Funeral of Irene Audrey Thandekile Buthelezi, who is the wife of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi held at Ulundi. Picture: Sibonelo Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)
Funeral of Irene Audrey Thandekile Buthelezi, who is the wife of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi held at Ulundi. Picture: Sibonelo Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)
The funeral service of Princess Irene Audrey Thandekile Buthelezi, wife of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi at Ulundi on Friday. Picture: Sibonelo Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)
The funeral service of Princess Irene Audrey Thandekile Buthelezi, wife of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi at Ulundi on Friday. Picture: Sibonelo Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)
Picture: Samkelo Mtshali
Picture: Samkelo Mtshali
The funeral service of Princess Irene Audrey Thandekile Buthelezi, wife of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi at Ulundi on Friday. Picture: Sibonelo Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)
The funeral service of Princess Irene Audrey Thandekile Buthelezi, wife of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi at Ulundi on Friday. Picture: Sibonelo Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)
The funeral service of Princess Irene Audrey Thandekile Buthelezi, wife of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi at Ulundi on Friday. Picture: Sibonelo Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)
The funeral service of Princess Irene Audrey Thandekile Buthelezi, wife of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi at Ulundi on Friday. Picture: Sibonelo Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)
Patrice Motsepe, Nicky Oppenheimer and his wife Orcillia Lasch attended the funeral.
Picture:Sibonelo Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)
Patrice Motsepe, Nicky Oppenheimer and his wife Orcillia Lasch attended the funeral. Picture:Sibonelo Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

Johannesburg - Irene Buthelezi was the epitome of a homemaker, who shared long conversations around the kitchen table with friends and family, with an unexplainable depth and unshakable faith, her husband Inkatha Freedom Party leader Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi said on Friday.

"How do I say farewell to the love of my life? I cannot count the times we said goodbye to each other. Seven decades are marked by goodbyes. The quick kiss on the cheek as she left to drive the children somewhere. The litany of instructions to rest and eat well and look after myself as I left for an international trip," he said at her funeral service in Ulundi Stadium in KwaZulu-Natal on Friday morning.

"No man could have asked for a better wife than Indlunkulu Irene Audrey Thandekile. How then do I say farewell? The only way I can; believing not only that this is our last goodbye, but that there will be another hello, spoken in the presence of our Lord. That beautiful day will surely heal the wound that has felled me now.

"She was the epitome of a homemaker, always in the kitchen, dishing out biscuits and advice in equal measure, listening intently with her beloved Tootsie on her lap. She shared long conversations around the kitchen table with friends and family, often giggling at some private joke, and making everyone feel special. But that was not the whole of her."

He started his emotional and loving tribute to his wife of almost 67 years by quoting a Bible verse from Psalm 62.

Mrs Buthelezi died peacefully on Monday, at KwaPhindangene following a long and difficult illness, the family said in a statement at the time.

On Friday, Buthelezi said that as many times as he said goodbye to his wife, he never got used to the temporary goodbyes as being apart was hard. 

He remembered the sparkle in Mrs Buthelezi's eye that let him know he was home.

Irene fulfilled every promise she made to Buthelezi when they were married on July 2, 1952, and for almost 67 years she loved and cherished him in the moments of greatest triumph and in the pits of despair, he said.

"She raised our children, providing them with the finest gift a mother can give; the assurance of unconditional love. She poured out her attention on our grandchildren, taking pride not only in their accomplishments but in their character. Her presence made our home a welcome refuge, a place of comfort, acceptance and love," Buthelezi said.

"There was a depth to her that I find hard to express. It was in her faith, in the way she turned to the Lord when she was angry, disappointed, surprised, excited or uncertain. She shared her life with her Maker, and He, in turn, blessed her with endless courage, fortitude and wisdom.

"So often she would meet someone I was acquainted with, spend a few moments with them, and report to me exactly what she observed in their character. I was angry when she told me, quite frankly, that she didn’t like someone. But I quickly learned to listen to her instincts because she was always proven right. Husbands throughout the ages have discovered and rediscovered how God blessed women with an extra sense."

He said Irene's "good judgement" played an important part in his career. 

Irene was shy of the public spotlight, but was capable of holding the attention of heads of State and foreign dignitaries and always impressed their hosts while they travelled the world together, he said.

He recalled their first international trip to Scandinavia in 1963 and various other international trips and regional trips.

"It was a blessing to have Irene at my side. Her quiet strength somehow bolstered my own fortitude to do whatever was required of me."

Buthelezi recalled how when they got married, Irene knew she would become the wife of an Inkosi and as a city-girl from Johannesburg training to be a nurse, she faced change in the circumstances.

"I will forever be proud of how she embraced the responsibilities cast upon her, not only then, but when I became Chief Minister of KwaZulu, then Minister of Home Affairs, and even Acting President of the Republic. Whatever role she was called upon to fulfil, she expressed gracious warmth and professionalism."

"She mourned, but was never bitter. She grieved, but still she showed love. Her love was expressed not only in words and thoughtful acts, but in the amount of time she spent praying for me, for our children and our family. She prayed us through all the ups and downs," he said reflecting on the hard times they faced as a couple.

"To say that Irene was my anchor is not enough. Where is home now that she is gone? I will listen now to our favourite music, and close my eyes, and imagine that she is still here. Her smile will be in the music. I know that life must go on. I know that I will be supported by family and colleagues and friends.

"But even as I do what is still required of me, I will be biding my time. I will be looking forward; because at some point ahead our goodbyes will forever be silenced with that happy word, “Hello”. Until then, may my beautiful wife, Indlunkulu Irene Audrey Thandekile Buthelezi, rest in peace."

The funeral was attended by President Cyril Ramaphosa; Energy Minister, Jeff Radebe; the IFP's Velenkosini Hlabisa; and business men Patrice Motsepe and Nicky Oppenheimer.

Buthelezi thanked those who prayed for the family and stood by them during this difficult time.

Irene leaves behind her husband, their children Prince Ntuthukoyezwe Zuzifa, Princess Phumzile Nokuphiwa and Princess Sibuyiselwe Angela, and many grandchildren.

African News Agency (ANA)