Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi: Destined for greatness

South Africa - Durban - 18 March 2023 - Soon to be 95 year old Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi in a one on one interview with Itumeleng Mafisa from the Star at the Edward Hotel in DurbanPicture: Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency (ANA)

South Africa - Durban - 18 March 2023 - Soon to be 95 year old Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi in a one on one interview with Itumeleng Mafisa from the Star at the Edward Hotel in DurbanPicture: Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Mar 24, 2023


Johannesburg - Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, retired founder of the IFP and traditional prime minister of the Zulu nation, said he was privileged to have been mentored by the best political minds on the African continent.

Buthelezi’s life has been both that of a monarch and a civil rights leader; his mother was Princess Magogo ka Dinuzulu, known for her musical talent throughout the Zulu kingdom, and his father, Chief Mathole Buthelezi, came from a generation of leaders in the Zulu royal house.

One could probably say that the first flirtation between Buthelezi and political ideology was through his uncle Pixley ka Isaka Seme. He was one of the first highly educated black people of his time and the founding father of the ANC.

It was clear that Buthelezi was destined for greatness, having spent time with Seme at his house and written letters for him, among other errands. Buthelezi’s family had also presented him to the first president of the ANC, John Dube, after he matriculated.

“In the palace, I was the only child that could read, so Dr Seme would send for me, and I would dictate letters and statements, which I used to do in longhand. I regard him as my first mentor. He was my first major contact with the top brass of the ANC,” he said.

Chief Albert Luthuli, who was the first African to win a Nobel Prize, was also close to the royal house and was on Buthelezi's list of mentors. It should be clarified that with such mentors, Buthelezi would become an ANC member by default.

“I used to go to him to get wisdom from my mentor. I remember that at some point he pointed at the phone, and we would go out through the kitchen door and take a walk in the forest. Nkosi Albert Luthuli was first elected here as leader of this province; he was later elected as president general of the ANC.”

Buthelezi said he would often visit Luthuli when he was banned. He said he was told by King Cyprian that the apartheid government had learnt that he was spending time with Luthuli.

“My cousin then disclosed to me that the commissioner general is complaining that I go frequently to see Chief Luthuli. I would say if that is illegal, then all of us as amakhosi or chiefs should ask why the commissioner tells me to stop it,” he said.

Buthelezi said while in the ANC, Oliver Tambo was his leader, and they would often have many engagements, and he (Buthelezi) was an integral part of the party, participating in various assignments while forging relations with other liberation movements on the continent. He had great relationships with his contemporaries at the time, including Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and other senior leaders of the ANC.

“In 1974, when we met in Nairobi, I said to Mr Tambo that now that I am out of the country, I would like to go and see President Kaunda, and I would like to go and see President Nyerere to thank them from us who are still in the country for having given sanctuary to all our exiles,” he said.

Buthelezi said there were many meetings and encounters with the longest-serving president of the ANC, Tambo. Their conversations would include political strategy for policy debates.

“Mr Tambo flew from Lusaka to London to come and update me on what was going on in South Africa. We had a very nice time together, and at that time the regime here used to have its agents all over the world.”

Buthelezi said that the IFP would emerge from the hardships of the political landscape, where liberation movements were banned and only a few leaders kept the hope lights on for the rest of the freedom forces. He was given the mandate to start a cultural movement to oppose the apartheid government at this time. With the blessing of ANC leaders, the IFP was then developed.

“Towards the end of the dinner, President Kaunda says to me, I have arranged for you to visit our offices. He said, I want you to go there with the people that are with you. On my return to the state house, I found all the top brass of Unip (United National Independence Party). Mr Kaunda then says to me that as leaders in the independent states, we appreciate that in South Africa you are the only black voice. You are the only person who speaks for Africans now, but he said that while we appreciate it, it’s not enough. We want you to ignite political mobilisation again in South Africa.”

Buthelezi said he was shocked at the proposal of another liberation party in South Africa that was not the ANC. He was a proud member of the ANC and felt uncomfortable with the idea.

“There was no PAC; there was no ANC. I was the only person, so I took advantage. I said is this a trap, but I am ANC? How can I start my own organisation because I am an ANC? I consulted my leader, Mr Tambo, and he said go ahead. That is how I launched Inkatha ye Nkululeko ye Sizwe,” he said.

Buthelezi said the IFP was never meant to be in opposition to the ANC. He said it was an internal wing of the ANC. He explained that he was saddened by the tensions that would later exist between the IFP and the ANC. These tensions resulted in thousands of deaths in what were described as “black on black wars”. Buthelezi had been engaging with the ANC in efforts to reconcile past differences and form an understanding. He said he hoped to achieve this in his lifetime.

The Star