South Africa


IFP charts new course without founder Mangosuthu Buthelezi

IFP charts new course without founder Mangosuthu Buthelezi
Illustrative image, from left: A portrait of the late IFP founder Mangosuthu Buthelezi and IFP president Velenkosini Hlabisa. (Photos: Gallo Images / Beeld / Deaan Vivier | Shelley Christians)

The 2024 elections will be the first contested by the IFP without its long-standing leader, the late Mangosuthu Buthelezi. It’s a complex transition and means the emeritus president’s face will continue to feature on election T-shirts.

At Thursday’s memorial service at Cape Town’s St George’s Cathedral, tribute was paid to the late IFP founder and emeritus president, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, in the presence of diplomats, MPs from across the political spectrum and others.

Much of the focus was on his “public service with integrity” – having acted 22 times as South Africa’s president over his decade as home affairs minister – as well as his charm and faith.

ANC first Deputy Secretary-General Nomvula Mokonyane stood in for Deputy President Paul Mashatile, who had to stand in for President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Saudi Africa Summit, and brought in the politically renewed talk of ANC-IFP reconciliation.

In doing so, Mokonyane picked up where Ramaphosa had left off at Buthelezi’s funeral in September when he said, “It is important that we fulfil the wishes he (Buthelezi) had for a sustainable and durable reconciliation not only between the IFP and the ANC, but amongst all of us as the people of South Africa.”

Scars remain in many communities from the IFP-ANC conflict in KwaZulu-Natal that also rippled along the traditional migrant routes to Gauteng’s hostels where IFP supporters organised themselves against the United Democratic Front’s self-defence units.

Following Buthelezi’s funeral, initial steps towards this reconciliation faltered when the ANC delegated responsibility for this, much to the IFP’s chagrin.

On Thursday, IFP president Velenkosini Hlabisa responded to Mokonyane’s gesture, saying: “The IFP extends its hand so that we open the discussions so we heal the past.”

Three weeks ago, Hlabisa took up the parliamentary seat Buthelezi occupied from 1994 until his death on 9 September 2023.

For many in the IFP, this is the appropriate transition – from president emeritus to president. For others, Hlabisa’s move out of KwaZulu-Natal signals factional jockeying, particularly within the province.

Traditionally, tensions in the IFP rarely hit the spotlight, unlike the ANC’s or even the DA’s spats. One reason was the interventions by Buthelezi, often behind the scenes. In his absence, others, like IFP veteran Musa Zondi, now a KwaZulu-Natal MPL, might well step up.


With the 2024 election squarely in sight, the IFP has scheduled its policy conference over two days from 12 December. Unfolding alongside a volunteer campaign is a so-called listening campaign that sees party leaders meet communities as well as business and other groupings in various dorpies over weekends.

This approach has paid off for the IFP in recent elections. 

The 2019 poll reversed the vote-haemorrhaging to bolster its National Assembly seats to 14, from the 10 it had obtained in the 2014 elections, according to the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC). But it’s still way off the 43 parliamentary seats the IFP secured in 1994 in the first democratic elections which it joined at the last minute.

A similar upswing happened in KwaZulu-Natal where the IFP got four more seats in the provincial legislature, making it 13, up from the nine secured in the 2014 elections, according to the IEC. 

With this, the IFP displaced the DA as the official opposition in the province. Again, it’s a far cry from 1994 when the IFP governed the province, but it’s got the IFP confident of a return to better days.

While public election polling is no surefire predictor, the Social Research Foundation (SRF) in October has the IFP sharply up, both in KwaZulu-Natal and nationally where it rose to 6% from 2% in July 2022. 

This is in line with the IFP’s 7% national support indicated in the recent Sabi Survey Brenthurst Foundation poll. Such polling is effectively around double the 3.38% the IFP scored in the 2019 election.

On the KwaZulu-Natal provincial ballot, if elections were held today, the SRF puts the IFP at 27-28% across voter turnout scenarios from 66% to 49%. That’s better than the DA at 19-21%, even if that polling is at least five percentage points better than the DA’s 2019 support in KwaZulu-Natal.

Such IFP polling is closing the gap with the ANC, which SRF has at 37-41% on the various voter turnout scenarios if elections were held today in KwaZulu-Natal. 

The ANC obtained 55.47% in the 2019 elections, which was a drop from the 65.31% it got in the 2014 elections under the then ANC president Jacob Zuma. These numbers help explain why the KwaZulu-Natal ANC is reaching out to Zuma for help on the 2024 campaign trail.


Crucially, this polling signals a real possibility of shifts in the upcoming elections in KwaZulu-Natal, which could make kingmakers of the IFP. Pundits put the Multi-Party Charter coalition agreement with a real chance in that province.

But much depends on post-election dynamics. If, for example, the DA insists on its premier candidate without having clinched the most votes, it may become a coalition deal-breaker, even if the IFP is a founding member of the Multi-Party Charter. 

Or, as IFP national spokesperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa put it, “We are not prepared to govern at all costs… If what’s on the coalition table puts us out in the opposition, so be it.”

The IFP stepped out of the Multi-Party Charter line when it supported the new public protector Kholeka Gcaleka’s selection in Parliament. 

Right now, the possibilities abound.

If the Multi-Party Charter coalition talks go well, KwaZulu-Natal may become another non-ANC-governed province.

But nothing would stand in the way of the ANC offering the IFP, for example, the KwaZulu-Natal premiership and perhaps a Cabinet position or two at national level.

An offer like that would, if nothing else, tap into nostalgia for the post-1994 election government when Buthelezi was home affairs minister, and the IFP also held the arts and culture and correctional services ministries. 

This arrangement became undone in 2004 through a confluence of factors, including IFP disenchantment that issues regarding traditional leaders remained unresolved, and by the ANC embracing the New National Party with a constitutional amendment allowing the Nats to cross the floor and break from the DA, taking their legislature seats with them. Ultimately, the NNP merged with the ANC.

In 2004, the IFP did not take up then president Thabo Mbeki’s offer of two deputy ministries.

That year, in KwaZulu-Natal, the IFP was trounced at the hustings and the ANC – which in 1999 withdrew its premier candidate just before the vote to allow the IFP to retain the post in a cooperative arrangement – took full control of the province.

Permutations may also involve Gauteng where the ANC is, across surveys, earmarked to lose control. With the ANC’s cooperation with the EFF apparently breaking up, the IFP – which has been on good terms with the ANC – may present a more palatable option. 

Local dynamics are important in what is essentially a federal party.

But it’s understood that little appetite exists in the IFP for working with the ANC, even more so in KwaZulu-Natal. Ditto at a national level. 

But here, the ANC-IFP reconciliation overtures could become an important icebreaker – and that’s the importance of Mokonyane’s renewed outreach at Thursday’s memorial for Buthelezi. Such reconciliation ran like a thread through his almost 30-year tenure in Parliament.

But reconciliation does not equate to merger – or even cooperation. 

“We are a party at work,” says Hlengwa, talking of “confidence” that the transition following Buthelezi’s death would unfold as required. 

“It’s business as usual for the IFP.”

Crucially, the IFP has bolstered its electoral standing in elections since 2019. If that trend continues, the party may well be a kingmaker – in KwaZulu-Natal and nationally, particularly if coalition-making is required.  The IFP bears watching in a 2024 election touted by pundits as a watershed for South Africa’s constitutional democracy. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    But isn’t it same old same old with IFP and old men mainly…? Hope their policy shuffle produces something worth backing and new. ANC of course has policy galore which it completely ignores but there some evidence of IFP meaning what it says occasionally, if the suns shining and the winds blowing the right way.

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