South Africa’s governing party and the minority Inkatha Freedom Party with a stronghold in KwaZulu-Natal agreed to form governing coalitions in hung municipalities in the KwaZulu-Natal Province following the 1 November local government elections.
The two parties had agreed that where one had the majority of seats, the other would support it to form the municipal government.
This deal failed. The IFP blamed the ANC for fielding candidates in isiNquthu (Nqutu), Jozini in northern KwaZulu-Natal and other places where the IFP had the majority of seats. Similarly, the ANC accused the IFP of fielding candidates in uMhlathuze District in northern KwaZulu-Natal, eThekwini – the economic hub in coastal KwaZulu-Natal and other municipalities.
This fallout negatively affected the ANC more than the IFP as it won more seats in many hung municipalities. After this fallout, the IFP led coalitions in many of these municipalities.
Had the deal succeeded, it would have seen the ANC increase the number of municipalities under its control. It would have also helped in mending relations between the two parties. Its failure will increase mistrust between them.
History of fraught relations
Firstly, Buthelezi had been a member of the ANC Youth League while a student at the University of Fort Hare from 1948 – 1950. He joined the League in 1949.
The ban left a political vacuum which Buthelezi decided to fill. Because he and the ANC were determined to defeat the apartheid government, it made logical sense that he should take the baton of sustaining the liberation struggle. He revived Inkatha ka Zulu (the coil of the Zulu nation), a movement which had been established by Zulu King Dinizulu in 1922.
Once Inkatha was established, Buthelezi used to travel to the exiled ANC’s headquarters in Zambia to report on progress. Gradually, some within the ANC became sceptical of his intentions. They associated him with the Bantustan establishment which saw a number of political leaders becoming puppets of the apartheid regime.
Bantustans were “self-governing” and “independent” states established by the apartheid regime with the intention to weaken black people by dividing them into little compartments called “states”. Leaders who accepted this “independence” became presidents in those states but remained financially dependent on South Africa.
In 1979 Buthelezi led a delegation to London to meet the ANC to discuss differences of opinion between the ANC and Buthelezi regarding protest politics, economic sanctions and the armed struggle.
Tambo promised to meet Buthelezi again. However, this turned out to be the last formal meeting between the two parties. There are divergent views regarding this development. One version is that the ANC accused Buthelezi of leaking details of the meeting to the media. The other version is that Tambo was advised by the ANC to cut ties with Buthelezi because he could not be trusted.
The 1980s were turbulent moments in South Africa. The formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in August 1983 further soured relations between the ANC and Inkatha. Buthelezi blamed the UDF, which was allied to the ANC, for tarnishing his name and labelling him a traitor who colluded with the apartheid government.
The ascendance to power of President FW De Klerk in 1989 marked a new political epoch in South Africa. In February 1990 he lifted the ban on liberation movements, set their leaders free and opened the door for negotiations that would lead to a new political dispensation.
The 1990s and South Africa’s road to democracy
The 1990s marked a critical juncture in relations between the ANC and the IFP. By now, Buthelezi had established himself as a force to be reckoned with. As negotiations to end apartheid began in 1990, it became impossible to sideline him and Inkatha.
Violent skirmishes between the two parties – which were fuelled by apartheid operatives – further soured relations between the two parties. At least 20 000 people are estimated to have died between 1984 and 1994.
As the negotiations began, Inkatha initially showed no interest in them – arguing that the deal was between the ANC and the apartheid government. After joining the discussion, Buthelezi halted the process midstream. Firstly, he wanted South Africa to be a federal state. He later settled for there being six provinces, which later became nine.
Secondly, Buthelezi wanted a place for the Zulu King and the Zulu Kingdom. He managed to secure Ingonyama Trust , which reserved land for the Zulu King to control. In his view, the ANC was not honest with him and undermined Inkatha and the Zulu nation thus forcing him to boycott the negotiations.
Through intense negotiations, the ANC and the IFP eventually found each other. Professor Washington Okumu from Kenya successfully appealed to Buthelezi to contest the first democratic election on 27 April 1994. By then, the ballot papers had already been printed and the IFP’s name was pasted at the bottom of the ballot paper.
The ANC disputed election results in KwaZulu-Natal. Later, the two parties found each other and even formed a coalition through a “grand alliance”.
To mend the wall between the ANC and the IFP, President Nelson Mandela appointed Buthelezi into his Government of National Unity cabinet, which existed from April 1994 to February 1997. Buthelezi was Minister of Home Affairs until 1999 under Mandela and continued in this portfolio from 1999 to 2004 under President Thabo Mbeki.
Buthelezi served as the Acting President more than any of his cabinet colleagues. This was significant, not only because he had enough administrative experience from leading the KwaZulu Government, but also in terms of improving relations between the ANC and the IFP.
Since then, relations between the ANC and the IFP have been relatively stable but not without moments of mistrust as evidenced in the aftermath of the 2021 local elections.
The initial announcement that both parties had agreed to support each other to form municipal governments in hung municipalities brought a glimmer of hope that they were amenable to working together.
When the IFP announced that it was no longer going to work with the ANC, this raised concerns about potential renewal of the historic feud.
For me, three issues could have saved this agreement. Firstly, the parties should have agreed to divide the four KwaZulu Natal economic hubs (eThekwini, uMsunduzi, uMhlathuze and Newcastle), between themselves. Secondly, the ANC should have agreed to change the Umlazi road from Griffiths Mxenge back to Mangosuthu Highway as the IFP had demanded outside of the formal discussions.
Thirdly, the IFP should have agreed to let the ANC keep the name of one of its regions as Mzala Nxumalo region - named after Jabulani Nobleman “Mzala” Nxumalo, an ANC and SA Communist Party stalwart. This failed deal serves as a reminder about fraught relations between the ANC and the IFP.
However, on many occasions, these two parties have been able to find each other, albeit temporarily. The failure of the 2021 post-election deal was a missed opportunity for them to work together.
Despite other political parties having made inroads in KwaZulu-Natal, such as the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters, they are ideologically miles apart from the ANC and the IFP, who remain the key players. Thus, the future of KwaZulu-Natal depends in large part to close relations between the ANC and the IFP.