MEDIA STATEMENT BY THE
INKATHA FREEDOM PARTY
Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
There is a somewhat Alice in Wonderland sliding-door quality to the histories presented about my role, and that of many others, who had the temerity to pull at the ropes of grand apartheid outside of the ANC tent. To illustrate my point, I will reproduce what I wrote in response to an article by Aubrey Matshiqi in last week’s Business Day.
Within the context of writing about the renaming bonanza, which this week came from Durban to Cape Town, Matshiqi claimed that I was beginning to invoke "an understanding of (my) role in the liberation struggle that some of us must have slept through". I could not resist a wry smile because just the day before the ever-gallant John Kane-Berman, CEO of the South African Institute for Race Relations, writing in the same publication, captured the Chairman of the DA’s Federal Council, James Selfe’s introductory remarks about me at the dinner to honour Tony Leon’s contribution to democracy.
Mr Selfe spoke of how I had successfully blocked the grand apartheid plan to create an artificial white majority in the Republic by stripping all black South Africans of their South African citizenship and making them citizens of one or another supposed "homeland".
In reading these two, very different accounts, my mind went back to all those years ago when Inkosi Albert Lutuli, and other ANC leaders, persuaded me to abandon my law articles and take up my hereditary position as an Inkosi. They believed that this would be in the interests of the liberation struggle. When banning orders were imposed on Inkosi Luthuli, he and his wife would visit me and my family at our KwaPhindangene home.
Mr Nelson Mandela and Mr Oliver Tambo were not only my friends, but then also my leaders when I was a member of the ANC Youth League. Before 1979, I met with Mr Tambo in London, Nairobi, Stockholm, Mangoche and Lusaka to consult and strategise. I lost my passport for nine years after my first meeting with the Tambo’s.
As for the opprobrium later directed at me by the ANC revisionists for my role as Chief Minister of KwaZulu, I cannot do better than recall how Mr Cleopas Nsibande, the former Gauteng leader of the ANC, revealed at the unveiling of Mr Tambo’s tombstone that he was present when Inkosi Lutuli and Mr Tambo sent me a message through my late sister, Princess Morgina Dotwana. The message said that I should lead my people within the framework of the separate development structure if they elected me.
This, of course, was significant because of our later refusal to accept independence for KwaZulu.
Four of the "homelands" had co-operated in this design to denationalise the various ethnic groups. The nominally independent homelands – Transkei, Venda, Bophuthatswana and Ciskei – were collectively known as the TBVC states. Their sovereignty was recognised by no one apart from South Africa and other homeland states.
I, for one, refused to be honey-trapped by accepting independence for KwaZulu. For even if every so-called "homeland" other than KwaZulu had opted for independence, the blacks that remained in a common South Africa – the Zulu nation alone – would have still outnumbered the whites.
I also urged the other self-governing leaders, including Nelson Mandela’s nephew, Inkosi Kaiser Matanzima in the Transkei, not to accept independence. I chided Matanzima and the leader of Bophutatswana for reneging on an agreement I had reached with them and opting for so-called ‘independence’ in 1973.
I recount these incontrovertible facts to illustrate how easily context and significant information can be airbrushed out of historical
narratives: history is often shaped by the narrator.
I conceded in my response to Mr Matshiqi that these apparently irreconcilable viewpoints between him and Mr John-Kane Berman, to some extent, reflect the many brushstrokes of South Africa’s colourful and highly contested liberation narrative. Yet, I am deeply concerned that the ruling-party is adopting a "winner takes all" approach to the imposition of a one-size-fits-all history.
The presentation of history, for example, at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg is heavily in the direction of the ruling party and its associates in the struggle. The museum evokes the chilly atmosphere of an Orwell novel where history, both ancient and recent, is being remodelled on an assembly line to suit the latest whim of the Big Brother. One almost sees the figure of Winston Smith, the character from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, as he airbrushes the inconvenient "non-persons" from the now officially canonised history of apartheid South Africa.
Where does this tendency stem from?
Unity for the ANC in the liberation struggle, I believe, was synonymous not only with its own internal unity, but with the unity of all the liberation movements. The ANC perceived the armed struggle as the lightening rod to its political hegemony after liberation. The IFP, and other parties, on the other hand, foresaw a diversity of roles within the liberation movement as the basis for pluralism after liberation was won.
Yet, there were many other people who were madly pulling at the ropes of apartheid inside and outside of South Africa. Mrs Helen Suzman is one of them. She demonstrated raw courage in curbing some of the worst excesses of the apartheid government with her forensic parliamentary skills and relentless badgering of National Party politicians to, occasionally, do the right thing. She gave me unstinting encouragement when dallying with black politicians was not the smartest thing to do. Like so many others, she has not been given the recognition she deserves.
It is noteworthy that many names from liberal circles are not being mentioned in the renaming process, for instance, the late Alan Paton, author of ‘Cry, the Beloved Country’, a book and later, a film, which did so much to promote our quest for freedom internationally. Or what about the late Donald Woods, the courageous Daily Dispatch journalist, who was immortalised in the film ‘Cry Freedom’. Woods was one of a group of progressive South African journalists that helped establish truthful and objective press, exposing the crimes of apartheid. And let us not forget it was Cape Town Mayor and DA leader, Helen Zille, who, as a young journalist, bravely exposed the grisly circumstances behind Steve Biko’s death under police custody in 1977.
Nor do I believe that Steve Biko or Robert Sobukwe have been given the due recognition they deserve because, presumably, they were outside of the ANC tent.
The canvas of South Africa’s liberation struggle is a broad one upon which many have painted. The flip side of this question of the writing of history is to understand that we are living between two, or perhaps more, societies. The past impacts upon the present. The sliding doors have still not closed between the former one of apartheid, which denigrated the innate dignity of the majority, and the new one, still under construction, and which is, hopefully, characterised by sensitivity and respect.
William Channing writing in 1841 said, "In most large cities there may be said to be two nations, understanding as little of one another, having as little intercourse as if they lived in different lands." This notion of living between "different lands" was recently brought home to me by what, I believe, were innocently meant comments, but which lacked sensitivity. Again it goes back to my friend Tony Leon’s farewell party.
Gwen Gill, writing in her Sunday Times Social Column, a few weeks back, joked that I was "formerly known as Doctor": a play on the line on the singer "formerly known as Prince". I reminded Ms Gill that the Zulus, South Africa’s largest constituent nation, and the King himself, have always known me as Prince for all my life. I gently pointed out that this is not a recent development, but a title that is hereditarily conferred.
In so doing, I was pleading that everyone’s way of life and institutions be treated with the same deference as those of any other group. How we write up the past, with all its shades and nuances, has a bearing on how we understand each other today.
Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP