OPINION | 'Buthelezi was a political maverick and ideological fraudster who used violence to keep his grip on power'

15 September 2023 - 18:38 By castro ngobese
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Mangosuthu Buthelezi was a 'political maverick and an ideological fraudster', according to the author.
Mangosuthu Buthelezi was a 'political maverick and an ideological fraudster', according to the author.

Last weekend the Buthelezi family announced the death of Mangosuthu Buthelezi through a well-tailored statement. They said the following: “We thank the nation for the immense support that has been shown towards our family in the past few weeks and give thanks for the prayers that will surely sustain us now. May South Africa’s beloved servant rest in peace.”

Disowned by his once powerful media allies in the West, the New York Times carried an op-ed under the headline: “Mangosuthu Buthelezi Dies at 95; Zulu Nationalist and a Mandela Rival”. The newspaper characterised Buthelezi as a political demagogue and opportunist.

He is branded as a “Zulu nationalist who positioned himself as Nelson Mandela's most powerful black rival in South Africa's tortuous transformation from a white segregationist society to a multiracial democracy in the 1990s”.

The Guardian in the UK was equally not as merciful in its reportage about his passing. Clearly, in the last 29 years, the West has had its Damascus moment on its erstwhile agenda to project Afrikaner apartheid role players and their black surrogates as just and important buffers against a Soviet-inspired ANC.

Buthelezi was a political maverick and an ideological fraudster who used violence to keep his grip on power. He is one of those characters who should be condemned to the dustbin of history. No amount of sanitising his role, like Mbuyiseni Ndlozi poorly attempted to do, will change history.

Of course his death, in all fairness and rightfully so, should be devastating to his family and Inkatha membership, no less some remaining fringe elements of the past that were storm troopers of his double agenda. To many, who are old enough and were staying in the KwaZulu homeland or Natal and what was the PWV then, Inkatha still represents an anachronism of that ugly past, even after its rebranding.

During the eve of our 1994 negotiated political settlement and democratic breakthrough, Inkatha nearly put the country into a civil war precipice. The refusal to participate in elections unless their so-called “Zulu Nation” demands were met; a call for federalism against a unitary government system; and then their march to storm Shell House with arms like the peasants' storming of the Bastille in Paris in 1871.

As one revered US writer and public critic, Michiko Kakutani, reminds us: “Facts need testimony to be remembered and trustworthy witnesses to be established to find a secure dwelling place in the domain of human affairs.” Indeed, diverse voices within South African society, mostly in various working class townships and rural areas, especially in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, share contesting “testimony to be remembered” about Buthelezi and which undoubtedly will forever “secure dwelling place in the domain of human affairs” for successive generations to come.

A few weeks before Buthelezi's 95th birthday celebrations, where Inkatha governs the public purse was abused openly and unashamedly on PR events designed to catapult him, and feed a false narrative that he was among “South Africa's beloved servants” through a stage-managed lecture delivered by Nigeria's former president Olusegun Obasanjo, as well a glittery function for the renaming of a public building attended by former president Kgalema Motlanthe and a soccer tournament featuring Kaizer Chiefs legends played in Ulundi.

To the extent that history is forever told and passed from one generation to the other, it stands to reason that history does not only have no blank pages, but the ink that tells the truth never dries.

It was on May 21 1989, just outside Pietermaritzburg, in the sprawling township of Imbali,  a trade unionist by the name of Jabulile Ndlovu, her husband Jabulani and daughter Khumbu were butchered and their home burnt to ashes by Inkatha warlords. Coincidentally, this happened on the night when Jabulile came back from a Numsa national congress in Johannesburg that bestowed its highest honour on Harry Gwala, who was a staunch critic and ideological opponent of Buthelezi.

Similarly in 1991, Thokoza township was ravaged by bloodshed that claimed the life of Sam Ntuli, another trade unionist and civic leader. He was a person the community rallied behind. He was seen as an threat by the Inkatha-aligned “Khumalo Gang” and was eliminated. His death escalated violence and as a result, scores of mourners were attacked during his funeral. Thokoza became a killing field and no-go area.

