Inkatha Freedom Party president Mangosuthu ButheleziÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 … HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 IFPÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s increase in national support from 6,97% in 2004 to 8,05% in 2006. This interpretation is designed to neutralise criticism of ButheleziÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s leadership.
Not much mention is made of the partyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s slide in its KwaZulu-Natal heartland, where it received 38,47% of the vote to the African National CongressÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been leading the army into the electoral war. If the army doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t perform … the party did not perform to our expectations. But thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no cause for alarm.”
Traditionally, only the secondary leadership of the IFP is contested. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why JiyaneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 JiyaneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s suspension.