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Buthelezi ends era in SA politics

Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
Image: Antonio Muchave

This past weekend marked a significant milestone in our politics as one of its most prominent players bowed out of the game.

Inkosi Mangosuthu Buthelezi stepped down as IFP president on Saturday after 44 years at the helm of the KwaZulu-Natal-based party.

His contribution to South African politics dates back to the 1940s when he started out as a member of the ANC Youth League. In his career, he interacted with such luminaries of South African politics as Chief Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, and Nelson Mandela and many others.

It is therefore impossible to tell the South African political story without mentioning Buthelezi's role in it. Admittedly, his is a contested history. Depending on which side of the liberation Struggle politics you sit, Buthelezi is either a hero or a villain.

For those who see Buthelezi as a hero, they praise him for the role he played in the 1970s and 1980s in calling for a negotiated political settlement between the apartheid government and representatives of the oppressed which would have included his Inkatha, the then banned ANC and PAC as well as other organisations that represented the oppressed.

But to those who saw the IFP leader as a villain, he was viewed as a politician who betrayed the liberation Struggle by collaborating with the oppressors through agreeing to participate in the Bantustan government system which was premised on the idea that black people's political rights were limited to "homelands".

They also blame him for much of the political violence that engulfed Gauteng and KZN townships in the run-up to the 1994 elections. Even his critics, we believe, will admit that Buthelezi has played a pivotal role in our politics since 1994. The acceptance of traditional leadership in our current constitutional dispensation, as well as the provincial government system, are largely due to Buthelezi's campaigning ahead of the adoption of the final constitution in 1996.

In parliament, especially during the turbulent years of the Jacob Zuma presidency, Buthelezi often played a role of a wise elder - helping to defuse tensions.

Ours is not to judge Buthelezi's role in history, but we take this opportunity, as he steps down, to acknowledge his contribution to the construction of our current constitutional dispensation.