LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Buthelezi: It cuts me to the heart to be unjustly labelled an enemy of my people
Mzala Nxumalo’s mission was to defame me. He accomplished that. Whether or not he was a revolutionary hero does not change the fact that he did a hatchet job on Mangosuthu Buthelezi. With all that I have done for my country, it cuts me to the heart to be unjustly labelled an enemy of my people.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP is founder and President Emeritus of the Inkatha Freedom Party.
In 1979, I had no reason to anticipate that the ANC would turn against me. I had worked with Oliver Tambo for years as a loyal ANC cadre. I had taken up leadership of the KwaZulu government on his and Inkosi Albert Luthuli’s instruction. I had founded Inkatha with Tambo’s approval, on the suggestion of president Kenneth Kaunda and the leaders of the frontline states in order to reignite political mobilisation on South African soil.
But, in October 1979, when I dared to disagree with the ANC’s mission-in-exile on the use of armed struggle and the call for economic sanctions, an ideological chasm opened between us. Within months, the ANC’s leaders began a vicious campaign of vilification against me.
I was leading an organisation with more than a million card-carrying members. I had to be dispossessed of my support base, lest the ANC lose its hegemony. In the words of SACTU: “Gatsha must be isolated from the people… He must be forced into a position where he is a leader without a support base and Inkatha is a movement without a leader.”
The best way to do this was to attack my credentials and paint me as an enemy of the people.
Into this context stepped a young activist named Jabulani Nobleman Nxumalo, known as Mzala.
At the age of 19, Mzala went into exile and began devouring propaganda texts of the ANC, SACP and communist leaders. He proved an excellent candidate for indoctrination and, at 22, was sent for “advanced ideological training”.
Soon he was working in Tanzania for the ANC’s Radio Freedom, which habitually demonised me and Inkatha, warning that the ANC was “coming with bazookas” to deal with me. Radio Freedom and Sechaba, for which he wrote, were key platforms through which I was attacked.
The indoctrinated Mzala was doing his job well. Thus he was tasked with writing a comprehensive propaganda tract claiming that I and Inkatha were collaborating with the apartheid regime. To ensure that this tract was published as a book, the ANC made an undertaking to a London publisher, Zed, to distribute 8,000 copies. This would be the largest first print run of any book Zed had published. Accordingly, copies of the book were distributed to uMkhonto weSizwe soldiers, who brought it into South Africa.
It was intended to defame me and draw into question my credentials, as a member of the Zulu Royal Family, as a traditional leader and as a political leader.
Tragically, that piece of propaganda remains at the centre of the wound between the ANC and the IFP more than 30 years later, for the damage it caused escalated into terrible violence, claiming the lives of some 20,000 black South Africans.
It is this book that Dr Mandla Radebe tried to sanctify in his opinion piece titled, “Mzala Nxumalo — the spectre that haunts Mangosuthu Buthelezi and won’t go away” (Daily Maverick, 27 May 2021).
Dr Radebe pretends to be just a humble “professor”, looking at an academic work. But dig a little deeper and the motive becomes apparent.
Dr Radebe is in fact the Gauteng deputy secretary of the SACP, who identifies himself as a “Marxist-Leninist”. Trained in strategic communication, his writings include Marxist critiques on political issues. This is no objective “professor”.
He claims that I am “abusing” the late Mzala with “unrelenting attacks” and have been doing so for the past 30 years, using the “tactics of apartheid”. I am doing this, he claims, because I am jealous of Mzala’s great achievements — none of which are mentioned, beyond being an MK soldier and an SACP/ANC comrade.
But what Dr Radebe calls “attacks” are simply instances of my setting the record straight. I am not intolerant of criticism, but criticism and lies are two very different things.
What it comes down to is whether the claims made by Mzala are true or not.
