The town of Ulundi in South Africa has witnessed a gathering of mourners for the funeral of Mangosuthu Buthelezi, a veteran South African politician and Zulu chief.
His passing at the age of 95 prompted a state funeral to honor his contributions to the struggle against white-minority rule.
In a mark of respect for the occasion, the national power company has agreed to exempt Ulundi from national rolling electricity cuts during the funeral events.
However, Buthelezi’s death has sparked a debate about his legacy. Born into the Zulu royal family, he remained their traditional prime minister until his passing. It was his role in politics that has divided opinions.
In 1975, he founded the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) after becoming disillusioned with the African National Congress (ANC) during the apartheid era. He opposed the ANC’s stance on armed action and sanctions, arguing that they harmed black South Africans. His supporters believe he deserves accolades for his peace-oriented approach.
Prof Kealeboga Maphunye, head of African politics at the University of South Africa, acknowledges Buthelezi as “a respected traditional leader who contributed to ensuring the dignity of black people, particularly Zulus, was not trampled on by the apartheid regime.”
However, it was during the transition to multi-party democracy in the early 1990s when an estimated 20,000 people died in violence between the ANC and IFP. This period has drawn criticism and reopened old wounds.
“We cannot forget that Buthelezi’s supporters were involved in acts that undermined his legacy,” Prof Maphunye stated,
Editor-in-chief of City Press newspaper, Mondli Makhanya, called Buthelezi a “murderous apartheid collaborator” and accused him of being behind hit squads linked to his organization. Makhanya criticized positive tributes as “the greatest whitewashing of history that South Africa has seen.”
Thokoza township in Johannesburg experienced political violence by those seeking to derail the country’s first democratic elections in 1994. Some hail Buthelezi as a towering figure in South African politics, while others view him as a complex and divisive figure and blame him for black-on-black political violence in the late 90s.
The current leadership of the IFP has vowed to preserve Buthelezi’s legacy and his positive contribution to the road to democracy.
Besides politics, Buthelezi played a significant role in the installation of the current Zulu King MisuZulu kaZwelithini. He served as MisuZulu’s mentor and protector, defending him against detractors and those who sought to remove him from office.
President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to deliver the eulogy at the funeral, which is designated a category 1 special official funeral with military honors. King MisuZulu kaZwelithini will not attend the funeral due to cultural reasons.
Buthelezi passed away on September 9, a few days after being discharged from the hospital, where he had been admitted for over a month and underwent a medical procedure.