Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Online Letter
Extended online letter: President Jacob Zuma’s call for a merger between the ANC and IFP
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Come election time, the ruling party periodically engages in a curious exercise. As it launches its election campaign, the ANC expresses an ardent desire for a merger or, as the ANC President Mr Jacob Zuma devoutly put it when addressing believers at the Twelve Apostles Church in Emgababa last year, for a "marriage" with the IFP. Whatever the motives of the ruling party, these regular overtures inevitably ignite a debate about reconciliation. One must, as I do, draw a clear dividing line between the notions of reconciliation, peace (which, I would argue, is more than the mere absence of violence) and hegemony.
Then again last Saturday, Mr Zuma returned to his theme in an address to the General Council of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal. He said, in apparently unscripted remarks, "I had a meeting with Prince Buthelezi just before the elections to talk about tolerance between members of our parties. I also mentioned the issue of uniting our parties and we agreed we should talk about it after the elections. I was unable to pursue the matter after the elections because I was busy forming the government. I am about to finish and we will start again".
Two weeks ago, 27 June at a birthday dinner for Mr Joe Matthews, I sat next to the Deputy President who also holds the same office in the ruling-party. He mentioned too that the ANC had a discussion with the Secretary-General of the IFP, Reverend Musa Zondi, about talks on reconciliation between the two parties based on a proposal by the late Mr Cleopas Nsibande.
The Deputy President said every Monday they would find Mr Nisbande already at Luthuli House and he would always ask what progress had been made. The Deputy President then told me that he and Reverend Zondi had agreed that such talks need to take place not at the level of the respective organisation’s Presidents, but a lower level.
After the dreadful period of the "black on black" violence, we have gone through the stage of the Government of National Unity in which the IFP participated in a coalition government in terms prescribed by the interim constitution until 1999.
In 1999, President Thabo Mbeki decided that the IFP should continue to participate with the ANC in the government even though it was no longer prescribed by the Constitution after the provisions of the interim constitution lapsed.
The two parties also worked together in a coalition government in KwaZulu-Natal where the IFP enjoyed an outright majority from 1994-99 and again from 1999-2004 when the IFP was the largest party in the provincial legislature. After the 2004 election, the ANC emerged as the largest party and decided to end the coalition arrangement, and mandated that the government was an ANC-led one in which the IFP MECs were invited to participate by the grace of the ANC. But in the provincial government, the ANC was not honest with the IFP.
When Inkosi Mhlabunzima Hlengwa, who was IFP, passed away, Premier Ndebele replaced him, without any consultation with the IFP, with Mrs Johnson, a member of the ANC. Later, when Mr Narend Singh resigned, the Premier again replaced him with an ANC member without any consultation with the IFP.
A few months later Premier Ndebele removed the only two MECs who were still in his Government, Inkosi Nyanga Ngubane and Mr Blessed Gwala.
This was also without any consultation with the IFP.
So the experiment of working together in government in KwaZulu Natal was a dismal failure. It was difficult as even during the Coalition period ANC MECs did their damnedest to undermine whatever proposal of governing the IFP Premier proposed.
A glaring example is that of the Constitutional Court case concerning Nevirapine, a medication that pregnant mothers who are HIV positive take in order to prevent their unborn babies being born already infected with HIV. The IFP worked to supply this to pregnant mothers.
The ANC at both provincial and national government level did not want to supply Nevirpine to pregnant mothers. So we instructed the IFP Premier to join the Treatment Action Campaign who were taking this issue of Nevirapine to the Constitutional Court.
Dr Zweli Mkhize, who was an MEC serving under the IFP Premier Dr Lionel Mtshali, decided to go to court in an effort to prevent Dr Mtshali from proceeding with the case in the Constitutional Court. Dr Mkhize argued that he, as MEC for Health, had the executive authority when it came to health matters in the Province. The Court ruled that the ultimate authority of the Province vested in the Premier.
It is important to quote this as an example of how the efforts that were made to bring about reconciliation through working together in a Coalition Government failed.
