Inkatha Freedom Party members who have been campaigning for national chairperson Zanele Magwaza-Msibi to succeed Mangosuthu Buthelezi as party president have voiced concerns about a patriarchal ceiling in leadership structures of the largely Zulu organisation.
This follows a weekend resolution by the IFP’s national council to redeploy Magwaza-Msibi from the mayoral seat at the Zululand District municipality to the KwaZulu-Natal legislature.
Said Nhlanhla Khawula, spokesperson for the recently formed Friends for VZ (Magwaza-Msibi’s Christian name is Veronica) support group: “Last year my brother [Mntomuhle Khawula], the provincial chairperson, said at an IFP meeting that a woman will never become president of the party. This latest move by the national council has made it clear that those who want to serve their own interests by holding on to power in the party are also playing the gender card to do so.”
IFP Women’s Brigade members, speaking to the Mail & Guardian on condition of anonymity, raised similar concerns about the gender messages the party was sending out. So did Magwaza-Msibi backer Ivan Barnes, who has continued to lobby IFP structures to support her, despite being expelled: “It is becoming apparent that the IFP is being run by chauvinists, which is why we will continue to call for change.”
But Women’s Brigade chairperson Thembi Nzuza said these claims were mischievous and instigated by “ANC vultures circling our national chairperson”.
The IFP has been divided by a succession battle to replace Buthelezi, made more acute by the party’s poor showing in last year’s national general election. The M&G understands that a pro-Magwaza-Msibi faction has been facing off against those supporting general secretary Musa Zondi — but both have publicly declared that they have no interest in the presidency.
Magwaza-Msibi supporters consider her proposed redeployment as an attempt by party traditionalists to remove the national chairperson from a grassroots support base in what is the IFP’s core constituency.
“She is very popular on the ground and is the face of service delivery for the IFP in a municipality that has been run effectively and won awards. Buthelezi and Zondi want to cut her off from the mass support she has,” said a Magwaza-Msibi lobbyist.
The lobbyist, who claims the faction has been working tirelessly in building branches and ensuring support for Magwaza-Msibi when the IFP finally holds its elective conference, said he was confident that nine of the 11 party districts in the province “were ready to vote for her tomorrow”.
This follows recent media reports that IFP branches in the Eastern Cape and Gauteng were also ready to vote for Magwaza-Msibi.
A Magwaza-Msibi lobbyist said attempts by the leadership to nip the calls for reforms in the bud with the suspension of dissidents had not stopped several expelled members from campaigning: “We believe those expelled will be reinstated when Magwaza-Msibi becomes president,” said the lobbyist, who was not expelled himself.
The IFP’s national elective conference — initially scheduled for late last year — was postponed again this week for a further month, as was the deadline for registration of branches. Magwaza-Msibi backers say this is an attempt by traditionalists to build up “skeleton or ghost branches” that will vote for Zondi. “But we will go to these branches too and campaign for Magwaza-Msibi,” said a lobbyist.
There are striking similarities between Magwaza-Msibi’s tilt at the IFP’s presidency and the successful Jacob Zuma project prior to the ANC’s 2007 national elective conference — even down to the “Friends of VZ” T-shirts that many supporters wore at a protest gathering outside the national council meeting in Ulundi this past weekend.
As with Zuma, Magwaza-Msibi appears increasingly marginalised by the party’s leadership to the extent that she has been calling in sick for several national council meetings in the past few months. But she has also distanced herself from the campaign supporting her presidential aspirations, even though there appears to be tireless campaigning on her behalf at grassroots level.
Both Zondi and IFP national organiser Albert Mncwango had not responded to the M&G‘s questions at the time of going to press.