Buthelezi's IFP 'strong as an elephant' as it launches election campaign

15 January 2019 - 16:55 By BONGANI MTHETHWA
IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi during the launch of the party's voter registration campaign at the Durban City Hall on Tuesday, January 15, 2019
IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi during the launch of the party's voter registration campaign at the Durban City Hall on Tuesday, January 15, 2019
Image: Thuli Dlamini

Hundreds of IFP supporters who gathered in front of the Durban City Hall on Tuesday for the launch of party’s voter registration campaign went wild when the DJ played the song Ayisoze yaphela amandla indlovu [The elephant will never lose strength] while waiting for their leader to address them.

The IFP, founded by its veteran leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi in 1975, adopted the elephant as its logo in 1998. No wonder the IFP supporters sang the song with such passion. During the 2014 national election, among the songs they sang were Iyaphi indlovu? Iyaphambili [Where is the elephant going? Forward].

When Buthelezi emerged from the podium to address them, the supporters went into a frenzy and greeted him with another song: Kubi, kubi! Siyaya okhethweni [No matter how difficult it is, we’re going to the election].

That’s how the IFP launched its voter registration campaign ahead of this year’s national elections — the date of which has not yet been proclaimed by President Cyril Ramaphosa. The IFP’s voter registration campaign was launched three days after the ANC launched its election manifesto at a packed Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Saturday.

When Buthelezi took to the podium, his message was simple: he exhorted the people of South Africa to get ready to vote.

"When it comes to something as important as shaping the future, there are things you need to prepare. The first thing on the checklist is registering. If you want to become part of the conversation, if you want your voice to be heard, if you want to dictate your own future, you need to register to vote," he told his supporters.

The veteran IFP leader, who celebrated his 90th birthday late last year, told his supporters that there were only 10 days left before the final voter registration weekend on January 26 and 27. He urged those who had not yet registered to put reminders on their phones and decide on which day they would go to register as "this is an event not to be missed" and a "pivotal moment of democracy".

Buthelezi was worried that most young people were not registered to vote.

"I know I’m speaking mostly to young people, because more than half of our population is under 30. But South Africans aged between 18 and 30 have the lowest rate of voter registration of all. This is bad news and does not make sense. You are the change makers, the thought leaders and opinion shapers. Tomorrow belongs to you. The vast majority of South Africa’s voters should be the youth. Let’s put this right by getting you registered.

"The future is made by those who participate. I know you have something to say. So make sure you can say it when the moment arrives. When South Africa goes to the ballot box, make sure you can join," he said.

But he then dropped a bombshell: "I personally am very sceptical about a free and fair election. I remember talking to his Excellency Dr Salim Ahmed Salim who was then the secretary of the Organisation of African Unity. I said,  'Your Excellency has there ever been a free and fair election in Africa?' He sort of giggled, 'Ho, ho, ho, yes of course if it’s credible.' So that’s why I am sceptical."

IFP chief whip Narend Singh said the ANC already knew the date of the elections but were keeping it a secret to prevent other parties from starting their election campaigns.

"But we want them to know that the IFP is on the election campaign trail and today is a very important day for the Inkatha Freedom Party because without volunteers, without people being registered to vote, them telling us that they like uMntwana [Buthelezi], or they like anybody in the NEC, or they like the IFP does not matter at all. What matters is the day of the elections when they walk into the voting booth and put the cross for the IFP," he said.