Commentators’ interpretations of a ‘lekgotla’ between the IFP and EFF are wildly off the mark, says Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
Durban - News headlines such as “Buthelezi, Malema kiss and make up” have provoked a wide range of reactions, from enthusiasm to ire. But the common reaction: surprise. Seeing Julius Malema apologise for insults he has hurled at me in the past was certainly unexpected.
Some South Africans have contacted the IFP to praise me for my willingness to forgive. Others, however, have been less benevolent, questioning how I could possibly lead the IFP into a merger with the EFF. I am amazed at how quickly and completely this meeting was misunderstood.
There is no merger between the IFP and the EFF. There was no talk of a “marriage of convenience”, as some have speculated, and no discussion of a political coalition either before or after the elections. We went into this meeting without any intention of joining forces, and we came out of the meeting as separate, individual and different as we ever were.
One columnist revived some old – discredited – accusations. Describing me as “cantankerous”, she took a swipe at the IFP’s federal principles before making a defamatory claim that nobody would disagree with me during my time in cabinet for fear of “deadly consequences in KwaZulu-Natal’s violent hot spots”. She then asserted that it would be virtually impossible for the IFP to reclaim KwaZulu-Natal while Jacob Zuma is still president. Finally, she took a pot-shot at my age, and claimed that the IFP has no succession plan.
Those who have interrogated the facts, like South Africa’s leading academic, Dr Anthea Jeffrey, have discovered the truth about the ANC’s relentless war against Inkatha. Her book, People’s War, exposes the depth of propaganda employed against us.
The lie that I was responsible for the violence of the past was a strategic part of this vilification campaign against Inkatha. It was never vindicated with a shred of evidence.
I cannot speculate about Zuma’s popularity. The coming election results will provide an answer. But Nkandla’s recent by-election which handed power back to the IFP was undoubtedly a litmus test of the current state of politics in KwaZulu-Natal.
Pot-shots about my age are a dime a dozen, yet I am neither the oldest Member of Parliament nor the oldest politician ever to lead a party. When did ageism become acceptable?
This issue of the IFP’s succession plan is also rehashed nonsense. Several talented leaders have been groomed over the years to take the reins of the party. Moreover, our last National Conference amended the IFP’s constitution to create a deputy president position, to which an accomplished young leader was elected.
The IFP is and remains proudly federalist. Like many other federalist countries such as the US, Canada, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, India and Nigeria, we do not believe in a unitary state. We believe that power should be in the hands of the people, at local level.
It must be said that the insults Malema hurled at me and my family in the past could be considered trivial in comparison to the ruling party’s decades-long vilification campaign against me, which has not yet stopped.
The columnist’s rabbit-trail deflected from the details of the meeting between the IFP and EFF. For the record, those details follow.
In September 2013 the EFF wrote to the IFP national executive committee (NEC) requesting an opportunity to meet, to introduce themselves as a new political party contesting the 2014 elections. We agreed, for we have an open door policy.
The IFP’s NEC hosted the meeting on Monday, January 20, calling a joint press conference immediately after to ensure that everything was out in the open and nothing could be misinterpreted.
I acknowledged that the behaviour of the then president of the ANC Youth League had gone against the grain of constructive politics and dignified leadership, causing deep friction. I never asked for an apology. But I pointed out that the electorate deserves more than mudslinging and we have a shared responsibility to raise the political discourse to a higher standard.
Malema expressed regret for his past behaviour, which was born out of the environment in which he found himself. Like many young people, he said, he was force-fed propaganda against me and acted on what he was blindly led to believe. Having stepped out of that mould, and considered the facts, he realised that he owed me an apology.
I know very well that the old propaganda machine that was launched into action in 1979 has never truly stopped turning. So I know that what Mr Malema averred was the truth. But I was still surprised by his public apology.
I pointed out, to the media’s delight, that Malema and I are now both factory faults of the ANC, as he once called me. We both climbed off the production line and began thinking for ourselves.
But that does not mean we began thinking the same thoughts. The IFP and EFF are both deeply concerned by the growing economic and social inequality in our nation. Both parties seek economic freedom and social justice. But what that looks like, and how we get there, is something on which we do not agree.
The IFP has been outspoken against the call to nationalise South Africa’s mines and we have been candid on the need to protect, and foster, social harmony, racial reconciliation and nation building. We disagreed strongly on many of the stands taken by Malema in the past and will, no doubt, find ourselves diametrically opposed on further issues in the future.
But we accept the fact that the EFF is now part of the political landscape and will have an impact on politics going forward. We also recognise that multiparty democracy is crucial to South Africa’s future, and that a multiplicity of voices is needed to represent the diverse views and aspirations of our people.
There are issues on which all opposition parties agree. One of these issues is the terrible toll that corruption is taking on our country. Another is the need to level the playing field, particularly when it comes to SABC news coverage, so that the ruling party no longer enjoys a clear advantage.
Then, the IEC should not be using teachers aligned to Sadtu as electoral officers, for Sadtu is aligned to the ruling party. Considering the consistent pattern of voter fraud, intimidation and other tricks used to sway election results, in every election since 1994, greater care should be taken to ensure truly free and fair elections.
The IFP and EFF agree on these matters. But that doesn’t make us one party. There is no talk of a merger or a coalition. The character of the IFP remains the same. We stand for the same values of integrity, democracy, non-violence, federalism, social responsibility, good governance and good citizenship that we have always stood for.
To those who feel affronted by my forgiving Malema, I must point out that I forgave him on my own behalf, for insults he directed at me personally. He will still need to face the voice of the electorate, through the ballot box.
* Mangosuthu Buthelezi is leader of the IFP.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.