Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, son of Princess Magogo Constance Zulu kaDinuzulu, King Solomon’s sister, and Inkosi Mathole Buthelezi, the King’s Prime Minister, was born on 27 August 1928 in the Mahlabathini District, KwaZulu. His mother was the daughter of King Dinizulu and granddaughter of King Cetshwayo. His paternal grandfather, Myamana Buthelezi, was the Prime Minister to King Cetshwayo.

From 1934 to 1943, he attended Impumalanga Primary School in Nongoma, Kwazulu. He went on to study at Adams College in Amanzimtoti where he matriculated. In 1948, he studied at the University of Fort Hare, Eastern Cape, where he joined the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL).

Buthelezi studied Bantu Administration, Roman-Dutch Law and Criminal Law at the University. Here he met Professor Z K MathewsRobert Sobukwe, the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League leader, and other African nationalist liberation leaders such as Robert Mugabe.

In 1950, he participated in 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 hampered as the University of Natal (now University of KwaZulu-Natal – UKZN) allowed him to attend lectures and sit for the Fort Hare University examinations, from where he graduated.

In 1951, he found clerical work in the Department of Bantu Administration. The following year, on 2 July 1952, he married Irene Audrey Thandekile Mzila, a nurse, at St Faith’s in Durban. They had three sons and four daughters. In 1953 he returned home to become the chief of the Buthelezi clan. The government only recognised him as chief in 1957. Until then he was seen as the Acting Chief.

A devout Christian, the Lutheran church invited him as a guest in 1963. He then visited the United States of America and the United Kingdom. While in England, he met the exiled African National Congress (ANC) leader, Oliver Tambo. Upon his return to South Africa, Buthelezi’s passport was confiscated for the next eight years.

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. KwaZulu was a group of disparate nineteenth-century African reserve lands and excluded the cities and economic heartlands, including the harbours, of Natal province. Chief Buthelezi refused to accept this lowered status of KwaZulu.

After eight years, the state returned his passport in 1971. Chief Buthelezi travelled to meet with ANC leaders in exile. President Hastings Bandainvited invited him to Mangochi on Lake Malawi, where he met Tambo. Over the next few years, they met in London, Nairobi, Lagos and Stockholm.

Buthelezi became the Chief Executive Councillor of the KwaZulu Legislative Assembly in the KwaZulu homeland (bantustan) in 1972.

The South African Society of Journalists (SASJ) named Buthelezi the 1973 “Newsmaker of the Year”.

In a position contrary to that of the ANC, and in line with his growing cooperation with the government, Chief Buthelezi opposed anti-apartheid sanctions. As a homeland leader, his lifeline depended on the South African state and economy. With anti-apartheid leaders inside South Africa and abroad demanding sanctions, Chief Buthelezi came to be regarded more and more as a government puppet along with other Bantustan leaders.

On 21 March 1975, Buthelezi established the National Cultural Liberation Movement,  Inkatha Yenkululeko yeSizwe, at KwaNzimela in KwaZulu which later became the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). He was President of the IFP from 1975 until 2019 when he stepped down from this post. He was elected the President Emeritus of the IFP in 2019 and held this position until he died in 2023.

Buthelezi became the Chief Minister of the KwaZulu Government in 1976. He created the ‘Kwazulu Development Corporation, in 1978, whose function was to promote an African entrepreneurial stratum to service the commercial sector of the bantustan economy’.

In October 1976, Tambo addressed the United Nations General Assembly and called for disinvestment and international sanctions against South Africa. Buthelezi disagreed, arguing the need to protect the economy that the majority will ultimately inherit.

At the University of Zululand, in 1976, the South African Student Organisation (SASO)-led students disrupted a ceremony at which Buthelezi received an honorary degree.  At the funeral of Robert Sobukwe, a part of the crowd, angered by his presence, taunted him as a sell-out and forced Buthelezi to leave, which he was forced to do so, after he was prevailed upon by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

He was instrumental in the formation of the South African Black Alliance comprising the [Coloured] Labour Party (LP), [Indian] Reform Party and the KwaNgwane homeland leader in 1977. SABA had minimal impact and was rejected by militants. Internal strife subsequently led to the collapse of the alliance.

His tribal loyalties and focus on ethnic interests over national unity were 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.

 In an address of the ANC’s National Executive Committee to the people of South Africa on the 25th Anniversary of the Freedom Charter, 26 June 1980, the ANC labelled him a “'police agent' and 'jail warder' who helped keep the South African oppressed in bondage.”

In 1982 he opposed the government's 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. Chief Buthelezi also opposed the government’s proposed constitutional reforms at the time. He attended rallies and for some time shared a platform with the Progressive Federal Party (PFP) leader, Frederick Van Zyl Slabbert.

After the release of all political prisoners and the establishment of the Convention for Democratic South Africa  (CODESA), Buthelezi represented the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) in the negotiations 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 Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) on the ballot papers.

After the election, Chief 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 there.

His party’s performance in the 2004 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.

In his capacity as the traditional Prime Minister of the Zulu monarchy and nation, he served three kings – King Bhekuzulu, King Goodwill Zwelithini, and King Misuzulu, the present incumbent.

King Bhekuzulu appointed him Prime Minister in 1954 in Stanger (now KwaDukuza) during an event to unveil the tombstone of the legendary King Shaka, the founder of the Zulu nation. That position was held by his late father, Inkosi Mathole Buthelezi.

The ANC has disputed Chief Buthelezi’s claim that he was the legitimate prime minister of the Zulu nation. A critic, Nobleman Nxumalo, published Gatsha Buthelezi – Chief With a Double Agenda under the pen name, Mzala. He argued that Buthelezi was usurping a princely Zulu title that he did not qualify for, as his father was not of royal blood. What irked him further was the book’s claim that he was imposing himself as a traditional prime minister to the Zulu monarch.

Buthelezi later assumed chieftainship although his mother was the tenth wife, while Mathole had other older sons who should have succeeded him, argued Mzala. Buthelezi contended that he was the rightful heir because his mother was of Zulu royalty and had thus become the senior wife who would produce the heir.

Following the death of King Bhekuzulu, Prince Mcwayizweni was then appointed regent. Later a feud ensued within the royal family when it was alleged that he refused to vacate the throne in favour of the young King Goodwill Zwelithini.

Due to threats and opposition to his ascension before 1971, the young King Goodwill Zwelithini had to go into hiding while Buthelezi was fighting with Prince Mcwayizeni to vacate the throne. He eventually won the battle, and King Goodwill Zwelithini took to the throne.

However, they had a highly publicised fallout in the late 80s and early 90s. It was reported that, as a result of the feud, the late king even contemplated forming his own political party.

The extent of that historic feud was brought to the fore again in August 2022 outside the gates of Enyokeni Palace in Nongoma, when the royal family faction in support of Prince Simakade conducted a counter ceremony, ushering him into the kraal and to the ancestors as the next Zulu king in opposition to the present king, Misuzulu.

The faction bitterly recalled that while Buthelezi was the head of the KwaZulu government, he fell out with the king and later withheld his salary for months.

In one of the interactions with the media, the faction bitterly recalled that while Buthelezi was the head of the KwaZulu government, he fell out with the king and later withheld his salary for months.

They also recalled an incident in the 1990s when King Goodwill Zwelithini hosted Nelson Mandela at the palace, and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) supporters caused havoc by throwing stones while the meeting was going on. The IFP supporters were repelled by the army battalion that was in the area to secure Mandela and the monarch.

Buthelezi and King Zwelithini later reconciled, and they continued working together.

Speaking at the first mass rally in Durban, after his release, Nelson Mandela thanked Buthelezi for all that he did to secure his release.

With political parties unbanned, Inkatha yeNkululeko yeSizwe became the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) on 10 July 1990. Buthelezi was unanimously elected as President of the Party. At the launch of the IFP, among other issues, he declared, " We will not allow the ANC and its SACP partners to crush all opposition and emerge as the only viable party."