At national level, the same happened. When I piloted my Immigration Bill the ANC led by its President and Head of Government did everything to obstruct me to the extent that in the end President Mbeki as Head of Government sued me as his Minister on the issue of regulations for the Immigration legislation – something unprecedented.
So at both these levels reconciliation did not take place between the ANC and the IFP.
It is no use talking about reconciliation in abstract terms. These were efforts which were meant to bring the two parties together and to consolidate reconciliation between us. It was a flop.
And within these years, there have been acrimonious exchanges between members of the ANC and the IFP, the latest being the utterances of Mr Julius Malema about me during the election campaign. Although President Zuma apologized to me about Malema’s utterances, Mr Malema never apologized to me. In fact, Mr Malema had also insulted the ANC Minister of Education, Ms Naledi Pandor. The media reported that Mr Malema was apologizing to both of us. In the case of Ms Pandor, Mr Malema wrote her a letter of apology, but he did not do so in my case.
There have been many acts which are hostile from members of the ANC which have been directed at the IFP through State organs. For example, the deployment of members of the National Intervention Police Unit in Nongoma during the election, which was not the first time. The manner in which this Police Unit intimidated members of the IFP included the humiliation of the Rev. Musa Zondi, who was made to lie down and be searched in Nongoma in broad daylight.
Then there are the activities of the ANC members, including MECs and the President, during the elections for both the District Local House for Traditional Leaders and for the Provincial House of Traditional Leaders. These are not acts of people who want reconciliation between us.
There cannot be such reconciliation until we go through the whole history of how we have hurt each other. This includes my vilification both here and internationally and my portrayal as an enemy of the people and "a sell-out". This includes publications such as "Gatsha Buthelezi, Chief With a Double Agenda" by Mzala (Nobleman Nxumalo) which a few months ago the present Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande and the President suggested should be reprinted and disseminated.
We are quite willing to sit down and have discussions which can result in reconciliation. Reconciliation cannot be achieved through just talking about it without going through the painful history we have gone through as two organisations.
The issue of merging can hardly be on the agenda before we make clean breasts to each other about these unjustified attacks and vilification of me and the IFP.
So, in this extended newsletter to clarify the matter once and for all, I will lay out my position, and that of the IFP, about how we view the process of reconciliation and the party’s role in the democratic order. Some of the following material I have placed on record before, but it is of the essence.
First, as a believer and follower of Christ, I take seriously an exhortation to prayer from wherever it comes. I believe in the power of prayer to "move mountains" and have long participated in prayer meetings for our nation. Equally, I believe in the power of love to shape national destinies, as well as those of individuals. Prayer alone, however, cannot resolve issues that we are quite capable of resolving in face to face dialogue as two competing organisations seeking reconciliation. God does not expect us to expect Him to do what we can do ourselves.
At this point, let me have a word about the concept of reconciliation.
In my view, it is too often spoken about in chocolate box language. By the nature of its participants (human-beings), reconciliation is imperfect, often uneven and a work-in-progress. There is little wonder that the concept is often inspired by theological notions particularly the Judeo-Christian principle of redemption – notions which Mr Zuma, showing characteristic affability, tapped into when he urged the Emgababa congregation last year to pray for a marriage between our two organisations.
And yes, if I were to point to what I believe is the single greatest achievement of our democracy, it would be the inculcation of a spirit of reconciliation amongst our communities. If one looks to the other countries seeking to heal internecine divisions, be it in Chile, Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, Ireland or elsewhere, it is clear that South Africa emerges as a model, indeed a golden template of reconciliation. People here took the Bill of Rights enshrined in our Constitution to heart. To a large extent this success has been due to the fact that reconciliation has been an organic ‘from the community upwards’, rather than a ‘top-down’, process. African people are slowly finding each other – too slowly, but at least the train is going in the right direction.
As for the process of reconciliation between the IFP and the ANC, I would contend, however, the process has largely been the inverse of the national project. Whilst the relationship between the national leadership has been defined by civility and even a little humour, much work at grassroots level has yet to be done. And then, of course, there is peace which follows genuine reconciliation. We remember that the 20 000 people who died in a low-intensity civil war in the late 1980s and early 1990s were members and sympathizers of both organisations.
