What Buthelezi wants

R.W. Johnson

As multi-party negotiations on a new constitution for South Africa get under way at last, there is a widespread impression that what is really in prospect is a two-party deal between the Government and the ANC. Of the many groups this leaves out of account, Chief Buthelezi’s Inkatha movement is the most significant. In preparation for this new phase, Inkatha has transformed itself from a ‘national cultural movement’ into the Inkatha Freedom Party.

This transformation was to have been the great theme of this year’s Inkatha national conference, held in July – but the Inkathagate scandal (delicately referred to by IFP spokesmen as ‘the funding controversy’) erupted just as the conference opened in July, so that the delegates were overwhelmed with newspaper stories of secret payments from the Security Police to fund Inkatha rallies. The conference was, as a result, a somewhat poignant affair.

One was continually assured that the scandal would have no impact on the average Inkatha member, visualised as a middle-aged Zulu woman from somewhere like Mtubatuba. Clearly, the scandal had had no effect on the numerous rooidoeke who wandered around in menacing fashion. Wearing their red bandanas and carrying their much-discussed traditional weapons (spears and knobkerries were de rigueur), they all sported T-shirts extolling the virtues of peace, democracy and negotiation.

At long last Chief Buthelezi made his entrance into the vast tent housing the delegates, preceded by a praise singer, ululations and an honour guard of Inkatha Youth. There is a tendency for whites to feel uncomfortable at such displays of adulation, but it’s important to remember that you won’t find much difference in the way Mandela is treated, and that back in Luthuli’s day his followers used to sing hymns about him, substituting his name for God’s. In fact, the numerous whites present hardly seemed fazed – the large contingent from the IFP branch in Sandton, one of Johannesburg’s plusher suburbs, beamed.

Buthelezi welcomed a number of distinguished guests, including Gerrit Viljoen, Minister of Constitutional Affairs, and de Klerk’s No 2, the dashing young Roelf Meyer, who was to replace Magnus Malan as Minister of Defence in the post-Inkathagate shake-up, Clive Derby-Lewis of the far-right Conservative Party, and the notorious Amichand Rajbansi, whose peccadilloes as Leader of the (Indian) House of Delegates had led to his removal from office. Why invite such figures? The unhappy truth is that Inkatha and its leader hunger after recognition. In the Seventies Buthelezi ran far ahead of Mandela in popularity polls among black South Africans and he was good currency on a wide international circuit. But as the ANC’s diplomatic stranglehold grew, only the doors of the Right stayed open – and Buthelezi was eager for any international acceptance he could get. This is why the Kwazulu cabinet room is studded with photographs of Buthelezi with Thatcher, with Reagan, with Franz-Josef Strauss, with the Pope. The same logic drives the IFP into the crazy situation where they value the presence of Treurnicht’s CP at their conference.

The full text of this essay is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.

You are not logged in