It is disingenuous of Radebe to pretend that I avoided pinpointing which parts of Mzala’s book are defamatory. When he asked me this in August 2020, I did indeed tell him that “it would take an enormous amount of ink to identify every lie in this book and counter it with facts.” What he hides is that I proceeded, in a nine-page letter, to identify some of the major lies for his benefit, together with evidence exposing them as lies.
Now, without mentioning that he knows the truth, he simply repeats Mzala’s absurd claims — that I have no right to the title “Prince”, that I am not the Prime Minister to the Zulu Monarch and Nation, and that I collaborated with the apartheid regime.
As I said, this comes down to historical fact. So let us examine these claims.
My mother, Princess Constance Magogo Mantithi Thombisile Ngangezinye, was the daughter of King Dinuzulu and the sister of King Solomon. Mzala argued that if Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme, whom he claimed was the son of a Zulu princess, was not called “Prince”, then neither should I be. But, as I told Dr Radebe, that points to poor research or deliberate misinformation, for Dr Seme was not the son of a Zulu princess. He married a Zulu princess — my mother’s sister. Thus, like me, Dr Seme’s children were all regarded as princes and princesses of the Zulu Royal House.
King Solomon ka Dinuzulu appointed my late father as traditional Prime Minister in Eshowe in 1925, during the visit of Prince Edward, then Prince of Wales. I was appointed to that same position by my first cousin, King Cyprian Bhekuzulu ka Solomon in 1954, when he gave me the responsibility of organising preparations for the unveiling of King Shaka’s tombstone.
I performed all the duties of uNdunankulu weNgonyama neSizwe sikaZulu under King Cyprian Bhekuzulu ka Solomon, including arranging his funeral. I continued as Prime Minister, carrying out those same duties, under King Goodwill Zwelithini ka Bhekuzulu, for almost 50 years. It would be rather odd, if I were not the Prime Minister, that the King never raised the alarm!
The claim that I was collaborating with the apartheid regime by operating within the system is undermined by the fact that I took up leadership of KwaZulu on the instruction of my leaders in the ANC, and that I fulfilled the mission I was given to derail the apartheid system from within by rejecting independence for KwaZulu.
I am not surprised that Dr Radebe ignored the facts that I gave him, for they undermine what he so dearly wants to believe. But I did challenge him to consider how the following was possible if Mzala’s claims were true.
At the time Mzala wrote his book, foreign intelligence services were keeping a close watch on South Africa. They knew who I was and there was no doubt about my credentials as a freedom fighter. Accordingly, I was warmly received by heads of state including Zambia’s President Kaunda, Tanzania’s President Nyerere, Lesotho’s Prime Minister Jonathan, Nigeria’s President Obasanjo, Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie, Swaziland’s King Sobhuza II, Lesotho’s King Moshoeshoe II, the UK’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (who even came to visit me in Ulundi), German Chancellor Kohl, the Netherlands’ Prime Minister Den Uyl, America’s Presidents Carter, Reagan and Bush — the list goes on.
President Tolbert of Liberia conferred on me the Knight Commander of the Star of Africa, and President Giscard d’Estaing of France conferred the National Order of Merit. I was received in the Vatican by no less than three popes who, as pontiffs, also doubled up as heads of the Vatican state.
When my mentor Inkosi Albert Luthuli passed away, the Luthuli family and the ANC asked me to deliver the eulogy at his funeral. When the OAU bestowed a posthumous award on him, Mama Nokukhanya Luthuli asked me to accompany her to Maseru to accept the award and speak on her behalf. The award was handed over by His Majesty King Moshoeshoe II. This was in the presence of several heads of state.
On a subsequent visit to Lesotho, I was invited by His Excellency Morena Leabua Jonathan to come and have an inspection in loco after the apartheid regime’s SADF bombed the residences of some of our ANC exiles, with loss of lives. I was accompanied by the ANC representative in Lesotho, Mr Ndlovu, along with a group of members of uMkhonto weSizwe.
