Picture: Timothy Bernard/African News Agency (ANA)/Taken on August 19, 2022 – Prince Mangusuthu Buthelezi dreamt about peace between the African National Congress and his party, the Inkatha Freedom Party, the writer says. Since he has died without realising this dream, it is incumbent on those who remain to fulfil this task, ‘to create lasting peace and unity among South Africans’, she writes.
By Kim Heller
Apartheid was full-scale warfare against black people. In the killing fields of apartheid, the bloodthirsty racist regime sponsored and fuelled black-on-black violence. As the fight for freedom intensified, many parts of South Africa were turned into open graves. The blood of thousands of black South Africans was spilt not only on the inhumane razor of social and political oppression and on the often-sponsored spear of political disunity, but on the incisor of disagreement, and rivalry between black political parties.
Among the most notorious and brutal black-on-black violence, in the dying strokes of apartheid, was that between the IFP (Inkatha Freedom Party) and the ANC (African National Congress). The two parties were to wage bitter and brutal battles in the two decades before democracy was finally won. The carnage of this apartheid warfare continues to haunt the fragile democracy of current day South Africa. The scent from its ugly carcass remains omnipresent and pungent, in a nation where there has been little inhale of peace and justice. This despite the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and numerous attempts by the leaders of both political parties to seek reconciliation and peace.
The Boipatong massacre of June 17, 1992, was perhaps one of the most gruesome instances of black-on-black violence in the history of apartheid South Africa. A three hundred-strong group of men from a nearby hostel slaughtered occupants of the Joe Slovo informal settlement. Forty-five people were killed and another 18 injured. The group of attackers, affiliated to the IFP was said to be intent on disrupting the negotiating process that was under way between the ANC and the NP (National Party), the incumbent apartheid government.
Andries Nosenga was one of 16 IFP members who applied to the TRC for a pardon for his role in the Boipatong massacre. In his testimony Nosenga said: “We attacked Boipatong because it was an order from the IFP leadership. We were told to destroy everything, women, children, and any property we came across”. The IFP vehemently denied this.
The violence of Boipatong was to spread across the nation in a devastating wave and wake of black-on-black violence that was to leave a bloodstain that knows no erasure. It is estimated that, in the last decade of apartheid, close to twenty-thousand people were to perish in ANC-IFP clashes. Justice has never been done for the victims of ANC-IFP conflicts. Families across South Africa have been left to grieve, without closure, or peace, for those lost in these horrific political wars.
A few days ago, the SABC interviewed several survivors of the Boipatong massacre. This after the passing of former president of the IFP, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi. One of the survivors said that Buthelezi took the truth of Boipatong to his grave. The true story of Boipatong and other sites of shattering black-on-black violence may forever lie buried while wounds continue to fester and pain.
The historical strife between the ANC and IFP is a story that is unlikely to ever be fully or accurately told. The telling of the tragedies will forever be blemished by political bias and outcomes, and the sanitisation of both parties. The perpetual power play between the ANC and IFP in the ongoing war for political power in democratic South Africa will continue to overpower truth about culpability for historical ills.
Whether we are saints or sinners, we all die with some truths never disclosed. We will all die with a measure of regret and a heap of unfulfilled wishes. Prayers often go unanswered, even when they are the last words of the noblest of men, or the final redemption call of the most wicked of all.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the former president of IFP, passed away on Saturday August 9, just three weeks shy of his 95th birthday. Buthelezi wished and prayed for peace between the ANC and IFP, after the deadly strife of the past.
In paying tribute to Buthelezi, the current president of the IFP, Velenkosini Hlabisa, spoke of how Buthelezi had longed to see genuine reconciliation between the ANC and his IFP before he “went to his grave”. Sadly, Hlabisa said, this was not to be. “Now it is up to us as the leadership to pick up this baton and ensure that reconciliation is achieved. We will be initiating it with the ANC”.
ANC leaders have echoed this sentiment. The ANC’s provisional leader of KwaZulu-Natal, Siboniso Duma, preached the talk of peace and reconciliation. In his religiously inspired call, he said “the great walls of Jericho have fallen, and it is up to us to rebuild them”. “Everyone is worried what will happen to KZN now that its champion is no more.” The ANC’s provisional leader then spoke of the collective responsibility to ensure that service delivery continues and that the legacy of peace that Buthelezi built is strengthened. “Peace initiatives between the IFP and the ANC are a delicate issue that need to be handled with care. We are up to that task,” Duma proclaimed.
Whether peace and reconciliation will be at the foundation of future relations between these two parties whose past is so steeped in violence, will depend on the will and political agenda of both parties. Peace and reconciliation between the ANC and IPF may be a remarkably powerful and positive step ahead. If indeed this is a genuine rallying cry for meaningful and lasting peace, rather than cheap and expedient electoral talk ahead of the 2024 election.
The need for reconciliation and peace among black South Africans has never been more urgent. Black unity should be treated as King. Peace and reconciliation between the ANC and IFP is not far-fetched. After all, black people and parties easily forgave and reconciled with their former white ruthless apartheid oppressors, who had committed crimes against humanity against them.
But even if the ANC and IFP kiss and make up, one thing is certain – there will never be peace for the families of the massacres committed in the war between these two parties. They will certainly go to their graves with wishes unfulfilled. Just as the victims of these massacres did. Perhaps the greatest honour that can be paid to victims of the past conflicts now, so many years later, is to create lasting peace and unity among South Africans.
Kim Heller is a political analyst and author of ‘No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa’.