IFP reformist's head on the block

The Inkatha Freedom Party’s debilitating succession battle appears set to reach a climax at a national council meeting in Ulundi, which will debate a report on the links between national chairperson Zanele Magwaza-Msibi and groups supporting her claims to the party presidency.

Magwaza-Msibi, claimed by reformists within the party as the heir apparent to its president, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, pitting her against a traditionalist faction which supports secretary general Musa Zondi, has publicly distanced herself from anti-Zondi groups such as the Friends of VZ, recently renamed “The Friends of Unity Democracy and Change”.

However, it is understood that a decision to proceed with disciplinary hearings against Magwaza-Msibi because of perceived involvement with the Friends of VZ emanating from the report, is a fait accompli.

Said one national council source, who spoke to the Mail & Guardian on condition of anonymity: “We have been told big decisions, huge decisions about the national chairperson will be made. It seems clear that she will not survive.”

Zondi confirmed that Magwaza-Msibi had received a copy of the report and that its discussion was on the agenda for next week’s meeting. He insisted that it was “a political meeting, not a disciplinary hearing”.

The Friends of VZ has been accused by Buthelezi of sowing discord in the party and even resorting to violence and intimidation to achieve its aims.

The group has thrown back the allegations at the party leadership.

In recent months, however, the reformists, headed by young turks from the IFP Youth Brigade and elements in the mainstream party, have lost momentum.

While addressing a gathering of IFP councillors who were made to sign service performance agreements, Buthelezi said: “The ructions caused by the Friends of VZ have damaged the IFP’s reputation and led the pundits to see a devil in every doorknob.”

Several reformist leaders have been expelled from the party, while others, such as youth leaders Muzi Simelane, Mbokodo Mbatha and Simphiwe Zulu, have recently made grovelling apologies to the party leadership in exchange for reinstatement.

Said one prime driver of reform: “Once the current party leadership started applying pressure on people, using intimidation or throwing money in their faces, they started speaking in different tongues or became silent on the issue of reform.

“There has been a recent redeployment of officials which remain part of this purge coming out of the ­succession battle.”

It is understood that one of the victims of the purge is IFP Women’s Brigade chairperson Thembi Nzuza, who was removed from her position as leader of the IFP caucus in the eThekwini municipality earlier this month. She is understood to be seen as close to Magwaza-Msibi.

Nzuza denied falling victim to a political purge, telling the M&G: “I don’t belong to any faction. I’m still devoted to the IFP and respect the decisions that have been taken.”

One national council source said that there was “a lot of labelling and backstabbing going on in the party at the moment. People are worried about their future.”

The latest attempts to renew the party’s leadership took off after the IFP’s lamentable performance in last year’s elections, when it won just 22% of the vote in KwaZulu-Natal, compared with 63% for the ANC.

The IFP’s national support, which has progressively collapsed since 1994, fell to 4.5%. However, the initiative appears to have gone the same way as previous campaigns of dissent, most notably that of former chairperson Ziba Jiyane. Jiyane took over the post on a reformist ticket, but became increasingly isolated within the party’s executive and eventually left to form Nadeco, with Buthelezi emerging dominant once again.

University of the Western Cape academic Laurence Piper, who has published extensively on the IFP, warned that the trend for support for the party to be “based on the personality of Buthelezi” would eventually lead to its demise.

Niren Tolsi

Niren Tolsi

Niren Tolsi is a freelance journalist.His areas of interest include social justice; citizen mobilisation and state violence; protest; the constitution and the constitutional court and football. Read more from Niren Tolsi