Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Zulu prince who shook up South African politics, dies at 95

by MMC
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(Reuters) – Mangosuthu Buthelezi, a veteran South African politician, Zulu prince and controversial figure in the apartheid liberation struggle, has died, the presidency announced on Saturday. He was 95 years old.

The Inkatha Freedom Party founder served two terms as interior minister in the post-apartheid government after burying the hatchet with the ruling African National Congress in 1994.

“I am deeply saddened to announce the death of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Prince of KwaPhindangene, traditional prime minister of the Zulu monarch and nation, and founder and chairman emeritus of the Inkatha Freedom Party,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a statement.

Buthelezi underwent surgery for back pain in July and was later readmitted to hospital when the pain did not subside, according to local news site News24.

He founded the IFP in 1975 as a national cultural movement that became a political force in what is now KwaZulu-Natal province, and his party was involved in bloody conflicts with the ANC in the 1980s and 1990s.

His last-minute decision to participate in the first post-apartheid elections in 1994 brought peace between the two parties. The vote brought the ANC and its leader, the late Nelson Mandela, to power.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation said Buthelezi’s life intersected many times with Mandela’s and his legacy was “towering and complex”.

“In many ways, both leaders came to embody an understanding of reconciliation that does not require forgiveness, or forgetting the past, or even learning to love one another. – it’s just a matter of deciding to get along,” he added. the foundation said in a statement.

South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), described Buthelezi as a “great leader”.

“Prince Buthelezi was a giant in the South African political landscape,” said DA leader John Steenhuisen.


Buthelezi was a champion of his people and a leading figure in the struggle against apartheid, but his rivalry with the ANC led to difficult days and much bloodshed before South Africa could elect his first black leader.

Critics called Buthelezi a warlord, but to his legion of supporters in the rural Zulu heartland, he was a visionary.

For a decade before the end of white rule in 1994, Buthelezi – dressed in leopard skins and waving a short silver-topped stick – was a familiar sight at rallies as Inkatha was embroiled in conflict with the ANC.

Around 20,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands forced from their homes as fighting raged in KwaZulu and in men’s hostels built to house migrant workers who toiled in the gold mines near Johannesburg.

The price of peace was Buthelezi’s participation in a national unity government as interior minister – a ministry that became synonymous with corruption and incompetence under his leadership.

“It’s not pleasant, it’s not easy for me. It’s also not easy for President Thabo Mbeki (Mandela’s successor) to have me and my colleagues in government. We did this to end a low-intensity civil war,” Buthelezi told Reuters in a statement. interview in July 2003.

He also played other roles outside of politics.

Buthelezi played his own great-grandfather, King Cetshwayo, in the 1964 film “Zulu,” which immortalized the 1879 defense of Rorke’s Drift by British troops against thousands of Zulu fighters, but also broadcast the he image of the Zulus beyond South Africa as a powerful warrior race.


Longevity marked his political career. He only left the leadership of the IFP in 2019, at the age of 90.

Long speeches were a Buthelezi trademark. Delivered in Zulu or English, they could last for hours.

A graduate of the Black University of Fort Hare from 1948 to 1950, Buthelezi joined the ANC Youth League and rubbed shoulders in the lecture halls with many future leaders of the movement. He was expelled there because of his political activity.

Its political influence would be forged in the “bantustan” of KwaZulu, one of the so-called self-governing countries based on tribal affiliation – islands of rural poverty where most black South Africans were literally confined under apartheid.

A Zulu leader, Buthelezi became chief minister of KwaZulu in the 1970s, where he attempted a delicate balancing act: refusing outright independence and criticizing Pretoria’s racial policies while continuing to play a role in the farce of the homeland.

This was too much for the ANC, whose exiled leaders attempted to court him throughout the 1970s before giving up in the face of grassroots opposition to what was seen as Buthelezi’s collaboration with the apartheid regime.

In the early 1990s, violence in KwaZulu-Natal and the townships around Johannesburg seemed likely to destroy the prospect of a relatively peaceful transition to democracy.

As leader of the IFP, Buthelezi threatened to boycott the 1994 elections, but after mediation by former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former British Foreign Secretary Peter Carrington and only weeks before Election Day, he relented.

As a minister in the subsequent government of national unity, Buthelezi served as acting president on occasion, including sending troops to neighboring Lesotho in a controversial attempt to quell a mutiny in the mountainous kingdom.

But the ANC, using the power of money at its disposal, would eventually reduce the IFP’s electoral base through an ambitious rollout of infrastructure such as paved roads, electricity and running water for the neglected rural Zulus.

Ashpenaz Nathan Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi was born on 27 August 1928 in Mahlabathini, son and heir of Chief Matoli Buthelezi and Princess Constance Magago Dinuzulu.

Buthelezi grew up in a traditional household and spent his early years as a herdsman. In 1953 he was appointed acting chief of the famous Buthelezi clan and four years later he was confirmed as chief.

He was married to Irene Mzila, a nurse, avoiding the polygamy followed by many Zulu chiefs. They had three sons and four daughters.

(Reporting by Bhargav Acharya and Nelson Banya, editing by Angus MacSwan and Frances Kerry)

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