PRINCE MANGOSUTHU BUTHELEZI MP
PRESIDENT EMERITUS OF THE INKATHA FREEDOM PARTY
AND FORMER CHIEF MINISTER OF THE KWAZULU GOVERNMENT
Chairperson of the Trust, Professor OEHM Nxumalo; Deputy Chairperson, the Hon. Mr Velenkosini Hlabisa MPL, and Members of the Board of Trustees; Representative of the Oppenheimer Family, Dr Greg Mills; our guest speaker, Mr John Kane Berman; Vice Chancellor and Principal of the Mangosuthu University of Technology, Dr Enoch Malaza; Chief Director in the Office of the Premier, Dr Vusi Shongwe; Programme Directors, Mr Musa Myeni and the Hon. Mr Les Govender; National Chairperson of the IFP, the Hon. Mr Blessed Gwala, and members of the IFP’s National Executive Committee; members of my own family; distinguished guests.
In February 1991, The New York Times Magazine carried an article titled, “The Chief Steps Forward.” In it, is a quote by Mr John Kane Berman that still makes me laugh. He said, and I quote –
“Buthelezi has been written off so many times that he ought to be a black hole… Whether you like the guy or not, he’s got the ability to survive in an incredibly tough marketplace.”
Prophetic words indeed, for here I am still in this incredibly tough marketplace!
I am gratified though that I have entered the phase of “last chapter” in which so many of my friends and colleagues are starting to think about my legacy. I appreciate this very much, for the life I have lived is worth remembering, simply because it was lived out on the world stage of struggle. Struggle for freedom, struggle for equality, and struggle for social justice.
I consider the launch of this Trust as a marker along the journey of struggle. It is a reminder of our victories, and the tremendous good that is birthed when like-minded individuals collaborate.
Mr Harry Oppenheimer and I were kindred spirits. We thought the same way about poverty and development. From vastly different stations, our shared beliefs saw friendship blossom. And in the convergence of our patriotism, practical plans emerged.
Mr John Kane Berman has given us wonderful food for thought this morning. My task is simply to respond. So I will not take much time. But I feel it important that I speak from the heart about my late friend, Mr Oppenheimer, and give him the credit that is due on this important occasion.
Mr Harry Oppenheimer was a progressive thinker; unusual for the South Africa we lived in at the time. Whenever he spoke, his rejection of apartheid and segregation was evident. The paths of political correctness and conventional wisdom were not for him. Instead, he followed his convictions, which were born out of an innate sense of social justice and humanitarian concern.
No wonder he found himself persona non grata at the dinner tables of the political elite. Despite being the most powerful figure in South Africa’s economy for a quarter of a century, several decades passed before his first invitation to dine with the Prime Minister. Some of us who are older remember with amusement the familiar figure in the Afrikaans press known as Hoggenheimer!
Those were difficult times to speak with a different voice. I think of two instances in which Mr Oppenheimer and I stood apart from the popular thinking, and I remember the criticism rained down on us for doing so.
The first was with regard to international sanctions and disinvestment from South Africa. This campaign was launched by the ANC’s mission-in-exile with the intention of isolating apartheid South Africa and thus applying pressure towards political change.
I could not support this campaign. I understood that the heaviest burden would be carried by the poorest of the poor, with job losses and deepening poverty. The laager mentality of apartheid industrialists would simply result in monopolies and cartels. Mr Oppenheimer too could not agree. In an interview in 1987 he said, and I quote – “I’m not one of the people who think that sanctions have no effect. I think they have a very serious effect in South Africa, but I think the effect is bad… And it certainly doesn’t force the government to change their policy. You know these highly nationalistic people in South Africa are extremely allergic to pressure from outside. In fact they become very bloody-minded about this sort of thing…”
My opposition to sanctions saw me branded a “collaborator” and a “puppet of the apartheid regime”. From exile, the ANC launched a vicious campaign of vilification against me. It was hard to bear, for I had grown up in the ANC and worked closely with leaders like Inkosi Albert Luthuli, Mr Oliver Tambo, Mr Nelson Mandela and Mr Walter Sisulu. At the request of the ANC leadership, I was working to undermine the apartheid system from within. In fact I did this as a cadre of the ANC on the instructions of my leaders; Inkosi Albert Luthuli and Oliver Tambo. It is often described as my genus, it was Luthuli’s genius.
