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Time for Buthelezi to own his deeds

Throughout the apartheid era Mangosuthu Buthelezi proclaimed his opposition to the racist ideology even when it was patently clear to even the dimmest cretin that he was in bed with the National Party.

Ever the pious self-promoter, the Inkatha Freedom Party leader proclaimed himself a peace-loving civil rights and democracy campaigner. He even elevated himself to the status of Martin Luther King Jnr and Mahatma Gandhi and laid claim to being the custodian of the philosophies of Chief Albert Luthuli.

How Buthelezi managed to sustain this myth successfully in many quarters is not difficult to fathom. He had the full backing of the apartheid propaganda machine, the very machine that convinced white South Africans that they were living in a typical Western-style democracy. He also had the support of the international conservative lobby, some of whom took to him because his party represented the Tarzan image of Africa that fascinates rightwingers. And Buthelezi, being the cunning political operator that he is, cynically exploited the base nationalist instincts of some within the Zulu peasantry to shore up his political support.

So when apartheid began to unravel, he resisted change with great force. In the valleys and townships of KwaZulu Natal are the graves of thousands who were victims of violence initiated, instigated and perpetuated by Inkatha militias. Orphans, widows and widowers lost loved ones simply because they opposed the system that Buthelezi so loyally served. Roaming the length of that province (and indeed other parts of the country) are many men who killed in the name of the IFP.

Whether Buthelezi sanctioned the violence that was carried out in his name is something that could only ever be established in a court of law — an unlikely event. So, until a court of law finds otherwise, we will presume him innocent.

History, however, is not as kind as we are.

In the final report of the truth commission, the most comprehensive and authoritative record of South Africa under apartheid, history passes its judgement on the IFP leader. The report, which Buthelezi strenuously fought, spells out clearly that he not only knew of the killing machine operated by his underlings and their security force handlers, but that he himself was partly responsible for its design.

Today Buthelezi is a senior minister in the democratic post-apartheid government, sometimes even running the country when President Thabo Mbeki and his deputy Jacob Zuma are abroad. Today he is fêted at state banquets and has his views sought by powerful interest groups. He even has the word “dignitary” attached to his name on official programmes. Abroad he is regarded as an architect of our democratic order. And in South Africa’s promiscuous political set-up other opposition leaders are busy flashing their worn thighs in his direction.

A dangerous tendency is creeping into South African life, that of wanting to wipe the slate of our past clean and move on, as if the evil  we exorcised nine years ago never existed. While we do not believe there should be too much dwelling on the past, we also do not believe that we will build a decent society by white-washing historical crimes.

It is in this context that we applaud the truth commission’s stern decision to stand by its final report and not, in effect, to lie to future generations. When Buthelezi supped with the likes of PW Botha and Magnus Malan, he was fully aware of what he was doing. He must start to take responsibility for his acts.

Call off this witch-hunt

The African National Congress leadership’s broadsides against the “total onslaught” by the alleged ultra-left, reminiscent of the Nats at their most irrational, must really come to an end. Real far leftists, who want a workers’ paradise yesterday, are so thin on the ground in South Africa that President Thabo Mbeki and his lieutenants demean themselves by focusing on them so obsessively and whipping up a McCarthy-style witch-hunt. It is ludicrous to stigmatise labour and communist leaders in this way because they oppose ANC economic policies. More importantly, it suggests an intolerant streak in the party that cannot accept internal dissent and would like to install an unquestioning cult of leadership.

Our focus on social movements this week underscores their very diverse nature. In some cases, the ultra-left tag makes sense, in others it is patently off-mark. A credible case can be made that many of these movements answer a need for independent civic activism in a country where millions remain poor and voiceless.

But the central point is that South Africa is a constitutional democracy that enshrines the basic freedoms. Mbeki and his inner circle may see the thinking of Leon Trotsky as an ideological crime, and one can certainly argue that these views are atavistic in the year 2003. Activists who break the law should not complain if they land up in court. But the Constitution is clear: citizens may hold, propagate and organise people around any views they please.

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