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Mourners are shown at Mangosuthu Buthelezi's funeral in Ulundi on September 16 2023. Filew photo: ROGAN WARD/REUTERS
Mourners are shown at Mangosuthu Buthelezi's funeral in Ulundi on September 16 2023. Filew photo: ROGAN WARD/REUTERS

Your obituary containing false claims about the late founder and president emeritus of the IFP, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, has come to our attention (“The complicated legacy of Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi,” September 9).

When the dust settled on SA’s transition from political oppression to hard-won democracy, the project of seeking justice and healing began. Apart from commissions of inquiry and court cases, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) undertook an intensive investigation into the violence of our country’s recent past. 

Many leaders who were by then in government and in cabinet filed amnesty applications, in which they admitted to having committed “grave violations of human rights”. The law defines this as involving murder, torture or mayhem. They all received blanket amnesty, without ever having to disclose what they did. But one man held himself to a higher standard of justice and accountability.

Prince Buthelezi, the founder of Inkatha yeNkululeko yeSizwe and then leader of the IFP, refused to apply for amnesty. He asked instead to be tried in a court of law if he had committed any crime. In that way, he would be held accountable. But no-one ever approached the courts. It has never been found in any court of law, in any inquiry, or even though the TRC, that Buthelezi was implicated in or responsible for murders, “death squads” or brutality. 

In all its deliberations the TRC could not produce a shred of evidence that he ever committed, authorised, condoned, or sanctioned a single human rights abuse or a single act of violence. Buthelezi never acted against his conscience, against moral principles or against justice. It is gross cowardice for his detractors to launch a tirade of lies now, after his passing, dizzy with delight that he can no longer sue for defamation.

But their damaging lies must be answered because they are doing SA a grave disservice. They threaten to drag us back into recriminations, anger and pain, and they divide our nation at a time when unity is our only hope. Who, then, should we believe in the battle to reveal the true Buthelezi? 

If we are to believe those who are calling him an apartheid collaborator, a sell-out and a warlord, we must reject the authority of Mandela, Hani, Sobukwe, Luthuli, Mbeki, Nsibande, Kaunda and Obasanjo. We must cast heads of state in the mould of fools and believe the world’s foreign intelligence agencies utterly incompetent. 

If we are to make space for the lies about Buthelezi, here are some truths we must cast aside. Before joining the ANC Youth League at the University of Fort Hare, Buthelezi was mentored by his uncle, Pixley ka Isaka Seme, the 1912 founder of the ANC. Subsequently, he was mentored by Inkosi Albert Luthuli, was a friend of Nelson Mandela and worked closely with Oliver Tambo. 

It was Tambo and Luthuli who urged him to take up leadership of KwaZulu, believing he could undermine the homelands system from within. He accomplished that mission by refusing nominal independence, safeguarding the citizenship of millions of black South Africans. 

Luthuli’s family and the ANC-in-exile asked Buthelezi to speak at Luthuli’s funeral. When the Organisation for African Unity bestowed a posthumous award on Luthuli, Mama Nokhukanya asked Buthelezi to accompany her to Maseru, to speak on her behalf.

Buthelezi held more rallies in SA than anyone else to free Mandela. He met Tambo in London, Nairobi, Mangoche, Lagos and Stockholm, despite it endangering his life in SA.

Throughout Africa and the world Buthelezi’s credentials as an opponent of apartheid were recognised. He was warmly received by African heads of state, including president Julius Nyerere in Tanzania, president Kenneth Kaunda in Zambia, president Olusegun Obasanjo in Nigeria, the king of Swaziland, the king of Lesotho, and Lesotho prime minister Leabua Jonathan.

He was a guest of president Hastings Banda at the celebration of Malawi’s independence, and attended the Africa-American Dialogue Series in Ethiopia where he met and was honoured by emperor Haile Selassie. In Liberia, president William Tolbert bestowed on him a national order, The Knight Commander of the Star of Africa.

In the US, presidents Carter, Reagan and Bush received Buthelezi with warmth, while the US’s largest trade union conferred on him the George Meaney Human Rights Award. Dr Martin Luther King’s alma mater, the University of Boston Massachusetts, bestowed an honorary doctorate and gave Buthelezi one of King’s personal journals. 

Apart from receiving him on numerous occasions, UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher travelled to Ulundi to visit Buthelezi. More than once he was received by German chancellor Helmut Kohl and Netherlands’ prime minister Joop Den Uyl. He was invited to Paris by mayor Jacques Chirac and was received in the Vatican by three popes. 

In 2019 former president Kaunda described how the leaders of the Frontline States and the ANC agreed to urge Buthelezi to form a membership-based organisation to reignite political mobilisation on SA soil. Tambo’s own writings record his approval of the formation of Inkatha. 

When Winnie Madikizela-Mandela died, the Mandela family asked Buthelezi to speak at the memorial service, as they did again when ambassador Zindzi Mandela-Hlongwane passed away. These requests did not come as some sort of appeasement. Buthelezi’s credentials as a freedom fighter and man of integrity were known and respected throughout his life.

History cannot be rewritten. There is no “divided legacy” of Prince Buthelezi. There are only lies and truth.

• Hlabisa is IFP president and leader of the official opposition in KwaZulu-Natal. 

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