KwaZulu/Natal became a killing field as supporters of the ANC and the IFP engaged in ferocious competition to secure and expand their bases of support. The violence spread into the Transvaal, encompassing Pretoria, Witwatersrand, and Veeriniging -- the Vaal Triangle that was littered with some of the most deprived townships, squatter camps, and hostels for migrant workers, most of whom were IFP supporters from KwaZulu/Natal.

Mandela and Buthelezi, together with their delegations, meet for the first time on 29 January 1991, since Mandela’s release, at the Royal Hotel in Durban. After lengthy discussions, they released a joint communique committing to hold joint rallies from that point onwards, to end the violence between the two parties. However, the violence continued.

In 1994, Buthelezi piloted the Ingonyama Trust Act through the KwaZulu Legislative Assembly as the last piece of legislation to be passed by the Assembly, placing the land of the Zulu Kingdom under the custodianship of the King.

In an article in the Mail and Guardian (9 September 2023), an academic researcher and human rights activist, Mary de Haas, wrote:

As the arranged election date drew near, Buthelezi steadfastly refused to participate in elections. One of his [Buthelezi’s] key advisors, Phillip Powell – an apartheid security policeman, reportedly with international right wing links – was training IFP recruits in guerrilla warfare near Mahlabatini, having taken delivery of six truckloads of weapons from Vlakplaas. These activities were stopped by an intervention by the Transitional Executive Committee. 

--- Although he denied it, detailed research by American historian Hilary Lynd shows that secret pre-election negotiations led by a Nationalist government envoy had led to the passing of the Ingonyama Trust Act, days before the elections, placing what was essentially KwaZulu land (much of which had never been part of the historic Zulu kingdom) into a Trust headed by King Zwelithini, to be held on behalf of his subjects.  

On 19 April 1994, eight days before South Africa’s first democratic elections, Mandela, President FW de Klerk and Buthelezi signed the Solemn Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation, committing to convene international mediation as soon as possible after the elections to deal with outstanding issues from the negotiating table. Based on this commitment from Mandela and de Klerk, the IFP agreed to participate in the elections. However, this mediation has not taken place.

In South Africa’s first democratic elections, on 27 April 1994, the IFP won more than 2 million votes, securing seats in President Mandela’s Cabinet. Buthelezi was appointed Minister of Home Affairs, serving in this post from 1994 until 2004. He continues in this position for the next ten years, piloting the full legislative and policy transformation of the Department.

On the very first occasion that President Mandela was out of the country, he appointed Buthelezi as Acting President; a position that Buthelezi will fill 22 times over the next ten years, under President Mandela and President Thabo Mbeki. He continued to be an ordinary Member of Parliament (MP) until his death.

At the 150th anniversary of the birth of Dr John Langalibalele Dube, in 2020, the founding President of the South African National Native Congress (SANNC), the Dr JL Dube Institute invited Buthelezi to deliver the memorial lecture. 

As traditional Prime Minister to the Zulu Monarch and Nation, on 12 March 2021, Buthelezi paid tribute at the memorial service for His Majesty King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, whom he served for almost fifty years.

On 7 May 2021, Buthelezi is again called upon to pay tribute, to Her Majesty Queen Shiyiwe Mantfombi Dlamini Zulu, the Regent of the Zulu Nation. Following the funeral, Buthelezi read Her Majesty’s will in which King Misuzulu kaZwelithini was appointed as heir to the throne.

Buthelezi played an important role in the installation of King Misuzulu. He insisted that culture dictated that he succeed his father, as his mother, Queen Mantfombi Dlamini-Zulu, came from the royal family of eSwatini.

However, the two fell out early over the issue of the Ingonyama Trust Board, King Misuzulu dethroned former judge Jerome Ngwenya as chairperson of the board.

In May 2023, Buthelezi convened a meeting of Amakhosi, Zulu royals, and mayors (as observers) in Empangeni to talk about the issue and his fears that the Ingonyama Trust land could soon be lost. That sparked concerns within the inner circle of the king that Buthelezi was mobilising to dethrone him.

The cracks widened when he said the monarch was in eSwatini being treated for suspected poisoning, and the king’s office vehemently denied that.

That fallout was the culmination of a long behind-the-scenes power struggle and disagreements between King Misuzulu KaZwelithini and Buthelezi.

Insiders said the king wanted to end the decades-long stranglehold of the Buthelezi’s over the Zulu monarch by appointing Prince Mthokozisi Mahlobo as the next Zulu traditional prime minister. He wanted to do that by making Mahlobo an understudy of Buthelezi by appointing him as deputy traditional prime minister, a position that had never been there in the hierarchy of the Zulu kingdom.

Feeling undermined, Buthelezi, who allegedly wanted to be succeeded by his son, Prince Zuzifa Buthelezi, asked the monarch to feel free to be at liberty to release him from his duties rather than making Mahlobo his deputy.

He died before they could reconcile.

Even though Chief Buthelezi played an important role in getting King Misuzulu KaZwelithini to take over the throne after the death of his father, King Goodwill Zwelithini,  in March 2021, the current king will not attend the funeral. King Misuzulu, also missed the funeral of his mother, Queen Mantfombi Dlamini-Zulu in May 2021. King Misuzulu and some of his inner circle will have to stay away because of centuries of cultural practices of some of the Nguni monarchs (Zulu, Swati, Ndebele, and Xhosa).

Cultural experts have explained that Zulu monarchs (and some Nguni kings as well) do not attend funerals and that people who have been to funerals or anywhere where there is a corpse or a bereavement, have to spend time away, later cleansed before they could meet or come anywhere near the king.

Princess Phumzile Buthelezi, the late Chief’s daughter raised a controversial issue regarding the fraught relationship between her father and Zulu King Misuzulu kaZwethini.

Speaking publicly before a Zulu royal family delegation that came to Chief Buthelezi's home in KwaPhindagene on Monday, 11 September 2023, the Princess told mourners who had gathered that her father's "fallout" with the incumbent King had gravely affected his health right up until the end.

Recounting her conversation with her father, the princess told mourners, that her father had allegedly complained about the King's "unbecoming" conduct. This is related to an incident that took place a few months ago when the king allegedly banged tables and used vulgar language towards the Chief during a closed-door meeting.

The Princess said that her father felt humiliated and even informed her that the late King Goodwill Zwelithini never addressed him in that manner.

I wish to open up and say the Prince (Buthelezi) is like this because of the issue of the royal house; that thing crippled him, and later there were these other issues, the Princess told the mourners.

Prince Simakade Zulu, the first-born son of the late King Goodwill Zwelithini who is fighting to be recognised as the Zulu king, joined in the passing of Chief Buthelezi.

Buthelezi who passed away on Saturday morning aged 95 left an indelible mark on the nation’s history. Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi dedicated his life to serving the Zulu Nation and South Africa at large. His actions, in both times of triumph and adversity, reflected his deep commitment to the welfare of our people. - - - It is worth reiterating that Prince Mangosuthu was not a perfect leader, and wisdom lies in discerning which of his teachings to follow and use. As we move forward, may we use this occasion to strengthen our bonds, encourage open communication, and foster healing within our family and nation.

Prince Simakade never had a good relationship with Buthelezi after he lost out during the race for the Zulu throne. He has since filed a court application where he is challenging the recognition of King Misuzulu. He argues that Buthelezi has no right to call royal meetings and the May 2021 meeting he called and nominated the then Prince Misuzulu to be the next king of the Zulu nation should be set aside.

In a Daily Maverick article, respected veteran journalist, Cyril Madlala, wrote:

- - - many freedom fighters, exiled or fighting on the home front, dismissed Buthelezi as a puppet of the oppressors created by the despised Bantu homelands system.

Despite the derogatory labels at home, Buthelezi’s audience was sought by presidents of the United States of America Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan; then US Secretary of State Dr Henry Kissinger; German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and British prime ministers John Major and Margaret Thatcher, a long-time ally and friend.

Similarly, across the African continent, he was received warmly by the Frontline States that supported the struggle for liberation in South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. He interacted directly with key leaders such as Tanzania’s president Julius Nyerere and Zambia’s Dr Kenneth Kaunda and many others, despite efforts by the exiled African National Congress to undermine his projection as a genuine leader of the oppressed black people in South Africa. 

The IFP expressed reservations about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) process from the outset. In his submission to the Commission, the President of the IFP Dr Mangosuthu G Buthelezi said that he believed that it would ‘neither reveal the truth, nor [would it] bring about the reconciliation we so desperately need in our land’.

According to the TRC Final Report (Vol. 6, Section 3, Chapter 3, Subsection 10):

In August 1993, IFP leader, Dr M G Buthelezi called on every Zulu to pay a R5 levy for the establishment of a ‘private army’ to ‘guard against the obliteration of KwaZulu’181 In fact, the project was sponsored by monies drawn from the KwaZulu Government. At a KwaZulu Legislative Assembly (KLA) meeting on 25 August 1993 a resolution was taken to establish a self-protection unit training pro j e c t .182

In September 1993, the training of SPUs began at Mlaba Camp on the edge of the Umfolozi Game Reserve. Senior IFP member Philip Powell later acknowledged that prior to the opening of Mlaba, training of IFP recruits had been going on for more than a year and about 1200 men had been ‘informally’ trained. Between 5000 and 8000 IFP supporters were trained at Mlaba camp. Certain Caprivi trainees were deployed to assist in the project. Trainees received instruction in offensive methods and the use of AK 47s. With the assistance of former Vlakplaas commander Eugene de Kock, Powell arranged for the delivery of a number of truckloads of sophisticated weaponry to be delivered to the region. 

Madlala continues:

Although Buthelezi expressed regret that his followers had been involved in the violence [between the IFP and ANC members]that resulted in so many deaths (as high as 20,000 by some accounts), he maintained that he had never instructed anybody to commit murder.

Investigations by the Independent Task Unit that was established by the democratic government revealed that the South African Police had supplied Inkatha with large quantities of weapons, providing further concrete proof that Inkatha had been in cahoots with the apartheid state.

Melchizedek Zakhele Khumalo [Buthelezi’s long-standing aide and former Inkatha administrative secretary] shouldered the blame, as he had done previously when a massive scandal blotted Buthelezi’s standing as a freedom fighter and which bolstered claims that he was an apartheid surrogate.

The then Weekly Mail, in a major Inkathagate exposé, revealed that Inkatha had been funded by the feared apartheid security police. Khumalo, in court, it emerged had been the key link between the apartheid generals and the trainees. All the arrangements had been made through him.

To Buthelezi’s eternal embarrassment, the newspaper revealed that the massive launch of the United Workers Union of South Africa in Durban to counter the hugely popular Congress of South African Trade Unions, had been a project of the apartheid government. Thousands were transported by buses and trains to Durban to listen to Buthelezi denounce economic sanctions and the work of ANC-aligned trade unions. 

According to Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Gerhard Mare, writing in The Conversation:

He will be remembered as the founder and stalwart campaigner of the Inkatha Zulu movement. He’ll also be remembered for the violent civil strife between his followers and the United Democratic Front and African National Congress (ANC). The violence claimed nearly 20,000 lives during the last decade of racist National Party rule.

Survivors of the Boipatong massacre that occurred in June 1992 in the Vaal region of Gauteng have reacted to the passing of former Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) leader Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi. The tragic event saw the loss of 45 lives and was allegedly carried out by local IFP hostel residents. They were members and supporters of Buthelezi's party and allegedly collaborated with apartheid security forces. Survivors of the Boipatong massacre are disappointed that Mangosuthu Buthelezi did not reveal the truth about the incident before his passing.

Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi passed away on 9 September 2023.

Following news of the death of Chief Buthelezi, President Cyril Ramaphosa issued 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. - - - My thoughts and prayers and those of government and our nation go out to the Royal Household who have been blessed to share uMntwana waKwaPhindangene’s extended lifetime with him, as well as to the Zulu Nation and the leadership and membership of the Inkatha Freedom Party.

The Presidency issued a statement:

President Cyril Ramaphosa declared that the late Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi will be honoured with a Special Official Funeral, Category 1, at Ulundi, KwaZulu-Natal. The Prince’s funeral will entail elements of military honours. The President directed that flags be flown at half-mast at flag stations around the country from 12 September 2023, until the evening of 16 September, the day on which the funeral will take place.

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