/ 23 September 2023

IFP’s Hlabisa prefers ‘strategic’ KZN post over parliament

Velenkosi Hlabisa (1)
IFP President Velenkosi Hlabisa. (Sandile Ndlovu/Getty Images)

Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) president Velenkosini Hlabisa is yet to decide whether he will take Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s seat in parliament, despite calls to do so by party members. 

The IFP leader is in danger of a mutiny in the party following the death of Buthelezi, its founding president.

Insiders say there is a growing call, which is likely to be raised when the IFP’s national executive committee (NEC) meets in the coming weeks, for Hlabisa to be deployed to parliament to make way for others to move into KwaZulu-Natal leadership positions. 

Hlabisa’s detractors say he is biding his time in KwaZulu-Natal hoping to be elected as the provincial premier, rather than move to national level, which could see him end up with nothing more than an MP position, replacing Buthelezi.

In terms of the agreement between opposition parties involved in the Multiparty Charter for South Africa, Hlabisa would be its most likely presidential candidate in next year’s national and provincial elections.

But the IFP has a better chance of winning KwaZulu-Natal through a coalition than it does of doing the same thing nationally, which appears to be the major factor informing Hlabisa’s approach.

Hlabisa’s fiercest opponent in the party, Thami Ntuli, the IFP provincial chairperson and King Cetshwayo district mayor, is hoping he will get the nod as the provincial premier candidate for 2024. 

Hlabisa said it was “strategic” that he remain in KwaZulu-Natal.  

“We agreed as a political party that KwaZulu-Natal is our springboard where one should put more effort to build a base. If we look at all the by-election results, it is working according to our calculations, because we win almost every by-elections, retaining our wards from the ANC,” he said.

“Going into the 2024 election, our strategy of retaining the president is delivering the results that we anticipated. We are yet to sit and decide on who will close the vacancy at a national level.” 

Hlabisa took aim at party members speaking out against him on social media, saying it was “reckless” and “irresponsible”. 

He said the notion that he should take up Buthelezi’s seat in parliament was first punted on social media. 

“If it were people who had good intentions, they would allow the mourning session to pass but even before the burial they now start to say so and so must go national in order to create [opportunities] for somebody else.”

Hlabisa said that the decision to replace Buthelezi would be made in the next two weeks. 

Just weeks before Buthelezi’s death, Hlabisa faced a motion of no confidence after 20 party leaders signed a petition calling for his ousting. The group was said to be aligned to Ntuli. 

They had attempted to have the IFP convene an urgent sitting of its national council at which they intended to bring a no-confidence motion in Hlabisa over some of his  supporters wearing party T-shirts bearing his image earlier this year.

The party had decided that only Buthelezi’s picture should be allowed on the grounds that Buthelezi would remain the face of the 2024 election campaign, despite Hlabisa being president.

The NEC members are also understood to have wanted to amend a resolution that effectively banned them from moving to the party’s lists for the provincial legislatures, the National Council of the Provinces and the National Assembly.

Hlabisa could not say whether he would raise his hand in the race for the party’s KwaZulu-Natal  premier candidacy, saying that it was not wise to make that decision based on assumptions. 

“We have not yet gone through the elections and the IFP will make its decision as to how the list will look like for 2024; we have not yet formulated the list.

“All that we should respect is that I am the leader of the official opposition as it stands in KwaZulu-Natal and I remain with that mandate until the end of the term and any new configuration will be discussed once the list is done for 2024 elections.”