Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi has lashed out at the ANC-led government for "salivating" at vast tracts of land under the controversial Ingonyama Trust, saying the emotive land issue has always been central to the liberation struggle.

The outgoing Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) leader, in his swansong speech during the party's national elective conference in Ulundi, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) on Saturday, said it was "absurd" that two panels had recommended that the Ingonyama Trust Act be amended or repealed.

In its report released in July, the presidential advisory panel on land reform and agriculture recommended that the Ingonyama Trust be dissolved and the legislation governing it be repealed or reviewed.

In November 2017, another panel led by former president Kgalema Motlanthe recommended that the trust be repealed, or substantially amended, to protect existing customary land rights.

The recommendations were viewed as a political hot potato for President Cyril Ramaphosa who does not want to antagonise Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini.

Zwelithini, the sole beneficiary of the Ingonyama Trust board, wields substantial influence over voters in the province where the ANC won the 2019 provincial election with a reduced majority. The trust controls 27.9% of KZN land.

On Saturday, Buthelezi was in attack mode saying he piloted the Ingonyama Act and it was passed by the KZN Legislature. "After 1994, when some people in the ANC were baying for my blood, the law we had passed was taken to the democratic Parliament where it was thoroughly debated, amended and retained. That was more than two decades ago."

Buthelezi, who spoke at length about the SA's land wars, said he had protected all black people in SA from being "foreigners in their own country", adding: "Whenever land is discussed, we look back to 1913. It was in 1913 that the South African government passed the Native Land Act when they decided to hoard 87% of SA for themselves and allot just 13% to the majority of the population of this country."

While SA achieved political freedom in 1994, the land was still in the "hands of the white minority", said Buthelezi, stressing that the IFP supports the expropriation of land with some compensation.

"While the present government’s programme of restoring land to our people has been so slow in the last 25 years, it is surprising that they should be salivating for the Ingonyama Trust land, which are the bits and pieces under the king administered by him and his Amakhosi in accordance with indigenous and customary law."

Buthelezi, who turns 91 on Tuesday, steps down after 44 years as leader of the IFP. He said his greatest sadness was that he won't get to see the IFP's next chapter.

"I won’t be amongst the men and women who cross into the promised land of social and economic justice, having endured the struggle ahead," he said. "This is not because I am stepping down, but because in a few days’ time I will turn 91. Common sense tells me that my time is short. There is so much I will not get to see."

The elective conference is expected to elect a new president, deputy president, national chairman, deputy national chairman, secretary-general, and deputy secretary-general.

Buthelezi lashed out at his detractors, saying they were wrong to think that the IFP has reached the end of the road.

"This is just the beginning," he roared, to loud applause from the thousands of supporters gathered at the Prince Mangosuthu regional stadium.

"They are wrong to think that the IFP will not survive. We have been restored as the official opposition in this province through a national election. They are wrong to think that we are divided internally beyond repair. The IFP is moving and speaking as one. And they are also wrong to think that I am clinging to power."

The IFP is the fourth largest party in Parliament after growing its support to 3.38% during the May 8 election, thus landing itself 14 seats in the National Assembly.

It also dislodged the DA as the official opposition in KZN, where it received 14.58% of the votes, equating to six seats in the provincial legislature. 

Buthelezi revealed that the accusation that he was clinging to power "has hurt me tremendously", noting: "It has impacted on my family, because clearly the longer I was asked to remain at the helm, the less time I had left to spend with my children and my beloved wife."

"It was not my own decision to remain as party president for so many years. But I am a democrat. When my party asked me to lead, I accepted. There was always good reason behind the request, and I feel – as hard as it was – that we made the right decision."