The sincerity of Inkatha president Mangosuthu Buthelezi's commitment to non-violence was virtually on trial in Durban this week, with a R20 000 damages claim against Frontline magazine and its editor, Denis Beckett. Buthelezi himself spent almost seven hours in the witness box answering questions about his speeches, his attitude to violence and the control he wields over the members and leaders of Inkatha.
Judge Alan Howard has reserved judgement, but the outcome is of great significance to the media because of the frequency with which defamation actions are launched by Buthelezi. Most of these claims are settled out of court; this is one of the few to reach a trial and it is certainly the first such case in which Buthelezi himself has given evidence.
The alleged defamation is part of an article written by Stephen Robinson, which originally appeared in the Spectator last July. He said Buthelezi was "nauseatingly pompous and self-important", that he claimed to be the "sole non-violent alternative to Marxist revolution" and that "his well- drilled impis regiments" were among the "most thuggish operators in South Africa".
Buthelezi told the court he was "appalled" by the article: he had never seen himself as pompous and he had "no personal impis who were thuggish operators". He said, "My commitment to non-violence is my entire life" and claimed that in attempting to ruin his international reputation as a leader wedded to non-violence, the article was part of an international campaign by the African National Congress to discredit him, using local and international media – including also the Boston Globe and the Manchester Guardian.
Under cross-examination he said he would follow the strategy of non-violence as long as it was the option chosen by his people, but that if they changed their minds and opted for violence, he would continue to lead them. Buthelezi said Inkatha was well disciplined and that disciplinary procedures existed and were used against members when warranted. However, he could not be expected to control the 1,5-million members of the organisation.
He said he knew nothing of the application in Pietermaritzburg earlier this week in which a temporary interdict was granted against a local Inkatha leader, ordering him not to assault members of a family. Nor did he know anything about interdicts brought over the past few years against other Inkatha members or leaders. He told the court that while he emphasised to members the organisation was non-violent he stressed equally their "inalienable right" both to self-defence and to rely on the principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
Edwin Cameron for Frontline said that in spite of what Buthelezi claimed about members acting in self-defence, Inkatha appeared "not to be the major victim of violence in Pietermaritzburg". Cameron quoted from the October PFP unrest monitoring report saying that of the people killed in the Pietermaritzburg townships between January and September this year, the local KwaZulu representative had identified only 18 of the 89 dead as Inkatha members. Buthelezi: "I do not know what to make of that."
Evidence was also given by two journalists. News editor of The Star, Peter Mann, told the court about an incident in which he was roughed up and his clothes torn at Ulundi when he arrived for an appointment with Buthelezi. He said a large crowd jostled him and waved placards objecting to a story he had written about a local farmer who named his dog after Buthelezi. He said that Buthelezi must have been aware of what was happening as it took place outside his office but he did not intervene. Finally, after the interview he left him with a group of armed men saying they were angry with him and that he "owed them an apology" for his article.
Senior Business Day reporter Roger Smith recounted several incidents supported by photographs – which he had witnessed, including one occasion on which a group of men, apparently under the leadership of senior Inkatha members, chased and assaulted mourners returning from a funeral.
Summing up his argument, David Gordon, SC, for Buthelezi, said the use of the pronoun "his" in the article to refer to the "well drilled impi regiments" implied that Buthelezi was "directing criminal conduct". The article also implied he was a poseur and that he was no democrat. His good name had been injured and it would not be unreasonable to award him R20 000 "for this grievous injury".
Asking for the claim to be dismissed, Cameron told the court that in Buthelezi's speeches he repeatedly relied on the menace of violence to warn off his opponents; his commitment to non-violence was, by his own admission, a question of strategy which could change and it was also clear that "persons within his inner circle of acquaintances had heel involved in thuggish acts".
Buthelezi keeps his cool with PW (but loses it with the media)
The much-heralded meeting of State President PW Botha and Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi this week saw no thaw in relations between them – but it will be remembered as a day when the KwaZulu chief minister lost his temper with the media. All eyes were on the two men, their every gesture and their body language as they shared a platform for the official opening of the new KwaZulu-Natal Joint Executive Authority in Durban. It was only their fifth known meeting in nine years and there was much speculation about whether it would mark the start of an improvement in their relations.
However, there was no evidence of any warming between the two, although each had limited – almost faint – praise for the other during their speeches. Botha said the JEA was a "much needed reflection of a socio-economic fact namely the interdependence of KwaZulu and Natal". He added that government in the region had-a good record of "negotiation, cooperation and mutual assistance", and that this was largely the result of the "leadership styles" of Buthelezi and the administrator of Natal, Radclyffe Cadman.
Buthelezi in turn said he recognised Botha as the head of state who had done "more than any other head of state at least to point this country in the direction of reform". He said Botha had "turned (his) face towards statesmanship" and under his hand there was now some prospect of a peaceful solution to South Africa's problems. However. departing from his prepared speech, Buthelezi said he was concerned about "white South Africa" when they could not meet "even halfway" with a Ieader like himself who had been "sentenced to death" because of his commitment to non-violence and negotiations.
He also called on Botha to re-examine the annual celebration of December 16, the day on which the Zulu forces were defeated by the Boers. He said next year was the 15th anniversary of the Battle of Blood River and he felt by that time "there should be a new covenant between us". There was no response from Botha to these remarks, and he remained stoney-faced at a call by the KwaZulu chief minister that he speed up the process of reform. He also appeared unmoved at comments by Buthelezi that although there was "no animosity" between the two of them, they had nothing to discuss".
At a news conference after the official opening, Buthelezi, obviously irritated with questions from media representatives, said he had not had "talks" with Botha over tea. He added they had not met recently as "there is not any point in seeing him at the moment; there is nothing to discuss. Asked a number of questions about the violence in Pietermaritzburg townships, he became increasingly angry. He said it was impossible for him to control all one million members of Inkatha, adding, "You cannot expect me to know what is going on in the hearts and minds of each member, especially where people are trying to intimidate Inkatha".
Buthelezi exploded, saying "Bullshit" several times when asked about his and Inkatha's role in the Pietermaritzburg violence. He told a number of reporters they "ought to do their homework" before asking him questions, said another should "stop doodling" with the questions he was asking, and said it was "no business" of anyone else what he planned to say in a court case the next day. Responding to another question, Buthelezi said there were some journalists who "tried to do this kind of quizzing on behalf of my political enemies" and he lashed out at a reporter asking, "What kind of journalist are you?" before one of the journalists remarked to much laughter, "You are touchy today, chief".
These articles originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.