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Debate on Buthelezi's legitimacy

By unknown | Jun 12, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Musa Xulu

Musa Xulu

Professor Herbert Vilakazi's feature article under the heading "Call to Rehabilitate Zulu Prince" - Sowetan, Thursday May 31 - refers.

Vilakazi had made a live presentation on April 26 and subsequently published its article version in your newspaper. The gist of his call is a proposal that "the leadership of the ANC and the IFP must issue an official statement acknowledging and appreciating the contributions of Buthelezi in the liberation struggle of the country".

It is not clear why Vilakazi thinks that this legitimation of Buthelezi's role in South Africa's long struggle for liberation should be conducted now. I am going to argue in this response that where Buthelezi had made a contribution to the struggle for liberation it has been acknowledged by the national leadership of the ANC and IFP at the time.

As Ido Lekota pointed out in his own response, Buthelezi has served in national cabinet for 10 years and has been appointed acting president of the country probably more times than any other individual since liberation. President Thabo Mbeki even invited him to serve as deputy president of the country in 1999, which he declined. The IFP was also invited to cabinet as various deputies after the 2004 elections, which they declined. The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, the only province where the IFP has a significant recognisable presence, has always been in talks with the IFP, most of the time involving its national leadership. So, Vilakazi's call leads to many questions.

It is, however, encouraging that Vilakazi is opening up the debate through scholarly discourse. And so Vilakazi has, once more, made Buthelezi the subject of public debate and analysis; this time by intimating that he be cleansed - mainly by the ANC, and given the status of holder of political moral authority in the country.

Today many will agree that even KwaZulu-Natal is living in relative peace and calm where the dominant political authority, at least since 2004, has allowed free debate to flourish. Vilakazi himself has participated in these platforms, notably in the African Renaissance and African Intellectuality Summit, which encourages what Vilakazi has done now; open up the debate on political legitimation and the extent to which the bearers of South Africa's political moral authority should shoulder the responsibility. I do not hold the ANC's brief. My response is based on observation, reading and analysis.

It is the omissions and sweeping conclusions in his article that prompt me to write a response. Vilakazi has omitted to conduct base research on the matter, and cannot go unchallenged, even from a purely academic perspective. His thesis departs from his self-constructed premise that Buthelezi is not being adequately recognised, if at all, for the role he played in the struggle. He then blames the youth of 1976 for Buthelezi's public misfortunes in relation to post-liberation political legitimation. But at the level of fact, is Vilakazi's line of thought meaningful?

There has in the past been the general perception that Buthelezi is possibly one of the most vilified political leaders in the world. There have also been insinuations that such vilification began to take root in the 1980s. Actually, it would not be wrong to state that in the 1970s as well, Buthelezi was not at all popular, especially among the youthful Black Consciousness Movement, South African Students Organisation and the likes, which dominated the South African liberation political landscape.

This movement could not construe how a leader worth his salt could participate in the oppressive Bantustan system and still claim legitimacy.

But as we will learn shortly, the comparably conservative or moderate ANC leadership- in-exile had thought that this was possible, though difficult. That is why they had approached Buthelezi to form Inkatha in 1975 with a rationale that is illustrated below.

Most of the 1976 youth had read that in 1952 when Inkosi Albert Luthuli had faced an almost similar dilemma, he had chosen to forsake apartheid privileges and stand with his people, proclaiming, "the road to liberation is via the cross". To these youth there could not be an alternative to the cross, and the Bantustan system could not be equated to the cross at all. Some men from the hostels in Soweto, and claiming to be Zulus or Inkatha, did try to disrupt student activity in 1976 and 1977, which made some Zulus or Inkatha be immediately seen as being on the side of the oppressor by those on the receiving end in Soweto.

So, even though it may be concluded that the 1979 London Conference marks the breaking of the rope between Buthelezi and the entire liberation movement, the 1970s were generally not very exceptional. Clashes with students at the University of Zululand in 1976 and his being nearly killed at the funeral of the PAC's Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe in 1978 are pointers that all was not well for Buthelezi's political legitimation, even in the 1970s.

I must point out that so dominant was the BC philosophy in the 1970s that even the 1976 Soweto uprisings were painted with this focus. The bulk of the children, some now senior leaders in the ANC, who left the country after the 1976 uprisings, would therefore not have been privy to moderate ANC exile thinking at the time. To them the struggle for liberation was an either-or matter. I do not think that they had much to do with the 1979 London meeting between the ANC and Buthelezi's Inkatha. So, they could not have influenced the leadership to turn its back on Buthelezi. I do not see why Vilakazi blames them.

ANC legend has it that the ANC leadership had been astounded by Buthelezi's conduct at the famous 1979 meeting, when he, bolstered by what he perceived as his personal successes in forming Inkatha, began to be uninterested in the original script under which he had been ordered by the ANC to form Inkatha in 1975.

In conclusion, no other individual leader has received so much attention from the ruling party, much to the discomfort of many in the legitimation queue.

l Musa Xulu is the editor of EzaKwaZulu-Natali Magazine and the KZN African Renaissance Conference Convenor


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