We South Africans know all too well that war is a grisly wasteland.
People on both sides of this bitter war suffered and inflicted painful suffering. I am sure more information, much more, pertaining to human rights violations committed by all sides could be unearthed if we continue to dig. But, alas, the fragile process of reconciliation between the two political forces is still marred by acts of sporadic violence because, I argue, the former has still not been completed to anybody’s satisfaction.
Just now there is some carnage involving the two organisations in Greytown. Two IFP councillors have been murdered. One ANC councillor has been killed and some ANC aligned people have been murdered. One IFP councillor is an intensive care unit.
Reconciliation, as I see it, is not about merging the two parties. The IFP and the ANC are two very different political parties, rooted in different philosophies and co-existing in direct competition for votes. Behind the rhetoric of merger and marriage, the ANC leadership, I have a reason to believe, is not serious about genuine reconciliation. If they were, the successive ANC leaders would have promptly addressed the outstanding issues of reconciliation raised in my and my organisation’s many (unanswered) letters over the years. This includes letters that I wrote to Mr Zuma himself.
In addition, there have been too many agreements that were concluded between the IFP and the ANC only to be unilaterally broken by the latter. Take the joint rallies which Mr Mandela and I agreed to attend in the name of reconciliation in the early 1990s and which never took place. Take the so-called coalition government formed between the IFP and the ANC between 1994 and 2004 which, for all our efforts, never brought any real reconciliation us. The eye-opening moment came in 2004 when the ANC received more votes than the IFP and this, as far as they were concerned, marked the end of coalition politics. In the interest of reconciliation, the IFP joined the ANC-led provincial government as a junior partner only to be ejected from it at the earliest opportunity two years later.
Although the ANC and the IFP co-governed at national level between 1994 and 2006 and between 1994 and 2004 at provincial level in KwaZulu-Natal, this co-operation did not reach a stage where it could cascade to the local government level where it would really matter.
This, in itself, is not intrinsically a bad portent for multi-party democracy in the province. The ANC repeatedly alleged that the IFP destroyed the relationship between the two parties by co-operating with opposition parties in various municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal.
This is a canard. The ANC has itself ganged up with some of these political parties and took control, sometimes with the help of floor-crossers, of several municipalities at our expense.
In 1999, President Mbeki’s offer that I should become Deputy President of South Africa came to nothing. President Mbeki told me that the ANC leaders in KwaZulu-Natal forced him to demand from the IFP the position of KwaZulu-Natal Premier in exchange for the position of the Deputy President. They knew of course that this was quite out of the question. One Minister in President Mbeki’s cabinet fingered Mr Zuma himself as the author of this suggestion as he wanted to be appointed Deputy President himself.
In many ways, the relationship between the ANC and the IFP took a sharp turn for the worse in 2004 when the ANC gained political dominance in KwaZulu-Natal. Matters reached a nadir last year when the business of the provincial Legislature was marred by the conduct of a Speaker who, the IFP maintained, was not fit to run the legislature in the spirit of multi-party democracy. This is was in stark contrast to the period of 1994-2004 when the Legislature, managed jointly by the multi-party Executive Board, enjoyed the reputation of an institution committed to impartiality, tolerance and political pluralism. This period coincided with the IFP’s tenure of office.
The ANC’s tenure of office in KwaZulu-Natal after 2004, by contrast, has seen unprecedented politicisation of the civil service. It is quite acceptable, indeed desirable for any political party to seek to build a leadership and intellectual class. Yet one is concerned about how ANC supporters are being given preferential treatment and fast-track advancement in the civil service. In the relentless pursuit of the National Democratic Revolution, civil service employees perceived to be aligned to the IFP have been persistently retrenched or sidelined. The ruling party has referred to this practice in its internal documents as "cadre development" and "ANC career planning".
The one government policy that must have brought home to everyone how far the process of reconciliation has slid since 2004 when the ANC took power in KwaZulu-Natal is the ruling party’s initiative of Taking Parliament to the People. This is an absurd contradiction in terms if there ever was one. The IFP believes that the taxpayers have elected MPs to Parliament to do a job. It is scandalous for parliamentarians to hold regular jamborees to tell the electorate what a fabulous job they are doing when this is often hardly the case. It is patronising, self-serving and wasteful and it has been consistently criticised by the IFP as such.
