Obasanjo honours Buthelezi with call for IFP-ANC 'togetherness'

IFP president emeritus Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi. File photo.
IFP president emeritus Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi. File photo.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

The IFP and ANC must work in unison and dissolve echoes of fraught history for the betterment of South Africans.

This is a sentiment shared by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo on Tuesday when delivered the inaugural Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi annual lecture in Durban. 

Obasanjo argued that both parties were instrumental in fighting apartheid, albeit through different means, and should now look ahead and bury their differences. 

“The objective was achieved, now we hope to see IFP and ANC togetherness in the not-so-distant future. The objective of the wellbeing of the people of South Africa has not been achieved. For that we need commonality, not difference,” he said. 

In his lecture honouring the IFP founder, whom he calls a friend, Obasanjo described Buthelezi as “a protector and advocate of his people, who undermined apartheid from within.”

He praised Buthelezi for a life well lived and his significant role in the history of South Africa — the construction of a democratic nation. 

Obasanjo did not shy away from the contested legacy of Buthelezi, especially his willingness to serve under the Bantustan system created by the apartheid government. 

The IFP founder was a member of the ANC Youth League until the mid-1970s.

“Debates raged at the time about how best to handle the apartheid homeland system. Most of those who took up leadership positions in the homeland structures were branded as puppets of the apartheid regime, anti-revolutionaries and enemies of progress,” he said. 

“It cannot be denied that the position of chief executive officer of the Zulu territorial authority was created by apartheid. Accepting these positions must not be taken out of its historical contexts, but many people would say serving as a leader of a Bantustan afforded Buthelezi the opportunity to undermine the apartheid system from within — and that he did. 

“Whether people wanted to cast Buthelezi as a villain or not, it cannot be denied that he was a significant player during a crucial period of the world’s history.”

To emphasise his point, he told a story of his visit to Nelson Mandela in Pollsmoor prison in the late 1980s where they spoke about challenges that awaited him outside prison, including ethnic divisions. He said Mandela was unconcerned as he considered Buthelezi a fellow freedom fighter. Mandela told Obasanjo: “Comrade Buthelezi is a freedom fighter in his own right. The means are different but the objectives are the same.”

He added that Mandela never questioned the genuineness and authenticity of Buthelezi’s commitment to a free South Africa.

Obasanjo also gave credit to Buthelezi for “refusing to enter any negotiations with the apartheid regime until Mandela and other freedom fighters were released from prison” as testament to how paramount African unity was to the IFP founder. 

The pre-1994 black-on-black violence in KwaZulu-Natal that spread to other provinces has largely been attributed to Buthelezi’s IFP in co-operation with the resistance of the oppressive regime to change — a claim he has denounced. 

In his lecture, Obasanjo instead focused on Buthelezi’s role in the transition period, the negotiations, his role in asserting the position of the Zulu monarchy and the government unity in which he served as a minister under Mandela.

“Buthelezi must be commended for his resistance to escalating tensions with the ANC. He was more than ready to sit around the table and offer his wisdom for the establishment of a new South Africa. The future that SA needed was one of reconciliation.”

This demonstrated Buthelezi's capacity for reconciliation and maturity, compromise, putting differences aside and the creation of democratic values, he said.

Obasanjo thanked God for Buthelezi's life.



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