Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Inkosi, Prime Minister and Prince: 27 August 1928 – 9 September 2023
On Saturday morning, September 9, communities here at the southern tip of Africa were greeted with the news that Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Inkosi of the Buthelezi clan and prime minister of the Zulu king and nation, had exchanged the temporal for the eternal in the early hours of the morning. .
With the death of King Zwelithini KaBhekuzulu, a delegation from AfriForum went to express condolences to the Zulu royal family. On that day, the other male members of the royal family went to collect the remains of King Zwelithini, so our delegation was received by Prince Buthelezi and the female members of the royal family, including Princess Alice KaSolomon the daughter of King Zwelithini’s grandfather King Solomon KaDinuzulu. Because the king was a devoted and outspoken Christian, we read from Isaiah 55: 8-12 as a message of consolation and also prayed for the family.
After our sermon was over, Prince Buthelezi thanked us for our message. He continued by telling about the good relations and cooperation that existed between the Zulus and the Afrikaners in the time of his grandfather’s grandfather, King Mpande KaSenzangakhona and also in the time of his grandfather, King Dinuzulu KaCetshwayo. By then, Prince Buthelezi was already old, but I will never forget how he shed a few years when he first started talking.
Once, during a conversation with the prince, he told that during the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he apologized on behalf of the Zulus for the murder of the Retief company at the behest of King Dingane. This struck me deeply – after all, we as Afrikaners do not expect the current generation to apologize for the actions of a generation that has long since passed away. But so committed was Prince Buthelezi to real reconciliation and peaceful coexistence.
Prince Buthelezi served as prime minister for three Zulu kings. He was initially appointed by King Bhekuzulu KaSolomon, who, like the prince, was a grandson of King Dinuzulu. After that he also served as the prime minister of King Zwelithini KaBhekuzulu and in his last years also the current monarch, King Misuzulu KaZwelithini. In this respect, he is also following in the footsteps of his Buthelezi grandfather, Mnyamana, who was the prime minister of King Cetshwayo KaMpande.
To begin to understand the enrichment of a Buthelezi prime minister to a Zulu king, one must go back in history, to the time when Inkosi Dingiswayo of the Mtetwa was the strongest tribal king among the Nguni tribes of the area we known today as KwaZulu-Natal. King Dingiswayo was uniting Nguni tribes under his leadership with minimum violence, in something like a confederation, since he still recognized the tribal kings as the leaders of tribes and let them act after they were conquered or peacefully convinced to to join his confederation – Inkosi Dingiswayo was a man of peace and preferred the latter approach.
The Buthelezi, then under the leadership of Inkosi Pungashe, were not convinced by negotiation to submit to Inkosi Dingiswayo and therefore Inkosi Dingiswayo confronted them. On that day, the later king Shaka was a commander over 50 in the Izecwe-regiment and according to tradition it was the first time King Shaka threw his new javelin, Ixwa, used and also fought barefoot. The Buthelezi were defeated and Inkosi Pungashe submitted to Inkosi Dingiswayo.
What is not widely known today is that the Zulu and Buthelezi tribes were earth enemies. Kings Shaka, Dingane and Mpande’s father, SenZangakhona KaJama, was captured and humiliated several times by Inkosi Pungashe, so there was an old feud between the tribes. One of the first tribes that King Shaka forcibly subdued when he became Inkosi of the Zulu tribe was precisely the Buthelezi. After the shocking and unexpected victory of the Zulu tribe over the Buthelezi (due to King Shaka’s new war tactics and weapons), Inkosi Pungashe fled and disappeared from the scene.
Prince Buthelezi’s prime ministership (in imitation of his ancestors) was therefore living proof that deep-rooted and sustainable reconciliation is possible, and that old hatchets can really be buried. (Here we are not talking about the hollow “reconciliation” of the ruling elite that makes one group permanently villains and another group victims.) Feuds from even centuries ago still hinder cooperation and peaceful coexistence between and within cultural communities here at the southern tip of Africa – so there really is wisdom to be found here.
Prince Buthelezi’s political contribution is better known. At the time, he opposed sanctions because he was of the opinion that they would be detrimental to communities in the country. He refused to use violence to end the previous order, because he considered it unchristian. In the early 1990s, following other royal leaders in 1910, he lobbied for a more federal distribution – in that respect he participated in discussions with Afrikaners and the Tswana speakers.
There are those who claim that Prince Buthelezi stood in the way of changing the order in South Africa and that he tried to slow down the process. But there are those of us who are community people ourselves who understand that Prince Buthelezi, like a true leader, acted in the interest of his cultural community to negotiate a better order. He did everything in his power to ensure that his king, whom he served faithfully, could take his rightful place. How could he participate in negotiations as prime minister while excluding the king? However, one of his most important legacies is that he succeeded in protecting the land of the Zulu kingdom, and therefore the Zulus as a cultural community itself, through the establishment of the Ingonyama Trust.
In later years, the ANC wanted to remove a statue of Louis Botha in Durban; Prince Buthelezi reminded the people that King Dinuzulu was released from prison at Newcastle by Botha with Union and was allowed to settle on a farm in the Middelburg area (in Mpumalanga). Instead, a statue of King Dinuzulu was erected next to that of Louis Botha. For the same reason, Prince Buthelezi was opposed to the name change of General Louis Botha Avenue in Pretoria.
When one sits in Prince Buthelezi’s private living room at his home, KwaPhindangene, and one looks at everything that has been collected there over a period of almost 100 years, one realizes: this was a man who did not seek the comfort of the sidelines didn’t, this man was a leader, this man was a family man and a man of the people – this man was a Christian.
The frieze in the hall of heroes of the Voortrekker Monument bears silent witness to Afrikaners’ sweat, tears and blood in our pursuit of self-realisation. One’s eyes move from the famous freezing of King Dingane and Piet Retief at the negotiation table, then the murder of the Retief company, the massacre at Bloukrans and Moordspruit, the heroic deeds of the children Dirkie Uys and Marthinus Oosthuizen. The women who encourage the men, the arrival of Andries Pretorius, the taking of the Vow and then the Battle of Blood River – and it doesn’t stop there. The Geloftekerk is built, the women keep home and hearth together as always when the men are away, and then – King Mpande and Andries Pretorius who stand side by side as allies.
Our ancestors did not hesitate to acknowledge allies who assisted us on our difficult journey to freedom – this is immortalized in the marble at our monument that is so close to our hearts.
That is why it is fitting that a memorial service is held today at the Voortrekker Monument site for Inkosi, prime minister and prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, a respected friend of the Afrikaners and also a fellow believer – while the image of his grandfather’s grandfather next to Andries Pretorius inside the monument bears silent testimony that the roots of this friendship go back generations.