The IFP's modern face

For months Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi, the Inkatha Freedom Party’s national chairperson and provincial premier candidate, has been criss-crossing KwaZulu-Natal and the rest of South Africa in a massive charm offensive and voter registration drive.

KwaZulu-Natal, ANC president Jacob Zuma’s home turf, will be hotly contested in next year’s election.

In 2004 the ANC polled just less than 1,3-million votes to the IFP’s one million and took the reins in KwaZulu-Natal. KaMagwaza-Msibi is being punted as her party’s hope of reversing its steady losses among the urban electorate. “Let’s fix it”, urges the IFP slogan on posters already on display in the province.

KaMagwaza-Msibi says speculation that the “Zuma factor” will result in the ANC “pulverising” the IFP next year is rash and premature.

“What mobilised people for Zuma was the way he was fired as deputy president. People think it was done because he’s a Zulu. “They’re crazy about Zuma but in the 2006 local election I went to his homestead and I campaigned there—and that is where the IFP got the most votes.”

Nkandla, Zuma’s home area, has 27 seats on its council, of which the IFP won 23.

Jacob Zuma, she insists, “is not a new phenomenon. He is a Zulu. But remember I’ve also always been Zulu.

“I have no doubt that our supporters will continue to support us. They know what our principles and policies are. They can differentiate.”

KaMagwaza-Msibi has a solid power base in the IFP. Mayor of the Zululand district municipality, she is the IFP’s first female national organiser and occasionally stands in as party president in Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s absence.

Born in Mahlabathini in northern KwaZulu-Natal—also Buthelezi’s home village—she joined the IFP at the age of 13 in 1975 and served on the executive committees of the party’s youth and women’s brigades.

KaMagwaza-Msibi has the blessing of the party’s elders, which helps her deal with the IFP’s traditionalist supporters. She is also a frequent guest at Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini’s functions.

But the 46-year-old is also attractive to women voters. Her selection as the IFP’s premier candidate may serve to attract more urban women and younger voters to the party.

Pundits suggest her appointment as the IFP’s KwaZulu-Natal premiership candidate could help reverse the party’s declining electoral fortunes, by signalling that the party is serious about modernising.

The IFP believes her local government experience could assist her in leading KwaZulu-Natal.

For the past six years her municipality has received unqualified reports from the Auditor General and in 2006 it received an award from KwaZulu-Natal local government department for service delivery.

Seen as hard working and accessible, she has been organising in other regions also, including Gauteng and the Eastern Cape.

While the IFP’s core support base is its Zulu-speaking constituency it positions itself as a conservative grouping that upholds “traditional family values”, “discipline” and “respect”.

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