But knowing that I was not completely alone fortified my strength to stick to my convictions. Mr Oppenheimer’s shared opposition to sanctions encouraged me to travel throughout the world to reason with Heads of State.
The second instance where we stood alone against the consensus was with the introduction of the tricameral system. Through the Homelands system, black South Africans had already been fobbed off and made foreigners in our own country. I rejected nominal independence for KwaZulu specifically to protect black citizenship.
With the tricameral system, blacks were again being provoked and told to wait their turn indefinitely while coloured and Indians gained representation in Parliament.
The entire business community and white media hailed the tricameral system as “a first step in the right direction”. I will never forget, for as long as I live, Mr Oppenheimer’s support when I stood against it. He alone stood with me, campaigning for a No vote in the whites-only referendum on 2 November 1983. I was isolated and labelled “irrational”. But I knew that Mr Oppenheimer and I were standing on the side of right.
I found his humility quite remarkable. He spoke so modestly of his contribution to our country’s political freedom, when his contribution was in fact profoundly influential. His own summary was simply this: “I feel that in the direct political way I was able to achieve virtually nothing, except to keep what I considered a voice of common sense and humanity alive.”
But Mr Oppenheimer was a pioneer of social justice, through both action and philanthropy.
Many of our conversations returned to education and how it could be championed to secure economic growth and improved living conditions for our people. While he was serving as Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, I was Chancellor of the University of Zululand. Incidentally, in 1978, when I received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Cape Town, I had the privilege of being capped by Mr Oppenheimer
I was often a guest at his dinner table. On one such occasion, after dinner, the men retired to the library to talk politics and, as he often did, Mr Oppenheimer asked me what he could do to assist our people. I therefore recounted to my friend how, with each graduation ceremony at the University of Zululand, our graduates would ask me, “What use is a degree when there are no jobs to be found?”
We began to talk then about the need for technical training that would equip black South Africans to enter the labour force, start businesses, and create jobs.
Mr Oppenheimer caught the vision immediately. Through the Chairman’s Fund of Anglo American and de Beers, he provided R5 million to build a tertiary institution that offered vocational training. Thus the Mangosuthu Technikon was born. I never intended it to take my name. This was suggested by Dr Oscar Dhlomo, the Minister of Education in KwaZulu.
When the Mangosuthu Technikon opened its doors in 1979, we had just 15 students. Four decades later, the Mangosuthu University of Technology is a thriving centre of academic excellence, research and collaboration. It has produced graduates who have gone on to make their mark in society as thought leaders, activists, professionals and dynamic citizens. I am proud of the legacy of this institution.
Were it not for Mr Oppenheimer, this University would not exist. All those who have graduated from MUT, and all those who have jobs because of their studies at MUT, owe a debt of gratitude to Mr Harry Oppenheimer. I say this because it’s true. I believe that the present narrative about our country’s past needs to be honest.
The Oppenheimers had a tremendous social conscience. They wanted to be part of a real liberation of our country and they sought ways to shape South Africa into a more just, gentle and prosperous society.
In many ways, it is difficult to quantify Mr Oppenheimer’s contribution to political liberation, social justice, and reconciliation. It was often the simplest conversations that changed minds and reset the trajectory of our country.
I think the launch of this Trust has a similar story. It started from a simple conversation, about the need to memorialise and honour a joint legacy. As we have heard, it grew into a momentous task which has already spanned several years. I appreciate the work done by the late Professor Herbert Vilakazi and by the late Honourable Mrs Inka Mars. And I appreciate the work that has bene done by Professor Nxumalo and his team of Trustees. Not to leave out the name of the Honourable Mr M B Gwala, Member of the KZN Legislature and National Chairperson of the IFP.
The vision for this Trust is laudable. It will, of course, require funding. But I have found in my life that where there is value, there are visionaries willing to invest. And this initiative has tremendous value. It is reminder, as I said, of our victory over struggle.
In the present circumstances of our country, we need to be reminded. There is hope. There are good people. The future can be changed. I am always inspired by my late friend, Sir Laurens van der Post when I chatted with him at his flat in London, he would always quote RL Stevenson that: “It is better to travel in hope that to arrive.”
I thank you.