The revival in the electoral fortunes of the conservative Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) hinges heavily on the demise of its nemesis and splinter party, the National Freedom Party (NFP).
Senior members of the IFP, which last ruled KwaZulu-Natal in 2004, when the ANC won power, are confident that the party stands a chance of improving its standing in tomorrow’s election because of the collapse of the NFP, whose members have been returning to the IFP, with others crossing the floor from other parties.
“One of the reasons why we are going to do well is because of the death of the NFP. Many members have started coming back to the IFP, even members from the ANC. Some were brought food parcels and, even now, the ANC is back with its promises,” said IFP councillor Thinasonke Ntombela, the son of the notorious Inkatha “warlord” from the 1980s and 1990s, Thandabantu David “Gandaganda” Ntombela, who died in August 2018.
The IFP, led by Mangosuthu Buthelezi since its founding as Inkatha in 1975, was dealt a blow in 2005 when its national chairperson, Ziba Jiyane, broke away to form the National Democratic Convention (Nadeco). This hurt the IFP in the March 2006 local government elections.
History repeated itself in 2011, just three months before that year’s local government elections, when another national chairperson, Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi, broke away to form the National Freedom Party. This resulted in the IFP retaining only two insignificant local municipalities: Msinga and Ulundi.
However, the tables have turned in 2019. The IFP has regained traction as a result of its effective Sethembe (Trust us) marketing strategy, which it launched for the 2016 local government elections.
More than ready for elections
Speaking to New Frame from his home in kwaMncane near Pietermaritzburg, Ntombela, who is a nduna (headman) in the area and indunankulu (chief headman) of the Zondi clan, said the IFP would be capitalising on the NFP’s demise and that the party was more than ready for the elections.
In 2014, the IFP was the fourth-biggest party in the country with 441 854 valid votes, securing 10 seats in Parliament. In the same elections, the party was the third-biggest party in KwaZulu-Natal.
Members of the party, which held its final election campaign rally in Ulundi on Sunday 5 May, said the ANC had failed South Africans.
“For example, in our area, we haven’t had water in two weeks and we suspect it has to do with government tenders. They are closing the water on purpose so that they can send water tanks from their own companies,” alleged Ntombela, who is a proportional representative councillor in the area.
Seven Day War
Ward 7, in which Ntombela lives, was predominantly an IFP stronghold but is now governed by the ANC.
“Everything changed when the National Freedom Party was formed. When [Jacob] Zuma was elected, we also suffered because people joined the ANC. Because he was umZulu, people loved him.”
Ntombela has been a lifelong member of the IFP. His father served as a member of Parliament in the now defunct KwaZulu-Natal homeland parliament and in the new democratic dispensation. He resigned in 2007 because of ill health and died 11 years later at the age of 93.
Ntombela was implicated in the serious violence during the so-called Seven Day War in Edendale township in 1990. The week of intense political conflict in the Pietermaritzburg area started with a confrontation between United Democratic Front (UDF) and Inkatha supporters when Inkatha were returning from a Durban rally funded by the Security Police.
Records from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) summarise that “UDF youths stoned the buses carrying Inkatha supporters on 25 March 1990. Inkatha supporters retaliated by conducting attacks in the wider Edendale and Vulindlela areas near Pietermaritzburg.
“In the next seven days, Inkatha attacks in these areas escalated, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 200 people and the displacement of over 20 000 people from their homes. Security forces either assisted the attackers or refused to intervene to protect those under threat.”
Ntombela, who at the time was an archrival of then ANC Midlands leader Sifiso Nkabinde, later declined to testify about the violent clashes when summoned by the TRC. He apparently said he would not receive a fair hearing.
“We as a family believe strongly in the IFP and its leader, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi. He has always stood by what he believes in. We actually take him as a prophet because everything that he said would happen after 1994, is happening now.”
The Seven Day war was not an isolated event. Buthelezi began collaborating with the South African Defence Force, and Inkatha members received military training from SADF special forces starting in the 1980s. Inkatha members were involved in a number of massacres targeted at people aligned to the UDF, and then later the ANC, including the Trust Feed massacre on 3 December 1988 and the Boipatong massacre on 17 June 1992.
On 3 May, the IFP in Nongoma welcomed supporters who had defected to the NFP back to their “original political home”.
Formed under the stewardship of Buthelezi, Inkatha launched in KwaNzimela near Melmoth on 21 March 1975. The party states on its website that it was founded out of a desperate need for black democratic forces that would lead the liberation struggle.
The IFP, which governs 12 municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal, is the largest opposition party in the province. Secretary general Velenkosini Hlabisa, who has been a party member for more than four decades, is said to be ready to take the reins when Buthelezi steps down.
“Our leader has been wanting to step down for a long time, but we as members asked him not to leave the party that was not united. He himself said he doesn’t want to be a dictator, we are the ones that asked him to stay in power until things stabilise,” said Ntombela of the frail leader’s long service as party president.
Even as the IFP prepared to prey on the NFP’s instability, troubles within the party continued over the weekend of its final campaign rally before elections.
Secretary general Nhlanhla Khubisa and spokesperson Sabelo Sigudu turned their backs on the IFP to join the ANC just three days before the 8 May elections. The pair were welcomed into the ruling party during the eThekwini region’s Siyanqoba rally in oThongathi.
Former NFP deputy chair and member of Parliament Mandlenkosi Sicelo Mabika crossed the floor and now sits at number 40 on the DA’s national list. Maliyakhe Lymon Shelembe, formerly an IFP and later an NFP member of Parliament, will join him on the DA benches.
KaMagwaza-Msibi, a school principal and mayor of Zululand, formed the NFP after turning her back on the party to which she had been loyal all her life. But despite taking a large number of supporters with her from the IFP, in 2016 her new party again made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
The NFP suffered a major blow when it was disqualified from contesting the 2016 local government elections because squabbling members had failed to pay the party’s election registration fee on time. The fiasco happened while KaMagwaza-Msibi was recovering from a stroke she suffered in November 2014.
The NFP has been plagued by factional battles and internal squabbles for positions since the beginning. It remains to be seen if KaMagwaza-Msibi, who served as deputy science and technology minister in Zuma’s administration, will return to Parliament after the elections.
uMgungundlovu District chairperson Musawenkosi Maphumulo said his leader will return to Parliament. “Her mind works perfectly. She is number one on the national list and, to be honest, what happened to her could have happened to anyone,” he said.
Maphumulo said that in December, the party will be convening a conference to elect new leadership aside from the president, as its constitution stipulates that the president serve a 10-year term.
Addressing the bleeding membership issue, Maphumulo said “rogue leaders” took advantage of KaMagwaza-Msibi’s ill health. “When someone leaves an organisation, it is never a good thing. But those who left were no longer needed. We feel like they had been bought to sabotage the 2016 local government elections.”
In the 2014 elections, the NFP was the fifth-largest party in the country, followed by the UDF. The NFP got six seats in Parliament while the UDF won four.
The party’s treasurer in the district, Bonginkosi Mncwabe, is clear on the party’s aim to affirm the power of traditional authority.
“Our leader works with amakhosi and right now amakhosi are powerless. If the NFP loses favour, then the traditional leaders will lose their voice in Parliament. It is important that the NFP exist because as small as we are, our voice counts,” he said.