Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Picture: SOWETAN
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Picture: SOWETAN

IFP leader and founder Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who has been promising to call it quits for several years, told supporters at the weekend that he will leave politics in July after his party eventually holds its long-delayed elective conference.

The 91-year-old is the oldest leader on the ballot when South Africans cast their votes on the general elections on May 8. He recently suffered a personal blow when his wife, 89-year-old Irene Thandekile Buthelezi, died in March.

Buthelezi told thousands of IFP supporters at a rally in KwaMashu, north of Durban, at the weekend that he wanted to lead his party towards a decisive resurgence before calling it a day. 

“There is only one party campaigning on trust. Some would say it’s a risky move, considering the deep lack of trust that has divided the people from their elected representatives. But the IFP knows that trust is key to saving SA. Moreover, we know that trust has never been broken when it comes to the IFP.

“For 44 years, the IFP has been serving SA with integrity. Our track record is one of clean governance, honest leaders, real solutions and proven strength. We have what it takes to lead this country. We have the experience and the know-how. We have the character and the wisdom. And we have strong leaders who are already working on your behalf,” he said.

He said he wanted to leave the IFP on a stronger footing after it suffered loses in recent years, with the formation of splinter party, the National Freedom Party (NFP), under former IFP chair Zanele KaMagwaza-Msibi.

After the 2011 local government elections this split forced the IFP to relinquish a number of municipalities in rural hinterland to the ANC and NFP. After the 2014 general elections the IFP continued to shed support and the party that was once in charge of the provincial government from 1994 to 2004, lost its status as the official opposition in the KwaZulu-Natal legislature.

However, the 2016 local government elections saw the IFP regaining lost ground and taking back some of these municipalities.

In 2017, the party said Buthelezi would step down as leader at its next conference. Buthelezi reportedly said previously that whenever he expressed his desire to leave the party presidency, the IFP insisted he stay on. 

Buthelezi told supporters at the weekend to trust his party to deliver on its promises.

“The IFP is a team of leaders. Over the years, hundreds of women and men have risen through the ranks of the IFP to serve in leadership positions. This is why I have no fear for the future of our party. I know that when my time is done as party president, this party will continue from strength to strength.

“I have the utmost confidence in our premier candidate, Velenkosini Hlabisa. I have confidence in the candidates on our election lists, for I know them all, and I know that they will serve in parliament and in the legislatures with integrity and dedication,” he said.

In 2017, Buthelezi nominated Hlabisa, the little-known mayor of the Hlabisa local municipality, as his successor. However, some party leaders were unhappy with his choice. This resulted in the IFP’s elective conference being postponed indefinitely.

Pundits say if that if Buthelezi relinquishes the party presidency, it would be interesting how the IFP will chart the future without its founding leader.

Durban-based political analyst Thabani Khumalo said it remained to be seen whether the IFP leader would really pass on the baton this time around.

“[Buthelezi] has been saying this for years but when it came to really doing what he has been saying, he has found one reason or another to continue. He often said it was party structures that prevailed on him to continue to lead the party. What if they prevail again this time and ask him to stay on? Will he?” asked Khumalo.