/ 6 October 2006

IFP shifts focus from chiefs to yuppies

The IFP goes to its national general conference (NGC) this weekend to take stock of its declining fortunes and formulate a turnaround strategy to attract the ”sophisticated urban voter”. The NGC is the party’s highest decision-making body.

For the first time in the party’s 31year history, apparently in response to calls for greater democracy, the NGC of 100 members will be elected by delegates rather than being anointed by IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Elections will not, however, include current office bearers, including Buthelezi, whose term ends in 2009.

The IFP hopes to arrest its slide at the polls after it lost at least 20 municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal in the March municipal elections.

The ANC wrested control of the affluent Ugu (South Coast) District Municipality, while retaining other urban municipalities, including eThekwini, Pietermaritzburg and municipalities in the Midlands. The IFP was left with struggling rural councils, mostly in intensive care under the government’s Project Consolidate.

In 2002 the IFP controlled 51 of KwaZulu-Natal’s 61 municipalities; it now controls 31. It has only one councillor in the 11-member executive committee of the R14billion a year eThekwini metro.

It is thought that its drive — while the governing party — to make Ulundi KwaZulu-Natal’s administrative capital played a central role in alienating urban voters.

National organiser Albert Mncwango said Buthelezi had instituted a programme to ”rejuvenate and renew the party with a view to attracting the sophisticated urban voter”.

”This seems to be bearing fruit as Sadesmo [the South African Democratic Student’s Movement, the IFP’s student wing] has gained control of a number of universities and technikons,” said Mncwango.

”The conference will gear our membership for the 2009 general elections, when we hope to regain control of the province and municipalities we may have lost.”

The IFP will regroup at Emandleni-Matleng Youth Centre in Ulundi this weekend, where previously reformers squared up to the party ”old guard” — even defying a directive from Buthelezi — during the 2004 conference. The youth were revolting against Buthelezi’s choice of party chairman, Lionel Mtshali, electing Ziba Jiyane from the floor. He served less than a year before resigning and forming his own party.

Buthelezi was reinstated as party president in April at a special conference he called to review his leadership abilities and in the light of the poor election results. However, no deputy was chosen and no succession plan formulated.

At the conference, the IFP will also examine how to draw back supporters who dumped the party for Jiyane’s National Democratic Convention. Mncwango boasted that membership was growing and ”prodigal sons” were returning.

With an estimated two million supporters, the IFP remains South Africa’s second biggest black party and the ”only real threat to ANC dominance”.

Also troubling the IFP is the deterioration of relations between itself and the ANC in the provincial government, where Premier Sbu Ndebele has challenged Buthelezi to pull out of his Cabinet.

Ndebele told The Mercury: ”Buthelezi must pull out his ministers from the Cabinet and become a credible opposition, because at present he is playing a political hypocrisy by being a party of government from Monday to Friday. Then, on Saturday and Sunday, he becomes opposition and attacks the same government that affords him a political lifeline.”

Ndebele also refused to allow the IFP to fill the position of provincial minister Narend Singh, who was forced to resign after pictures of his sexual escapades were published in the Sunday Times.