Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
The staff in my parliamentary office have framed a copy of the Cape Times headline this week – BUTHELEZI, MALEMA KISS AND MAKE UP. “We never thought we’d see it in this lifetime,” they excitedly told me.
This is the same sentiment I have heard expressed by many different people, from many different backgrounds, since the EFF and the IFP appeared in a joint press conference on Monday. Seeing Mr Malema apologise for insults he has hurled at me in the past is certainly unexpected.
Some South Africans have contacted the IFP to praise me for my willingness to forgive. One generous doctor wrote, “This statesmanlike ethos, last exemplified by Madiba, has been very well received by the local, national and international community and has placed President Buthelezi apart from all the other politicians, worldwide.”
Others, however, have been less benevolent, questioning how I could possibly lead the IFP into a merger with the EFF. I am amazed at how quickly and completely this meeting was misunderstood.
There is no merger between the IFP and the EFF. There was no talk of a “marriage of convenience”, as some have speculated, and no discussion on a political coalition either before or after the elections. We went into this meeting without any intention of joining forces, and we came out of the meeting as separate, individual and different as we ever were.
The EFF wrote to the IFP in September 2013, requesting an opportunity to meet with our National Executive Committee in order to introduce themselves as a new political party, contesting the 2014 elections. The IFP’s NEC agreed to meet, for we have an open door policy towards anyone wishing to discuss the needs of South Africa. Our two parties then sought a date and time for that meeting.
Finally, the IFP’s NEC hosted the meeting on Monday 20 January calling a joint press conference immediately after the meeting to ensure that everything was out in the open and nothing could be misinterpreted.
As our bi-lateral meeting opened, I acknowledged that the behaviour of the then President of the ANC Youth League had gone against the grain of constructive politics and dignified leadership, and that that had caused deep friction. I did not ask for an apology. But I pointed out that the electorate deserves more than mudslinging and we have a shared responsibility to raise the political discourse to a higher standard.
In response, Mr Malema expressed regret for his past behaviour, which was born out of the environment in which he found himself. Like many young people, he said, he was force-fed propaganda against me and acted on what he was blindly led to believe. Having stepped out of that mould, and considered the facts, he realised that he owed me an apology.
I am no newcomer to politics or the modus operandi of our opponents. I know very well that the old propaganda machine that was launched into action in 1979 has never truly stopped turning. So I know that what Mr Malema averred was the truth. But I was still surprised by his public apology in the joint press conference following our meeting.
In that conference, Mr Malema told the media that he has realised that I am “an elder statesman” and someone from whom young people, like himself, should learn.
He apologised for his past behaviour, and I forgave him, because that is in my nature and is dictated by my faith. Over the years, I have forgiven many acts of betrayal, treachery and sabotage. I find that forgiveness is quite easy, once you realise that it releases both the victim and the perpetrator.
I pointed out, to the media’s delight, that Mr Malema and I are now both factory faults of the ANC, as he once called me. We both climbed off the production line and began thinking for ourselves.
But that does not mean that we began thinking the same thoughts. The IFP and the EFF are both deeply concerned by the growing economic and social inequality in our nation. Both parties seek economic freedom and social justice. But what that looks like, and how we get there, is something on which we do not agree.
The IFP has been outspoken against the call to nationalise South Africa’s mines and we have been candid on the need to protect, and foster, social harmony, racial reconciliation and nation building. We disagreed strongly on many of the stands taken by Mr Malema in the past and will, no doubt, find ourselves diametrically opposed on further issues in the future.
But we accept the fact that the EFF is now part of the political landscape and will have an impact on politics going forward. We also recognise that multi-party democracy is crucial to South Africa’s future, and that a multiplicity of voices is needed to represent the diverse views and aspirations of our people.
There are issues on which all opposition parties agree, from those like the IFP who have been at the coalface of governance and leadership for almost forty years, to those who are facing their first election in 2014.
One of these issues is the terrible toll that corruption is taking on our country. Another is the need to level the playing field, particularly when it comes to SABC news coverage, so that the ruling party no longer enjoys a clear advantage over the opposition. Surely it is in the interests of the voter for our public broadcaster to air the election manifesto launch of every political party, instead of just the one in power.
Opposition parties also agree that the IEC should not be using teachers aligned to the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union as electoral officers, for SADTU is aligned to the ruling party. Considering the consistent pattern of voter fraud, intimidation and other tricks used to sway election results, in every election since 1994, greater care should be taken to ensure truly free and fair elections.
The IFP and the EFF agree on these matters. But that doesn’t make us one party.
There is no talk of a merger or a coalition. The character of the IFP, tested and proven over forty years, remains the same. We stand for the same values of integrity, democracy, non-violence, federalism, social responsibility, good governance and good citizenship that we have always stood for.
To those who feel affronted by my forgiving Mr Malema, I must point out that I forgave him on my own behalf, for insults he directed at me personally. He will still need to face the voice of the electorate, through the ballot box.
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP