Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi was born on 27 August 1928 into the Zulu royal family. His mother was the daughter of King Dinizulu, and granddaughter of King Cetshwayo. His grandfather Myamana Buthelezi was Prime Minister to King Cetshwayo. As the first-born son he was first in line to the Buthelezi chieftainship. From 1934 to 1943 he was a pupil at the Impumalanga Primary School. He went on to study at Adams College in Amanzimtoti where he matriculated.
Buthelezi studied History and Bantu administration at the Fort Hare University in 1948. It was at this University that his short-lived involvement in liberation politics developed. Here he met Professor Z K Mathews (who was to make an impression on him) and through him, Robert Sobukwe, African National Congress (ANC) Youth League leader, and other African nationalist liberation leaders such as Robert Mugabe. In 1950 he took part in the student protests against the visit of Governor General G Brand Van Zyl, and as a result was expelled from the University. His academic progress was however not seriously hampered because the University of Natal allowed him to attend lectures and sit for the Fort Hare examinations.
In 1951 he found clerical work in the Department of Bantu Administration. The following year he married Irene Mzila, a nurse, and they had three sons and four daughters. In 1953 he returned home to become Chief of the Buthelezi clan. Though his subjects did not refute this status, the government only recognised him as Chief in 1957. Until then he was seen as Acting Chief. In 1970, he became Chief Executive Officer of the Kwazulu Territorial Authority, which the government intended to serve as a transitional authority towards full homeland independence. However, Chief Mangosutho Buthelezi refused to accept this lowered status of Kwazulu. He was also instrumental in the formation of the South African Black Alliance in which he was joined by the Labour Party and the KwaNgwane Homeland leader. Internal strife subsequently led to the collapse of the alliance.
In 1982 he opposed Governments plan to cede the Ingwavuma region in northern KwaZulu to the Swaziland government. The court decided in his favour on the ground that the government had not met its own Black Constitution Act of 1972 which required consultation with the people of Ingwavuma and also the Kwazulu Territorial Authority. Buthelezi also opposed the government’s proposed constitutional reforms at the time. He attended rallies and for a, sometimes shared a platform with the Progressive Federal Party leader, Frederick Van Zyl Slabbert.
In a position contrary to that of the ANC, and in line with his growing co-operation with the Government, Buthelezi opposed anti-apartheid sanctions. As a Homeland leader, his lifeline depended the South African state and economy. With anti-apartheid leaders inside South Africa and abroad demanding sanctions, Buthelezi came to be regarded more and more as a Government puppet along with other Bantustan leaders. His tribal loyalties and focus on ethnic interests over national unity was also criticised as contributing to the divisive programme of the regime. This led to a virtual civil war between his Zulu loyalist supporters and ANC members in KwaZulu Natal.
After the release of all political prisoners and the formation of the Convention for Democratic South Africa (CODESA), Buthelezi represented the Inkatha Freedom Party in the negotiation for a democratic South Africa. He supported the idea of a Federal Republic to protect ethnic rights and his power base. In the run up to the election he withdrew from negotiations and political violence erupted once more between IFP and ANC supporters. Just before the first democratic election he reconsidered, and precipitated a last minute rush to include the IFP on the ballot papers.
After this election Buthelezi served as Minister of Home Affairs for two terms. In 1998 when President Nelson Mandela was in Washington to receive a Congressional Order, Buthelezi served as Acting President. In this capacity he authorised South Africa’s military intervention into Lesotho to restore the ill-fated elected government. On 14 April 2004, his party’s performance in the general election waned dramatically. His tenuous and conflictual relationship with the ANC deteriorated further, and he was not included in the cabinet of President Mbeki’s second term of office.