Buthelezi has not said why he returned the suit.
Speaking to the Daily News, Janak Parekh, the designer, said he was heartbroken.
“Human error has caused irreparable damage. I tried hard not to disclose the price,” Parekh said.
“I apologise for any inconvenience caused. It was unintentional. I think Dr Buthelezi returned it because of the price tag. I shouldn’t have let slip how much it cost, but the price tag was misinterpreted.”
He was worried that the error would affect their friendship.
“He (Buthelezi) is a man of forgiveness, but time will tell. I feel it is the so-called price tag that made him give it back. It was in honour of him turning 90,” he said.
Parekh said he needed someone to take the suit back to India, where it was made after he designed it in Durban because he was afraid it would get lost should it be posted.
“I will give it to someone trustworthy to take back. The suit will not be sold. It was meant for him and it should not be sold or given to someone else. What we do with it will be left to the elders in the family,” he said.
Parekh said there was the option of donating it to a museum if Buthelezi had one.
The 4.5kg suit has distinctive embroidery with gold thread. Five artisans took two months to make the garment.
IFP Chief Whip Narend Singh said he could not comment on the issue because “it is a personal matter between the recipient and the person who gave the gift”.
Professor Sihawukele Ngubane, a cultural expert at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said Buthelezi’s act of returning the suit was not cultural.
“Returning a gift is personal - it has nothing to do with Zulu culture,” Ngubane said.
“It is not in the culture to give it back. Usually, when you give a gift, you give and forget. You don’t check if it has been used,” he said.
According to the website FTD FRESH, gifts should be tied to meaning and not monetary worth. Moreover, cultural sensitivity is important when giving gifts to avoid hurting people’s feelings and being seen as rude.