Just eight days before the date set for South Africa's first fully democratic elections, April 27 1994, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) entered the election campaign – we had earlier been compelled by conscience to step out of the negotiations for a new South Africa. Twenty years later, this part of South Africa's history is seldom understood. But this is where the groundwork was laid for our country's democracy.
During the constitutional negotiations, the IFP fought hard to focus attention on the form of state that a democratic South Africa should adopt. We believed that democracy would be best served by a federal system, which would allow people from very diverse circumstances, in very different places, to tailor their own solutions to their specific problems.
In contrast, the ANC preferred to push for a centralised system of governance, where all the power is held at the top – in the hands of a few – and one-size-fits-all policies are sent down on a conveyor-belt system to be implemented unquestioningly by officials and bureaucrats. The IFP's fight to prevent this, by determining the form of state in advance, was one of the key issues that led to our party withdrawing from the process leading up to the 1994 elections.
During the negotiations, it became apparent that there was no intention to discuss these critical issues. When Dr Henry Kissinger's team of international mediators sought to redraft the interim Constitution to address the issue of the form of state, the ANC's Cyril Ramaphosa and the National Party's Roelf Meyer sent the international mediators packing. The ANC and the NP then held a bosberaad and decided that whatever they agreed upon bilaterally would constitute "sufficient consensus". At that point, the IFP withdrew.
We represented millions of South Africans and an election that went ahead without the IFP could never have been considered an inclusive expression of the will of the people. It was only eight days before the 1994 elections that the IFP agreed to return and contest the poll, based on a solemn agreement signed by then president FW de Klerk, Nelson Mandela and myself. We agreed to resume international mediation immediately after the elections to deal with the outstanding issues.
With only eight days to campaign, the IFP was at a disadvantage. Our logo was added to the end of the ballot paper by hand, in the form of a sticker. Yet on April 27 1994, we gained more than two million votes. Our uncompromising fight for the interests of South Africa garnered much support among people of goodwill, and the IFP's reputation as a leadership of integrity was entrenched in the public mind.
When president Mandela failed to honour the solemn agreement on international mediation, it opened the way for problems in governance. But the IFP continued to serve in the government of national unity, on the mandate of the electorate, knowing that we needed to keep the government on the right path.
I am proud of the contribution that the IFP made in the first 10 years of a democratic government. We had entered democracy with experience in governance; Inkatha had administered the erstwhile KwaZulu government for 19 years under the harshest conditions of apartheid.
In the 1980s, young people were heeding the call of the ANC in exile to abandon education. In KwaZulu, however, Inkatha juxtaposed that call with the slogan "Education for liberation", knowing that knowledge was the best leverage we could give the next generation to overthrow ignorance, despair and oppression.
In the 19 years I served as chief minister of KwaZulu, never once was a single allegation of corruption ever levelled at my administration. We understood that we were there to serve a great cause, and the leadership of Inkatha would never countenance self-enrichment.
The national government in Pretoria despised me because I refused to accept so-called nominal independence for KwaZulu. Their resentment led to the homeland receiving a shoestring budget.
Yet, by partnering with communities, we built more than 6 000 schools, countless houses, clinics and roads. We trained women and young people to start co-operatives and community development projects. We funded entrepreneurs and sustained small businesses. We invested in subsistence farming and we taught the value of self-help and self-reliance.
We also added a subject called "ubuntu/botho" to the school curriculum – it was, effectively, training towards good citizenship. We were preparing a generation of young people to become responsible, competent and active participants in a liberated South Africa.
Inkatha was deeply concerned that those who would lead a democratic country, once liberation was achieved, should be skilled, educated and disciplined. They should know more than the barrel of the gun and the religion of entitlement.
At the birth of democracy, the IFP gave South Africa a precious gift: a crop of competent administrators.
Mangosuthu Buthelezi is an MP and the president of the IFP