As members and supporters of the ANC gather in Bloemfontein this weekend to celebrate the centennial of the African National Congress, we all have reason to pause and consider the long path we have walked in South Africa.
From the vantage point of a seventeen year old democracy, many of us can look back on our personal contribution and the role we played as individuals in the struggle for freedom. We have a responsibility to the younger generation, to those who were born after 1994, to record our experiences as witnesses and participants, so that the complex narrative of our country's history will not be reduced, distorted or lost. It is a story too rich in significance, too provocative and too important to leave untold.
As one of the protagonists, I accept the responsibility to record my own part in the story of Africa's oldest liberation movement. Although I have been invited to the centennial celebration as the President of the Inkatha Freedom Party, I attend this event as a leader whose life's story cannot be read in isolation from that of the ANC. My destiny was linked to the African National Congress both by choice and by birth.
As the son of Inkosi Mathole Buthelezi, the Traditional Prime Minister of the Zulu Nation, and Princess Magogo, the daughter of King Dinuzulu, I lived in the palace of my uncle King Solomon ka Dinuzulu and grew up under the custody of his younger brother Prince Mshiyeni ka Dinuzulu after the death of the King. Prince Mshiyeni convened conferences of the Zulu Nation, which were attended by people like Dr John Langalibalele Dube and Inkosi Albert Luthuli. Thus I came to know many of the founding leaders of the ANC.
Foremost among them was the man who addressed the meeting of 8 January 1912, Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme. He founded the African National Native Congress that day. He was a well-educated and well-travelled leader. He was also my uncle. I recall assisting Dr Seme with his political correspondence when an operation affected his eyesight.
I knew Dr Alfred Xuma and was a guest at his house in Toby Street, Sophiatown. I was visited by Canon James Calata, a stalwart and friend. Inkosi Albert Luthuli became my mentor and we held many long discussions on leadership, faith and the importance of waging the liberation struggle through non-violent means. He and Mrs Luthuli were brought to my home a few times, once by Ms Louise Hooper and on other occasions by Dr Wilson Zami Conco, who chaired the Kliptown Congress of 1955.
When Inkosi Luthuli died, his family and the ANC leadership-in-exile asked me to deliver the funeral oration. Mrs Luthuli, who was then a member of Inkatha, asked me to escort her to Lesotho to receive her husband's posthumous award from the Organisation of African Unity. I delivered the acceptance speech on behalf of the entire liberation movement. We were accompanied by members of Umkhonto weSizwe to King Moshoeshoe's birthday celebrations in Thaba-Bosiu, led by Mr Ndlovu, who later became our High Commissioner in Lesotho.
After the death of Inkosi Luthuli, many things changed.
Inkosi Luthuli had championed the method of non-violence, for which he became the first African recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. The 1949 Programme of Action proposed by the Youth League was based on non-violence. But even during Luthuli's presidency, non-violence was bemoaned as a slow tactic by those who advocated a faster resolution by means of weapons.
A group of young people began advocating violence as a strategy for liberation. Many of them were sent abroad. Those who remained in South Africa began the campaign of violence after Inkosi Luthuli's death.
The ANC and other liberation movements such as the PAC had already been banned and their leaders imprisoned or forced into exile. Inkosi Albert Luthuli had sent Mr Oliver Tambo abroad to start the ANC mission-in-exile.
The two strategies of violence and non-violence caused great divisions, subsuming historical divisions within our nation and bedevilling much of our liberation struggle.
Through Mr Oliver Tambo, the ANC mission-in-exile, with whom I kept constant communication, became wrapped in the conflicts of the Cold War in order to secure military and logistical support for its violence-based liberation strategy. Many of its leaders went to the Soviet Union for political and military training.
At the time, the Soviet Union was seeking hegemony in Southern Africa in a pincer action with South Africa as its fulcrum. They had a political and military presence in Angola through the Cubans, in Namibia through SWAPO and in Mozambique through FRELIMO. In all these countries civil war raged. The Soviets backed the ANC in the attempt to import civil war into South Africa. I knew that if this happened the whole country would be reduced to ashes with no spoils for liberation.
The West considered South Africa of much greater strategic importance than Vietnam, as we supplied sixteen strategic minerals and controlled maritime routes between East and West. Soviet control of South Africa would inevitably have precipitated a full scale proxy war between the Eastern and Western Blocs, on a larger scale than Vietnam.
Within this context, the ANC's mission-in-exile decided to pursue an insurrectional path within South Africa which it styled "armed struggle". Prof. Anthea Jeffrey's tome, "People's War", has finally documented the tragedy of the black-on-black conflict created as the ANC channelled money and weapons into the hands of young leaders who were often not part of the existing community leadership.
These young ANC leaders sought to oust existing community leadership, especially traditional leaders, to replace them with those loyal to the armed struggle as part of a nationwide insurrectional plan. They used techniques aimed at subjugating entire communities in terror, such as necklacing and executions. Some 20,000 lives were lost from both sides during the black-on-black low intensity civil war, and more than 400 Inkatha leaders were systematically assassinated. In contrast, the conflict between white and black claimed some 600 lives.
I met with Mr Tambo many times in London, Nairobi, Mangoche in Malawi, Lagos and Stockholm, to coordinate strategies. In 1975, I formed Inkatha with his approval to provide a vehicle for political mobilization and keep the ANC banner flying under a different connotation; which accounts for Inkatha adopting the ANC's colours, songs and slogans. It felt natural to me, for I had grown up in the ANC, joining the Youth League at Fort Hare University where I conducted the type of political activities that caused my rustication.
But my relationship with the ANC changed in October 1979 when I led an Inkatha delegation in a two-and-a-half day discussion with an ANC delegation led by Mr Tambo. Amongst his delegation was our future President, Mr Thabo Mbeki. I was confronted with the ANC's injunction of joining the armed struggle and allowing Inkatha's structures on the ground to be utilized for that purpose. I could not agree.
I could also not endorse the campaign launched by the ANC's leadership-in-exile for sanctions and foreign disinvestments from our country. I knew that it would not significantly damage Apartheid, but would impoverish the poorest of the poor. Indeed, the economy reorganized and flourished under sanctions, with the aid of an international campaign of sanction-busting caused by Cold War dynamics which expected the Apartheid regime to repel Cubans in Angola and Soviet influence in Southern Africa.
While not affecting the white population, sanctions and disinvestment destroyed millions of job opportunities for black people which, twenty years later, we have not been able to regain. Many of the foreign investors who were chased away in the eighties never came back, compounding our difficult task of generating the required economic growth and employment.
We could not reach agreement in October 1979. Mr Tambo promised to contact me after the ANC's Executive Council, which would meet later that year, had discussed the issues I raised. Unfortunately, that was not to be. Instead, in June 1980, the Secretary-General of the ANC, Mr Alfred Nzo, blasted me in a speech in London and the schism between Inkatha and the ANC was opened.
Having been part of the ANC for so long, it was painful to find myself in conflict with them while pursuing the same goal of liberating our people. It was even more painful to have to endure more than a decade of lies and vilification directed at me.
When I founded the Inkatha Cultural Liberation Movement in 1975, I stated openly that it was structured on the ideals of the ANC as propounded by the founding fathers in 1912. Inkatha grew at a tremendous pace, so much so that the Minister of Justice and Police, Jimmy Kruger, summoned me to Pretoria and tried to intimidate me into restricting Inkatha membership to Zulus. At that time, I was perhaps the only black in the position of defying him.
I prepared a memorandum for my confrontational meeting with Minister Kruger which read, in part:-
"There are some ideals that are dearer to me than life itself, and most certainly are dearer to me than temporary political gains. I share those ideals with whosoever holds them. Many of those ideals have been expressed by a long succession of those who have gone before me. I believe that these ideals have been embodied in the sentiments and activities of great South African organisations such as the ANC and the PAC. When I further these ideals, I do so not in order to further the aims of banned organisations, but to further the only common ground where all South Africans, black and white can find each other."
