When is a disciplinary hearing not a disciplinary hearing? When the Inkatha Freedom Party calls it an inquiry, it seems. This weekend the IFP’s national chairperson, Zanele Magwaza-Msibi, will face the rest of the party’s national council in an “inquiry” into her conduct.
The inquiry relates to the actions of the Friends of VZ — Magwaza-Msibi’s middle name is Veronica — a lobby group formed in support of her ambition to succeed Mangosuthu Buthelezi as the party’s president.
But supporters of Magwaza-Msibi believe that the inquiry, held a week before the IFP finally stages its elective national general conference, is a smokescreen for a disciplinary hearing and an attempt to purge her.
They believe the underlying purpose is to stop her from becoming the second party president since 1975, when the movement was launched under Buthelezi.
Wiseman Mcoyi, an IFP member who believes he was suspended for supporting Magwaza-Msibi, said some national council members were hellbent on “firing her to stop her from coming up [to the presidency]”.
Other IFP members, including a national council member who asked not to be named, said that despite the support Magwaza-Msibi enjoyed in the council — the party’s highest decision-making body between national conferences - there appeared to be moves to oust her: “Decisions are sometimes taken somewhere else,” said the source, suggesting that her fate had already been decided.
IFP secretary general Musa Zondi said that the decision to institute an inquiry into Magwaza-Msibi and her relationship with the Friends of VZ was aimed at unifying the party and determining whether disciplinary measures needed to be taken against her or the lobby group that supports her. It was not, he insisted, a disciplinary hearing.
Zondi said the aim of the inquiry is to ascertain whether “there are any connections” between Magwaza-Msibi and the Friends of VZ — which Magwaza-Msibi has denounced on various occasions — and whether she had failed in her publicly proclaimed “intention to seek legal action against the Friends of VZ”.
In the past year the IFP has been divided over the question of Buthelezi’s successor. The push for change accelerated after last year’s elections, which saw it claim just 22,4% of the votes in its KwaZulu-Natal stronghold — less than half the 1,8-million votes it polled in 1994.
Reformists, especially in the IFP Youth Brigade and its student wing, the South African Democratic Students’ Movement (Sadesmo), were the first to come out in vocal support of Magwaza-Msibi, while traditionalists have congregated around Zondi.
The infighting has led to a series of suspensions of those considered to be driving the call for change. It has triggered the installation of leaders perceived as loyal to Buthelezi in party formations such as the youth brigade and Sadesmo.
The chaotic build-up to the national conference continued this week when Mcoyi applied for an urgent interdict in the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Durban to stop the national council from making the general conference non-elective.
To stir the pot even further, Buthelezi declared in his weekly online letter that he has not decided whether to step down as leader.