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ANC-IFP reconciliation would heal the nation

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Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)/Files – Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosothu Buthelezi. Cordial relations between the ANC and the IFP have the potential to heal, not just KZN as a province but the nation as a whole, the writer says.

By Bheki Mngomezulu

Relations between the ANC and the IFP have been inconsistent for decades. When the ANC was banned by the notorious apartheid regime in April 1960, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who had been a member of the ANC Youth League while studying at the University of Fort Hare (UFH), established Inkatha Yenkululeko Yesizwe (later known as Inkatha Freedom Party or IFP).

This decision was taken following the blessings of iNkosi Albert Luthuli, who had been asked to lead the ANC when the Defiance Campaign began in 1952 in protest against apartheid which started in 1948 when the National Party under Dr DF Malan won the elections. Buthelezi’s decision also received the blessings of the ANC in exile under its President Oliver Tambo.

It was for this reason that many ANC members joined Inkatha – perceiving it as the ANC in disguise. It was also for the same reason that Buthelezi constantly reported to the ANC in Lusaka and in London about developments in the country. This cordial relationship continued until 1979. In October of that year, Tambo invited Buthelezi and his 17-member delegation to London. By this time, some in the ANC had become suspicious of Bantustan (Homelands) leaders in general and of Buthelezi in particular. Although KwaZulu was not an “independent” homeland, it was treated like all other homelands by some ANC members. After this meeting, the ANC and Inkatha never met until the 1990s following the unbanning of the ANC and other liberation movements.

The formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF) on August 20, 1983, further worsened relations between the ANC and Inkatha. Dominated by the youth but also having senior members who were opposed to Inkatha, the UDF and Inkatha did not see eye-to-eye. The apartheid regime celebrated this development and used such evident divisions to its favour. It pitted the ANC/UDF against Inkatha. It also used its notorious six weeks-trained unit called kitskonstabels to police the townships and caused havoc.

The negative view held by many in the ANC against traditional leaders further ostracised Buthelezi and Inkatha. Consequently, until 1993, the ANC did not envisage a space for traditional leaders in the anticipated new political dispensation. However, after realising that these traditional leaders commanded support from rural areas and some townships, the ANC had to reluctantly accommodate traditional leaders in the Interim Constitution and, later, in the final Constitution of 1996.

The so-called “black-on-black violence” which engulfed South Africa in general but present-day KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in particular, was interpreted as being reminiscent of the ANC/IFP feud. The Shell House Massacre of March 28, 1994, further divided the ANC and the IFP. The collapse of the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) talks placed South Africa on a ticking timebomb. It was the resumption of these talks and the last-minute decision by Prince Buthelezi to participate in the first democratic election April 1994 which avoided a potential bloodbath in the in country. Thanks to Kenyan Prof. Washington Okumu who convinced Buthelezi to participate in the 1994 general election.

The reconciliatory spirit which characterised CODESA talks resulted in the establishment of the Government of National Unity (GNU). The ANC, IFP and the National Party were part of this GNU. Even when De Klerk announced his exit from the GNU on June 3, 1996, the IFP remained. Although the IFP won KZN in 1994 and 1999, the ANC and the IFP managed to work together to bring about peace and stability in the province. Recently, following the 2021 Local Government Election (LGE), attempts were made for the ANC and the IFP to work together. Unfortunately, such an arrangement failed.

Within this context, it is clear that cordial relations between the ANC and the IFP have the potential to heal, not just KZN as a province but the nation as a whole.

On March 21, 2023, which is Human Rights Day in the South African calendar, the Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi Foundation hosted its inaugural Prince Mangosuthu Annual Lecture. The event attracted a big crowd at iNkosi Albert Luthuli Convention Centre in eThekwini. The dignitaries who graced this occasion, to which I was also invited, included ANC and IFP members. This was in addition to the Zulu King Misuzulu ka Zwelithini, Ambassadors from different countries and many others.

The person invited to deliver the lecture was the Former President of Nigeria, Dr Olusegun Obasanjo. His detailed address, which started from after 2pm until about 4pm reflected on many issues. Some of these issues were historical. They covered Nigerian and South African politics. The bulk of Obasanjo’s address focused on the role played by Buthelezi in South African politics. What became evident was that Obasanjo linked Buthelezi (through his historical accounts) to several ANC leaders such as Pixley ka Seme, Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, and Mandela. He went on to say that when Buthelezi meets these leaders across the grave, there will be reunion!

Beyond the general context, Obasanjo spent a significant amount of time reflecting on his personal relations with Buthelezi, referring to him as his brother and a friend. He argued that Buthelezi will leave behind an enviable heritage. Obasanjo recalled that when he celebrated his 82nd birthday in March 2018, he invited Buthelezi to deliver a similar lecture and that he welcomed the opportunity to return the favour to is old friend.

What was profound in Obasanjo’s address was his wish that the ANC and the IFP could come together “in no distant future”! This statement reiterated what Buthelezi has said on different occasions. He always reminds his audiences that he grew up in the ANC and worked closely with many of its leaders. Buthelezi does not hide the fact that he still has a gushing wound in the way in which some ANC members see him as an enemy. He has constantly expressed his wish that the ANC and the IFP could reconcile before he passes on. The question becomes: whose interest would such reconciliation serve?

The answer to the question above cannot be a simple one. There are many reasons for that. Firstly, those who are young would know the history of both the ANC and the IFP and how they relate to each other. Secondly, they would understand how Buthelezi is linked to the ANC, historically. Thirdly, they would appreciate the role played by the apartheid government in creating the rift between the ANC and the IFP. Fourthly, they would appreciate the role played by Buthelezi in the liberation struggle. Fifthly and most importantly, such knowledge would go a long way in healing the wounds of the past – thereby contributing to social cohesion.

Apart from the five reasons enumerated above, reconciliation between the ANC and the IFP would provide the context within which one could understand the current factionalism within the ANC. Differences of opinion are part of human nature. The ANC in exile could not be insulated from this reality. As some hailed Buthelezi for keeping the ANC flame burning in South Africa, others perceived him as a traitor.

When Chris Hani and a few others questioned the activities of the ANC leadership, some called for their expulsion from the ANC. Oliver Tambo in his capacity as the leader of the ANC held a different view. He wanted the disgruntled ANC members to be afforded the opportunity to air their views frankly and openly. This was the context within which the 1969 Morogoro Conference was held in Tanzania. After this conference, opposing parties smoked a peace pipe and mended the walls. With this reconciliation in place, the ANC was able to focus on the main objective, which was to destabilise South Africa under the National Party government.

Therefore, the call by President Obasanjo for the ANC and the IFP to try and find each other should be viewed in the same light. Both these organisations took part in the liberation struggle. Their members were exposed to the wrath of the apartheid operatives – albeit in different magnitude. In the current political dispensation, both organisations are determined to see their people enjoying a better life. They are both concerned with social challenges such as inequality, poverty, and unemployment, among others. If they were to bury their differences, South Africa would be a better country.

In the realm of politics, voting trends show that the ANC’s support is going down but the party still enjoys national support. On the other hand, support for the IFP is on an upward trajectory. However, since the IFP does not command national footprints like the ANC, this means that it cannot be the replacement for the ANC in the 2024 general election. If the ANC and the IFP were to work together, they would be able to form a Grand Alliance in a coalition government.

Flowing from the above, President Obasanjo’s wish has credence. Reconciliation between the ANC and the IFP would educate and heal the nation. Importantly, it would fulfil Buthelezi’s wish to correct this assumed animosity between him and the ANC.

Professor Bheki Mngomezulu is Director of the Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy (CANRAD) at the Nelson Mandela University

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