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Heat is on IFP as it eyes post of premier

Zululand District Municipality mayor Thulasizwe Buthelezi. Photo supplied

Zululand District Municipality mayor Thulasizwe Buthelezi. Photo supplied

Published Sep 5, 2023


Durban — As the IFP and DA coalition prepares to possibly govern KwaZulu-Natal after next year’s general elections, the battle for the KZN premiership post is said to be heating up among IFP leaders.

A senior member of the party, who spoke to the Daily News on condition of anonymity, said informal lobbying within the party had started.

The source said he had heard that among the names being discussed were that of IFP president Velenkosini Hlabisa, national chairperson Blessed Gwala, provincial chairperson Thami Ntuli and Zululand District Municipality mayor Thulasizwe Buthelezi.

Those lobbying for Hlabisa to take the premiership argued that there was nothing wrong with appointing his deputy, Inkosi Mzamo Buthelezi, to lead the caucus in the National Assembly while he focuses on the province as premier.

They cited the DA’s decision a few years ago to keep Helen Zille as the Western Cape premier after she was elected as the national party leader. Instead, the DA appointed Lindiwe Mazibuko to lead its caucus.

Others in the party are said to be pushing for Buthelezi, basing their argument on his proximity to the royal family and the king by virtue of his current position as Zululand mayor. The Zulu king is regarded as a strategic ceremonial figure in the province’s politics, so a premier with a good relationship with him would be an ideal choice.

Buthelezi is from the Zululand district. Hlabisa is from Umkhanyakude while Ntuli is from Nkandla under King Cetshwayo. Blessed Gwala is also from the King Cetshwayo district.

VELENKOSINI HLABISA, IFP president. Photo supplied.

“You must treat (any) allegations against these four leaders carefully since we are in an election season.

“I can assure you that if the IFP wins back the province, the premier would come from the four, so it is expected that their lobbyists will try to discredit one another. As much as we cannot deny allegations against mayor Buthelezi, it could be linked to the premiership candidate battle,” said the source.

Buthelezi has been accused of sexual misconduct by a female employee in the Zululand district.

The source said should the party maintain its tradition of appointing national chairpersons as premiers, Gwala would take over as he is currently the national chairperson.

Since 1994 party premiers were all national chairpersons – the late Dr Frank Mdlalose, the late Dr Ben Ngubane and the late Lionel Mtshali.

Gwala is credited for being principled and reportedly doesn’t belong to any faction. He also has vast experience in government. Next year would be his 30th year as a member of the provincial legislature.

The other strong view was that Ntuli as the current provincial chairperson was suitable for the position. He is credited for the growth of the party, especially during the many by-elections that the party has won under his leadership. Ntuli was praised for smoothing the relationship with the DA in the province.

Buthelezi refused to be drawn into the discussion. Hlabisa, too, did not want to discuss the matter, saying the party had not made any decision on the matter. Ntuli and Gwala did not respond to questions sent to them.

Thami Ntuli, IFP provincial chairperson. File Picture

University of Zululand-based political analyst, Professor Sipho Seepe, said it was wrong for the IFP to even keep Hlabisa in the provincial legislature after he was elected president.

Seepe said the danger was that the IFP was sending a message that it did not have the ambition to be a national player. It was also wrong for the party to keep its national chairpersons in the province, he said. Gwala, too, should be deployed to the National Assembly so that he gets a national footprint.

“The IFP should leave provincial politics to provincial leaders,” said Seepe.

IFP national spokesperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa defended the party’s decision to keep Hlabisa and Gwala in the province, saying it did not mean that the party had no national ambition.

Hlengwa said Professor Seepe had never engaged the IFP on the rationale of why those leaders were there, and for him to pontificate from speculation was ill-advised.

“President Hlabisa was the Premier candidate in 2019, before being elected president later that year. He now serves as leader of the official opposition in the legislature.

“Why would we contest national elections if we had no national ambition? His analysis defies logic,” said Hlengwa.

Blessed Gwala, the IFP national chairperson. Photo archive

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