Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
This Saturday will mark 23 years since former President FW de Klerk declared in Parliament his intention to unban political parties and release political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela. After 27 years of incarceration, Mandela was about to walk free.
I remember clearly the first time I saw Mandela after his release on the 11th of February 1990. He had phoned me six days after leaving the gates of Victor Verster Prison and invited me to meet with him. I was not surprised by his phone call, for we had maintained correspondence throughout his time in prison and, just before his release, he had again expressed to me in writing his anguish over the violence between our two organisations, the ANC and Inkatha, which had already claimed close to 5 000 lives. He wanted us to meet as soon as he was released so that together we could find ways to stem the tide of violence. I was eager to do so.
My friendship with Mandela was well known and our meeting was expected by many. It was thus strange that, following his initial invitation, Mandela made no move to see me. Later the reason for this became evident. When some traditional leaders from the Eastern Cape asked him why we had not yet met months after his release, he admitted that leaders of the ANC and UDF had, in his words, “almost throttled him” when he said he wanted to see Buthelezi. They had ordered him not to see me.
While he was in prison, Mandela often told fellow inmates that they should come and work with me upon their release, which is how many ANC activists came to join the IFP. These included people like Stalwart Simelane, Joshua Zulu and Wordsworth Luthuli. But when Mandela himself was released, it took almost a year before he came to see me because of pressure from his comrades.
So it was that 22 years ago, on the 29th of January 1991, I walked into the Royal Hotel in Durban and met with a man whom I had not seen for 30 years.
Here was the same dapper gentleman who used to play draughts with my father-in-law at the Bantu Men’s Social Centre in Elloff Street. The same lawyer and family friend who had wound up my father-in-law’s estate. The same fiery freedom fighter who had inspired me at Nichols Square meetings.
And the same man who had welcomed me into his home for many meals.
But time had intervened and, although we embraced warmly, the gravity of what we had to discuss took precedence over any reminiscing. Mandela’s ANC delegation, and my own delegation of the IFP, held discussions for ten hours, after which we drafted and signed a Joint Communique. That communique would later become known as the Royal Hotel Accord.
In it, our parties agreed to ban the “killing talk” which characterised so much of the ANC’s and PAC’s rhetoric. We agreed to draft a code of conduct to be adhered to by our two organisations, which included renouncing vilification and intimidation. We committed ourselves to end attacks, and to cooperate to restore peace and establish “a united, non-racial and democratic South Africa”, eradicating apartheid.
We emerged from the Royal Hotel meeting with the understanding that Mandela and I would address joint rallies of the ANC and IFP, to move the agenda of reconciliation forward by appearing on the same podium before our warring supporters.
Shortly after that meeting, Mandela publically acknowledged the role I had played in his release. In March 1991, he said, “Belated as it might be, I wish in particular personally to thank Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi and the leadership of Inkatha for your contribution in helping secure my release and that of the other leaders of our movement.”
When former President FW de Klerk delivered his historic speech in Parliament on the 2nd of February 1990, announcing Mandela’s release, he mentioned me by name as having helped shape his decision.
This was not merely because I had held more “Free Mandela” rallies than anyone else in South Africa over the previous two decades, but because I refused to negotiate a democratic settlement bilaterally. My firm precondition to negotiations was the release of political prisoners and the unbanning of political parties. Both history and the future demanded that all South Africa’s representatives have a place around the negotiating table.
Throughout Mandela’s incarceration I went head to head with apartheid’s leaders, campaigning for his release. I recall in particular a confrontation with Mr John Vorster, the then Prime Minister of South Africa, who told me straight to my face that his father had taught him never to put a snake to his bosom. Thus, for as long as he was Prime Minister, he would never release Mandela. Vorster tried to intimidate me, warning that if Mandela were released, I would be the first one “these people” would turn against.
Tragically, the years of vilification I endured from the ANC lodged within the soul of that party an immutable hatred for Buthelezi. So much so that when Mandela and I sought to act on our commitment of the 29th of January 1991, and hold a joint rally in Taylor’s Halt, the ANC midlands leader, Mr Harry Gwala, arrived with a busload of militants at the ANC’s Shell House headquarters and refused to allow Mandela to attend the rally.
Under this pressure, joint rallies were never held. In the subsequent years, before 1994, a further 15 000 black lives were lost to the low-intensity internecine war waged against Inkatha and other components of the liberation struggle, as part of the ANC’s People’s War.
Throughout that time, I wrote to Mandela privately and pleaded with him publically to honour our January 1991 commitment and I invited him time and again to share a podium. On the 1st of February 1993, I penned an open letter to Mandela asking him to do anything that would showcase our working together to personally promote nonviolence. In that letter, I wrote, “It is our responsibility to prove to our respective members and supporters that we are prepared to move heaven and earth to achieve stability and an end to suffering.” Mandela did not respond.
Now, more than two decades later, after I have served in the Cabinets of both President Nelson Mandela and President Thabo Mbeki, I find that there is still a rift between me and the ANC that speaks of the remarkable efficiency of the old propaganda machines.
Yesterday I presented His Majesty the King of the Zulu Nation at a Government function in Durban, where the King George V Hospital was renamed in honour of King Dinuzulu, my maternal grandfather. Despite the fact that I am a direct descendent of King Dinuzulu, and despite the fact that I remain the traditional Prime Minister of the Zulu Monarch and Nation, with the responsibility of introducing the King at such functions, the ANC Government failed to invite me. Were it not for the King’s command at the eleventh hour, I would not have been present as my mother’s father was honoured.
It seems absurd. But over so many years of slights and insults, I have become accustomed to the ANC’s belligerence towards me. Despite my friendship with Mandela and prominent liberation leaders, despite my years of service to our country, despite history recording my contribution to the liberation struggle, reconciliation is just beyond reach. It seems there will always be a busload of ANC militants ready to throttle the messenger of peace.
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP