Sept. 11, 2023 (GIN) – Prince Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, founder of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and a South African politician and Zulu prince, was the oldest member of Parliament when he died on Sept. 9.
He was admitted to a hospital in July after a failed medical procedure to ease his back pain, his family said at the time.
A controversial figure during the liberation struggle against apartheid, Buthelezi founded the IFP in 1975 as a national cultural movement that became a political force in what is now KwaZulu-Natal province. His party was embroiled in bloody conflicts with the ANC in the 1980s and 1990s.
His last-minute decision to participate in the first post-apartheid election in 1994 brought peace between the two parties. The vote brought the ANC and its leader, Nelson Mandela, to power.
Buthelezi was a champion of his people and a prominent figure in the struggle against apartheid, but his rivalry with the ANC, differing from the ANC’s approach of armed resistance against white minority rule, led to fraught days and much bloodshed before South Africa was able to elect its first Black leader.
He also held opposing views about international sanctions against South Africa, believing that such measures would primarily harm the country’s black majority.
South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, said in a statement, “I am deeply saddened to announce the passing of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the prince of KwaPhindangene, traditional prime minister to the Zulu monarch and nation, and the founder and president emeritus of the Inkatha Freedom party.”
Critics described Buthelezi as a war lord, but to his legion of followers in the rural Zulu heartland, he was a visionary.
For a decade before the end of white rule in 1994, Buthelezi—dressed in leopard skins and waving a short, silver-topped stick—was a familiar sight at rallies while Inkatha was embroiled in conflict with the ANC.
“It’s not pleasant, it’s not easy for me. Neither is it easy for President Thabo Mbeki to have me and my colleagues in the cabinet. We did it to end a low-intensity civil war,” Buthelezi told Reuters in July 2003.
He also starred in the 1964 film “Zulu,” playing his own great-grandfather, King Cetshwayo.
After leading the IFP for 44 years, Buthelezi stepped down in 2019 at age 90.
He was married to Irene Mzila, a nurse, eschewing the polygamy followed by many Zulu chiefs. They had three sons and four daughters.