At one point the IFP’s criticism coincided with a mass public protest against the initiative in the town of Vryheid. I believe the people who disrupted the ANC’s idyll, were more concerned about social deprivation, poor service delivery, high rates of joblessness, drug and alcohol misuse and our ‘broken society’ in general. These fine people were not taken in by the ruling party’s velvety production. The ANC must have been mortified at the people’s anger even though, true to form, they had done their best to bus in their own supporters from afar to dilute the local opposition.
Taking Parliament to the People, despite numerous objections from the opposition parties, continues to lack an inclusive spirit and remains a public forum for the ruling party to garner votes for whatever election follows next. All practical arrangements surrounding this initiative, including public transport and catering, appear to complement the ANC’s intention to abuse government business for political gain. This is blatant misuse of taxpayers’ money; it is a form of corruption: the ruling party’s outrageous attempt to control the people with their own money.
The dynamics of political culture in the highly contested KwaZulu-Natal, as illustrated by the ANC’s conduct in government, have their roots in the struggle for political liberation. The ANC conceived the armed struggle as the lightening rod, as it were, for establishing political hegemony of the liberation. Unity for the ANC in the struggle was synonymous not only with its internal unity but with the unity of all the liberation movements. Democratization was not the priority of the ANC and its associates, but rather ‘regime change’. Inkatha, by contrast, advocated diversity of roles within the liberation movement as the basis for political pluralism after liberation.
The ANC’s post-liberation pursuit of the National Democratic Revolution has had far reaching impact upon the prospect of reconciliation. As the ANC would not accept the IFP’s vision of unity within the liberation movement, expressed in a diversity of roles before 1994, the ruling party today expects uncritical consensus around particular programmes of social action. Unquestioned loyalty to the movement and the shaping of a single liberation narrative have defined today’s ruling political elite, in which state and party are equated. And the line is blurred between them.
The ruling party’s view, and I am pretty sure Mr Zuma’s view, is that opposition parties should not be adversarial, confrontational or even ‘constructive’ in their criticism of the government (one should be fair, at this point, and commend the President for the respect with which he has accorded the opposition in parliament since assuming office). If the opposition fails in this test, as it invariably does, it is often labelled as being counter-revolutionary, regressive, unpatriotic or un-African. The latter two labels, I am happy to say, are pejoratives that the ANC leadership, for all its travails, has found difficult to pin on me personally.
The current argument about multiparty democracy in South Africa is therefore not about its relative merits but rather its sheer survival.
It is not the self-proclaimed victors of the liberation struggle in the ruling party who keep our democracy alive; it is us on the opposition benches. Our own survival is indeed the survival of multiparty democracy. And we can only survive in a political culture with flourishing tolerance; a culture which only we can assist the ruling party to recreate, maintain and perpetuate.
We may well have already prodded the ANC in the right direction. The last days of Mr Mbeki’s stewardship of his party were characterised by a vigorous debate about the so-called "two centres of power" – whether it would be desirable for the leader of the party and the leader of the country to be different people. The debaters fudged the question until it was answered by events, namely the popular choice of Mr Zuma over Mr Mbeki at the party’s Polokwane conference in December 2007.
The ANC, of all organisations, has demonstrated that political parties should not be converted into machines for the election of a monolithic leadership.
In conclusion I can only say while I share the ANC’s and Mr Zuma’s desire for our two parties to enjoy a good functioning relationship befitting our parliamentary democracy, a merger or "marriage" is not on the agenda today, tomorrow, or in the future. In short, the IFP will be fighting and fighting to win elections as a political competitor, reconciled, but distinct, in word and deed, from the ANC.
We nevertheless feel that it we owe it not to ourselves, but to posterity to have talks about reconciliation rather than any other merger. We need to disagree without being disagreeable and without killing each other. We need to distinguish between robust criticism and "killing talk" that triggered the black on black violence between the followers of the ANC and the IFP.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Contact: Liezl van der Merwe, 083 611 7470.