must create the unity of purpose that makes it possible for us to rise.

As I leave you to reflect on these ideas, there is perhaps nothing left for me to say but to wish my dear friend a very happy birthday. Your Excellency Dr Obasanjo, we pray God’s richest blessings upon you, for you deserve every one of them. And as you and I both happily know, our God exists.

I thank you.