zuma is rain in a desert

Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party is involved in a futile exercise that has been explained as repositioning the party for the future and recapturing KwaZulu-Natal in 2009.

Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party is involved in a futile exercise that has been explained as repositioning the party for the future and recapturing KwaZulu-Natal in 2009.

But it is easy to see through that. Though the IFP has refused to reveal details of its strategy, there is no doubt its move is a direct reaction to the recent victory by Jacob Zuma in Polokwane to assume the ANC presidency.

Being a traditionalist and a Zulu, Zuma is a real threat to the IFP. Buthelezi conceded during the party's conference last year that its branches are weak.

Party national secretary Musa Zondi told our reporters in Durban this week that it wants to capitalise on ANC weaknesses. It identifies a gap they could fill where the ANC has failed to deliver.

Zondi says the party will embark on field work to mobilise people regarding these issues.

It will talk to grassroots structures and communities, individuals, teachers, church leaders, students and others, to pinpoint their problems and deliver solutions. They see this as a way of boosting its dwindling membership in the province.

But for many this is a catch-up strategy past its expiry date. Gleaning people's views and trying to understand their problems was the ANC's programme prior to its launch of the Freedom Charter. Their tactics are contained in many manifestoes the ANC has presented to voters since 1994.

Many see the election of Zuma as posing a danger to the IFP's existence in KwaZulu-Natal. But Zondi and other leaders deny this, saying people elected the IFP as the ruling party in 1994 despite the fact that Zuma was an ANC provincial leader at the time.

But political analysts have alluded to a possible waning of IFP support and even its demise, as a direct consequence of Zuma's ascension to the ANC top seat at Luthuli House.

Protas Madlala, a political analyst based in KwaZulu-Natal, believes the IFP's self-introspection has more to do with the Zuma election.

Madlala says it is a reality that since the ANC - which was seen as a Xhosa organisation prior to Limpopo - is now led by Zuma, it constitutes a real threat to the IFP. The party has become restless since Zuma's election.

"The IFP has denied this threat. But they should accept it because it will not help to deny the reality that Zuma is a threat to them.

"Many Zulus including those in the IFP see Zuma as a homeboy who has been a victim of a Xhosa conspiracy, and therefore want to support him. His election will have an impact in KwaZulu-Natal," said Madlala.

He said that Buthelezi himself conceded that the party branches were weak is an indication that the IFP will find it difficult to redeem itself or recoup its lost membership. Instead more of its members will join the ANC under Zuma, whom they see as a messiah to save them from the current political wilderness they inherited from the IFP.

After Zuma's election in Polokwane, Sowetan staff in the province witnessed many IFP members dancing in the streets and organising braais in celebration of his victory, which they interpreted as a Zulu conquest over Xhosa domination of the ANC.

They said Zuma is a homeboy and a Zulu man who will prioritise the province concerning service delivery.

Madlala believes the IFP has no chance against the Zuma tsunami that permeates not just urban, but the rural villages of KwaZulu-Natal.

"Who is going to mobilise people when the IFP's own branches are weak. Gone are the days of apartheid and homelands where Buthelezi was idolised. We are in a democracy now and people have choices," said Madlala.

For many decades Inkatha exploited Zuluness and Zulu culture to sustain itself in the area.

Initially purported as an ethnic cultural movement, the IFP was at some stage during the apartheid-era regarded as sole custodian of Zulu customs, traditions and being the Zulu political home.

With many ANC leaders then in exile, imprisoned, banned or underground and others working under oppressive conditions inside the country, the IFP, like the rest of homeland political parties at the time, enjoyed a semblance of support from those who were indoctrinated by the National Party into believing that the liberation promised by the ANC would never come.

This fitted into the apartheid strategic grand plan to divert attention from the ANC and other black liberation movements, so that people forgot about fighting for their freedom and so postponed their own liberation.

The dawn of democracy in 1994 did not help the IFP for it remained an ethnic party. Just before 1994 the party was able to mobilise a substantial membership in Gauteng, but only managed to open small and temporary one-man offices in provinces such as the Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Mpumalanga and Limpopo. In fact no offices existed in the Free State, North West and Northern Cape.

Its membership remains regional and thin on the ground. The question: what can be done?

Zakhele Ndlovu, political science lecturer at KwaZulu-Natal University, said the IFP's major weakness is being the party of one ethnic group, Zulus.

"If the IFP wants to be a force to be reckoned with, it has to appeal to other ethnic groups beyond the Zulu cocoon," said Ndlovu.

He identified other weaknesses as:

l A party being led by one man, Buthelezi, since its inception in the 1970s;

l Failing to deliver to the people when it ruled the province from 1994-2004; and

l Neither Zondi, Zanele Magwaza-Msibi and Lionel Mtshali have Buthelezi's leadership charisma.

"Buthelezi has become bigger than the party itself. They must look at the ANC. When Mbeki tried to be bigger than the party, he was out. Even Nelson Mandela was not bigger than the ANC.

"The IFP needs to identify a leader who will take the party forward when Buthelezi leaves in 2009," said Ndlovu.