Mangosuthu Buthelezi draws a line in the sand

DREW FORREST, Johannesburg | Friday

IN a powerful parliamentary speech full of veiled signals and undercurrents, Minister of Home Affairs and Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi gave notice of his anger with his African National Congress coalition partner this week.

Buthelezi was not alone in using the debate on President Thabo Mbeki’s state of the nation address to appeal to Mbeki, who was listening from the government benches.

New National Party leader Marthinus van Schalkwyk used the platform for a fulsome pledge of loyalty to his new ANC partner.
Two-thirds of his speech was devoted to attacking the Democratic Alliance, and he hinted broadly that he was looking forward to a Cabinet post.

Ditching the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility, Buthelezi attacked the government on HIV/Aids, the rand, unemployment and, without mentioning its name, Zimbabwe.

He baldly stated that the IFP had instructed the KwaZulu-Natal Premier, Lionel Mtshali, to distribute the anti-retroviral nevirapine to all HIV-infected pregnant women in the province.

Buthelezi implicitly brushed aside government pleas of infrastructural unreadiness for nevirapine rollout, saying that the 40% infection rate among pregnant women in KwaZulu-Natal amounted to a medical emergency. Where testing and counselling were not possible, all prospective mothers would get the drug.

Just as striking was Buthelezi’s resurrection of KwaZulu-Natal’s 10-year civil war and his warning that “we have not yet reached the point where the foundations of our democracy are solid enough to withstand old fractures”.

Complaining that Inkatha’s role in the liberation struggle had not been recognised, he raised his long-standing complaint of “a violent propaganda of vilification against me” and recent attacks on Inkatha officials.

“Only those who have witnessed the horrors of war can appreciate how true reconciliation, which goes deep in the hearts and minds of our people, is more important than any political or policy differentiation,” Buthelezi said. The implied warning was that a resumption of violence was still possible if the ANC and IFP could not cooperate.

In what may be an arm-twisting tactic at this stage, senior IFP officials have suggested to the Mail & Guardian that Inkatha is examining its governing partnership with the ANC. They also, surprisingly, indicated an openness to some form of relationship with the Democratic Alliance.

In his speech, Buthelezi slapped DA leader Tony Leon on the wrist for his “abrasive” debating style, saying Leon was not sufficiently sensitive to the collective psychology of black South Africans “who have been talked down to for centuries”.

But he went on to say Leon’s abrasiveness “is the product of high intellect and the spirited passion of a true patriot who means well ... We must learn to listen to him.”

On Aids, the economy and Zimbabwe, there was a marked similarity between Buthelezi’s pronouncements and Leon’s earlier speech in response to Mbeki.

The IFP leader called for “privatisation, not in a matter of years, but in a matter of months” and for the labour relations system to be re-engineered to create a flexible labour market.

Urging Mbeki to promote democracy in Africa just as vigorously as in countries “beyond the borders of our continent”, he said: “This is a time in history where friends and foes are counted, and those who try to sit on the fence are rapidly pushed into the camp of foes.”

In a veiled tilt at the ANC, he laid repeated stress on the need for political pluralism in South Africa and for “differentiated voices” to be heard and respected.

It was notable, also, that Leon made a point of reaching out to the IFP leader. In his speech he pledged “to work with others to harness the goodwill which, for example, the minister of home affairs advances so well”.

Van Schalkwyk’s address was less a response to Mbeki’s speech than an elaborate piece of kowtowing.

After a brief preamble calling for rapid economic growth and the development of small, medium and micro-enterprises, he rounded on the DP/DA, accusing it of double standards, arrogance, self-righteousness, hypocrisy, spin-doctoring and window-dressing.

Declaring that the challenge was to consolidate the political centre, and placing the DA “on the right-hand side of the political spectrum”, Van Schalkwyk said the ANC-NNP pact would forever change old racial divisions.

In a thinly veiled expression of Cabinet ambitions, he said: “I and many others never had the opportunity to work with a Zola Skweyiya, a Trevor Manuel, a Terror Lekota, a Ben Ngubane.”

The speech was hugely enjoyed on the government benches. Particularly well-received was the telling crack that the DA delivered lectures on good and stable government while being “the first party in history ... that caused a government to fall because of two street names”.

It highlighted the DA’s huge vulnerability to having a former insider as a political foe. Van Schalkwyk quoted a confidential DA document of January this year conceding “some suspicion, resentment and conflict between some people in the DA”, and “an unusually high degree of negative gossiping” in the party.

Van Schalkwyk contrasted this with Leon’s assurance in December that “the DA is today a party united for the first time since its inception”.