Old ballies on the ballot: these faces have been on every vote sheet since 1994

08 May 2019 - 06:00
By Zimasa Matiwane
IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi. File photo.
Image: Archive IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi. File photo.

What do Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Kenneth Meshoe have in common? In addition to both being devoted Christians, they also hold the record of being the only faces who have been on every ballot paper since 1994.

Buthelezi and Meshoe have led their parties - the IFP and the ACDP - for 44 and 26 years respectively.

While Meshoe's party's fortunes have remained consistent throughout the years, the IFP has gone from governing KwaZulu-Natal to sitting on the opposition benches in that province.

Now, as the country goes to the polls for the sixth time since the first democratic vote in 1994, both men will be hoping for a change in fortunes.

Buthelezi will likely be banking on the collapse of the National Freedom Party - which has previously taken votes away from the IFP, particularly in KZN - and Meshoe will be hoping that some of the disgruntled DA supporters in the Western Cape add to his numbers.

In separate interviews this week, Buthelezi and Meshoe both said that the ANC had failed to build a truly free and democratic society.

Buthelezi said the country should have achieved strong economic growth, greater equality, success in the fight against poverty and far less crime by now.

"Undoubtedly things went wrong when the ruling party lost its moral compass and allowed corruption to gain a foothold. With the rot running so deep in the ruling party, the only option is to remove it completely and replace it with a leadership of integrity," Buthelezi said.

ACDP leader Kenneth Meshoe.
Image: Sunday Times ACDP leader Kenneth Meshoe.

Meshoe said the message of reconciliation and nation building that former president Nelson Mandela had championed was abandoned. Instead, the "race card" was too often used to cover up failures.

Buthelezi and Meshoe also described etiquette in parliament, where the IFP held 10 seats and the ACDP three, as "shocking" and indicated that debate had sometimes degenerated into chaos that they had never anticipated.

"The outbursts, physical brawls and disrespect that we see now, taking place in the first democratic parliament. There is undoubtedly a loss of respect for the dignity of parliament among some of its newer members," Buthelezi said.

"During the earlier years of our democratic dispensation, parliament had a decorum that was respected by all MPs. MPs understood the difference between robust debate and disrespect, and members of the public had a high regard for parliament," Meshoe said.

However, despite the "degenerated" parliament, Meshoe said he would go back to parliament as long as ACDP members wanted him to serve them, and that he would hand over the baton when the party chose another leader.

Buthelezi has indicated that he will retire from active politics after the elections. He said that despite the IFP having been led by the same leader since inception, the party was able to remain relevant and reinvent itself to adjust to the changing South African political landscape.

"When a party loses its relevance, it loses support. The mere fact of the IFP’s continued existence and support speaks of its continued relevance.

"We have also celebrated the rise of young leaders whose political acumen is outstanding, I think of the likes of Mkhuleko Hlengwa and Liezl van der Merwe," he added.

Buthelezi, 90, said he continued to lead the IFP to honour the wishes of its members. He says leadership is "about age, social intelligence, character, commitment, passion, a capacity to learn and the willingness to sacrifice for a greater cause".

"When I see that in young people, I am the first to call it forth and help it grow. In South Africa, while we have a largely youthful population, the global trend is still present. The percentage of South Africans over the age of 65 has more than doubled since 1950, while the percentage of those under 15 has been consistently declining since 1970.

"President [Thabo] Mbeki and President [Kgalema] Motlanthe were both in their fifties when they were inaugurated. But both President [Jacob] Zuma and President [Cyril] Ramaphosa were in their sixties. So it is not clear that leadership is getting younger," he explained.

Meshoe said while he respected the choice of younger leadership, he believed here at home, younger people still needed the wisdom, experience and guidance of older people.

"I therefore would not say younger people are better placed to take the country forward but I would say that older people need younger people just as the younger need the older people."

With a record 48 political parties contest this year's elections and competition looking rife, Meshoe said he did not feel threatened by new church-based political parties like the African Transformation Movement (ATM), African Freedom Revolution (AFR) and the Christian Political Movement (CPM).

"Those parties have not yet proven their commitment to scriptures that the ACDP is committed to; and they do not have a good track record that the ACDP has. Citizens of this country know that the ACDP is based on biblical principles, and those who believe in biblical principles will choose to support it," he added.

Both leaders urged South Africans to cast their votes on Wednesday.

"Make sure you vote, don’t miss this opportunity to restore integrity to governance," Buthelezi said.

"They must all remember that all votes are equally important, and will make a difference," Meshoe concluded.