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The future of a free press, the lifeblood of democracy, is under debate. Government control of the media would silence dissenting opinions and public debate, signaling the demise of our democracy. But an irresponsible media can also do harm.
Unfortunately, the media in South Africa is too often too economical with the truth. Good examples are Makhudu Sefara’s opinion piece “Malambanes show us what is wrong with the world” and “Time Buthelezi and Mangope made an exit” (7 November 2010).
The latter editorial desperately tries to draw a comparison between the UCDP and IFP and launches a malicious attack on the IFP President, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi. The history of the two parties and their leaders bear no similarity.
Kgosi Lucas Mangope was President of the independent state of Bophuthatswana, whereas Buthelezi rejected independence for KwaZulu. He led the apartheid-imposed KwaZulu Government at the behest of the ANC, at the insistence of both Luthuli and Tambo. His rejection of independence foiled the government’s attempt to balkanise South Africa. According to FW de Klerk, this toppled the grand scheme of apartheid.
Mangope’s UCDP and Buthelezi’s IFP played different roles in shaping our past and present. Today the IFP has 18 MPs and 19 MPLs, against the UCDP’s 2 MPs, discrediting the allegation that the IFP is “teetering on the brink of collapse”. Questioning the IFP’s credibility based on the ANC/IFP low intensity civil war of the 80s and 90s, has likewise been discredited by Prof. Anthea Jeffrey’s seminal work titled “People’s War”.
IFP leaders served in Cabinet for 10 years. Buthelezi was appointed Acting President more than 20 times. Despite the views of its detractors, the IFP played a leading role in the birth of our democracy, and continues to play a leading role, as its champion and protector.
Mangope and Buthelezi are not “fighting leadership battles within their own parties” and “refusing to quit their positions”. Buthelezi has repeatedly expressed his intention to retire, but the IFP’s rank and file has repeatedly asked him to continue. He serves at the behest and for the benefit of the Party.
It is untrue that the IFP’s “public representatives are drawn from the regional basis and often specific ethnic groups”. Since Buthelezi defied the Minster of Justice in 1977 to limit Inkatha to Zulus, the IFP has always been, and still is, representative of South Africa’s population. Consider Indian MP and former Minister, Narend Singh; White Afrikaner MPL Henry Combrinck; and former Deputy Minister Joe Matthews, a scion of Tswana and Xhosa elites.
Accusing the IFP of “pursuing outdated politics of regional mobilization” is short sighted. A strong national footprint requires large sums of money; the milk of politics. How does one compete with the ANC’s R200-billion war chest, or its dodgy campaign tactic of offering food parcels for votes with taxpayers’ money?
A Mangope/Buthelezi comparison is baseless; but a Mugabe/Buthelezi one is absurd. Mugabe’s gross human rights violations are in stark contrast to Buthelezi’s six decades of international acclaim for championing justice and human rights. Buthelezi was awarded the George Meany Human Rights Award, the Courage Under Fire Award of the American Conservative Union, the Order of the Star of Africa and an honorary doctorate from the Alma Mater of Dr Martin Luther King, to name a few.
Buthelezi’s friendships are not intended to “regale” the media. It is simple fact that his advocacy of universal liberties and free enterprise drew him close to Jimmy Carter, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. He is one of the few with whom Mandela corresponded while in prison. He is a descendant of King Cetshwayo and King Dinuzulu, and a protégé of Inkosi Luthuli. One cannot apologize for the facts.
A second attack in two weeks is the sloppy journalism of Makhudu Sefara, who writes, “(Buthelezi) has postponed his party’s council six times and appears unwilling to trust anybody else with the party leadership”. Annual Conference has been postponed, not National Council; and it is National Council which postponed it, not Buthelezi. Accepting a collective decision of the Party’s highest decision-making body is hardly “anti-democratic”.
The facts are not elusive; reasons for the postponements are on the IFP’s website, including the National Police Commissioner’s warning that holding Conference at that stage would lead to bloodshed.
It is baffling that Sefara calls the leader of the fourth largest political party in South Africa “quasi-relevant”. The multitude of invitations Buthelezi receives to address prestigious international events, in Asia, Europe, Canada and Africa, such as the Mo Ibrahim Prize for African leadership ceremony, speaks to the contrary.
The legacy of the IFP and its President cannot be reduced or discredited by editors and analysts hell-bent on spreading anti-Buthelezi propaganda. This is an old, but persistent practice, intended to distort history. It goes to the very heart of our democracy.
A free press must be balanced with responsible journalism. The distortions in these two articles, and in many like them, contradict Deputy President Motlanthe’s description of Buthelezi as an icon. Former President Mbeki and President Zuma have acknowledged in Parliament that Buthelezi still plays an indispensible role in promoting the values which sustain our democracy. Buthelezi’s indispensable leadership is still valuable to the IFP and necessary for our country. Ultimately, irresponsible journalism will cripple opposition politics, striking a fatal blow to democracy. So please be more responsible with the facts. That’s all we ask.
Liezl Van Der Merwe
PARLIAMENT, CAPE TOWN