Picture: Supplied

Johannesburg - The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) has paid homage to the late Princess Irene Audrey Thandekile Buthelezi, wife of party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, describing her as a freedom fighter who also led the IFP’s women-driven economic programme of self-reliance.

"The Princess was a freedom fighter in her own right. For many years she was an active member of the Women’s Brigade of Inkatha yeNkululeko yeSizwe and actively took part in its political activities. History recalls that she took part in the ANC’s 1950’s Defiance Campaign. The IFP, therefore, salutes this heroine of our struggle as she exits our stage to join the many heroes and heroines of South Africa’s struggle for liberation."

"Princess Irene was instrumental in leading the IFP’s women-driven economic programme of self-help and self-reliance, which encouraged women to participate meaningfully in sustainable agriculture and other economic empowerment initiatives,"  IFP secretary-general Velenkosini Hlabisa said in a statement.  

Princess Irene died on Monday after a long illness at home in KwaPhindungene, KwaZulu-Natal. The Buthelezis were married for almost 67 years. Irene leaves behind her husband, their children Prince Ntuthukoyezwe Zuzifa, Princess Phumzile Nokuphiwa and Princess Sibuyiselwe Angela and many grandchildren.

Hlabisa said she has been a pillar of strength to the IFP president for almost seventy years.   

"Their marriage has been an inspiration to generations. We admired the respect, love and honour that were the hallmark of their relationship. The IFP owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to Princess Irene for supporting Prince Buthelezi as he served South Africa. She remained strong through the most trying times of political upheaval, violence and distress. She bore the pain of every arrow fired at her husband for political gain, and she remained kind, gentle and forgiving."

"We honour her for her courage, her resilience and her endless patience. Our condolences and support are with the Buthelezi family, the extended Buthelezi family, and with the Buthelezi clan who mourn this sad loss. We, the IFP, mourn our Mother – a selfless woman of integrity. May the Lord comfort our President in his grief, and may Princess Irene Buthelezi rest in peace."

African News Agency (ANA)