Interview: Chief Buthelezi

The IFP leader talks about rapprochement with the ANC, his treatment by the TRC and election preparations.

On the eve of the 1994 election, your position seemed almost irretrievable but here you are four and half years later; you still have your base in KwaZulu-Natal, you are a minister in the government, frequently acting president and are now spoken of quite normally as our future deputy president.
Well, I would not want to make any presumption at all about the deputy presidency. For the moment that is purely a matter of speculation but of course my situation is a lot better than before. Not only are tensions less but the ruling party makes fewer attacks on me now and when I speak either in cabinet or in parliament instead of heckling I find that the ANC shows a real eagerness to listen.

But surely it goes further than that. Is there not a deal between you and the ANC?
I am a minister in President Mandela’s government if that is what you mean.

There are signs of a rapprochement far greater than that. People would point to the ceremony at Blood River that you attended together with Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, to the IFP support of many ANC bills in parliament and also to the ANC’s acceptance of your role in the liberation movement. The ANC has even criticised the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for bringing up old grievances against you.
The real change came in 1991. Until then the ANC leadership had refused altogether to meet me. In fact, President Mandela admitted that when he tried to meet me members of his party had almost “throttled” him. But since 1991 I have met regularly with the ANC leaders. The ceremony at Blood River was simply another meeting. It was a national occasion organised by the ministry of arts and culture and it was natural enough that the deputy president was there.

At the time of the 1994 election many ANC leaders were openly talking of how you would be crushed. Some even talked of sending the army into KwaZulu-Natal after the election. Those days are distant now.
Yes, it is true. The situation has improved but you know we don’t support all ANC legislation, particularly the labour laws. What happens is that frequently we oppose it in the cabinet and I submit a memorandum of disagreement for the record that is then read and noted by the secretariat. But the ANC just steamrollers its bill through and there is little else the IFP ministers can do as cabinet decides issues not by voting, so our views are just by-passed. There are instances where we have stood with other opposition parties on some of the legislation in the portfolio committees and in parliament, for example the broadcasting bill. The real problem is that the government of national unity ought to work by consensus and it does not happen most of the time.

But there are signs of real warmth and trust between you and the ANC now — for example, the willingness of President Mandela to make you acting president when he and Mbeki are both out of the country.
When de Klerk was still in the government he was acting president in such circumstances. It is just that de Klerk is not there anymore.

He could easily make someone like Trevor Manuel acting president.
That is true and he has made me acting president 11 times actually. Things are different now.

As minister of home affairs have you not gone a long way to supporting the ANC in their insistence on bar-coded IDs for the election? Indeed home affairs is insisting that more bar-coded IDs have been delivered than is consistent with the facts turned up by the Human Sciences Research Council. Judge Kriegler has claimed that the IEC’s independence was not properly respected by home affairs.
In a way I’m involved and in a way I’m not. I take it very seriously that the Constitution rightly stresses the independence of the IEC. But that is precisely why I try to stay out of this business. I see myself simply as a postbox. I can speak up for the IEC in cabinet or in parliament because they are not represented there but otherwise it is not for me to put my finger into things.
The strange thing is that it was Judge Kriegler who first mentioned the bar-coded IDs when we had our first meeting and he was enthusiastic about it. All parties made accusations and counter-accusations of “rigging” in the 1994 elections. If we do want a credible election it is necessary to have precautions such as the bar-coded IDs. We have a very serious problem of other IDs being available to all and sundry, including foreigners such as illegal immigrants. Do we want them to vote in our elections?

The HSRC found that some five million people were disenfranchised by the requirement for bar-coded ID’s and home affairs has come up with a quite different figure despite having co-sponsored the HSRC survey. Can we hold an election while disenfranchising so many people?
Home affairs has come to its own conclusion based on other data. But of course we are taking the whole matter desperately seriously which is why we are working weekends, overtime and putting in all the effort we can to give people bar-coded IDs before the election.

Do you think the election can go ahead despite the problems over bar-coded ID’s and the low registration figures? There would seem to be a very powerful argument for deferring the election until August or September.
Obviously, it would be dreadful if the election could not be held in good order. That is vital but what you say is realistic. We must go on working towards the election as if it were going to be in May, but I have to admit that the argument for deferral is realistic.

The IFP and ANC used to be divided by differences over sanctions, over the armed struggle, over federalism and over the free-market economy. The first two have lapsed, the government has adopted Gear and federalism is no longer a primary source of difference.
Differences do still exist. It is true that Gear has moved the ANC further towards the free-market but their partners in the SACP and Cosatu do not accept Gear and thus an important part of the ANC is still at odds with us over that. Moreover, our views on federalism have not changed. We believe that the crime situation would be a great deal easier if we had a devolution of power to the provinces. They would have their own police forces and thus be able to deal properly with crime.

Don’t you feel that the ANC has moved a long way towards you? Of course, there is still the bitter heritage of more than 10 years of war between you. The IFP often seems more than anything to want an ANC apology and acknowledgement that it was wrong in some of its attacks on you.
The ANC has tried to be more conciliatory. Perhaps the key sign of that was my meeting with Mr Thabo Mbeki at King’s House in Durban in November last year. He said “We are going into an election against one another but let us see whether we cannot avoid acrimony and conflict.” So we set up a committee of three representatives each to see whether we could not resolve some of the outstanding differences between us. One of those differences is certainly the ANC’s vilification of us in the past — for example, President Mandela’s assertion before the United Nations that we were merely the “surrogates of the apartheid regime”. That matter still needs to be addressed.

How far has that committee got?
Not far. In fact, the chairman phoned me today about the troubles in Richmond and we found ourselves asking whatever happened to the KwaZulu-Natal peace initiative in terms of which the IFP and ANC set up a committee of ten representatives aside. That has fallen into abeyance and needs to be resuscitated. There is quite a way to go.

There is also the question of the half a million refugees who fled from attacks by one side or another. The refugee problem is enormous and very difficult. It has been exacerbated by incidents such as that last month when we had these alleged defectors from the IFP who then said that they had been armed by the ANC and taken away by them in the middle of the night. It sounds as if there is some dirty dealing there and the risk of perjury. Incidents like that only create further problems.
We shall certainly be standing in the election for different things. But where I agree with Deputy President Mbeki is that other problems are even more important, above all, the overwhelming poverty of our people. That, rather than our partisan differences, really has to be given priority.

What of the allegation you have frequently made of the assassination of 400 IFP leaders by the ANC? If that was true, then it represented the biggest hit-squad campaign this country has ever seen.
Yes, absolutely. That’s what it was. The TRC didn’t deal with that properly at all. That’s why it’s another one of the matters that has been referred to this new committee. That will have to be dealt with there too.

Why do you think the ANC has changed its attitude towards you?
It’s a difference of style between Mr Mandela and Mr Mbeki. You have to remember that I had a long friendship with President Mandela and was in touch with him even when he was in jail. But the relationship between me and Mr Mbeki is newer and he has tried hard to improve things. For example, in the old days the ANC used to talk openly of wanting to destroy Inkatha and to kill me. Mr Mbeki himself has admitted to the TRC that there were ANC plans to assassinate me. That is now openly admitted.

Has the IFP also not given ground to the ANC in this process of rapprochement?
Well, there are many problems. It is not long since the IFP leader James Zulu was killed down the south coast and only just recently I attended the funeral of one of our IFP organisers in Mpumalanga who was murdered with his wife, apparently for political reasons. These are dreadful, painful things. There may now be greater amity and rapprochement at the top but it has not filtered down to the grassroots where a lot of killing is still going on particularly in the midlands and the south coast.

When the democratic parliament began, the emphasis was on reconciliation between black and white. As it ends, the reconciliation is between black and black, between IFP and ANC. But there are many opposition politicians who see black unity as racially divisive.
It is strange that if there is talk of unity between the white parties, no one seems to mind that. But the real point is that in the war between the IFP and ANC far more black people were killed than were killed in the struggle between black and white. There is thus a great moral obligation on us to bring that conflict to an end. That has to have priority.

Already the ANC is aiming at a two-thirds majority. If the IFP gangs up with it they could constitute an overwhelming bloc which would make the development of a true multiparty democracy very difficult.
I am aware of that criticism but you see the sheer scale of the black on black violence imposes its own priorities upon us. We owe it to the dead just as we owe it to the living to make peace. That is our prime objective. Even now the killing is still going on. There is a young man I know, Simphiwe Mnagdia, a teacher and one of the IFP’s promising young leaders in Estcourt. He was killed by three men alleged to be ANC. They first made an attempt on his life and were arrested and given bail. While out on bail they tracked him down and killed him and his cousin in broad daylight. I have just attended the funeral. These things seem almost to be covered up by the media. We don’t hear as much about them as we should. But they are there, they are ugly and they are happening. We have to put a stop to all this.

You are now suing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Its treatment of events in KwaZulu-Natal is odd. The TRC tries to stand many court judgements on their head, for example the judgment in the Malan trial.
Yes, it is quite absurd but it goes further than that. When Judge Hugo found that there was no proof in the Malan trial and the accused were all acquitted, the chairman of the TRC, Archbishop Tutu responded by saying that Malan and his fellow accused should have been brought to the TRC in the first place. Now I have a great problem with that. The TRC was not constituted as a court and it did not respect or observe proper procedure and yet Tutu wanted to arrogate to himself a position above the courts. The same crazy sort of reasoning leads the TRC to make the assertion that the IFP and I personally are guilty of gross human rights violations. They actually say that we killed more people than the ANC. The opposite is true: far more IFP people were killed.

The South African Institute of Race Relations gives a figure of 20 500 deaths in KwaZulu-Natal between 1984 and 1994. Of these, the TRC says that 4 500 were killed by the IFP around 2 300 by the police and 1 300 by the ANC but that leaves between 12 000 and 12 500 deaths unexplained.
Exactly. Who is supposed to have killed all those people? They were certainly not killed by the IFP.

It seems odd that the TRC in its attack upon you has gone further than many people in the ANC would now like. Indeed, Dumisane Makhaye, the ANC spokesman in KwaZulu-Natal, criticised the TRC Report for trying to damage ANC/IFP relations.
I think you have to go back to the attempt on my life at Robert Sobukwe’s funeral at Graaff-Reinet in 1978. When I was asked about that afterwards by the Sunday Express I dismissed it as the action of a bunch of thugs. But Archbishop Tutu, who was also at the funeral, when asked about it said no this was not a bunch thugs, this was “a new breed of young people with iron in their soul”.

So you blame Tutu for the TRC’s attack on you?
Well he was the TRC chairman and he was the one who seemed to arrogate to himself a position even above the judicial process.

If the TRC was going to condemn you surely it should have summoned you to cross-examine you?
I did appear before the TRC and made a long submission to them in September 1996. When I heard all these allegations being made against me at the TRC I did make speeches in reply where I pointed out the falsity of such charges but, of course, they ignored all that.

There seems to be a radical fringe within the ANC, mainly whites, who want to maintain the pursuit of you. This is a pattern one has seen before in African politics where rapprochement takes place between black parties and only white radicals remain outside the new consensus.
Yes, the pattern is perfectly visible. There are people like Howard Varney who attacked me for years and years while I was chief minister of KwaZulu and who maintains his vendetta even now. Or take someone like Mike Sutcliffe. I am told that he even threatened to resign from the ANC if they made peace with me. Of course, now that he has been made the chairman of the Demarcation Board we are told that he is really an independent figure so he won’t have to resign from anything.

But, of course, there is a pattern here. Those who wish to maintain the attacks on me are usually linked to the SACP and Cosatu. They see my co-operation with the ANC as a threat to their own position. This in turn links to the fact that the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal has always been more strongly SACP than almost anywhere else in the country. These attacks on me by the TRC and others are very much in the interests of that group.

I’ll give you another example. When Mr Mbeki and I met privately last November at King’s House to set up that committee to improve relations between our parties, Jacob Zuma told us, “By the way the Mail & Guardian phoned me up wanting to know all about this. Of course, I wouldn’t talk to them”. Then the Mail & Guardian immediately ran a story claiming there was going to be an ANC/IFP coalition deal. Without any doubt the idea was to sabotage the agreement between us: it was highly sensitive and confidential and there were many within both organisations who did not want such a development and who were bound to be upset by such a report.

Would the SACP and Cosatu be right to fear deal between you and the ANC?
Absolutely, I have made my opposition to them very plain indeed and I have continued to attack their policies. They have made it clear that they don’t like the fact that I now have a good relationship with the ANC leaders and that I am supporting the policy of Gear which they attack so bitterly.

The ANC seems to now be treating the UDM exactly as it used to treat the IFP, refusing even to meet or talk with its leaders.
Yes, it is exactly the same and I deplore it. It is disgraceful that they should not meet with the UDM. There can never be peace in KwaZulu-Natal unless they do. In the case of the IFP they even used to say that they would rather talk to de Klerk because after all we were just a surrogate of his. It is the same with the UDM. They accused Sifiso Nkabinde of being a spy for the apartheid regime so that he too was just a surrogate. And then they over-use this explanation of a Third Force. It is often just a way of not really dealing with the problem properly. The reason they don’t want to meet with the UDM is that they don’t want to legitimate the notion that you can break away from the ANC and take some of its following with you, which is what Holomisa and Nkabinde have done.

There has been a great deal of media speculation about the granting of casino licenses in KwaZulu-Natal with the suggestion that this is connected to contributions to IFP funds by people such as John Aspinall.
The issue of the Clairwood Casino bid which involves my Mr John Aspinall and Messrs Stock and Stock has its papers available and open for examination by anyone. Mr Aspinall is my friend and not because, as alleged by the media, he contributes to IFP funds.
One must know Mr Aspinall’s background to understand his deep interest in the Zulu people. From an early age he admired the Zulu people after reading Sir Rider Haggard’s books. He is a friend of the Zulu people rather than of the IFP. Some years ago he and some of his friends helped to pay for the transport of the Zulu people who accompanied the King to the FNB stadium imbizo, and to Pretoria and Durban to meet President de Klerk. There is not a cent that has been promised to the IFP if the Clairwood Casino succeeds. Mr Aspinall undertook to help the KwaZulu Monuments Council (Amafa Akwazulu) to repurchase land in the Valley of the Kings. It is the cradle of the Zulu nation. I was not even involved in such negotiations.

There are however more imortant past and present IFP personalities who have companies that are bidding for casinos. They include people such as Dr Oscar Dhlomo, Dr Ziba Jiyane and Mr Musa Myeni. There are other companies as well.

There is speculation that Ben Ngubane has been replaced as premier because of his opposition to the granting of these licenses and that Peter Miller, the KwaZulu-Natal MEC for finance, could be dismissed for the same reason.
That is all ridiculous. As our joint press statement of January 31 made clear Ben Ngubane was replaced for quite other reasons. As for Mr Miller, I have not even heard that his situation is under threat.

Isn’t the replacement of Ben Ngubane a disaster? He is a very popular premier.
I really don’t want to talk about that. It is possible to say things about some people that could be regarded as defamatory. I would not want to do that.

Two phrases much in the mouth of Thabo Mbeki are “transformation” and “the African renaissance” but we don’t hear those words much from you.
To me “transformation” means building a new South Africa and producing new South Africans. These things cannot happen overnight and the efforts to produce new South Africans are only at a very early stage and will take time for it to become visible at all. Only then will we be able to speak of transformation with some real meaning.

As far as the “African Renaissance” is concerned, I think most Africans in Africa do dream of an African Renaissance particularly after African freedom has proved to be so meanignless for most of the African countries. The political liberation of South Africa in 1994 gave new hope to many African countries that South Africa holds the key on whether this Renaissance takes place or not. Most African countries are relying on South Africa with its greater economic strength to help them out of the cesspit of abject poverty in which the majority of people in Africa are trapped. It is this sense that I support an African Renaissance.

But does not African nationalism go through a cycle of euphoria and ideology that tends to end in corruption and authoritarianism as we are seeing in Zimbabwe? Perhaps the real African renaissance only comes when you have to pick up the pieces after that.
That is perfectly true. That is what President Museveni is doing in Uganda, picking up the pieces after a disaster. Certainly, that is the real African renaissance. I admire President Museveni and have had serious talks with him.

But you too are part of a government that has not had signal success. After four and half years unemployment is up, many services have deteriorated, the currency has halved in value and economic growth is almost non-existent. Why has this happened? The situation is absolutely terrible. Things have deteriorated a great deal. For example, hospitals are clearly going down. Things cannot go on like this. If they do there will be a revolution. There are several reasons for the situation. One is too much centralisation. Crime inhibits economic growth and we cannot deal with crime properly until we devolve police powers to the provinces.

Secondly, during the struggle the ANC proclaimed its intention of making the country ungovernable. As I pointed out at the time if you make something ungovernable, it is ungovernable for you as well as for your opponents. Then there was the deliberate destruction of the culture of learning in the schools. I tried to warn against these things that all contribute to our present discontents. The government is very conscious of the situation and I think Thabo Mbeki was quite right when he criticised people in the ANC and IFP and other parties who are only there to feather their own nests rather than to help the country. For corruption too is part of the problem.

Not long ago you drew attention to the sharp decline in life expectancy caused by Aids and warned that many of the government’s social goals would have to be put on the backburner.
It is no longer a question of achieving new objectives but one of whether we can hang on to what we have. I have not given up hope but I am extremely pessimistic. It’s not just the economy but Aids too — a problem which President Museveni has dealt with so well. People hardly seem to realise that already at weekends there are many many funerals of people who have died of Aids, especially in KwaZulu-Natal. It is getting worse and if you go to those funerals you find that they are mainly for young people.

How is the country going to break out of this?
Well, I am very impressed by Deputy President Mbeki and I think that after the election we could make real progress. He is a man who really listens and is very aware of it all. And you have to realise that he has really been running this country for the past four years. President Mandela himself said that he was only really a de jure president and that Thabo was de facto president.

You are 70. Do you want to go on?
In one sense, it would be nice to retire, put one’s feet up and go fishing. But how can one do that if one is still needed and if the situation is so desperate? While people think I have a contribution to make, I must make it. I have no choice but to go on. After all, you have to remember I am only 70 — I am still younger than President Mandela was when he was still in jail, let alone when he became president.