/ 31 October 2007

Missing the point in IFP succession

The continuing succession debate in the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) should focus more on devising strategies to manage the change of leadership and less on bashing party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi over perceptions that he is clinging to power.

Any succession road map in the IFP should make provisions for the establishment of the office of the former president because Buthelezi has a huge role to play in the transformation of the party.

Attempts to implode the party from within and force Buthelezi out through a secret ballot during the next elective conference in 2009 could alienate traditional supporters and threaten to destroy the party.

Those calling for Buthelezi to be voted out are missing the point or do not understand the animal that is the IFP.

How, for instance, do they suggest a leader not anointed or embraced by Buthelezi will be able to command the IFP traditional supporters the way Buthelezi does?

As a legitimate prince in the Zulu royal family, Buthelezi enjoys the support of the amaKhosi who still rule most of rural KwaZulu-Natal. Their confidence in him and the party as the last remaining conduit of Zulu traditionalism in South African politics makes the amaKhosi the IFP’s top lieutenants. They are instrumental in ensuring their subjects vote for the IFP at the polls.

The IFP as a traditional movement is deeply rooted in Zulu traditions, and the introduction of a commoner, especially without Buthelezi’s blessings, could alienate the amaKhosi.

The leading contenders in the party succession race — national organiser Albert Mncwango, national chair Zanele Magwaza-Msibi and secretary Musa Zondi — are all commoners who cannot summon the amaKhosi and other Zulu traditionalists in rural KwaZulu-Natal to a conference.

The introduction of these leaders by factions within the party and without proper consultation with traditional supporters is a bigger threat to the future of the party than Buthelezi clinging to power.

The succession road map in the IFP should recognise that there are significant numbers of supporters in the party who are less interested in the party’s policies and vote for the IFP only because they believe in Buthelezi.

Some see the IFP as the only conduit of Zulu traditionalism in the new South Africa and therefore more than just a party, but a movement and a way of life. The IFP way with Buthelezi at the helm is the only way these supporters know. Even the ANC gospel is new in some areas north of uThukela River.

These are some of the dynamics that a new IFP leader will have to appreciate and they are at the heart of ensuring that a new IFP does not become a clone of the ANC.

Those yearning for a new breed of leaders want to see the party transformed and repositioned to appeal to urban voters and the country’s growing black middle class.

But they do not offer solutions on how the party will achieve this without alienating its traditional support base.

As the second-biggest black political party, the IFP is in an enviable position in local politics.

Most political parties — especially those that formed part of the broad liberation movements — are dying in the new South Africa and their downfall has come not only as a result of their irrelevance, but as a result of the ANC’s chameleon-like policies.

The IFP, on the other hand, is rooted in a different constituency from that of the ANC and offers different and interesting federal governance policies.

Federalism, for instance, constitutionally accords provincial legislatures policy-making powers and gives them executive and administrative capacities — they do not exist merely to rubberstamp executive decisions, as happens now.

It is not clear how the party will navigate through the succession issue, but what is clear is that the genie escaped the bottle in 2004 when the youth defied Buthelezi by electing Ziba Jiyane instead of Buthelezi loyalist Lionel Mtshali to the position of party chair. The winds of change have been blowing ever since.