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South Africa: ANC, Buthelezi reconciliation key for KZN stability

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By Makhosini Mgitywa

The 94th birthday of IFP founder and AmaZulu traditional prime minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi seems to have ushered in a new chapter in the frosty relations between his party and the ANC.

This raises hopes the two parties may finally be able to co-operate in the interest of service delivery in KwaZulu-Natal. To mark his birthday on August 27, the KZN ANC leadership issued a statement that was in most parts heaping praise on Buthelezi.

It may have been influenced by the numerous tributes for Buthelezi from ordinary South Africans on most social media platforms. This in the main was because the AmaZulu nation seemed to be united behind the ascension to the throne of Buthelezi-backed King Misuzulu kaZwelithini.

Many people thought, perhaps with good reason, that had Buthelezi not been involved in the transfer of the throne, the AmaZulu dynasty would be in shambles. The tributes also came thick and fast because Buthelezi seems to be extraordinarily fit and mentally sharp for a nonagenarian.

However, there was also pushback from commentators and media personalities against the perceived “whitewashing of Buthelezi’s bloody history”.

The narrative against Buthelezi paints him as the main belligerent in the political violence of the 1990s in the KZN and Gauteng provinces.

On the other hand, Buthelezi has in the past few years been calling for “reconciliation talks” with the ANC.

He has been suggesting inhlambuluko nokukhumelana umlotha, a cultural ritual where warring factions reconcile. Implicit in Buthelezi’s calls is an acknowledgement of his own party’s role in the conflict. That is big considering that Buthelezi remains the IFP’s overlord.

At times Buthelezi is a nightmare to his party’s strategists when he openly identifies with the ANC even on the IFP campaign trail. The party support base gets enthused when he takes a hardline approach. It is not clear why the ANC has consistently ignored Buthelezi.

However, it is likely the party saw no political gain for it from such talks. It is also likely the ANC would rather leave Buthelezi as the bogeyman in the court of public opinion. However, last year’s local government elections demonstrated beyond doubt the IFP is resurgent, particularly in KZN.

The ANC lost many municipalities to its nemesis. In some instances, the ANC lost where it could easily have formed a government, simply because of its strained relations with the IFP. Buthelezi even complained to President Cyril Ramaphosa about disparaging remarks made against him by former premier and KZN ANC chairperson Sihle Zikalala.

The new provincial ANC leadership seems to be flipping the script. The disrupting Siboniso Duma, new provincial ANC chairperson and MEC in the new provincial executive, seems determined to change the party’s fortunes.

The provincial government is now led by a woman, Premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube, and women are in the majority in the executive. This is radical stuff by KZN standards. The noises Duma has been making suggest he is not only a disruptor but wants to keep the ANC in government beyond the next provincial election in 2024.

Many pundits suggest KZN will have a coalition government in the province. Duma and his colleagues seem to believe a partnership with the IFP provides the easiest path toward forming a coalition government in 2024.

The ANC and the IFP do have a history of co-governing under the erstwhile government of provincial unity and later coalition governments. They were able to coexist and tolerate each other.

However, their difficult relationship has been toxic for service delivery, especially in rural districts like Zululand. In the late 1990s, some Zululand areas such as Nongoma were a no-go to the ANC.

In neighbouring oPhongolo and other municipalities, service delivery has been continuously impaired as the two parties squabbled. Recently the northern KZN ANC region decided to name itself after late ANC activist and fierce Buthelezi critic Jabulani “Mzala” Nxumalo; the Mzala Nxumalo region also issued a statement congratulating Buthelezi on his birthday and wishing him well last week. Most of the criticism against Buthelezi came from people outside the ANC. There are clear signs of rapprochement.

However, it is likely there is an engagement between the two parties towards such a goal. It all looks spontaneous and clumsy for now, but the ANC and IFP are closer to reconciliation now than in the past.

If the parties were to hold successful reconciliation talks, that would write a much better end to Buthelezi’s career as a politician and prime minister.

Duma and his leadership would also gain political capital after taking the first significant steps towards a normalisation of relations, or even reunification, of the parties.

Pressure should be on the ANC to agree to the reconciliation talks. Neither Buthelezi nor ANC leaders should look for political gain out of the talks. The souls of the victims of the violence deserve better.

Mgitywa is an independent political and social commentator who grew up in Zululand.