The most brutal assassination was carried out in 1985, in uMlazi. Victoria Mxenge was killed in the presence of her offspring by assassins wearing Inkatha T-shirts bearing Buthelezi's face. Her body was riddled with bullets and hacked with an axe. Everybody knows that the Security Branch worked closely with Inkatha's Caprivi trainees. Mxenge's murder was celebrated in high echelons of power inside Inkatha structures.

The organised worker formations, especially Cosatu, never escaped Buthelezi's wrath. When it was formed in 1985, Buthelezi formed a parallel vigilante union, United Workers Union of South Africa (Uwusa). This gumboot and yellow union's primary aim was to defend the interests of international and domestic monopoly capital, and undermine all actions by progressive trade unions, for apartheid South Africa never to suffer any form of sanctions, as was propagated by the exiled ANC as a tactical tool to weaken apartheid Pretoria, informed by their four pillars — the underground, international isolation, mass work and boycotts.

When students, inspired by the 1973 Durban strikes, decided to confront the apartheid oligarchy and swamped the streets, on June 16, 1976, resulting in scores of them being injured and some killed, like Hastings Ndlovu, Buthelezi condemned the protest and sided with the Pretoria regime. He saw the protesting students as a threat to his political project to position himself as the ultimate “leader and voice of black aspirations”.

Hence, it was by no surprise when he returned the same favour eight years later. The Azaso activists were slaughtered in oNgoye in 1983, in their opposition of Inkatha, particularly Buthelezi as a self-proclaimed face of the “struggle” inside the country. The families who lost their loved ones can't commemorate the oNgoye massacre, because of the violence-prone Inkatha.

When Inkatha was formed in 1975, the exiled ANC leadership was not involved nor was it a front of the movement. The much talked about 1979 meeting in London, was part of efforts to establish working links but such efforts collapsed. Hence, it spawned efforts to form the United Democratic Front (UDF) as a popular representative of the then oppressed people of South Africa to work closely with the ANC. The claim “Inkatha was formed with [Oliver]Tambo's mandate” was part of a well-calculated strategy to secure and guarantee support, and position Inkatha as a trusted vehicle to fill the political or leadership gap after the banning of movements, incarceration of leaders and forced exile of opponents.

We remember in 1968 after the demise of King Cyprian kaBhekuzulu, Buthelezi attempted to capture the “throne” to further his political ambitions. It was not by accident that Prince Mcwayizeni Zulu, a long-standing member of the ANC, had to ascend on an acting basis to the throne. This placed him at loggerheads and bickering with Buthelezi for many years.

Even today Inkatha is hell-bent on capturing the “Zulu royal household” to further its political agenda and entrench tribal divisions, as opposed to building one South African nation, free from any form of tribal lineages.

The notorious Caprivi — a clandestine killing training field once used by members of the Special Branch under the command of Eugene de Kok — was a training ground of Zulu Police (ZP), feared snipers like S'phiwe Mvuyane and Romeo Mbambo. They were known for the reign of terror they unleashed in most townships under the KwaZulu Bantustan government led by Buthelezi. They were protected by the Inkatha leadership hierarchy.

As Buthelezi transits to the nooks and crannies of the universe, to face his sins and fate, one is reminded of Themba Khoza, a personification of the bloodthirsty Inkatha. His death was shrouded in mystery in the midst of 19 criminal charges pending against him related to incitement of violence, gun running and murder.

The death of Buthelezi might present a desired internal chaos, leading to Inkatha's self-destruction and the implosion of this Bantustan party. A political and electoral space without Inkatha is the most desirable one.

* Castro Ngobese is an executive director of the Mz'ontsundu Book Festival and a board member of S'miso Nkwanyana Centre for Alternative Ideas.

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