IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi celebrated his 90th birthday this week. He is pictured with a potrait of his great-grandfather, King Cetshwayo, a painting by Wendy Knights, which was a gift to him. Picture: Sibusiso Ndlovu / African News Agency / ANA
Durban- In what he describes as his “bonus years”, IFP president Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi hopes before he “closes his eyes”, reconciliation and peace can be achieved in the country.

Speaking to the Independent on Saturday in his hotel room just before getting ready for his 90th birthday splash at the Durban ICC last night, Buthelezi appeared unfazed by the fuss around his milestone birthday celebrations.

With the week-long celebrations coming to a close, it also marks the close of Buthelezi’s political career, as he prepares to officially hand over the leadership reigns in October’s elective conference, more than 40 years after he started the party in the 1970s.

“I know it’s God’s mercy that I’ve reached this milestone. Anything beyond 70 years is a bonus. I’m grateful that I have been able to serve my people and will continue to do so with whatever time I have left,” he said.

On Friday night, officials such as former first lady Graça Machel, former president FW de Klerk and Zanele Mbeki were on the guest list to attend his birthday celebrations.

While stacks of books and unopened CDs await him in his retirement, Buthelezi said he hoped South Africans would reconcile.

“I’m depressed by the words of some people who’ve made racial slurs in recent times, they are fanning the flames of interracial conflict, and this only seeks to divide people.

“I’ve reacted to this publicly because you have to counter these comments. I am trying to appeal to our people that we all have one destiny, we can either swim together or sink together,” he said.

He said social cohesion initiatives needed to be revisited to bring about reconciliation and peace in the country.

While Buthelezi has been labelled the cause of the deadly “people’s war” between the ANC and the IFP, after he left the ANC to form his own party, he squarely laid the blame with the ANC at the time.

Thousands of people died in the conflict between the 1980s and early 1990s.

Buthelezi said he initiated many social cohesion efforts, and wished for better race relations, especially in KwaZulu-Natal, between African and Indian people.

The IFP, he believed, was making inroads to bring about social cohesion with headway in former predominantly Indian areas.

“My wish is for the party to rise and serve the people of South Africa. Tomorrow (Saturday) I will be in Chatsworth speaking at a church,” said Buthelezi.

He lamented the land expropriation without compensation policy, and said that compensation was necessary.

“This issue is very sensitive and should be handled with great care if we want social cohesion and if we want people to invest in our country,” he said.

Behind the tumultuous political life, Buthelezi said it was his wife Irene who held the family together.

They have been married for more than 60 years.

“I am fortunate she is the kind of woman who understood that I had to be away from home for long spells while she was alone with the children. Marriage is something you have to nurse, and that is what young people today don’t understand, they get divorced easily because they don’t have patience. From the time I knew Irene I bought her flowers, and today I still go to Woolworths to buy her flowers,” he said.