Durban - I met with my exiled leader, Oliver Tambo, many times, in London, Nairobi, Lagos and Stockholm. But our 1971 meeting in Malawi was unique.
He came to warn me: I was “rocking the boat too much”. I should be less visible, less outspoken.
I should attack the ANC from time to time.
I remembered this warning, which I never heeded in 1998, when President Mandela unveiled Tambo’s tombstone.
During the ceremony ANC leader Cleopas Nsibande told how Tambo and Inkosi Albert Luthuli had sent him to my sister, with a message for me.
They knew that as a loyal ANC cadre I rejected the homelands system imposed on us by the apartheid regime. But they also knew that the system was not optional.
They wanted, therefore, to undermine it from within.
Nsibande was sent to persuade me not to refuse leadership of KwaZulu, if the people elected me.
Thus I became a so-called homelands leader. I never had a problem rocking the boat, despite the risks.
I won the full ire of the regime when I refused Pretoria’s “offer” of nominal independence for KwaZulu.
Their idea was to take all the land to which blacks had been relegated and excise it from South Africa.
In this way, the regime could deny oppressing the majority, as the majority would no longer be South Africans.
KwaZulu was the last step on the journey. But I blocked it.
I had not expected to stand alone. I had done all I could to influence the other homeland leaders against taking independence.
In 1973, we met in Umtata, Transkei, where I proposed a federal formula to ensure that our country would not be dissected and balkanised into “independent” Bantustans, while still giving the regime its “separate development”, federalism, would enable us to remain within South Africa, as one country.
The next day we had a meeting in Bulugha, near East London, attended by leaders of the then Progressive Federal Party, including Helen Suzman and Colin Eglin, where we again discussed a federal formula. It was agreed that the homelands would not take independence.
Inkosi Matanzima was present in those meetings. Yet three years later, Transkei was the first to take independence, and one by one, without even informing me, the others followed suit.
My refusal to turn the last remaining homeland into a Bantustan derailed the entire grand scheme of apartheid; as (by then former President) FW de Klerk testified before the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission).
In 1991, when constitutional negotiations began, I revived the proposal of a federal formula for South Africa.
KwaZulu was by then KwaZulu-Natal for I had brought together the governments of Natal and KwaZulu to form South Africa’s first non-racial, non-discriminatory government, the KZN Joint Executive Authority.
Long before democracy, I moved KZN away from the apartheid pattern of fragmenting our country. No one was thinking about the form of state. It was all about the transfer of power.
However, I knew that we ran the risk of opening the door to corruption and abuse of power in a new dispensation if we allowed all the power to be held at the top, in a centralised system.
I and the Inkatha Freedom Party thus petitioned for a federal system that would allow the devolution of governance powers on the basis of subsidiarity. Only the then Democratic Party agreed.
Federalism was not embraced.
But we secured provinces, which have provided some checks and balances to total control by one party. This is a boon to multiparty democracy. I realise that for some these are inconvenient truths. I was shocked by former president Kgalema Motlanthe’s comments last week.
Speaking about South Africa’s transition to democracy, he enumerated what he considers to have been “mistakes”.
The first was the failure to establish a chapter nine institution to write the history of our country. History, he said, is now being written “eclectically”.
In other words, too many people are being allowed to contribute. The narrative is not sufficiently controlled.
The second mistake, he said, was that “former homelands leaders wanted a future South Africa to be a federal state to preserve their fiefdoms”.
Against this background, this is patently and viciously untrue.
I respect Motlanthe as one of our liberators but I am sorely disappointed that he would mislead our country. As a former head of state he is held to a higher standard of integrity.
He should not speak about things he has no grasp on, for he risks disseminating lies; as he has now done.
Adding nonsense to nonsense, he went further to link the creation of the Ingonyama Trust Act to what happened in Umtata and Bulugha in 1973. There is just no nexus. The former president is behaving like Rip van Winkle, because he was an MP when the act was debated and amended after 1994.
When he further laments the creation of provinces as a “mistake” of our transition, I am reminded of the no-holds barred comment he made on traditional leaders, those “tin-pot dictators”.
Evidently, there must be no sharing of power.
* Buthelezi is the IFP’s president emeritus and the traditional prime minister of the Zulu nation.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.