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Velenkosini Hlabisa: Buthelezi ‘was happy knowing the IFP was in safe hands’

Velenkosini Hlabisa: Buthelezi ‘was happy knowing the IFP was in safe hands’
Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) President Velenkosini Hlabisa outlined his new dawn plans during the interview with the Sunday Times at the party's office in Durban. Hlabisa takes over from Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi lead the party since its inception in 1975. Photo: SANDILE NDLOVU

Since the death of Inkatha Freedom Party founder Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the turbulent past and current relationship between the party and the ANC has again been thrust into the spotlight.

IFP leader Velenkosini Hlabisa believes that one of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s wishes was to resolve any bad blood between the IFP and ANC. In an interview with Daily Maverick, Hlabisa emphasised that any reconciliation talks would not only put the IFP under scrutiny, but would also question the role of the ANC in the civil unrest in the 1980s. 

“Reconciliation does not mean that it is a merger; we will continue with separate parties with different identities, views and principles. 

“Closing and healing wounds of the past is important, but it is unfair if the blame is only on the IFP. Both organisations lost human souls, some left their family. The political parties must own up to it. The same judgement should be given to the ANC leaders at the time – OR Tambo, Harry Gwala and Nelson Mandela,” Hlabisa said. 

While many have praised and revered Buthelezi for his political contribution to South Africa, others have highlighted his role in placing ethnic interests over national unity, which contributed to the divisive programme of the apartheid regime.

This practically led to a civil war between Buthelezi’s Zulu loyalist supporters and ANC members in KwaZulu-Natal, which claimed nearly 20,000 lives. 

Hlabisa defended Buthelezi, saying those who have spoken ill of the deceased political veteran are misinformed about his place in South Africa’s tumultuous past. 

“He was a product of the time; he emerged during apartheid. Even in times of violence, he had to execute leadership and that is why so many people had come to bid him farewell,” he said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Buthelezi’s absence could spark power struggle for KZN leadership with king and IFP president put to the test

The leader of the IFP highlighted the irony of how Buthelezi had been portrayed, saying that despite the negative views about the prince, he was still entrusted by the ANC to be the acting president on numerous occasions. Buthelezi was also the longest-serving home affairs minister the country has ever had.

Buthelezi was a member of the ANC, but fell out with the then-leaders shortly after forming Inkatha in 1975.

As president of the IFP, Buthelezi started his work in Parliament in April 1994 and served as minister of home affairs in Nelson Mandela’s Cabinet under the Government of National Unity between 1994 and 1999. He was again appointed to the position between 1999 and 2004, serving under former president Thabo Mbeki. 

“He demonstrated honesty and he was a trustworthy servant. That is why he was appointed as the acting state president 22 times,” Hlabisa said.

Buthelezi’s view

Ahead of his 90th birthday in August 2018, Buthelezi claimed he had spoken to President Cyril Ramaphosa about the “unfinished business of reconciliation between the ANC and IFP”, but with little success.

Buthelezi revealed in a statement earlier this year that he had been meeting personally with Ramaphosa with the intention of mending the relationship between the two parties. However, the talks were halted after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He indicated that every time there seemed to be progress on the matter, the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal interfered. 

“For the past three decades, I have been calling on the ANC to heal the open wound between our parties that was inflicted during the liberation struggle, when an unjust campaign of vilification was waged against Inkatha and the strategy of People’s War was turned against us, igniting a vicious cycle of black-on-black violence.

“The KZN ANC prevented Madiba from fulfilling his signed commitment to hold joint rallies. They scuppered President Mbeki’s offer of the deputy presidency. They made defamatory claims about me, and hurled insults again and again,” read his statement, penned in May 2023.

Hlabisa said that one of Buthelezi’s greatest wishes was to ensure that  the two parties found common ground in his lifetime.

“The IFP is going to take up the ANC on reconciliation talks because it was the wish of the prince that when he closes his eyes they would have reconciled,” he said. 

At Buthelezi’s funeral in Ulundi, KwaZulu-Natal, last week, Ramaphosa called for an end to the bitter rivalry between the two parties. 

Daily Maverick has approached the ANC in KZN for comment, which will be added when received.

IFP gears up for 2024 elections 

Speculation has been rife about the future of the IFP following Buthelezi’s death as recent reports have alluded to infighting and calls for Hlabisa to be axed as the leader. 

Having led in all IFP party structures, Hlabisa was appointed provincial secretary for KwaZulu-Natal in 2011 and was then a member of the IFP’s National Executive Committee. In 2016 he was elected mayor of Hlabisa Local Municipality in uMkhanyakude District. He currently serves as the leader of the opposition in the KwaZulu-Natal legislature.

The former teacher was elected IFP president in 2019, having enjoyed great support from the late prince, which meant his competitors had little chance, especially while Buthelezi was still active in the party.

Hlabisa claimed to be oblivious of the faction in the party which wants him out, adding that he would continue to lead the party towards a successful 2024 election campaign. 

“My track record in the IFP speaks for itself; those who know me can tell you. Before the prince closed his eyes, he was happy with the IFP knowing the party was in safe hands. I do not know anything about intentions to remove me besides what I have seen in the media.

“We have seen organisations which have disintegrated after the passing of the founder, but Buthelezi leaves a rich history which needs to be taken forward. We do not foresee any problems in the IFP; we see the IFP being the government of KwaZulu-Natal. At national level we are a force to be reckoned with,” he said. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Mourners pay their respects to Mangosuthu Buthelezi while ANC and IFP commit to reconciliation efforts

The party’s 2024 election campaign will pay tribute to Buthelezi as it is expected that his image and not Hlabisa’s will be used for the IFP’s posters and messaging. The party also decided to honour Buthelezi during the 2021 local elections when he was the face of the organisation’s campaign despite stepping down as leader in 2019.

“The IFP is ready for its journey to 2024 and we have long put our matters into place. Since 2021 we have been shaping our strategy. We are on the right track and upward trajectory. We have to perform three times better than expected seeing that we are honouring the late prince of KwaPhindangene,” he said. 

The party’s electoral history can be characterised by many ups and downs. The IFP lost control of KwaZulu-Natal following the 2004 general elections.

Read more in Daily Maverick: IFP gives ANC wake-up call as it makes huge inroads in KwaZulu-Natal wards

In the 2014 general elections, the party achieved its lowest support since South Africa became a democracy and was relegated to being the third-largest party in KZN.

However, it has made a strong comeback since the 2016 municipal elections. In the 2019 general elections, the IFP won back the title of official opposition in KwaZulu-Natal.

In the 2021 local elections, it managed to maintain its upward trajectory by further increasing its support and it has since performed well in a number of by-elections in the province. DM

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