EXPLAINER: This is what sparked violence between ANC and IFP in late 80s, early 90s

Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi during at the Solidarity's National Conference held at Good News Convention Centre, Muldersdrift in March 2009. File picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi during at the Solidarity's National Conference held at Good News Convention Centre, Muldersdrift in March 2009. File picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Published Sep 10, 2023


Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s death on Saturday morning aged 95 has begun a debate about his legacy.

It also brought back memories of the black-on-black violence that left over 20,000 people dead in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

We explain what sparked the violence and how it ended.

In the 1960s the apartheid banned several anti-apartheid movements like the ANC and jailed prominent leaders like Nelson Mandela.

That move silenced all its critics and the fight for apartheid was significantly weakened as most leaders were either in jail or in exile.

In the 70s the ANC mission in exile came up with the strategy to mobilize along cultural lines and tasked its then ANC youth league member, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi to form the then Inkatha Yenkululeko Yesizwe.

The party was to disguise itself by mobilising along cultural lines and having registered membership.

Buthelezi embraced the idea and he formed the party. Immediately after it was formed, Buthelezi had to take up the position of leading the KwaZulu Bantustan government.

The problem then started when the ANC wanted to stage an armed struggle and at the same time have South Africa sanctioned.

Buthelezi, during his lifetime, said he was against the use of violence to achieve the objective of liberating South Africa.

He said he was also against the use of sanctions to force the apartheid government to abandon its racial policies.

After a tense meeting with former ANC President, Oliver Tambo and other ANC leaders in London in 1979, the meeting ended in a bitter and defining stalemate, Buthelezi came back to SA deeply embittered.

“The 1979 London meeting would prove to be a pivotal point in the relationship between Inkatha and the ANC. It became the basis for ANC anti-Inkatha propaganda. In all his discussions with the ANC Mission in Exile Prince Buthelezi was adamant that Inkatha should remain Inkatha and that it should remain committed to the Black popular will which expressed itself in Inkatha's massive membership, which had doubled in 1977 and again doubled in 1978.

“Inkatha rightly interpreted this massive increase of membership as a rejection by Black South Africans of the armed struggle. After the London meeting, for the first time in his career Mr. Tambo began criticising Buthelezi and Inkatha publicly. He had sided with those in his ranks who saw Inkatha as a threat and who wanted no evidence that black democratic opposition and black non-violent tactics and strategies were powerful forces for bringing about change,” IFP official archives recounted the meeting like this.

Buthelezi and the ANC took separate ways and the hostilities between the ANC and IFP began. Apartheid strategists saw an opportunity to ferment a full-blown conflict and ignited what later became to be known as the black on black violence.

Buthelezi over the years, tried to highlight what led to the divorce. To prove that the IFP was formed with the blessing of past ANC leaders, he repeatedly said that it used ANC colours because it was aligned with the ruling party.

In August 2019, while putting down some luggage by leaving his longtime IFP leadership position, he delivered a long speech at a conference held in the historic Zulu town of Ulundi in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

He tearfully - and once more - recalled the bitter and fatal fallout between the IFP and the ANC.

Towards the end of that part of the swan song speech, choking with emotions, he took a deep breath and the marquee went dead silent such that you could hear a pin drop. He said he would die happy if there would be a reconciliation between the ANC and IFP during his lifetime.

Speaking at KwaPhindangene on Sunday, ANC NEC member, Dr Zweli Mkhize acknowledged that the IFP was a project of the ANC even though they later had a fallout.

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