Durban - Despite speculation that the sudden departure of long-time Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) leader Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi from the party's presidency stage will spark jostling for power, the party's new leadership was elected unopposed, with Velenkosini Hlabisa taking over as party president.
He was elected in the early hours of Sunday during the party's ongoing 35th elective conference in Ulundi in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
Hlabisa (54) a former school principal who is now the leader of the party in the KZN legislature and who has been on standby since 2017, was elected unopposed. His deputy will be Inkosi Mzamo Buthelezi who was once seen as the next leader when the post of deputy president was created for the first time in 2012.
Retaining his position as national chairperson was party veteran, Blessed Gwala, a member of the KZN legislature who was also once touted as a future successor of now-retired Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Gwala will be deputised by Thembeka Madlopha-Mthethwa, the only woman who was elected to the party's top seven.
Bringing in fresh blood, the party's 4500 delegates agreed to elect Siphosethu Ngcobo, a former unionist with the National Teachers Union (Natu) who recently left the union to join the party in the national assembly in Cape Town. Ngcobo's deputy will be party veteran, Albert Mncwango who is the current mayor of Nongoma municipality and who was also once seen as a potential contender for the party's presidency.
Hlabisa is expected to address the party as a new leader on Sunday afternoon and according to the SABC, in his acceptance speech, he pleaded with members to root out factionalism which is slowly creeping into the once united party under its retired long-time leader of 44 years.
“On behalf of the newly elected NEC, we are humbled Shenge to receive the baton from you. We will not disappoint you. Comrades what you did today should be a new beginning for this party. You know the divisions, the damage and harm they have caused to the party. The Prince of KwaPhindangene when we were at Mthonjaneni he called upon us to bury these divisions. The unity you have shown today, let us live it forever. A divided IFP will not be able to win the hearts of the people of South Africa,” Hlabisa was quoted as saying by the SABC.
It remains to be seen what will be Buthelezi's new role in the party-although it is widely accepted that he will fulfill an advisory role. Giving a keynote address on Saturday, the former leader said it was up to party delegates to decide what would be his new role.