legacy to the future rooted in tradition

Sandile Ndlovu  of Swallows celebrates with Sibusiso KhumaloCredit: ©Pic Sydney Mahlangu / backpagepix
Sandile Ndlovu of Swallows celebrates with Sibusiso KhumaloCredit: ©Pic Sydney Mahlangu / backpagepix

Number 2 Durban Club Place, the home of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), just off Smith Street in the city centre, is a drab affair that looks like it could do with a lick of paint.

But making up for this dreariness is the all-round cheer of the people who come in and out past the lone guard whose weapon is a disarming smile; no gun, no truncheon.

Unlike the other political party where everybody is addressed as 'chief', here the nom de guerre is one's clan name.

When he comes in, there's a flurry of handshakes and salutations for Shenge - Thulasizwe Buthelezi, like he was a long-lost brother. As chairman of the IFP Youth Brigade, this is where he nine-to-fives. It is not as if they hardly see him, unless, like the day before, he was away in Cape Town on party business.

One floor up we go, not to his office but a hall of sorts one would use to meet a throng of supporters, not a newspaper pair.

He deposits the newspapers under his arm on the chair next to him but not before scanning an article on Julius Malema, his opposite number at the ANC.

"He's still a young man," Buthelezi says of his adversary, "he needs [our] help."

At 27, Buthelezi is a year younger than the ANCYL president who was recently in the news saying the party of Tambo, Sisulu and Mandela will campaign in Nongoma.

This ruffled a few feathers with IFP supporters daring Malema to set foot in Nongoma.

"There's nothing wrong with Malema coming to campaign in Nongoma," says Buthelezi who was born smack in the middle of this area, an IFP stronghold, if ever there was one.

Nongoma is part of South Africa, adds the IFP man, "but the problem is when he says he'll go campaign in Prince [Mangosuthu] Buthelezi's backyard".

The young Buthelezi's pique is "we can't predict what is going to be the people's reaction when Malema provokes him [Buthelezi senior] especially because we come from a history of conflict between the IFP and the ANC.

"So we don't want a situation where the leader of the IFP is insulted because it breaks down the spirit of reconciliation between the two parties."

Luckily, the ANC has since apologised for Malema's faux pas.

The IFP too, says the head of the Youth Brigade, has decided "to put this whole thing behind us; we welcome this apology".

Though they are vibrant and modern, the youth wing he leads is steeped in cultural and traditional values: "That is why," he says, "you'd see many of our members taking part in traditional activities like the annual reed dance, which is crucial to promoting abstinence."

Their mantra is Ubuntu, not disrespect: "We vie for moral leadership."

Their members may be in the upper echelons of the party and society as mayors and part of the provincial legislature - where Buthelezi himself has been since 2006 - but they are mindful not to jettison their beliefs: "If we as young people lose touch with our roots, culture and heritage, in 20 years' time we'll have nothing to bequeath to future generations. That's what sets us apart."

They are aware that the party has been bleeding numbers since 1994 but this has nothing to do with the leadership style of Dr Buthelezi, who Malema has accused of being a dictator who has overstayed his welcome.

Research tells the Youth Brigade they have been able to keep a large number of their membership thanks to the party leader, who is a much bigger brand than the IFP itself.

Their immediate task is to grow their following, hence the aggressive campaign at tertiary institutions to woo young people, says the chairman, who also doubles up as deputy national spokesman of Inkatha.

Young people want change to their personal circumstances, Buthelezi says, and the IFP is the best vehicle suited to effecting this change.

They have forged links with youth political formations in Germany and the USA. They hope to do the same with their contemporaries on the continent "especially Ghana, Kenya and Zimbabwe".

He is adamant he will see in his lifetime the IFP morph into a party that has successfully shed its belligerent image to one that speaks to the needs of all South Africans. "We are building a modern party."

Born and raised in the party, he knew from an early age that he'd give up his bed for visitors each time there was an IFP conference in Nongoma.

High school in Eshowe prepared him well to read politics and philosophy at the University of Cape Town.

Just when he was about to graduate, he took up a job at a shipping company, Mask, that had him shuttling between Copenhagen and Cape Town.

While the job widened his horizons as it allowed him time at a Danish business school, it soon had him embroiled in corruption, a charge he says the state hasn't proved "three years later".

He's not a blood relative of the party chief but finds the surname a huge disadvantage inside the IFP as "your real achievements are overlooked".

This has taught him to work twice as hard and to be independent of thought, he says.

Suave in Hugo Boss jeans and a matching striped shirt, he's the epitome of a dashing young fellow. The keys he puts next to his top-of-the-range mobile - which is on silent for the duration of the interview - steer a BMW.

His biggest extravagance though is music which he enjoys over a braai with buddies.

On the other side, he speaks on the phone with Fikile Mbalula with whom he shares "a friendship beyond political ideology".

Guided by the teachings of his late father who told him to "Never try your wings until your feathers have grown", Buthelezi has his feet firmly on the ground.