Durban - Stepping aside from leading the political party he founded just over 44 years ago would not negatively affect the electorate at Wednesday’s polls or the future of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), according to prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
“The IFP is entering a new and exciting era, but our principles and character remain as a solid foundation for the next generation to build on. We have established a strong legacy, which will continue long after I have gone,” he told the African News Agency (ANA) on Monday.
Buthelezi announced a while ago that he would not stand for re-election at the party’s next national elective conference, which had been postponed numerous times. “We anticipate the conference being held soon after the May 8 election,” he said.
The IFP had excellent leaders, he said, who enjoyed widespread support. And the man chosen to succeed him – the party’s KZN premier candidate Velenkosini Hlabisa - also enjoyed “unanimous support” within IFP structures, said Buthelezi.
“We have not heard this said [that voters would be reluctant to support the party because of his stepping down] either openly or through the grapevine. There is every indication that the IFP’s rank and file are on board with the leadership transition and feel comfortable that the IFP will continue in strength,” he told ANA.
According to political analyst Benedict Dube - of the KZN-based think-tank Xubera Institute for Research and Development - the party “strongman” finally stepping aside could be an “opportune time” for reinvention, but it was likely that only another strongman would be able to manage the infighting.
“His exit is not going to damage the IFP [at Wednesday’s polls], I think they are going to be stable, but in terms of growth, I don’t think they are going to grow. They won’t shed any voting constituencies – for now,” Dube told ANA.
Buthelezi’s strength had always been that he understood the weaknesses of the African National Congress (ANC), said Dube, and during the “rampage” of former president Jacob Zuma, he was not afraid of speaking out and utilising those flaws to the benefit of the IFP.
But Buthelezi’s own weakness, according to Dube, was his reluctance to relinquish control of the party. “It has come too late – about 15 years too late”, Dube told ANA.
“He had the opportunity to make the IFP the most influential contender in our country during the time of Frank Mdlalose, Ben Ngubane and Ziba Jiyane,” said Dube.
Mdlalose and Ngubane were both former premiers during the IFP’s heydays but were allegedly too cosy with the ANC – particularly Zuma - for Buthelezi’s liking.
Mdlalose retired from politics after a stint as an ambassador but Ngubane, after his own stint as an ambassador, joined the ANC. He recently resigned from the board of embattled state energy provider Eskom amid controversy.
Jiyane became somewhat politically promiscuous after his time with the IFP, which included an attempt at starting his own party. He is today considered politically irrelevant.
Add to those stories of potential leaders the spectacular implosion of the National Freedom Party – formed as an IFP breakaway in 2011 by Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi – and perhaps Buthelezi was justified in waiting so long to finally find his ideal leadership candidate in Hlabisa.
Not so, says Dube. “Buthelezi, being the generation of Mugabe and Mandela, was not running the country, but was used to running his own political fiefdom. For him, the IFP was his country. He had a mission in his head that he had to achieve but forgot that he is not immortal.”
As for the actual forecasts for the IFP in Wednesday’s polls, elections’ analyst Dawie Scholtz said inroads made by the party during by-elections indicated that the race between it and the Democratic Alliance (DA) for the title of official opposition in the province was “too close to call”. The IFP lost that position to the DA in the 2014 general election.
Scholtz said the ANC was likely to secure a percentage point vote in KZN closer to the 2016 local government election result of 57.8%. In the 2014 general election, it obtained 64.5%.
“By-elections suggest the EFF is growing in black urban areas and the IFP is performing at least at the 2016 level, if not a little better. We're also anticipating some DA inroads across the province. I'm anticipating a close race between the DA and the IFP for second place. Too close to call. They'll both be in the mid-to-high teens,” Scholtz told ANA.
Reacting to a question about what the party’s internal polling had revealed about its prospects, Buthelezi told ANA: “I have always been careful not to place too much store on predictions and forecasts by analysts, as there are many unforeseeable complexities to any election.
“We have waged a tireless campaign, knowing that South Africa needs the principled leadership the IFP provides. It is now up to the electorate.”