He spoke to Independent Media about life after leading the party for 42 years, his memories of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Albert Luthuli and the legacy he will leave behind.
Q: You announced on Sunday that you wanted to step down as party leader. Why now?
A: I thought of doing this many years ago. I wanted to resign in 2012 and the party asked me to play a caretaker role so that they could elect a deputy who could benefit from my experience.
Q: The party chose Velenkosini Hlabisa, mayor of Hlabisa, in northern KwaZulu-Natal to potentially take over from you. Why Hlabisa?
A: It was decided by the structures and I agreed with it. At an NEC meeting I asked for names of those who we should consider. I had heard through the grapevine that there was fierce contestation for the position and I asked if anyone was going to stand. Another senior party member suggested Hlabisa. He is a national executive member and he is a strong contender. He joined the party when he was 13 years old and later he joined the Inkatha Youth Brigade. From 1995 he was a teacher and a councillor. He is currently the mayor of Hlabisa in the Big Five Municipality.
Q: What is your proudest moment as leader of the party?
A: They tried to split the party in 2011 by forming the National Freedom Party. But as I live now there is unity in the IFP - when Hlabisa was nominated it was accepted by the party.
Q: Although you will remain an MP, you will no longer be burdened with the pressure a party leader experiences. What will you do with this free time?
A: My wife and I are octogenarians and we will enjoy this time, to sit and bask in the sun. We have lost five of our eight children and I want to spend more time with the three that are here. My children did not enjoy spending a lot of time with me - such are the demands placed on the leader of a political party. My wife is a shy person and has been a source of inspiration to me through thick and thin. When I settle down I want to go through my documents and papers and send it to the Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi Museum and documentation centre in Ulundi.
Q: What do you think about the state of the ANC?
A: I am very pained at the state of the ANC. In Parliament, when we voted in the secret ballot of no confidence in President Zuma, I said the ANC must not fall. When I think of the ANC I think of Pixley Ka Seme and Albert Luthuli - both of them were my mentors.
Q: Those close to you say that the party will remain strong because of the values that you live by. Are you confident in this legacy?
A: If Hlabisa is elected he is the best one to continue this legacy. We have people like Narend Singh who will help guide our party in the manner that it should be guided.
Q: You have been described as tough on those who don’t toe the line. Is this an accurate depiction?
A: (laughing) Sometimes I am too forgiving to those who transgress.
Q: You were an activist with Luthuli, Tambo and Mandela. What was your relationship like with Mandela?
A: Madiba was not only my leader, he was a personal and family friend. I could not go to Joburg without stopping at his home and his first wife Evelyn and then Nomzamo (Winnie Mandela) were gracious hosts. In Mandela’s last letter to me before he was released in 1990 he said it was shameful that our people were killing each other and this must end.