Buthelezi funeral: South Africans reflect on legacy of divisive Zulu leader

by MMC
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  • By Nomsa Maseko
  • BBC News, Ulundi


Zulu regiments accompanied the hearse en route to Ulundi

Mourners descended on the town of Ulundi to attend the funeral of veteran South African politician and Zulu leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

He was given a state funeral in honor of his contribution to the fight against white minority rule.

As a sign of respect, the national electricity company also agreed that Ulundi would not be subject to national power cuts during the events.

But his death at the age of 95 opened a debate about his legacy.

Born into the Zulu royal family, he remained its traditional prime minister until his death. However, it was his role in politics that divided opinion.

He founded the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) after becoming disillusioned with the African National Congress (ANC) in 1975, at the height of apartheid. He opposed the ANC’s position on armed action and sanctions, arguing that they harmed black South Africans.


Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s supporters see him as a man of peace

For this, his supporters say he deserves all the accolades heaped on him – and so did the hundreds of people who lined the streets on Friday leading to Kwa-Phindangene Palace in Ulundi, alongside praise-singing Zulu regiments dressed in traditional costumes , see him as a man of peace.

Professor Kealeboga Maphunye, head of African policy at the University of South Africa, acknowledges that Buthelezi was “a respected traditional leader who contributed to history by ensuring that the dignity of black people, particularly Zulus, is not trampled by the apartheid regime. .

Yet it was what happened during the transition to multi-party democracy in the early 1990s, when around 20,000 people died in violence between the ANC and IFP, that sparked criticism and reopened old wounds.

“We cannot forget that Buthelezi’s supporters were involved in acts that damaged his legacy,” Professor Maphunye told the BBC.

City Press newspaper editor Mondli Makhanya was more blunt in his front-page editorial a day after Buthelezi’s death, calling him a “murderous apartheid collaborator who was behind squads linked to its organization.

Makhanya later described the positive tributes to him as “the culmination of the biggest whitewash in South Africa’s history”.

The township of Thokoza, east of Johannesburg, is one of several areas that have seen political violence by those determined to derail the road to the country’s first democratic elections in 1994.

Image source, Getty Images


Thokoza Municipality was the scene of deadly clashes between IFP and ANC supporters as the country prepared for its first democratic elections.

A monument to the 600 people who died there now stands on Khumalo Street, once the dividing line between two warring communities.

On Thursday, people gathered at the memorial decided that their deceased loved ones would not be forgotten at that time.

“I lost my uncle during the violent clashes. He was bludgeoned to death,” a man who asked not to be named told the BBC.

He had called on Buthelezi to “humble himself” and apologize for the atrocities committed in his name. “But instead of apologizing, he denied any involvement until his death,” he said.

The IFP has rejected these criticisms, saying neither Buthelezi nor his party can be blamed for planning the violence. After Nelson Mandela won the country’s first democratic elections, he and Buthelezi buried the hatchet and the IFP leader served two terms as interior minister in the ANC government.

Buthelezi’s son, Prince Zuzifa, said: “The IFP shares our pain at seeing long-discredited propaganda revived by a few individuals who have no sense of humanity, but we will not allow ourselves to be drawn into their spiral of hatred… history will justify our father. »


Some mourners in Ulundi wear scarves bearing the image of Mangosuthu Buthelezi

Events to commemorate the Zulu leader began on Wednesday in Ulundi with a memorial service organized by the IFP and attended by dignitaries and politicians from all parties.

But that too has been overshadowed by accusations that some are using the commemorations to play politics ahead of next year’s elections, with politicians accused of being willing to revise history with votes in mind.

These criticisms particularly target the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the country’s second opposition party, launched ten years ago.

Its head of political education, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, took the stage to congratulate the IFP founder: “Never let yourself be shaken by the negativity of misinformed and ignorant people.

“Never let yourself be shaken by opportunists and hypocrites who want to educate us about our own history and the leaders who stabilized this country in a politically peaceful environment,” he told the mourning crowd.

For the IFP, the funeral is also a good opportunity to canvass for votes and for other parties to court a possible coalition partner in KwaZulu-Natal province, home of the country’s largest ethnic group.

Buthelezi retired from active politics five years ago but was recently praised for overseeing the peaceful installation of the recently crowned Zulu monarch, Misuzulu ka Zwelithini, amid a battle for the throne between his brothers.

Although it was reported that he and the king were recently at odds over the management and management of the Ingonyama Trust, a body responsible for managing communal land in the KwaZulu Natal province.

Buthelezi considers this trust one of his great successes – and its creation paved the way for the IFP’s participation in the 1994 elections – although it has been the subject of criticism, with some considering it unconstitutional, to the extent that it leaves millions of people in limbo. rural areas under the rule of the king.

But for historian Mphumeleli Ngidi, Buthelezi’s nearly 70 years of service show unwavering dedication to preserving Zulu customs and rituals at a critical time in South Africa’s history – and that alone. there is no doubt that he will be revered.

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