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IFP looks beyond Buthelezi legacy to gain critical votes outside traditional support base

IFP looks beyond Buthelezi legacy to gain critical votes outside traditional support base
Illustrative image: Velenkosini Hlabisa, IFP president. (Photos: Wikimedia | Gallo Images / OJ Koloti | Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

The Inkatha Freedom Party launches its manifesto this weekend, facing a crucial test in the May 29 elections to prove its mettle beyond the shadow of its late founder Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, as it strives to appeal to a broader, younger voter base and navigate the turbulent waters of Jacob Zuma's new MK party.

The Inkatha Freedom Party’s biggest challenge during the upcoming elections is to prove that it can survive and remain a force to be reckoned with, even beyond its founder Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who died in September 2023.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Buthelezi looms large as IFP kicks off campaign with vow to tackle corruption and fix municipalities

This is the view of political pundits after the IFP held several events — especially in KwaZulu-Natal, pulling out all the stops in wooing its supporters to fill up Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium, where it will launch its 2024 election manifesto on Sunday 10 March.

KZN is the battleground province, with just over 5,7 million registered voters – only second to Gauteng, which has nearly 7 million registered voters. The current ruling party in the province, the ANC, is at its weakest and also has to contend with the breakaway Umkhonto Wesizwe Party (MK Party). Even before the formation of the MK Party, opinion polls had predicted that the province, like Gauteng, is likely to emerge with a coalition government. The IFP and the DA, with the help of smaller parties in the Moonshoot Pact, are hoping to wrest KZN away from the ANC for the first time since 2004.

The IFP was formed in 1975. Buthelezi, who relinquished the party presidency to incumbent Velenkosini Hlabisa, remained its MP in the National Assembly and remained very popular within the party structures until his death. Even after his death, the party insist on using Buthelezi as the face of the party, relying on his wide appeal and popularity, rather than the image of Hlabisa.

IFP President Velenkosini Hlabisa

IFP President Velenkosini Hlabisa at the Women’s Day celebration at Germiston Stadium on 9 August, 2022 in Germiston. (Photo: Gallo Images/OJ Koloti)

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

Since its inception, the IFP has been unashamedly conservative and right-wing. It also promotes KZN regionalism. During the first decade of the post-apartheid period, the IFP received over 90% of its support from ethnic Zulus. Since then, the party has tried to raise its national profile and its attractiveness to non-Zulu voters by promoting social and economic conservative policies, with very little success.

In the 2019 general election, the IFP came in fourth place nationally, winning 3.38% of the vote and 14 seats in the National Assembly.

Mkhuleko Hlengwa, IFP’s national spokesman, said the party was ready to unleash a powerful election manifesto that will give South Africans an alternative to all the wrongs that are happening in the country at the moment. He said:

“We are in a good shape and we are buoyed by the by-election results of the past few months. We are ready to build on the legacy that was started by Prince Buthelezi and we are positive that voters will respond positively to our manifesto. This is the second election under our President Velenkosini Hlabisa as he was leading the party when we campaigned for the 2021 local government elections. We are building from that and the policy conference we had in December 2023.

“The IFP will use the manifesto launch to kick-start its campaign and send party agents and activists to speak to the voters. We have submitted our papers to the IEC (Independent Electoral Commission) yesterday (Thursday) and we are contesting these elections in all nine provinces and we will be campaigning across the country,” Hlengwa said.

IFP supporters

IFP supporters gathered in Randburg on 16 September, 2022. (Photo: Gallo images/Papi Morake)

Beyond Buthelezi

Zakhele Ndlovu, a senior political lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said the upcoming elections offer the IFP an opportunity to come out of the spectre of Buthelezi and chart a new direction without its founder.

“This is first elections the IFP will be fighting without its spiritual leader. The party needs to show that it can adapt to the new political realities. The biggest challenge for the party is to appeal beyond its Zulu support base. If the party wants to survive and prosper it will need to appeal to younger voters, the majority of whom will be voting for the first time.

“Also, the formation of the MK Party is both opportunity and a poisoned chalice for the IFP. The MK Party does not pose a threat to the ANC alone, the IFP is also vulnerable. We are talking here about a party formed whose face is Jacob Zuma [who] portrays himself as someone who appeals to the traditional Zulu tribalists. When he was elected the president of the ANC, he took many IFP supporters with him. But the formation of the MK Party is also an opportunity for the IFP because that party will further weaken the ANC, especially in KZN, and offer the IFP an opportunity to win enough support to govern the province with the DA. But it remains to be seen whether the IFP will rise to the challenges it faces,” Ndlovu said.

Retired academic Professor Musa Xulu, said with Buthelezi gone, the IFP faces four key challenges; a a legacy of association with violence, no leader with national appeal, a public image of Zulu ethnicity and being very thin on policy and tending to mimick whatever the ANC say.

“The IFP have been able to maintain some growth and stability in KZN, especially in rural areas north of Uthukela River. Although it is not always accurate or wise to compare local government tallies to the general elections, the IFP rose to 24% of the vote in KZN. If they grow from there they could reach 27%. But most polls predict the party will get between 21% and 24% in KZN and up to 5% nationally.

“Buthelezi was always a figurehead of the IFP, able to reign in or command warlords, Christians, teachers aligned to Natu, amakhosi and even izinkabi within the party,” Xulu said. DM


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