Inkatha Freedom Party leader Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Inkatha Freedom Party leader Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

The IFP has set its sights on claiming victory in the rural KwaZulu-Natal strongholds, with a particular focus on Nkandla, the stomping ground of former president Jacob Zuma. 

On Friday the party will be sending its leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, to campaign in the area.

The controversy around the upgrades to Zuma's Nkandla homestead led to widespread condemnation, and his decision to not comply with recommendations in a public protector report on the matter resulted in the Constitutional Court finding that he violated his oath of office. He had to pay back R7.9m for nonsecurity upgrades. 

Buthelezi is expected to reconnect with rural communities in the area, and remind them of when the IFP was in power and there was allegedly no corruption and mismanagement. 

Since the 2009 general elections, which catapulted Zuma to the highest office in the land, Nkandla and the village of KwaNxamalala were the de facto centre of political activity, with a long list of politicians, celebrities and government officials making their "pilgrimage" there to confer with the then president. 

Before Zuma came into power, Nkandla was one of the IFP’s strongholds. Although it was still running the Nkandla municipality, some of its wards had fallen to the ANC largely due to the former president’s charms.

Thami Ntuli, the Nkandla municipality mayor and a prominent IFP leader in the area, said they were confident of an overwhelming victory, even in Zuma’s own ward.

“What you must remember is that Nkandla has always been a stronghold of the IFP. We brought in Shenge (Buthelezi’s clan name) so that he can reconnect with some of the voters who had voted ANC in the past few elections because of Zuma,” he said.

Ntuli contends that despite Zuma’s elevation to the presidency, many of his neighbours didn’t leave the IFP, and claimed even those who left to join Zuma now say they will vote for the IFP this time around.

He said Zuma had a negligible effect on local development. “Whatever development is there was brought about by us as the municipality.”

However, some residents of KwaNxamala did not share his sentiments, saying they were unhappy with the manner in which Zuma was forced to resign in February 2018.

Nkanyiso Mthembu, a 33-year-old unemployed resident, said before that Zuma came to power the area was a backwater that nobody cared about. He said now it had a police station, government offices, and “some residents also have running water and RDP homes”.

“I didn’t like the way the ANC treated him. They could have let him finish what he had started [term of office]. In previous elections I voted for Zuma and the ANC. But this time around I don’t know who to vote for,” he said

Inkosi Vincent Magwaza, a traditional leader of the Magwaza clan in Nkandla said the pre-election excitement that characterised the Zuma years was gone.

“Political parties are doing their bit to bring excitement and camaraderie, they are canvassing here and there, but it is not the same like when Msholozi [Zuma] was the president. At the time we saw big cars humming and coming to Nkandla. Now they are all gone. I think even fewer cars will venture our way after the upcoming elections. I guess we had our fair share of the stars, and now they are gone elsewhere,” Magwaza said.

The ANC says it is not giving up Nkandla and other rural areas just yet.

The ANC's Musa Dladla region, which includes Nkandla, has been using Zuma and other big guns such as the party's provincial deputy chair, Mike Mabuyakhulu, to galvanise support in the region.

Tholi Gwala, the ANC Musa Dladla regional secretary, said they were hopeful of overtaking the IFP in many rural areas, including Nkandla.

“There is no doubt that the former president has been a big drawcard because our people still love and respect him. Our campaigns are going very well. People are saying they will vote for the ANC because they can see the changes in their lives.

“In 2016 the IFP did not win the local government elections [in Nkandla] because it had overwhelming support — it won because we had problems of divisions within our midst and our people were fed-up and decided not to vote,” Gwala said.