When then President FW de Klerk announced Nelson Mandela’s release in Parliament, he thanked me by name for having persuaded him to make that decision. When Mandela addressed his first mass rally, he publicly thanked me for all I had done to secure his release.
At the unveiling of Tambo’s tombstone, in front of all the Rivonia trialists and almost the whole Cabinet at the time, the ANC’s Cleopas Nsibande spoke about being sent by Tambo and Luthuli with a message to me, not to refuse the leadership of KwaZulu if the people asked me to lead.
He said they knew that I opposed the homelands system, but they believed that I could undermine the system from within — which is exactly what I did by refusing to take nominal independence, which would have turned KwaZulu into a Bantustan.
When Mr Nsibande passed away, former President Kgalema Motlanthe spoke at his funeral and confirmed what Mr Nsibande had said. In fact he added that, until the end of his life, Mr Nsibande went every Monday morning to Luthuli House to appeal for reconciliation between the ANC and the IFP because he knew the truth about me.
When General Olusegun Obasanjo visited Mandela on Robben Island as part of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, he asked Mandela about me, and Mandela told him: “Buthelezi is a freedom fighter in his own right.” When Mozambique’s President Joachim Chissano heard my condemnation of apartheid, he asked Oliver Tambo who I was. Tambo told him, “That is our man.”
Many leaders in the ANC, like Stalwart Simelane, Joshua Zulu and Wordsworth Luthuli, joined Inkatha when they left Robben Island because Mandela instructed that they work with Buthelezi.
Mandela himself refused to sever relations with me, for he knew the truth that I was working to undermine the system from within on the instruction of Tambo and Luthuli. Mandela and I continued to correspond throughout his incarceration. Some of our letters are published in his own book, “Conversations With Myself”.
In her biography, “491 Days”, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela writes, “Buthelezi… was one of the greatest fighters in his day… He was entrusted with fighting the system from within. And that is what people do not know.”
So who was telling the truth?
Was it all these leaders (as backed by the overwhelming body of history), or was it Mzala? Because the two are not compatible. If what Mzala wrote was true, then Mandela, Luthuli, Tambo, Kaunda, His Majesty the King, my own father, and a whole raft of prominent leaders must have been lying.
It may have been difficult at the time to identify Mzala’s book as mere propaganda, for it was one in a barrage of vilification that formed part of a deliberate campaign against me. In fact, in April 2002, former president Mandela himself admitted to what they had done, saying: “We have used every ammunition to destroy (Buthelezi), but we failed. And he is still there. He is a formidable survivor. We cannot ignore him.”
Today, however, with the benefit of history and all the facts, it is impossible to view Mzala’s book as anything other than what it is: a propaganda tract.
That is why I sought to take legal action. Anyone who had been attacked like that would do the same. It was not a matter of objecting to criticism, but a matter of trying to stop outright lies. Unfortunately, Mzala passed away before legal action could be finalised.
It still pains me to know that my family must suffer this kind of humiliation, having me slandered into perpetuity.
Dr Radebe is quite mistaken when he claims that I enjoy a free and unfettered flow of my ideas through the media. On the contrary, I have faced decades of defamatory statements being made against me in the media, all springing out of the propaganda so ruthlessly disseminated by Mzala at the behest of his political employers.
Often, when I seek the recourse that anyone should have when they are publicly defamed, I am told that as a public figure I must forgo even the basic right to human dignity. I am fair game for anyone and everyone to say whatever they like, true or not.
Mzala’s mission was to defame me. He accomplished that. Whether or not he was a revolutionary hero does not change the fact that he did a hatchet job on Mangosuthu Buthelezi. With all that I have done for my country, it cuts me to the heart to be unjustly labelled an enemy of my people.
Tragically, the leadership of the ANC has never distanced itself from Mzala’s lies about me. This drives a wedge between our organisations, for there is no reason that old propaganda should be allowed to persist when the truth is known.
This book remains at the centre of discussions between our parties even now. If we are to heal the wounds of the past, the truth about the past must be acknowledged. DM