Magazine article New African

South Africa: Why Buthelezi Fell from Grace; It Had Long Been Coming. and When It Finally Came, the Message Was Terse. "Thank You for Your Contribution to the Work of Our Government over the Past 10 Years, and Wish You the Best in Your Future Endeavours". with These Marching Orders, President Mbeki Sent Chief Buthelezi Packing. Pusch Commey Reports on Why the Chief Fell from Grace

Magazine article New African

South Africa: Why Buthelezi Fell from Grace; It Had Long Been Coming. and When It Finally Came, the Message Was Terse. "Thank You for Your Contribution to the Work of Our Government over the Past 10 Years, and Wish You the Best in Your Future Endeavours". with These Marching Orders, President Mbeki Sent Chief Buthelezi Packing. Pusch Commey Reports on Why the Chief Fell from Grace

Article excerpt

Days after President Thabo Mbeki had secured the ANC's largest ever electoral victory on 14 April, he wrote to his home affairs minister, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, announcing his intention to appoint two junior members of Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) to serve in the government.

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Mbeki obliquely told him: "I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you for your contribution to the work of our government over the past 10 years and wish you the best in your future endeavours." Buthelezi was livid about the cavalier manner in which he had been sidelined, but his exclusion was not unexpected. It had been coming for a long time.

When Mbeki first became president in 1999, he offered Buthelezi the post of deputy president in exchange for an ANC premier of Kwazulu-Natal, the province which Buthelezi considers as his turf. Inkatha was the majority party in the province. Buthelezi rejected the offer, and rather accepted the lesser position of home affairs minister, retaining control of the province the ANC had long coveted.

As home affairs minister, Buthelezi was often accused by critics of spending more time on his own affairs than the country's home affairs. They claimed he had running battles with his subordinates whom he accused of having been planted by the ANC to undermine him. The feuds resulted in home affairs becoming one of the worst performing ministries. And Buthelezi's own attitude towards African immigrants was near hostile.

This led to a major spat between Mbeki and Buthelezi just before the 14 April elections, over an immigration bill that Buthelezi wanted promulgated. The bill had exempted most European countries from visa requirements and excluded most African countries as well as nations like Cuba which had been instrumental in South Africa's liberation struggle. This had been done without cabinet approval.

When Buthelezi stuck to his guns, Mbeki took the extraordinary step of taking him to court. Mbeki won, but the bad blood generated by this saga and the run-up to the elections had damaged relations gravely. Worse was when Buthelezi decided to form an alliance with the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) in what was dubbed "the coalition for change". Mbeki accused Buthelezi of being "right wing". In return, Buthelezi called the president a liar.

The truth is that Buthelezi's IFP has long been a thorn in the side of the ANC. With its support mainly in the rural areas of the Zulu heartland, Inkatha has successfully been able to co-opt and politicise Zulu cultural sentiments. Central to this has been numerous attempts to have the Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini, firmly on Inkatha's side. The King has tried to resist but Inkatha's control of the Kwazulu-Natal province gave Buthelezi the power to pay the King's remuneration. And Inkatha did not shy away from slashing the King's budget whenever he departed from the Inkatha script.

In the 1970s and 80s, Buthelezi was the ruler of the Kwazulu homeland during the apartheid years when the regime sought to divide and rule the country by creating black homelands.

As a result, he built up sufficient patronage to create a political force whose initial objective was to back the liberation struggle. He had the blessing of the ANC. But then Buthelezi broke ranks to pursue his own agenda, even though he refused to accept so-called independence for Kwazulu from the apartheid regime.

The ANC, which has many prominent Zulus (including Deputy President Jacob Zuma), always has contested Buthelezi's claim to being the representative of the 10 million Zulus, the biggest ethnic group in South Africa, with an illustrious history. …

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