IFP pick could backfire

Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s apparent endorsement of the party’s KwaZulu-Natal provincial secretary, Velenkosini Hlabisa, and seemingly snubbing his current deputy, Mzamo Buthelezi, is fuelling speculation of divisions in the Inkatha Freedom Party.

The 89-year-old, who last week announced his intention to step down at the IFP’s elective conference in December, has been at the helm of the party since it was formed as Inkatha 42 years ago.

Mzamo was earlier tipped to succeed him.

But Mangosuthu Buthelezi, speaking to the Mail & Guardian, said the IFP had an extended national council meeting at the weekend. “We opened the floor for anyone to indicate that they would like to stand for nomination as party president. Mr Hlabisa’s name was the only one put forward by our structures. Anything can happen but at this point there seems to be a clear understanding of what we would like to achieve for the party going forward.”

A senior IFP leader, who asked to remain anonymous, warned that the decision to snub Mzamo might divide the party. “The move to back Hlabisa [the mayor of the Hlabisa local municipality in northern KwaZulu-Natal] might backfire both inside and outside the party. Outside the party, very little is known about Hlabisa and this is a massive disadvantage. People gravitate towards what they are familiar with.”

But Buthelezi dismissed suggestions of a divisive succession battle, saying Hlabisa’s nomination was supported by a significant part of the national council, indicating unity.

Buoyed by the party’s improved performance during the 2016 local government elections, Buthelezi said he was confident the IFP would perform even better during the general elections in 2019.

He said the party has a track record of integrity and servant leadership.

“From a personal perspective, I would hope that our party is led by a person of faith and the courage of their convictions, for that will be needed in the times ahead.”

Referring to his legacy, Buthelezi dismissed criticism that he had collaborated with the apartheid regime.

“That accusation was part of a long campaign of propaganda and vilification launched against me by the ANC’s leadership in exile when I refused to allow Inkatha structures to be used for an armed struggle. Inkatha would not abandon the founding principle of nonviolence that my uncle Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme laid at the foundation of the ANC. So an ideological chasm opened between Inkatha and the ANC, which quickly saw Inkatha become a target of the ANC’s people’s war.”

Buthelezi said he was once asked what he would want to see as his epitaph. “I’d be pleased if it simply read ‘He loved his country’. All that I have done has been in service to my country and people. I paid a high price for doing what was right, instead of what was easy, but would do it again in a heartbeat.” 

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