BAREND UYS: Buthelezi’s legacy of reconciliation
The IFP leader acted in the interest of his cultural community to negotiate for a better dispensation and was committed to real rapprochement
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi departed from this life in the early hours of the morning on Saturday, September 9. At the death of King Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu in 2021, a delegation from AfriForum went to express condolences to the Zulu royal family. On that day, the other male members of the royal family went to bring the remains of Zwelithini home, so our delegation was received by Buthelezi and the female members of the royal family.
Because the king was a devout and outspoken Christian, we read from the Bible and prayed for the family. Buthelezi thanked us and continued by narrating the good relations and co-operation that existed between the Zulu and the Afrikaner cultural communities in the time of his grandfather’s grandfather, King Mpande kaSenzangakhona, and in the time of his grandfather, King Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo. I’ll never forget how Buthelezi suddenly seemed to be a few years younger once he started talking.
Once during a conversation with him, he mentioned that during the hearings of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission he apologised on behalf of the Zulu nation for the murder of the Retief party at the command of King Dingane kaSenzangakhona. This struck me deeply — after all, we as Afrikaners do not expect the current generation to apologise for the actions of a generation that has long since passed away. But such was Buthelezi’s commitment to real reconciliation and peaceful coexistence.
Buthelezi served as prime minister to three Zulu kings: King Bhekuzulu kaSolomon, who like Buthelezi was a grandson of Dinuzulu; King Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, and the current monarch, King Misuzulu KaZwelithini. In this respect he was also following in the footsteps of his Buthelezi ancestors: his great grandfather, Inkosi Mnyamana Buthelezi, was prime minister to Dingane kaSenzangakhona, King Cetshwayo kaMpande and Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo, while his father, Inkosi Mathole Buthelezi, was prime minister to King Solomon kaDinuzulu.
To begin to understand the significance of a Buthelezi prime minister to a Zulu king one has to go way back in history, to the time when Inkosi Dingiswayo of the Mtetwa was uniting Nguni clans under his leadership, in something like a confederation in the area we know as northern KwaZulu-Natal now. The Buthelezi, lead by Inkosi Pungashe, were not swayed through negotiation to submit, and Dingiswayo therefore went on a military campaign to subject them. On the day of the battle the later King Shaka was a commander of 50 in the Izecwe regiment of the Mtetwa, and according to oral tradition it was the first time that Shaka used his new stabbing spear and fought barefoot. The Buthelezi were defeated and Pungashe submitted to Dingiswayo.
What is not widely known is that the Zulu and Buthelezi clans were arch-enemies. Shaka, Dingane and Mpande’s father, SenZangakhona kaJama, were captured and humiliated several times by Pungashe, so there was an old feud between these clans. One of the first clans Shaka forcibly subdued when he became inkosi of the Zulu clan was indeed the Buthelezi.
Buthelezi’s prime ministership was therefore living proof that deep and sustainable reconciliation is possible, and that old hatchets can really be buried. (This is not the same as the hollow “reconciliation” of the governing elite, which turns one group permanently into villains and another group into victims.) Feuds from even centuries ago still hamper co-operation and peaceful coexistence between and within cultural communities — so there really is wisdom to be found here.
Buthelezi opposed sanctions during the previous dispensation because he believed it would harm communities. He refused to use violence to end the dispensation, because he considered it unchristian. In the early 1990s, following the example of other royal leaders in 1910, he lobbied for a federal dispensation. In this regard he participated in discussions and actions with Afrikaners and Tswana speakers.
There are those who claim Buthelezi stood in the way and delayed the changing of the dispensation in SA. But those of us who are also community-centred understand that, like a true leader, he acted in the interest of his cultural community to negotiate for a better dispensation. Those who are now laying the blame for the people who perished in the conflict between the ANC, the UDF and the IFP would be well-served to read further than the propaganda of those turbulent times — Anthea Jeffery’s People’s War: New Light on the Struggle for SA comes to mind.
Buthelezi did everything in his power to ensure that his king, whom he served faithfully, could take his rightful place. How could he participate in negotiations as prime minister while the king was excluded? However, one of his most important legacies is that he succeeded in protecting the land of the Zulu kingdom, and therefore the Zulu nation as a cultural community, through the establishment of the Ingonyama Trust.
The ANC once wanted to remove a statue of Gen Louis Botha in Durban; Buthelezi reminded them that Dinuzulu was released from the prison in Newcastle by Botha in 1910 — a statue of Dinuzulu was therefore erected next to that of Botha instead.
When one sits in Buthelezi’s private lounge at his home, KwaPhindangene, and gazes at everything that has been collected over almost a century, one realises this was a man who did not seek the comfort of sitting at the sideline; this man was a leader, this man was a family man and a man of his people — this man was a Christian.
The friezes in the Hall of Heroes of the Voortrekker Monument bear silent witness to Afrikaners’ sweat, tears and blood in our pursuit of self-realisation. One’s eyes move from the famous frieze of Dingane and Piet Retief at the negotiating table, through the scenes of the worst times in Afrikaner-Zulu relations culminating in the Battle of Blood River — but it does not end there.
On the wall facing Dingane and Piet Retief, Mpande and Andries Pretorius are standing side-by-side as allies. Our ancestors did not hesitate to acknowledge our allies who travelled with us on our difficult journey to freedom — this is immortalised in the marble at our monument that is so close to our hearts.
It is therefore appropriate that a memorial service was held on September 15 on the terrain of the Voortrekker Monument for Inkosi, prime minister and Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, a respected friend of the Afrikaners and a fellow Christian — while inside the monument the image of his grandfather’s grandfather, Mpande, next to that of Andries Pretorius, bears silent testimony that the roots of this friendship go back many generations.
Uys is head of intercultural relations & co-operation at AfriForum.
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