Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the founder of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) in the 1970s, who led the party for over four decades, leaves behind a legacy that is as celebrated as it is contested. His passing on September 9 at the age of 95, just days after being discharged from a hospital where he underwent a medical procedure, has brought a mixed bag of reactions from the South African populace.
A Towering Figure in Politics
Buthelezi has been hailed as a towering figure and a pivotal player in South Africa’s political landscape. His leadership spanned over four decades, a period during which he made significant contributions towards the road to democracy in South Africa. The current leadership of the IFP has pledged to uphold and continue Mangosuthu’s legacy, emphasizing his positive contributions to the nation’s democratic journey.
In 2019, when he stepped down from active politics, he was honoured with the title of President Emeritus of the IFP, a testament to his long-standing service and dedication to the party.
A Mentor and a Traditional Leader
But Buthelezi’s life and influence extended beyond the political arena. He played a central role in the installation of the current Zulu King, MisuZulu kaZwelithini, serving not only as the Zulu traditional Prime Minister but also as a mentor to MisuZulu, guiding him through turbulent times and defending him against detractors.
Speaking at the annual reed dance last week, King MisuZulu expressed deep sorrow over Buthelezi’s passing, stating it would be “hard for him to sleep or rest in the coming days,” acknowledging the deep bond and respect that existed between them. However, due to cultural reasons, the King will not be attending Buthelezi’s funeral.
“…it would be hard for him to sleep or rest in the coming days as he and Buthelezi worked together for the longest time until the end, having respected him,”
King MisuZulu latest remark, highlighting the depth of their relationship.
A Complex Legacy
Despite the accolades and the respect garnered over the years, Buthelezi’s legacy is not without controversy. He has been a divisive figure, with some blaming him for the black-on-black political violence that engulfed the townships in the late 90s. This part of his history brings a complex layer to his legacy, painting him as a figure who stood at the intersection of leadership and controversy.
A Farewell with Honours
As the nation prepares to bid farewell to Buthelezi, a category 1 special official funeral, accompanied by military honours, is set to take place at the Ulundi regional Stadium. President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to deliver the eulogy, with scores of IFP supporters anticipated to gather to pay their last respects to a man who has been a significant part of South Africa’s political tapestry for over four decades.
As South Africa reflects on the life and times of Mangosuthu Buthelezi, it becomes apparent that his legacy is one of complexity, woven with threads of dedication to service, mentorship, but also marred by periods of controversy. It is a legacy that invites South Africans to engage in deep reflection on the journey of their nation, acknowledging both the strides made and the lessons to be gleaned from a life lived at the centre of South African politics.