Inkatha Freedom Party presidential hopeful Velenkosini Hlabisa has dismissed reports that his unexpected nomination as Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s successor — ahead of current IFP deputy president Mzamo Buthelezi — will divide the organisation.
“I do not think my nomination was divisive in anyway,” he said. “I think the leadership has seen that I have capacity to lead and that is why my nomination was unanimous,” Hlabisa said.
“For the detractors, more than 500 leaders agreed on one name, my name. This speaks volumes. This means that an overwhelming majority of the party’s leaders believe that I am the man for the job.”
Hlabisa, who is the IFP provincial secretary in KwaZulu-Natal, was nominated after Mangosuthu Buthelezi announced earlier this month that he would be stepping down as party leader.
Hlabisa’s nomination came despite the party’s decision in 2012 to amend its constitution to create the position of deputy president to ensure a smooth leadership transition.
Last weekend, Thulasizwe Buthelezi replaced Mzamo Buthelezi as mayor of the Zululand district municipality — fuelling speculation that he was being sidelined. Mzamo Buthelezi did not respond to questions.
Speaking to the Mail & Guardian this week, Hlabisa said Mzamo Buthelezi remained the party’s deputy president and could be re-elected to the position. He said political parties should forgo the tradition that deputy presidents were automatically next in line.
“Whoever is deputising should not be the automatic successor. Circumstances and time should dictate who takes over and not tradition. Politics is about time and an overwhelming majority of the party’s leaders believe that it is the right time for me to lead,” said Hlabisa.
“Nothing has changed. We are all part of a bigger project and we are all students of [Mangosuthu] Buthelezi. No matter the position you are given, we are all tasked with preserving his legacy,” he said.
IFP Youth Brigade national chairperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa also dispelled reports of a rift in the party. He told the M&G the party’s decision to nominate Hlabisa as Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s successor was unanimous.
“Hlabisa was nominated unanimously at the party’s extended national council. We were all in agreement that he is the man to take the party forward,” said Hlengwa.
Hlabisa has been a member of the party since 1978 and has led in all party structures from branch level to the party’s Youth Brigade where he served as the secretary general.
“I am ready to offer my skills and expertise not within the party but to South Africa in its entirety,” he said.
“It will be my priority to ensure that Buthelezi’s legacy is preserved. The man has led with integrity and honesty. If I am elected as leader, I will do my best to lead by the same principles, but this is without a doubt the beginning of a new era.”
Hlabisa also lauded Mangosuthu Buthelezi, saying he was hoping to emulate his success as president of the party. “The IFP had a stage where things were not going well but because of Mangosuthu’s exceptional leadership qualities we were able to regroup. We now win by-election after by-election, our latest success being in Nquthu. He is stepping down when the party is at a good place. If I get elected as president I hope to achieve what he has achieved and more,” he said.