Velenkosini Hlabisa. Picture: IFP
Velenkosini Hlabisa. Picture: IFP

Newly elected IFP president Velenkosini Hlabisa intends to embark on a national tour to grow the party at a grassroots level ahead of the upcoming local and national elections in 2021 and 2024 respectively.

Hlabisa was elected unopposed to succeed Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi as party leader during a watershed national elective conference in Ulundi in KwaZulu-Natal at the weekend. 

The IFP grew its national support to 3.38% during the May 8 election and became the fourth-largest party in parliament with 14 seats. It also dislodged the DA as the official opposition in KwaZulu-Natal after receiving 14.58% of the votes, equating to six seats in the provincial legislature.

Hlabisa is the former IFP secretary-general and party leader in the KwaZulu-Natal provincial legislature. One of the immediate priorities for the party’s national executive committee is to embark on a nationwide tour to meet the country's people and expand their support across the nine provinces, he said.

“We have studied the election results for 2019. We gathered votes in all nine provinces. That’s the base on which we will be building from now,” said the former school principal.

“The door-to-door, village-to-village, town-to-town, city-to-city visits in all provinces will be [about] preparing for the IFP to listen to people in the run-up to the 2021 municipal elections as well as the 2024 national elections.”

Hlabisa, who takes over the leadership baton from Buthelezi, the prince who ran the party for more than four decades since its inception in March 1975, said he was aware of the “great responsibility” that comes with the mandate to lead.

Buthelezi, who turns 91 on Tuesday, reportedly announced in 2018 that the party’s extended national council had chosen Hlabisa to succeed him and that he endorsed the council’s decision.

Hlabisa, 54, who joined the Inkatha Youth Brigade in 1978 and had an unbroken stint serving as a local councillor for 24 years, said the IFP would build on Buthelezi’s legacy to strategically position itself at the centre of the political discourse in SA.

Hlabisa said this would be achieved by bringing truth to every conversation at every level and not through “political demagoguery”.

The IFP, as the voice of social cohesion and unity, wanted to restore trust between people and politics and to be firmly  rooted among the people, “for they are our masters and servants”.

In his closing address at the conference, Hlabisa told the party faithful that he was their servant and that through their support he would be equal to the task, responsibilities and challenges ahead.

The IFP would ensure that political freedom translated to social and economic justice, said Hlabisa, adding “we will fix what’s broken in our country and strengthen that which is functional”.

Buthelezi, who was honoured with the title “president emeritus”, said in his address to the conference on Sunday: “I feel a tremendous weight has been lifted from my shoulders. We couldn’t hope for a more disciplined, credible and democratic election. We have shown once again that the IFP is unique.”

Buthelezi, who referred to Hlabisa as “honourable president”, said his mind was at ease because “the right leadership” had been elected.

“I give my support to our new executive. Most importantly, I have absolute confidence in our new president ... I support him fully,” he said, describing Hlabisa as a man of few words and considerable integrity.

“I’ve had the privilege of working with the president [Hlabisa] for years. I’ve seen his leadership and integrity and strategies that have won us support… I’m proud to see him take the helm of the IFP.”

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za