/ 8 April 2006

Buthelezi entrenches himself

Inkatha Freedom Party president Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s decision to subject his leadership to scrutiny, at a hastily convened special conference on Saturday, amounts to little more than a tactical move to entrench his position until the 2009 election.

Any challenge to his presidency has been widely dismissed; those able to take him on, like one-time chairperson Ziba Jiyane, have been hounded out. ”No one is going to challenge the founder of the party before 2009 … He’s perceived by the overwhelming majority of the supporters as our greatest asset,” said a party insider.

Spin doctors are already glossing up the recent municipal poll results, directing attention to the IFP’s increase in national support from 6,97% in 2004 to 8,05% in 2006. This interpretation is designed to neutralise criticism of Buthelezi’s leadership.

Not much mention is made of the party’s slide in its KwaZulu-Natal heartland, where it received 38,47% of the vote to the African National Congress’s 46,59%. The IFP also ceded control of several councils in the province, predominantly to the ANC.

In 2004, Buthelezi pulled a similar stunt in the wake of a similarly dismal election performance that reduced its national parliamentary seats from 34 to 28 and also saw it lose control of the KwaZulu-Natal legislature.

IFP national organiser Albert Mncwango said he did not want to pre-empt the decision of the 5 000 delegates on Buthelezi. ”As a democrat, he’s been leading the army into the electoral war. If the army doesn’t perform … the party did not perform to our expectations. But there’s no cause for alarm.”

Traditionally, only the secondary leadership of the IFP is contested. That’s why Jiyane’s July 2004 tussle for the party chair against Buthelezi loyalist Lionel Mtshali caused such ructions. It triggered a series of internal manoeuvres that ultimately led to Jiyane’s suspension.