File photo: Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi. (Darren Stewart/Gallo Images via Getty Images)
President Cyril Ramaphosa has praised Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) founder Mangosuthu Buthelezi for helping to “avoid disaster” by bringing the party to the polls in 1994.
“There can be no doubt that this was a turning point in the transition process, and a decisive moment,” Ramaphosa told mourners in his eulogy at Buthelezi’s official state funeral on Saturday.
“Had Prince Buthelezi not taken this decision in the best interests of peace, South Africa might be a vastly different place today,” he said.
Buthelezi (95), who was traditional prime minister to three Zulu kings and the inkosi of the Buthelezi clan at Mahlabathini, near Ulundi, died last Saturday after an extended stay in hospital.
His role in the country’s transition has come into sharp focus since his death last week, particularly over Inkatha’s role in the violence which cost 20 000 people their lives.
Ramaphosa said that the IFP leader had helped end the violence which had gripped the country ahead of the 1994 polls.
“Many people were displaced from their homes. Many people died. Today is not the day to point fingers and cast blame. History will in the end be the true arbiter,” Ramaphosa said.
South Africa had been in turmoil, but the efforts of Buthelezi – along with Zuma and Mbeki – had saved the process.
“Through negotiations and serious engagement we stepped back from the brink of turmoil. All parties involved in the negotiation process participated in the historic elections that ushered in our democracy,” Ramaphosa said.
Ramaphosa also said that he and Buthelezi often did not agree.
“At a political level we did not always agree. We often found ourselves on opposing sides of one or another issue. He never shied away from a harsh word, a criticism or from voicing his dissent,” Ramaphosa said.
Buthelezi had taken the time to “express to me his desire to see the IFP and the ANC permanently reconciled and working together to build our country. For this, he earned my admiration,” Ramaphosa said.
“We carry the heavy weight of memories, and of many heartaches. But difficult as it may be right now, it is important that we fulfil the wishes he had for a sustainable and durable reconciliation not only between the IFP and the ANC but amongst all of us as the people of South Africa,” he said.
Political parties, he said, had to come together and “work for unity.”
Ramaphosa also said that there was a need to put differences aside in KwaZulu-Natal and around the country for the sake of building the nation.
“We have a duty to follow in the footsteps of the many great leaders who came before, that Shenge respected and admired, who put aside political and other rivalries for the sake of the common good.”
Party members, amakhosi, regiments of Zulu warriors (amabutho), politicians across the spectrum, business leaders and international dignitaries joined the Buthelezi family and members of the Zulu royal family in saying their farewells.
Buthelezi’s funeral service took place at the Prince Mangsouthu Buthelezi regional stadium in Ulundi – the capital of the KwaZulu homeland from 1980 until 1994 – and was conducted by the head of the Anglican church in South Africa, Bishop Thabo Makgoba.
Former presidents Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Motlanthe and Jacob Zuma were all in attendance at the funeral, which saw Buthelezi buried with full military honours by the state.
Addressing mourners, Ramaphosa said that Buthelezi had been “a voice for the marginalised and the vulnerable” who had taken up a political career out of a sense of service.
“Who can forget his great courage on International Aids Day on 1 December 2004 when he told the world that HIV/Aids had struck inside his own family, taking away two of his children,” Ramaphosa said.
“With this act he helped break the stigma around HIV/Aids, saying: “My belief in the glory of the human spirit to rise again, again and again, is stronger than ever,” Ramaphosa said.
Speaker of parliament Nosiviwe Mapisa-Ngakula said that Buthelezi and former president Nelson Mandela had managed to “find a solution” during the transition, and that there was still an unfinished process of reconciliation between the parties.
Buthelezi would “be on the list of names of those people who made a difference in the history of this country,” Mapisa-Ngakula said.
In his tribute, IFP president Velenkosini Hlabisa described Buthelezi as “a genuine friend to anyone who sought his friendship” and who had mentored him and other leaders of the party throughout his long career.
While there was “tremendous pain and an ocean of sorrow” over the loss of “our father, our mentor, our hero,” Buthelezi had left them with “a quiet foundation of strength.”
“We stand on that strength again, so that we are able to do what is required of us,” Hlabisa said.
Hlabisa defended Buthelezi’s role in the violent 1980s and 1990s, saying that he had been opposed to the armed struggle of the ANC, but had also called on his supporters not to commit acts of violence.
The Truth and Reconciliation found the Inkatha was the primary non-state actor in the violence, in which more than 20 000 people were killed, but Buthelezi refused to accept their findings.
“When the black-on-black violence of a people’s war began to claim innocent lives, he kept a level head and constantly urged against retaliation,” Hlabisa said.
Hlabisa also said that Buthelezi rejected violence as a tool of liberation, called for calm and turned the other cheek while blood ran in the streets.
“The loss of life on all sides struck a deep wound in his heart. And, long after liberation, he still worried about the many other wounded hearts in our nation. He sought reconciliation with the ANC, right to the end. He made his pleas again and again that the issue of reconciliation be finalised,” he said.
Former Nigerian president Olesugn Obasanjo, who was part of the Eminent Persons Group which visited South Africa in 1986 as part of pre-negotiations and who became close friends with Buthelezi, said the IFP leader had been “more than” willing to negotiate with his adversaries and had done so.
Obasanjo described Buthelezi as “a freedom fighter in his own right” and “a man dedicated to the people he served” and had played a crucial role in bringing about the transition to democracy.
Buthelezi’s son, Zuzifa, said that his father had been “very concerned about what was going on in the (Zulu) royal family and the failure of the ANC and the IFP to reach reconciliation.”
“Even if this failed, my father still believed that it could still be achieved,” Buthelezi said.