TODAY'S BLOG – Prince Buthelezi back on his throne, but ...

The Inkatha Freedom Party’s notable “resurgence” in KwaZulu-Natal in last week’s local elections may have come as a surprise to some, but the party’s earlier by-election successes and the chaos in the breakaway National Freedom Party should have given informed forecasters a fair indication of where things were headed.  

The IFP admittedly still remains a small and mostly stagnant force in the eThekwini Metro, with voter support sitting at just 4.2% (giving it 10 seats) – a fractional increase on its 2011 local elections results. (Most of the IFP’s eThekwini vote is garnered from hostel dwellers that have left the party’s traditional stronghold in the Zululand area to find work in the metro.) 

But, if last week’s results in the northern, rural areas of the province are a reflection of voting trends for the national/provincial elections in 2019, the IFP could be headed once again to become the official opposition in the province, a position it lost to the Democratic Alliance in the national/provincial elections of 2014.    

The IFP-controlled seven local municipalities before Wednesday’s election – all in the rural north of the province. It has managed to retain only five of those, but then won two new municipalities. Not all of these wins were outright victories; some will need coalitions with the DA, EFF, and smaller parties. (An ANC-IFP coalition is anathema to both parties.)

Importantly, the IFP now also takes control of the Zululand District Municipality through its proportional representation vote. ZDM was once the throne of the breakaway National Freedom Party, where its president Zanele Magwaza-Msibi served as mayor.

The NFP was disqualified from voting in 2016 because of a late registration fee payment, but the illness of Magwaza-Msibi (also the deputy science and technology minister) on whom the party largely depended for its identity and inspiration (she suffered a stroke and has been out of public life for two years), also dealt the NFP a severe blow.  

Not surprisingly, Magwaza-Msibi’s absence and the peculiar secrecy that surrounded her recovery and whereabouts contributed to the forming of factions and made it easier for NFP councillors to break from the nationally agreed upon NFP/ANC alliance set up in 2011.

While many NFP voters certainly appear to have heeded the IFP’s call to “come home” when casting this year’s vote, the IFP has been at pains to point-out that it has consistently been gaining NFP and ANC votes since the 2011 elections. Of course, all parties make such claims.

A day before the local government elections took place, IFP national executive committee member Albert Mncwango said that an announcement made by the NFP that it would throw its weight behind the ANC was “confusing”. (The announcement came after a claim by gthe DA that some leaders within the NFP and its youth movement would be voting for the DA in Nongoma and eDumbe. )

“This is nothing more than a last ditch attempt by the leadership of the NFP to secure positions post 3 August 2016, as all of them will be unemployed,” he said.

Before the 2011 LGE, the IFP controlled 32 municipalities in the province; after that election, it was left with only Ulundi and Msinga local municipalities.  Since then, by-elections saw it take control of Hlabisa and Nkandla, Big 5 False Bay, Ntambanana and Mthonjaneni.

After last week’s ballot, the IFP has majority control in the local municipalities of Nongoma (52.96%); Ulundi (73.13%); Mthonjaneni (56.58%); Msinga (66.14%); Nkandla (54%) and Hluhluwe/Somkele (52.25%).

In Nqutu, the only area that the NFP was able to contest because it paid its registration fee independently of the mother body, the IFP received 44.09% (15 seats) the ANC 42.02% (14 seats) and the NFP 5.96% (2 seats). Nqutu had previously been an ANC-NFP coalition rule. A coalition would again be needed here to secure control.

Another area that could see the IFP victorious is Abaqulusi, where the ANC has 21 seats, the IFP 19, the DA 3 and EFF 1. Similarly, Jozini is also within the IFP’s grasp, where it managed 46.18% (18 seats) to the ANC’s 47.88% (19 seats). The DA, EFF and an independent each won one seat.

In Mtubatuba, the IFP and ANC drew with 18 seats each. The DA has two seats while the EFF and AIC have one each.

The DA in general (the eThekwini Metro being the exception), has previously performed poorly in much of KZN, and it may relish the opportunity of getting close to power via a coalition to cast off the mantle of being an urban, white-serving party. In theory, the DA and IFP have fairly similar quasi-libertarian policies, which should ease the frustration of a coalition.

Whatever the outcome of coalition talks, the IFP will have to increase its professionalization drive in its councils.  While, as all parties do, it promises and claims clean governance, it failed dismally in Msinga and left Mtubatuba in a mess in 2010, having to expel its mayor – who subsequently joined the NFP - after he refused to step down.

Mtubatuba was claimed by an ANC-NFP coalition in the 2011 LGE and was placed under administration in 2012. The council was eventually dissolved in early 2015, leading to a by-election, which the ANC-NFP coalition again won.

An IFP-DA coalition in Mtubatuba could see a pause in the ping-ponging between parties with long and hostile histories.  

In 2009, Msinga was ranked one of the worst municipalities in the country, delivering basic services to only 18.6% of its households. This year it was again a poor performer according to advocacy group Good Governance Africa’s (GGA) Government Performance Index.