The reason Nelson Mandela never cut ties with me, even during his incarceration and even after 1979, is because he knew that I was faithful and loyal to the ideals we had shared from our youth when we both belonged to the ANC Youth League. But his depth of discernment was not matched by other leaders.
When the UDF was created, I hailed it as an umbrella organisation under which anti-apartheid organizations could mobilize. But the UDF identified Inkatha as its main enemy. It welcomed every component of the liberation movement, except Inkatha.
Nevertheless, I remained faithful to the values which inspired me and to the ANC leadership both in exile and in prison, and betrayed by others. I held the most rallies in South Africa under the banner of freeing Mandela and publicly quoted Madiba's banned writings. Madiba wrote to me throughout this period and indicated that, as soon as he was released, he and I would work together to pacify our people.
Sadly, although he was released in February 1990, it was not until 29 January 1991 that those around Madiba allowed him to meet me. When Amakhosi in the Eastern Cape asked why he had not yet met with me, when it was known that we were friends, he replied that the leaders of the ANC/UDF had "almost throttled" him.
At our first meeting, Madiba and I agreed to hold joint rallies throughout the country to pacify our people who had been at war with one another for so long. The first rally was scheduled for Taylor's Halt. But neither this nor any subsequent rally ever took place. After Madiba agreed to go to Taylor's Halt, the ANC leadership in Natal, led by Mr Harry Gwala, arrived at Shell House (now Inkosi Luthuli House) to forbid him from attending.
The Cold War conflicts and the armed struggle had entrenched leadership positions within the ANC which relied on ongoing conflicts and persistent rebellion and insurrection. This was antithetic to the 1912 values of Bloemfontein. The legacy of rebellion continues to fuel conflicts within the ANC and bedevil South African politics. What was once insurrection has now become corruption, and what were once turf wars have now become economic potentates sustained by public contracts.
We must return to the values of 1912. The 1912 Bloemfontein meeting transformed the anguish of past defeats into the birth of a new dream.
After the Zulu defeat in Ulundi on 4 July 1879, my maternal great grandfather King Cetshwayo was incarcerated in the Castle in Cape Town. Later, he went to London to plead his case before Queen Victoria. His Kingdom was dismembered by British Colonialists. King Cetshwayo's son, my grandfather King Dinuzulu, was implicated in the 1906 Zulu Rebellion against Poll Tax. He was tried, convicted and exiled to the Island of St Helena.
So those meeting in Bloemfontein in 1912 had seen in every corner of the continent the failure of attempts to mount an armed resistance, including the failed Bambatha Rebellion. They had seen their communities subjected to systematic and progressive dispossession, subjugation and dehumanization by foreign forces with no regard for life, dignity or property.
The 1912 meeting made three distinct statements. Firstly, that African people would not give in. Secondly, that South Africans would unite across ethnic divides to mount a struggle to reverse oppression and create a society based on mutual respect, with the prospect of advancement for all. And thirdly, that the struggle would be waged through nonviolence.
The ANC was born out of the Bloemfontein meeting and the centenary carries special significance for it. This must be accepted by all South Africans, both within and outside the ANC. We should congratulate the ANC, honestly thanking it for the positive contributions it has made to our history over generations. Without the ANC's contribution, our country's history would read very differently.
But there is another reality that we all, including the ANC, need to accept. The Bloemfontein meeting gave birth to something bigger than the ANC. It birthed a new South African dream and, until that dream becomes reality, our Republic will remain a fragile shell.
South Africa, as we know it today, was born in Bloemfontein in 1912, for it was there that the majority of her citizens adopted a new South African identity. No one was asked to renounce the identity they brought to the meeting. But they all accepted a new one; that of being South African.
Because of my parents, I am a Buthelezi. Because of King Shaka, I am a Zulu. But because of Bloemfontein, I am a South African.
This South African identity inspired our work in the erstwhile KwaZulu Government, and rendered the grand Apartheid scheme of separate development unworkable. There was nothing the National Party Government could do to convince us that, because we were Zulus, we were therefore not South African. Our rejection of an independent Zulu state caused the failure of Apartheid, as then President FW de Klerk recognized on 2 February 1990 when he announced the dismantling of Apartheid.
I had achieved what I had been tasked with achieving. I had taken up leadership as the Head of the new Territorial Authority, which Apartheid created, at the request of Mr Oliver Tambo and other ANC leaders. The intention was for me to undermine the Apartheid system from within, and that is what I did.
In the late eighties, I rejected the National Party's offer to negotiate bilaterally a democratic constitution in terms of which the ANC could then be unbanned and free elections held. Instead, I demanded that the ANC be unbanned and its leaders released first, so that we could all negotiate the constitution. My demand was met. When President de Klerk announced the release of Madiba in Parliament, I was the only person he mentioned by name as having helped him reach that decision.
Throughout my life, I have done what was right for South Africa no matter how difficult or painful. In spite of the conflicts caused within our liberation movement by the Cold War, I sought inspiration from the 1912 Bloemfontein meeting and all that I learned from Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme and Inkosi Albert Luthuli. I was convinced that, in the end, the all-inclusive South Africanism for which they both stood would prevail.
I was therefore the first to gather people across racial divides, in defiance of Apartheid laws, when I launched the Buthelezi Commission in 1980. This led to the 1986 KwaZulu/Natal Indaba, in which Indian, white and Zulu South Africans forged constitutional proposals for the shared governance of KwaZulu and Natal, as an alternative to Apartheid.
So compelling were the Indaba's recommendations that the Apartheid regime had to grant a Joint Executive Authority. This was the first non-racial government of South Africa, which proved that blacks, whites and Indians could work together in harmony, in the spirit of Bloemfontein. We forged the first concretization of the all-inclusive South Africanist spirit.
I have never stopped working to free politics from racial divides. In 2004, Mr Tony Leon and I forged the Coalition for Change. Our electoral pact saw the IFP and DA sharing certain policies and electoral platforms. Mr Leon went as far as stating that the DA would serve under me as President of the Republic. It was the first time in our history that representatives of the white community indicated their choice of a black man to lead them; which reflected the Bloemfontein dream.
That dream was nothing less than the creation of a prosperous society in which all are born with the possibility and support to pursue their aspirations in peace and harmony. A century ago, this dream united people across deep ethnic divides. If we are to overcome today's challenges, we must rekindle this dream to unite us across colour, ideological and party political divides to create a necessary spirit of South Africanism. This is not just possible, but an imperative. For if we have a shared dream, we will have shared values determining how we run our affairs and relate to one another.
Our time-pressured constitutional negotiations did not give us space to address these issues, which may account for the failure of many to live by our celebrated Constitution. Even those duty-bound to protect the Constitution find it easy to turn around and blame the Constitution for their failures. They hurt the creation of a common dream.
We must not miss the opportunity offered by this centennial to adopt a shared South African dream, which - for me - remains the Bloemfontein dream.
Are we brave enough to put the Republic above all else? Have we grown enough to see each other as South Africans first? Is our patriotism stronger than our ideological leanings? Are those outside the ANC able to put our love of country before whatever differences we may have with the ANC? And can the ANC accept that South Africanism means more than holding an ANC membership card?
If not, then we have moved backwards since Bloemfontein.
I acknowledge all South Africa's positive developments, especially since 1994. But I worry about the state of the Republic. I believe we can do significantly better. I therefore call on South Africans to consider an all-inclusive national convention on this question of a shared dream. For without a common value system and a shared dream, we will fail the vision of the 1912 Bloemfontein meeting.