/ 2 February 2008

The IFP: Between a rock and a Zuma

Like the elephant on its crest, there was a degree of dimorphism about the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) at its draft policy launch recently.

Its past, especially the party’s role in the internecine violence of the 1980s and 1990s, was reshaped towards absolution during a narrative history kicked off by Generations actress Winnie Ntshaba.

The party has acknowledged the need to modernise and target urban voters. But its refusal to address the repercussions of Jacob Zuma’s rise to the African National Congress’s presidency (or admit to its own history of ethnic mobilisation) and the management of its own succession debate around president Mangosuthu Buthelezi are, on both counts, anachronisms.

Buthelezi refused to be drawn on Zuma’s impact on Zulu voters. He dismissed the notion that the IFP was a party with a majority Zulu support base that had been mobilised along ethnic lines.

”This meeting is about the IFP, not Mr Zuma … There is nothing in our constitution about us being a Zulu party. We have whites, Indians, blacks and even Chinese as members,” he told the Mail & Guardian.

Political analyst Protas Madlala believes this denialism will allow even more space for the ANC to manoeuvre gains among the KwaZulu-Natal electorate. ”There is the issue of Zuma: a popular man with a common touch who practises Zulu culture, respects the amakhosi and hasn’t antagonised the indunas.”

”They [the IFP] have overplayed the whole Zulu ethnic card in the past and it has come back to haunt them,” added Madlala, recalling IFP election pamphlets during the 2004 national election that warned against ”the Xhosas wanting to take over and rule KZN”.

The issue of finding a successor to Buthelezi has also bedevilled the IFP. While the leadership appears bereft of someone with Zuma’s charisma to replace Buthelezi, the party must contend with its own traditional values. Indunas, integral instruments in pro-IFP political mobilisation within the Zulu social hierarchy, might not countenance a commoner taking over the reins of the party.

While Buthelezi remains optimistic about the IFP’s future, the picture painted by the electorate is clear: in the 2004 national election the party won 7% of the votes and 28 parliamentary seats, compared with 8,9% and 37 parliamentary seats in 1999, and a high in 1994 of 10,5% and 43 seats. It has no Cabinet ministers in national government and has lost control of the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government.

The IFP’s draft policy plan has nine central issues, which it hopes will place the party as a viable alternative to the ruling ANC.

The nine areas are: combating poverty, law and order, education, health, the democratic challenge, redressing the wrongs of the past, South Africa in the world, the moral challenge and job creation through maximising economic growth.