Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Online Letter
Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
There is an old proposition that rears its head from time to time, most recently in The New Age last Thursday, that argues a link between the demise of the role of traditional leadership and the diminishing of the IFP’s support base.
But in much the same way as the laboratory is forgotten when one looks through the microscope, this argument focuses on a minor truth at the expense of a greater one.
When the IFP was founded in 1975 as Inkatha yeNkululeko yeSizwe, apartheid laws prevented us from accepting whites, Indians or coloureds into our ranks. Inkatha spread throughout KwaZulu, Transvaal and the Free State, gaining members among the Zulu, Swazi, Xhosa, Tswana and South Sotho. When the law finally permitted, we spread to all race groups.
Within a few short years, we boasted two million card carrying members.
Inkatha’s growth posed such a threat to the apartheid regime that the then Minister of Justice, Minister Jimmy Kruger, demanded that I confine Inkatha to Zulus only; to which I retorted, "Only if the National Party is confined to Afrikaners."
Nevertheless, many of our members were Zulu speaking, rural dwelling and politically disenfranchised. Thus they also subscribed to the established social structure of traditional leadership, forged over many generations to regulate social interaction and maintain order.
The link between traditional leadership and the IFP was there from the start. I myself acceded to traditional leadership of my Clan more than twenty years before I founded Inkatha. But, far from being a relic of our past, traditional leadership remains a way of life for large segments of our population.
So much so, that the IFP has engaged a decades long struggle with government for the recognition of the institution of traditional leadership, both before 1994 and post-apartheid. Our laws of today recognize traditional leaders within governance structures and acknowledge that they have a valuable role to play. But the ruling Party still refuses to afford traditional leadership its rightful place.
It seems to make no sense. Why would a majority government try to enfeeble the symbol of its people’s identity? Why render traditional leaders impotent? Such policy is expected from a minority regime, but who would have thought that a black government would do its utmost to sideline its own people’s traditional social structures?
Part of the answer lies in the way the ANC foisted its own leadership on communities during the low intensity civil war of the eighties, through intimidation and violence, to ensure complete control. The other part is their recognition of the link between traditional leadership and support for the IFP.
Breaking this link came to depend on the ANC’s ability to diminish the power and role of traditional leadership within our communities. As the institution of Ubukhosi weakened, people would begin to doubt their established way of life; including their political allegiance.
As Steven Friedman pointed out in The New Age, increasing urbanization exacerbated the psychological distance between people and their traditional social structures. Increasingly this opened the way for a shift of allegiance from the known quantity of the IFP, to the power and wealth of the ANC.
Another party that understood the link between traditional leadership and the IFP, was the NFP, which began courting traditional leaders before it was even born. The leader of the NFP had the platform of having been Mayor of Zululand, a position given to her by the IFP when she was still a party faithful. Having shared the responsibilities of governance, even in the limited way allowed by current legislation, traditional leaders knew Ms kaMagwaza-Msibi. So her band of malcontents rallied traditional leaders, encouraging them to host prayer meetings for her and switch their allegiance to the NFP.
Whether used as a pawn by the ANC or a rook by the NFP, the institution of traditional leadership has been treated disrespectfully. Amakhosi are not dispensable pieces in a political game. Rather, they are the repository of our culture, traditions, history and way of life. Treating them as anything less threatens our sense of identity.
My own role within the institution of traditional leadership has been targeted for destruction right from the start. It is ironic that I took up my position as Inkosi of the Buthelezi Clan at the insistence of ANC leaders like Inkosi Albert Lutuli, Mr Walter Sisulu and Mr Nelson Mandela, considering that the ANC would later spend so much time trying to divorce me from the institution.
In May 2009 I declined nomination as Chairperson of the KwaZulu Natal Provincial House of Traditional Leaders, because such division had been sown among amakhosi that I feared a schism would open. Knowing our nation’s history, I could not jeopardize unity.
The source of the division was clear. Indeed, the ANC-controlled provincial Department of Traditional Affairs had split amakhosi into two camps. Those who were thought likely to vote against me were put up in the Riverside Hotel with senior departmental officials, while my presumed backers were sent to the other side of town, to the Royal Hotel in Durban.
In the face of division, I could not put my own interests before the interests of the institution of traditional leadership, for it still represents the interests of so many South Africans. Where other parties are willing to sacrifice the most vital aspects of our identity and history, for the sake of getting ahead, the IFP is not. Our principles remain uncompromised.
I do not believe in abandoning values when the number of people who live those values dips below a certain level. We must be anchored on something more solid than trend.
The IFP did not build its support base around traditional leadership. But those who were drawn to us when we were founded subscribed to a social structure that valued unity, harmony and order. These are still the kind of people we attract, whether they hail from a European, Afrikaner, Xhosa or Indian background. We have always been a party that acknowledges that we are a multi-cultural nation.
The IFP has reclaimed its position as the third largest political party in South Africa, and we remain a party of principle. Because of this, we will keep fighting both the negligent and wilful destruction of value systems in South Africa. The more than a million South Africans, of all races, who voted for the IFP in the recent local government elections do not believe in the narrow definition of "traditionalism" put forward by Steven Friedman.
We are traditionalists to the extent that we believe in the family as the nucleus of society. We are conservative to the extent that we promote abstinence as a weapon in the fight against HIV/Aids. We are liberal to the extent that we believe in your right to access information.
Many labels can be attributed to the IFP. Bu using one to the exclusion of all others is short-sighted indeed. Our future does not depend on the strength of traditional leadership. It depends on there still being South Africans who demand a voice when they realize that what they believe in is taken lightly by the ruling elite.
Yours in the service of the nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP