DR JONATHAN ANNIPEN
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi (1928 - 2023)
A timeless man. A transformative leader. An immortal legacy.
My first encounter with His Excellency, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, was when I was about 20 years old. I attended a function hosted by a school I was teaching at and Prince Buthelezi was the guest of honour.
To be honest, I was ignorant of how gigantic of a figure he was until he entered the room. The intensity of respect he commanded was unequalled and one couldn’t help but be in awe of this venerated personality.
As his profile was being ventilated, I remember feeling so foolish. I was afforded the honour of being in the presence of greatness and I was completely oblivious to it. Those who were older than me were in an advantageous position, having experienced for themselves the benevolence, wisdom and leadership of Prince Buthelezi.
The room was filled with words of admiration, love and gratitude for a man who changed the trajectory of the destinies of many. It was just impossible not to be overwhelmed.
A few years later, at the Durban ICC, I was among those who were monitoring the counting of votes for a local government election, when the news was received that Prince Buthelezi was making his way to the nerve centre. Immediately, everyone began getting their stuff in order and no sooner had Shenge entered the auditorium we were in, officials, politicians and observers alike, surrounded him like a magnet to steel.
The warmth of his smile and the firmness of his handshake drowned any signs of fear or apprehensiveness and made one feel comfortable in his company.
He took the time to engage with each person who flocked alongside him and shared kind remarks, commenting on the colour of one's tie, the texture of one's shirt and even observing the religious and cultural appearances of individuals.
I reluctantly asked if I could have a photo taken with him to which he replied, “only if you promise to frame it and have it displayed in your office”, knowing full well that I was from a different political formation. Such was the nature of his humorously mischievous wit.
A few months later, when I opened my office in Chatsworth, I had that photo framed prominently on my office walls.
Little did I know that some four years later, after a long and arduous political battle, I would find refuge in the Inkatha Freedom Party, a political organisation that Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi founded.
Moreover, when the time came for me to join the rank and file of this formidable institution, Prince Buthelezi himself would be the one to welcome me into the IFP family. This was long after he had handed the reins of the organisation to new leadership.
I count myself blessed to have been fortunate enough to enjoy such a singular honour.
Then, in 2021 at the height of the civil unrest in Phoenix, when so much fear and turbulence ensnared its inhabitants and when racial tensions were at its height, Prince Buthelezi fearlessly championed the cause of the people of this town.
He openly and unapologetically called for the protection of the people of Phoenix being the first to summon for the army to be deployed to this township.
And when many tried to blame him for the turmoil and upheaval which tormented Phoenix and neighbouring townships, he remained resolute in his call for social cohesion and maintained that citizens should abide by the rule of law.
He was principled in every sense of the word. And when others considered it political suicide, he acceded to our request to address a public gathering which ultimately contributed to the peace and stability between Phoenix and the neighbouring township. He was a timeless leader whose wisdom will never be replicated.
Later that same year the South African Council Of Churches (SACC) bestowed on me an honorary doctorate degree. Knowing the relationship between the SACC and Prince Buthelezi, I invited him to attend my graduation and speak at the event. Again, he humbly accepted the invitation and delivered a remarkable tribute on my behalf.
It was only then that I realised how deeply connected he was to the personal matters of the people who served within the party.
In his speech, he remarked on my upbringing, my parents and their employment as school caretakers. He commented on my love for hymns and my involvement in the ministry.
He spoke about how I cared for both my ailing parents and my passion for education, social justice and my love for the elderly. It dawned on me then that he didn't merely enquire about me out of courtesy in our previous conversations. Instead, he keenly listened to me and took the time to recount those conversations so much so that they were documented in his tribute. My love and admiration for him deepened since that day.
So today, as I pen these lines, I too feel a tremendous sense of loss. He didn’t need to get to know me or show the interest that he did, yet he did so anyway. Prince Buthelezi made me feel worthy and coming from him, it means more than its weight in gold.
His exceptional leadership style will be missed, his salient and charismatic aura is irreplaceable. His timeless personality can never be replicated. Yet his legacy remains immortal. It will be perpetuated by generations to come who vow to serve this nation and its people selflessly without any expectation.
As I contemplate his impact on my life I am compelled to commit to that servant leadership which he embodied and so easily exemplified.
Rest well Shenge!
Your legacy of love lives on!
Dr Jonathan Annipen is an IFP councillor in Phoenix.