IFP treasurer and 2016 campaign leader Narend Singh, however, sees it differently.

“One really has to re-examine the credibility of GCA (sic) indices as Msinga, which has been mentioned, had a clean sweep of voters by the IFP. One then wonders why that would have happened if the majority of the citizens who voted IFP in 2016 were not satisfied with how the municipality was managed. Surely, we must respect the intelligence of the said voters for having reaffirmed their trust in the IFP,” he told Noseweek.

“We take note of shortcomings in the governance of IFP run municipalities and have provided in the IFP constitution for the establishment of a political oversight committee which would oversee and monitor how our councils and municipalities perform and take firm action against errant councillors and administrations.”

Besides governance issues, the IFP still has to tackle the elephant – nay, mammoth – in its political room, in the form of party president Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who turns 88 this month.

Although still respected as a solid statesman by many, it has been Buthelezi’s alleged reluctance to relinquish his role that has led to much of the infighting within the party.

“There is absolutely no truth that Prince Buthelezi is reluctant to relinquish power,” according to Singh.

“On the contrary, it is he who wanted to retire, but his thousands of followers, who by the way matter the most as we are a membership based party, requested him at a national conference to manage the transition to a newly elected leader. This he has done with aplomb and the tireless leadership of the prince into our 2016 campaign has certainly paid dividends for us as a party.”

As party founder and strongman, any attempts by underlings to assume power over Buthelezi have ended with bruising in the IFP’s structures and support and tongue-lashings for those attempting to usurp power. Buthelezi prizes loyalty.  

When Magwaza-Msibi tried to use internal processes to have herself elected leader when she was still IFP chairperson, she was “dismissed”, “abandoned the party”, “resigned” or “fled”, depending on whom one talks to. The manner of her departure now being irrelevant, she did take a good chunk of self-proclaimed “reformist” IFP members with her to form the NFP.

At the time, Buthelezi said: “Having suffered so much treachery and deceit, divisiveness and even violence, we are somehow relieved that our former national chairperson has finally come clean about her extraordinary personal ambitions. While it comes at a cost to the IFP, Magwaza-Msibi’s abandonment leaves us room to unify, refocus and regain our strength.”

In 2005, Ziba Jiyane, then IFP chairperson, left after a spat with Buthelezi over the direction of the party and Buthelezi’s perceived dictatorial style. He formed the National Democratic Convention (Nadeco) and through the now-defunct floor-crossing rule claimed four seats in the national assembly and four in the provincial legislature.

Nadeco also split, with Jiyane then forming the South African Democratic Congress (Sadeco) in 2008. Both parties had fizzled by 2009. In 2011, he joined the DA in the Richards Bay area. Nevertheless, the episode weakened the IFP.

Singh told Noseweek that the IFP had been the target of splintering, courtesy of the ANC, which led to “orchestrated breakaways”, as in the cases of Jiyane and Magwaza-Msibi.

“This, we believe was not based on any ideological differences, but on patronage. We saw [Magwaza-Msibi] being rewarded with a deputy minister position and a coalition being formed at local government level in KZN in 2011,” he said.

As for its 2016 campaign, Singh said its “ace” and “trump card” was Buthelezi. Campaign branding featured the leader’s face next to the words “Trust Us”.

 “[For the campaign we showed] Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi as a person 'you can trust', one not involved in corruption of any sort, a person of honesty and integrity. These qualities coupled with our party's record of governance and performance of our members in parliament and legislatures resonated well with the voters, young and old,” said Singh.

He said that final figures for the IFP’s election expenditure were not yet available, but that most of the resources came from the IFP itself.

“No particular community or business contributed significantly to our campaign. We have always believed in self-help and self reliance as pillars of the IFP philosophy,” he said.

That, however, is not quite true.  In Durban on 30 July, in a prepared speech for the 22nd AGM of the African Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce, which Singh read on behalf of Buthelezi, the Prince thanked the “Chinese and Taiwanese business community” for their “generous donations towards the IFP’s election campaign….”

“I must thank in particular the President of the ATCC, whose substantial donation enabled us to print manifestos and flyers, brand vehicles, and secure gazebos for election day,” he said in the speech. “We have also had donations in kind, such as scarves and blankets, and cash donations to assist with T-shirts, food for our party agents, and various other campaign necessities. This, I believe, is an expression of the friendship between the IFP and the Taiwanese community.”

While often mocked by the ANC in particular as being a backwater party, the IFP is obviously eager to become a national player, although its overall support today sits at only 4.25%.

Besides KZN, it also campaigned in Gauteng and Mpumulanga (where it has councillor representation elected by mostly migrant workers) Limpopo, North West, Free State and Eastern and Western Cape.

Through canvassing outside of KZN, Singh says the party believes it has “established some sort of base and leadership to work with in the run up to the 2019 national/provincial elections”.

“The positive results we have received in KZN will be accompanied by good governance of the municipalities we will control with a focus on corruption-free service delivery. We will use this as a springboard to regaining the province in 2019,” he told Noseweek.


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