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‘Hlabisa forever in Buthelezi’s shadow’

IFP leader Velenkosini Hlabisa.

IFP leader Velenkosini Hlabisa. File Picture: Bongani Mbatha /African News Agency (ANA)

Published May 8, 2023


Durban - The IFP is losing a golden opportunity to transition from its founding leader Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, to its current president Velenkosini Hlabisa, and may rue its decision to use Buthelezi as the face of its election campaign.

This is the view of political analyst Thabani Khumalo, and comes in the wake of an instruction issued by the IFP top brass last week to deal decisively with any members wearing T-shirts bearing Hlabisa’s name and face.

Last week, IFP secretary-general Siphosethu Ngcobo justified the instruction to party members saying it was in line with enforcing brand discipline, which he said was a common feature in all organisations.

“The IFP, like all political parties, is gearing up for 2024 and we have had internal discussions about brand discipline. Nobody will deny that Buthelezi is the IFP’s strongest brand. It is due to his legacy and commitment to moral and ethical leadership that the IFP continues to grow, from by-election to by-election.

“The IFP’s National Council – the party’s highest decision-making body – has therefore resolved to reaffirm our party resolution taken in 2019 and 2021, to continue using our founder’s face as our brand,” said Ngcobo in a statement last week.

The move saw the IFP being criticised especially by political opponents who questioned the democratic principles within the party, something that Ngcobo brushed aside as a sign of envy from opponents.

Khumalo said the development showed that the party was not ready to reposition itself into a modern organisation with widespread appeal, however, on the other hand its campaigning using the Buthelezi brand had been quite successful.

“What we are seeing through such an instruction is that the status quo remains. Business-wise one could say that if something is not broken there is no need to fix it. So because Buthelezi has been a winning formula for the party, they don’t see the need to change his face,” said Khumalo.

In a recent statement, party chairperson Thami Ntuli said that Buthelezi had been central in their wins in by-elections, adding that the leadership strongly believed that it was the “legacy and impeccable track record of Buthelezi – as a loyal service-delivery champion” – which continued to attract support.

Khumalo said such remarks show that Hlabisa was still likely to remain in Buthelezi’s shadow for a long time, especially as he did not appear to have a strong support base.

“In the event of Buthelezi’s demise, the IFP will have difficulty because the sitting president has not been given the platform to start demonstrating his abilities and style of leadership. Hlabisa will be relevant once he reconstructs the IFP and adds real value,” Khumalo said.

Another political analyst Siyabonga Ntombela said the instruction and the statement could have been better heard and understood if it came from Hlabisa.

“Although this was a conference resolution the manner in which it came out was rather authoritative with iron fist rule features about it.

“It is not the kind of message you want to project as a modern day party,” said Ntombela. He said while it was important to underline the rule of law inside the party, the manner in which it had been done had left an image of a party leadership that wants to micro-manage its membership.