Succession battle harms IFP revival

Veteran: The Inkatha Freedom Party’s Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who has in the past resigned as the party’s leader, is once again the IFP’s face in the general elections to be held on May 8. (Rajesh Jantilal/AFP)

Veteran: The Inkatha Freedom Party’s Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who has in the past resigned as the party’s leader, is once again the IFP’s face in the general elections to be held on May 8. (Rajesh Jantilal/AFP)

NEWS ANALYSIS

The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) once again hopes to exploit the implosion of the breakaway National Freedom Party (NFP) and the lack of public trust in the ANC when South Africa goes to the polls on May 8. But the IFP’s failure to develop a coherent succession plan is likely to undermine any electoral gains it may make.

The party launched its manifesto in Durban on Sunday and hopes to at least regain its position as the official opposition in KwaZulu-Natal, which it lost in 2014 to the Democratic Alliance, in part because of the emergence of the NFP. Although it did regain ground from the NFP in the 2016 local government elections, the IFP has again been crippled by internal tensions about who is to succeed Mangosuthu Buthelezi as the party’s president.

It was similar tensions that caused the split that led then IFP national chairperson Zanele Magwaza-Msibi to quit the party in 2011 to form the NFP.

Buthelezi, who has led the IFP since its formation in March 1975, will be the face of the party’s election campaign but he will not stand for re-election at its elective conference, scheduled to take place in July.
The party has not held an elective leadership conference since December 2012. The last attempt to do so in October last year was called off because of factional tensions.

The two contenders for the IFP presidency are secretary general Velenkosi Hlabisa and deputy president Mzamo Buthelezi. The deputy president post did not exist before the 2012 conference and was created to facilitate the rise of Mzamo, who was being groomed by the president as his successor. Mzamo Buthelezi had, in 2017, also been moved to the National Assembly from the Zululand district municipality, where he was mayor.

The loyalties of Mangosuthu Buthelezi and his powerful inner circle have now shifted to Hlabisa. But the move has alienated supporters of Mzamo, who had developed a strong constituency in the party while he was Buthelezi’s chosen successor.

The tensions about the shift built up ahead of the conference set for last October, causing another postponement, and Buthelezi announced in January that he would be the face of the campaign despite the plan to bow out in July. He has previously “resigned” at party conferences or announced resignation plans, only to stand for office again.

On Sunday, addressing the launch, held in Chatsworth, Buthelezi called on supporters of the Minority Front, which has imploded since the death of its founder, Amichand Rajbansi, to vote for the IFP rather than the DA.

In a speech significantly longer than the party’s one-page manifesto, Buthelezi announced Hlabisa as the IFP’s KwaZulu-Natal premier candidate and punted the IFP as “the party you can trust”. He said the IFP would decentralise policing and call a referendum on reinstating the death penalty if elected to office.

The NFP is hoping for a miracle. It believes it can overcome the setbacks it has suffered since 2016, including its missed deadline for registration for the local government elections, the stroke suffered by Magwaza-Msibi and the defection of members and leaders.

Party spokesperson Sabelo Sigudu said the NFP, which lost more than 200 councillors in KwaZulu-Natal because of the registration debacle, had registered to contest the elections nationally and in all nine provinces. “We were the first party to register for this election.”

The NFP took just over 7% of the vote in KwaZulu-Natal in 2014, giving it six seats in the provincial legislature. It took about 1.5% of the vote nationally, giving it six seats in the National Assembly. But the party’s gains were wiped out in local government elections when it failed to make the registration payment.

“Our resources are limited as we lost a lot of revenue through the loss of 200 councillors. [But] we can benefit from the divisions in the IFP and from the fact that the people who left when we failed to register are now coming back,” Sigudu said.

He said party leader Magwaza-Msibi’s health “has been improving as she has been participating in party activities in the past weeks”. Her ill-health has affected the party, with factions lining up to take over in her absence.

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