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Zulu prince, nationalist leader and kingmaker Mangosuthu Buthelezi has died aged 95. He played a polarizing role in South Africa’s transition away from apartheid.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said Buthelezi died in hospital in the early hours of Saturday. Buthelezi is the traditional prime minister of three generations of Zulu kings, but he can be said to be the founder of the Inkatha Freedom Party and the figure who truly rules the Zulu country.
His death coincided with the annual traditional Zulu reed dance, one of the institutions that underpinned Buthelezi’s reestablished monarchy. Last year, he played a crucial role in the rise of King Misuzulu Kazwelithini.
Ramaphosa said Buthelezi was “an outstanding leader in the political and cultural life of our country, including the rise and fall of our liberation struggle, the 1994 transition that secured our freedoms and our democratic institutions”.
Many in South Africa will be more ambivalent about a figure who threatened to boycott the first democratic election in 1994 before relenting just days before the vote, the culmination of decades of competition with the African National Congress and the International Liberal Party.
Buthelezi said a deal with Nelson Mandela and de Klerk, the last apartheid leader, to have the IFP join post-apartheid polls could save South Africa “from unimaginable catastrophe.” as a result of”.
But by then, as the white minority regime collapsed in the 1980s, his Inkatha loyalists were already waging a bloody civil war against the ANC and the anti-apartheid United Democratic Front.
Thousands died. According to the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the IFP “sought training and weapons from, and received assistance from, security forces to form death squads”.
Buthelezi told reporters: “Although I did not plan the violence against any of the victims of the political violence that has cost us so many lives, as the leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party, I know The responsibility is before me.” In 1996, the IFP has always denied that it incited violence.
In a statement on Saturday acknowledging the “horrific bloodshed” of the 1980s and 1990s, the ANC said “history demonstrates that Buthelezi’s relationship with the ANC has been increasingly strained, and the hostile political climate of the apartheid era has been even more so.” It aggravates the relationship.”
“However, the ANC recognizes his contribution to the liberation struggle and the post-apartheid political environment.”
Born in 1928 to a granddaughter of King Cetshwayo, who fought and failed against the British in the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War, Buthelezi is considered a royal Power brokers.
As chief of the Buthelezi clan, he first served as royal prime minister to King Cyprian Bhekuzulu in the 1950s. He held an important position during the reign of Cyprian’s successor, Goodwill Zwelithini, until the king’s death in 2021.
Buthelezi established early anti-apartheid ties with the ANC. But for years he opposed the banned movement’s armed struggle and sanctions-seeking methods in favor of seeking political concessions from within the system.
He agreed to lead KwaZulu, one of the small “bantustans” or “homelands” created by the apartheid regime, but refused to recognize the country as independent, saying he opposed the “Balkanization” of South Africa’s polity.
Before he was murdered in 1977, activist Steve Biko attacked Buthelezi’s decision to accept his homeland while still presenting himself as a critic of the regime. “If you wanted to fight an enemy, you would not accept him unloading two guns and then challenge him to a duel,” Biko said.
In 1978, amid rising tensions, Buthelezi was kicked out of the funeral of anti-apartheid leader Robert Sobukwe, a contemporary of his.
With the advent of democracy, Buthelezi served as interior minister in Mandela’s government after 1994. In 1998, as acting president, he launched an invasion of Lesotho, a small mountainous country surrounded by South Africa, to suppress a rebellion. The incident turned out to be bloodier than South Africa had anticipated and remains a contentious one among the country’s regional hegemons.
A not-so-grey prominent figure behind the reshaping of the Zulu kingdom in the democratic era, Buthelezi also secured the establishment of the Ingonyama Trust at the end of apartheid, which now officially owns Kwazu on behalf of the king. Large tracts of traditional land in the province of Roux-Natal.
The trust has been mired in corruption scandals and power struggles in recent years. Buthelezi has portrayed himself as an elder statesman, but there have also been reports of a rift between him and the new king due to his illness in recent months.
The party he founded and formally exited in 2019 also sought to cultivate a multi-ethnic appeal. As the fourth-largest party in South Africa’s National Assembly, the IFP will play an important role in next year’s likely to be fierce elections, with the ANC’s long-standing majority under threat.
“We are devastated by the unspeakable loss suffered by the IFP, the Zulu nation, our country and the great cause of justice and peace,” the party said on Saturday.