/ 14 September 2023

Is there life for the IFP after Buthelezi?

Patriarchy 'drives' Ifp Deployment

Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) founder Mangosuthu Buthelezi leaves behind a party that he built in his own image and ran with an iron fist since its formation in 1975 until he stood aside as president in August 2019.

While many of Buthelezi’s critics over the years have predicted that the party will not outlive him, the IFP has in recent years turned around the electoral decline it suffered from 1994 to 2014.

The party has increased its share of the vote in every national and provincial and local government poll since 2016 and has also dealt with the succession crisis that forced it to postpone elective conferences for a decade.

The party took 41 of 80 legislature seats in 1994, but this dropped to a low of nine in 2014, with its current share sitting at 13. But its growth in 2021 has given the party hope that it can take back control of the province through a coalition with the Democratic Alliance (DA).

For decades, the question of who would replace Buthelezi as president of the IFP was taboo in the party, in which no alternative centre of power to its founder was tolerated by him and his loyalists.

But, in 2019, Buthelezi handed over the IFP leadership to Velenkosini Hlabisa, who was elected unanimously at the party’s 35th national conference, having been nominated unanimously by its national council to take over the role two years earlier.

Buthelezi was awarded the title of president emeritus and remained the face of the party’s 2021 local government election campaign, as will be the case when South Africa goes to the polls next year.

The election of Hlabisa ended the crisis over who would take over from Buthelezi when he eventually retired as president, one of the issues that prevented the IFP from holding an elective conference between 2012 and 2019.

The succession issue had historically been a difficult one for the party, with a series of obvious contenders with their own power base in the party being forced out over the years.

These include — most recently — national chairpersons Ziba Jiyane, who was expelled in 2005, and Zanele Magwaza-Msibi, who resigned in 2011, both of whom went on to form their own breakaway parties.

At the 2012 conference, at which Buthelezi accepted nomination as president for the last time, the IFP constitution had been amended to allow for the appointment of a deputy president.

Mzamo Buthelezi was elected to that position and had been earmarked to eventually succeed the IFP founder, but he was unable to command the support or respect of factions in the party and he fell out of favour.

A succession of elective conferences were postponed, most recently in 2018, over factionalism and allegations that leaders in the party were responsible for the creation of “ghost” branches to boost their numbers at election time.

Hlabisa, who has been in the IFP since 1978, led the party to success in the 2021 local government elections, in which its upward growth continued and after which it took back control of a number of rural KwaZulu-Natal municipalities from the ANC.

The party has secured a provincial cooperation agreement with the DA, which has seen them take wards off the ANC since 2021 in by-elections by fielding a single candidate.

The agreement has seen the IFP and DA share mayoral troika positions to consolidate their control in urban areas such as the City of uMhlathuze in the north of the province.

Hlabisa has also been at the forefront of the talks about the opposition coalition — the Multiparty Charter for South Africa — with the DA  and other parties.

The agreement among the grouping makes Hlabisa the most likely candidate for the presidency, should the coalition unseat the ANC nationally next year.

If this position remains unchanged, it may solve a serious headache for Hlabisa, who has been in conflict with the KwaZulu-Natal chairperson, King Cetshwayo district mayor Thami Ntuli, over who becomes the IFP premier candidate for KwaZulu-Natal.

Ntuli and other councillors want to move from the municipalities to the provincial legislature, which the DA and IFP hope to take control of next year — a real possibility given the ANC’s drop to 41% overall in KwaZulu-Natal in 2021.

Tensions between the two peaked earlier this year, resulting in Hlabisa’s security detail being increased.

Ntuli’s supporters also attempted to pass a motion of no confidence in Hlabisa over T-shirts bearing his image, which were printed and distributed by his backers, at the beginning of August.

The group of 20 national council members had written to IFP secretary general Siphosethu Ngcobo calling on him to convene an urgent council meeting to discuss the no confidence motion.

But the move failed and 18 of the 20 have since apologised to the party for their “mistake”.

Hlabisa will also have to contain a backlash from members of the IFP Youth Brigade, who wrote to Ngcobo last month rejecting the coalition agreement with the DA and other parties and demanded that it be abandoned.

Both Ngcobo and Hlabisa said this week that they were determined to keep the party going and continue with Buthelezi’s work.

Addressing an IFP memorial service for Buthelezi in Ulundi on Wednesday, Hlabisa said that “his passing means the end of an unforgettable chapter in the life of the IFP. But, in order to honour his legacy and what he has built, we need to go on and preserve his legacy, as we begin a new chapter without him in our lives.” 

“His legacy will be the pillar of the IFP’s next chapter, and I am confident that the constant

guidance he provided to us as a collective, will ensure that the IFP will continue on its

upward trajectory.”

In a television interview on Wednesday, Ngcobo said that they were aware that Buthelezi’s death brought with it problems but “we are determined to take the party forward.”

“We have told ourselves, it is getting into our systems, that it is not going to be like before,” Ngcobo said. “We are going to pick up from where he left us. We have made a conscious decision to come together and work very hard.

“We are expecting that there could be difficulties. That in itself is a good thing that we have identified that,” he said.

“All political parties are having difficulties when it comes to divisions. As leaders who have been put where we are, we will do everything possible to remind the people, to ensure that whatever happened in the past, we need to make sure that everybody cooperates and does the right thing.”

“We will do what we need to do … we will bring people together,” Ngcobo said.