South Africa’s Chief Buthelezi, 95, dies

SOUTH AFRICA: Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who has died aged 95, was a towering figure in South African politics, hailed as an “outstanding leader” by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

During apartheid, he was the chief minister of the KwaZulu Bantustan: a semi-independent territory allocated to the Zulu people by the country’s white supremacist government.

His administration was widely seen as a puppet regime: dependent on the South African state for power, intolerant of political opposition and dominated by Inkatha – the party he founded in 1975.

He found common cause with the African National Congress (ANC) in the struggle against apartheid and campaigned for the release of Nelson Mandela.

But he opposed the ANC’s stance on armed action and international sanctions, arguing that they harmed black South Africans.

During the transition to multi-party democracy, Buthelezi feared the erosion of his power. He demanded a more federal system of government, with guarantees that the status of traditional Zulu leaders would be respected.

The ANC disagreed, and as many as 12,000 died in violent clashes between Inkatha and Nelson Mandela’s supporters in the early 1990s, which are widely believed to have been fuelled by the apartheid government.

Some feared the violence would lead to civil war, but Buthelezi eventually joined Mandela’s government of national unity in 1994. Despite continuing tensions, he served as minister for home affairs for a decade.

His Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) struggled to expand its political reach beyond its power base among Zulus, the country’s largest ethnic group, but Buthelezi survived attempts to remove him from its leadership.

He finally stood down as IFP president in 2019: one of the great survivors of South African politics, and one of the few leaders of the old semi-autonomous homelands who adapted to the post-apartheid era.

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