By Zukile Majova
If you had told me 20 years ago that the IFP would reform itself into a formidable opposition party with a growing appeal beyond the uThukela River, I would not have agreed with you.
Twenty years ago — with Thabo Mbeki as president — I covered a presidential imbizo at Osuthu Village in Nongoma where IFP regiments attacked hundreds of people inside the ANC marquee where the president and ministers were seated.
Armed with spears and other traditional weapons, the ibutho stormed past a wall of local police from Nongoma and Ulundi.
Knowing the IFP at the time, it was general knowledge that the police would simply make way for them without firing a single shot.
All morning that day, they tormented the crowd, putting the fear of hell into any villager who had the gall to attend an imbizo organised by an ANC president in the heartland of the IFP.
The village was home to the Osuthu Royal Palace, the main home of the late King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu.
For the IFP faithful, the Zulu king and royal family are part and parcel of the identity of the party as defenders of Zulu customs and traditions.
Fast forward to 2024, when you have an IFP that is reforming itself and getting votes in other provinces and from other cultures.
Most importantly, the party has remained intact despite the death of its founder, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, last year.
Buthelezi’s role as traditional prime minister to the Zulu nation served the IFP well, especially in the 2021 municipal elections.
A resurgent IFP emerged from those polls having secured most municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal, and beat the ANC in by-elections in urban areas like Durban, Pietermaritzburg and Richards Bay.
Without bloodshed, the party successfully managed a leadership transition from Buthelezi to the current president, Velenkosini Hlabisa.
Hlabisa also held the unity of the party together when some IFP members wanted him to be the party’s premier candidate for KZN, while another group preferred King Cetshwayo District Mayor Thami Ntuli.
The two leaders resolved the matter with Hlabisa deployed to Cape Town for his first stint in the National Assembly.
As chairperson of the SA Local Government Association, Ntuli has been praised for fighting against a recent spate of killings of municipal councillors in the province.
King Misuzulu has also appointed Thulasizwe Buthelezi, the IFP mayor of the Zululand district, as the new traditional prime minister for the Zulu nation.
It’s a powerful role that once again affirms the centrality of the IFP in traditional leadership and the governance of the Zulu kingdom.
The new IFP is earning respect in Parliament and is a key member of the Multi-Party Charter for South Africa — a coalition made up of 11 opposition parties.
Pictured above: New leaders are leading a resurgent IFP into the 2024 elections.