Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
The political landscape is changing as we approach the 2014 elections and many questions are being asked about what these changes signify for multi-party democracy and for the future politics, and governance, of South Africa.
This is not the first time we have seen dramatic moves in our country.
Twenty three years ago today, on 29 January 1991, Nelson Mandela and I emerged from the Royal Hotel, following more than ten hours of discussions between his delegation and a delegation of the IFP, and announced the Royal Hotel Accord.
In it, our parties agreed to ban the “killing talk” which characterised so much of the ANC’s and PAC’s rhetoric. We agreed to draft a code of conduct to be adhered to by our two organisations, which included renouncing vilification and intimidation. We committed ourselves to end attacks, and to cooperate to restore peace and establish “a united, non-racial and democratic South Africa”, eradicating apartheid.
This historic meeting was precipitated by the deaths of thousands upon thousands of victims of a low intensity, black-on-black civil war that had been raging in KwaZulu Natal and the Transvaal. This deadly conflict was born of the ANC’s People’s War, which targeted Inkatha supporters in a campaign to secure political hegemony after elections. It instigated violence, counter violence, and pre-emptive attacks.
During that painful time, I attended one funeral after the next and wept with widows, brothers and orphans at the brutality of our loss. Our streets ran red with blood. Wherever I went I spoke the same message of peace, impressing on my people the principle of non-violence upon which Inkatha was founded. In the face of despicable violence, I begged for no retaliation.
It was this principle of non-violence which led Inkatha to reject the armed struggle when the ANC’s mission-in-exile approached us to take up arms and avail our structures for militant attacks in South Africa. Inkatha refused to adopt a strategy of violence.
Continuing to stand on this principle, I pleaded for peace in every corner of our country and relentlessly pursued an end to the black-on-black conflict. I was not alone in deploring the violence.
Nelson Mandela, who was a family friend and who maintained correspondence with me throughout his incarceration, wrote in his last letter to me before his release of the pain it caused him to hear of the on-going bloodshed. He asked that we meet as soon as he was released to find a way to end the conflict.
Our meeting at the Royal Hotel on the 29th of January 1991 sought just that. We emerged from that meeting with the understanding that Mandela and I would address joint rallies of the ANC and IFP, to move the agenda of reconciliation forward by appearing on the same podium before our warring supporters.
We both understood that reconciliation would only flow from the top, down. Our people needed to see their respective leaders standing side by side, delivering a shared message of peace. Only then would it filter down to the grassroots and be embraced as the way forward. This is the responsibility of leadership, and it weighed heavily upon us both.
Mandela and I never stopped pursuing reconciliation between our parties. But we were democrats, not sovereigns, and we often had to pull our people along this path. We did so cognisant of the deep need in our country for healing.
Reconciliation was a necessary step towards that vision of a truly free South Africa for which we both gave our lives.
Twenty years into democracy, I keep pressing forward, calling on our present leadership to place reconciliation back on the agenda and to fulfil the responsibility of leadership to model reconciliation.
I press on because I see a growing divide being nurtured in our society. Not only have we neglected reconciliation, but many of our leaders are deliberately walking away from this unreached goal. I fear for our future, for where our leaders go, our people will follow.
Yesterday’s announcement by the Democratic Alliance that the leader of Agang, Dr Mamphela Ramphele, will stand as the DA’s presidential candidate in the imminent elections has been met with comments that can be read as nothing less than racist. Regardless of the DA’s, or Dr Ramphele’s motives, comments by ANC leaders that this is a case of “rent a black leader” are out of place in a twenty year old democracy.
The determination to paint the DA as a “white party” is predictable as a political strategy. But the consequences of running a race-based campaign, for the sake of consolidating power, are overwhelmingly destructive.
The fact that the ruling party is willing to set back nation building and tear down the fragile unity that leaders like myself and Nelson Mandela so painstakingly constructed, merely for the sake of greater power, points to a future of division, antagonism and hatred.
That is not the future I have given more than sixty years to securing. It is not the vision upon which our liberation struggle began and endured. When I think back to the People’s War, I recognise that the pursuit of power has seen the ANC compromise its principles before. But this generation of leaders seems willing to compromise far more. They are compromising our nation’s future and the achievement of a South Africa hundreds of years in the making.
Who is on whose party list, and who is on the list, is captivating a great deal of attention at this juncture. The IFP is likely to be the last to release our party list for the coming election, for we are occupied with the real business of politics; serving our nation.
In the hurly burly of electioneering, that seems to have been forgotten by all but the IFP.
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP