Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
As we enter the Christmas season, a time when Christians celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, we have been reminded of how religion can be perverted to sow discord and hatred. Religious intolerance, it seems, is not only the domain of religious fundamentalists or the Taliban.
This week, I was appalled to read dirty trick accounts of how flyers have appeared on cars in America accusing Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama of being a Muslim extremist (he is, of course, a devout Christian).
Another online mass-mailing cautioned of the "dark secrets" of the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Mormonism. I find all this, quite frankly, regressive in a country which was founded upon a secularist separation of church and state. Could we, I wonder, see a similar stigmatisation of public figures with religious affiliations here in the bruising year ahead of the 2009 general election?
Today’s South Africa enjoys a clear separation between church and the state reflecting our rich diversity of faiths. As we all know, it was not always so.
The history of the church here was intricately bound up with the white supremacist politics of the apartheid government. The most controversial aspect of the Dutch Reformed Church’s interpretation of Calvinist theology was its support of the apartheid system. Former Prime Minister Daniel Francois Malan, who led the campaign for complete segregation of the races in South Africa, was himself a Dutch Reformed minister.
My own denomination, the Anglican Church, played a controversial role in the struggle against apartheid; one which found me, often, at odds with my own Archbishop. Some painful memories of this came back to me when reading Michael Nuttall’s (Bishop of Natal from 1982-2000) memoir recently, ‘Number two to Tutu’.
I am of the view that the Anglican Church’s support for sanctions, led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and his patronage of the United Democratic Front, led the church into murky and dangerous waters. I recount this not to reopen old wounds, but, rather, to draw lessons for the future because I believe the church has a prophetic, as well as ministerial role to play in the years ahead.
I happen to believe that the tenants of the Judeo-Christian principle are infinitely precious not only because they are true, but also because they can lead to peace and reconciliation, in the truest meaning, that our nation so desperately needs. As one who has served as a political leader for over half a century, I am deeply aware that parliamentarians, even in the new dispensation, can only legislate for the rule of law, but only the Church and faith-based organisations can teach the life of faith and devotion.
There are times when the church must speak out, to sound the warning bells as it were, when political action falters. The campaign to abolish slavery in Britain in the eighteenth century led by William Wilberforce, and the fight against racial discrimination in the United States and South Africa in the twentieth century, were such defining times. The present war we are waging against HIV/Aids is also such a time.
During the struggle, I took the view that we would be better off following the example of the American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, who, in turn, had been inspired by the Indian nationalist leader, the Mahatma Gandhi. King studied how Gandhi had successfully transformed the ethic of non-violence into a political instrument against the British colonial rule. Gandhi’s impact on him is best described in King’s own words:
"As I read, I became deeply fascinated by his campaigns of non-violent resistance. As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi, my scepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time its potency in the area of social reform."
"The ‘turn-the-other-cheek’ philosophy and the ‘love-your-enemies’ philosophy," he went on, "were only valid when individuals were in conflict with other individuals; where nations were in conflict, a more realistic approach seemed necessary. But after reading Gandhi, I saw how utterly mistaken I was."
King came to see that the Gandhian technique of non-violence was the only viable means to overcome the problems faced by his people.
I must be fair here. From the Bible you can make a fair case for violence or non- violent opposition to apartheid according to your standpoint. In the gospel according to Matthew, for example, Christ famously proclaimed that the "peacemakers" will be called "the children of God". Even the atheist Richard Dawkins in the ‘God Delusion’ concedes that this was one of the most important revolutionary texts of all time.
Then, on the other hand, we read in the same book of how Jesus entered the temple and angrily drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers (times don’t change much it seems) and the seats of those who were selling doves.
It is therefore difficult to determine exactly what strategy Christ would have advocated to fight apartheid. Nuttall’s book, like Archbishop Tutu, however, clearly comes down on the side of the ANC and actively stigmatises Inkatha’s role. Despite their claim to non-political affiliation, it is clear that they used their clerical office to stigmatise Inkatha’s strategy of non-violence and opposition to sanctions.
Nuttall’s bias is clear when he writes “Buthelezi still sought to project himself as a national leader, with a strong regional option seeking links with Natal business and agriculture interest…Would these combined interests be able to create an experiment in multi-racial initiative (sic) that would be an example for the rest of the country to follow?" Nuttall does not answer, but the implication is clear that he does not think so.
Let me remind Bishop Nuttall of the circumstances surrounding the 1986 KwaZulu/Natal Indaba. It was the first multiracial government this country had ever seen, breaking the apartheid mould of legislated segregation by drawing in the KwaZulu Government, business, leading academics, political representatives, senior church figures, including from the Anglican faith, and religious groups.
If the reader is still in any doubt of Nuttall’s political sympathy, on the following page he continues: "The government’s instinct, in spite of its disapproval of Buthelezi’s decision to reject independence’ for KwaZulu, was to put its political and security apparatus behind Inkatha”.
He offers no evidence to support this, but clearly he sets the stage scenery for the ANC and its associates starring as the angelic host and Inkatha cast as the villains and spoilers. He ignores the fact that I had campaigned for the release of Nelson Mandela more than any other person as a condition for negotiations and robustly opposed apartheid in my speeches and opinion pieces.
When Mr De Klerk announced Mr Mandela’s release in February 1990, I was the only person he mentioned. I addressed meetings in the Cape, the Free State, the Transvaal and KwaZulu Natal. I was elected chairperson of the South African Black Alliance by a coalition of organizations that had coloured and Indian representatives such as the Labour Party of Reverend Allan Hendrickse, the South African Reform Party led by Mr YS Chinsamy, Dikwankwetla from the Free State, and Inyandza from what was then known as Kangwane
I worked with Mr OR Tambo until 1979 when we differed on the armed struggle and sanctions. The Buthelezi Commission and the KwaZulu Natal Indaba were my initiatives in which much more than the Chamber of Commerce and agricultural interest participated. Eminent religious leaders such as Archbishop Hurley supported these initiatives.
I was likewise often invited to address the Progressive Federal Party’s congresses. I was declared the Newsmaker of the Year by the South African Society of Journalists in 1974. Similarly, I was named Man of the Year by the Financial Mail. I also received the Press Club’s award and the Nadaraja Award. Mr BJ Vorster, the prime minister, called me to a meeting at which he complained that I was being used by the English media and the Progressive Federal Party. Did this not give me a national profile?
Nuttall’s narrative, in its unevenhanded treatment, offers no shades of grey and easily takes shape, but, as I have demonstrated earlier, a solid Christian case can be made for the stance Inkatha and I took. Nutall and Tutu never sought to acknowledge, let known present, Inkatha’s side of the story.
If the Anglican Church, and indeed the entire Church, is to play a prophetic role in the years ahead, it must resist pandering to party political allegiances. The least our Churches can do in this regard is learn from their own past errors of judgement. The Church, any Church, can only fulfil its prophetic ministry by transcending party politics.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP