Prince Buthelezi has gone to join the ancestors

By Zukile Majova
Political Editor

LOVED AND LOST: Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi (27 August 1928 – 9 September 2023).

South Africans are split down the middle on how to mourn the death of Inkatha Freedom Party founder Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

Considering that Buthelezi was a central figure in the violence in KwaZulu-Natal of the 80s and 90s in which over 20,000 black people, mostly civilians, were killed, why then is the nation confused about the role of a dangerous warlord and last defender of apartheid?

Over the course of his life, Buthelezi did unspeakable things, including driving the so-called black-on-black violence that nearly undermined Nelson Mandela’s effort to negotiate a democratic breakthrough in the run up to 1994.

His role as the last obstacle to the freedom and the liberation of South Africa remains a dark stain on his legacy.

The New York Times captures his role when it refers to him as a “Zulu nationalist who positioned himself as Nelson Mandela’s most powerful Black rival in South Africa’s tortuous transformation from a white segregationist society to a multiracial democracy in the 1990s”.

Firstly, the African people have a profound respect for the dead, informed by the understanding that the dead live on as ancestors and represent the living in the next life.

It is therefore unAfrican to speak ill of the dead. 

Born in the northern KwaZulu-Natal hinterlands of Emahlabathini some 95 years ago, Buthelezi never lost the common touch of his rural upbringing.

Secondly, Buthelezi died as an old man, a beacon of wisdom and a repository of Zulu culture, values and traditions.

He wrote his name onto the hearts of many Zulus and Africans when he led the Zulu nation in mourning the death of Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu.

No king of the 15 million strong Zulu nation had died in 70 years and such cultural traditions and cleansing ceremonies during the mourning period were lost to many, including modern scholars.

The burial of the king in the early hours of the morning by a select group of men only confused the now highly modernised nation. 

It was Buthelezi who also led the nation in mourning the Regent Queen Mantfombi who died a month after her husband’s death.

Buthelezi also managed what could have been an ugly battle for succession in the Zulu Royal Family and single-handedly helped King Misuzulu to ascend the throne.

And lastly, in a deeply religious country, Buthelezi was a man of the cloth as attested to by The Most Reverend Dr Thabo Makgoba, Archbishop of Cape Town and Metropolitan of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.

“Apart from being a towering figure in the life of the Zulu nation and South Africa, Prince Buthelezi was a lay minister of our church who often represented his parish, the Diocese of Zululand and ACSA in church forums, and was a member of the Order of Simon of Cyrene. Funeral details will be announced later. May he rest in peace and rise in glory,” said Dr Makgoba.


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