In the past week, several Afrikaners have questioned the Voortrekker Monument’s decision to hold a memorial service for Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi in the Kruger Gallery. The service was originally to take place in the Cenotaph Hall.
However, experts point out that the deceased former IVP leader and traditional prime minister of the Zulu kingdom had a good relationship with Afrikaners and serves as a reconciliation figure for Afrikaners’ complex history with the Zulus.
After Buthelezi passed away last weekend at the age of 95, the Voortrekker Monument announced that it would hold a memorial service for the prince on the same day that his state funeral takes place in Ulundi, KwaZulu-Natal.
Danie Langner, head of the Federation for Afrikaans Cultural Associations (FAK), which manages the Voortrekker Monument, explained that this decision was taken unanimously by the board “against the specific historical background of Afrikaner and Zulu interweaving”.
There are no ulterior motives, explains Langner.
“The decision was also taken in the spirit of the Vow, to be light and testimony.”
After the Battle of Blood River, the Voortrekker leader Andries Pretorius made peace with the Zulus, who is also depicted in a frieze panel in the monument.
“Since then there has never been another war between Afrikaners and Zulus.”
Prince Buthelezi also sent a message to the Voortrekker Monument last year with the unveiling of Shawu, the elephant statue by sculptor Danie de Jager in the Trektuinroute, in which he emphasized faith, identity and the relationship with Afrikaners.
“He is the only Zulu who has apologized over the years for the murders of (Piet) Retief and (the murders committed) at Bloukrans.”
According to Langner, the Zulus are one of the few peoples who proudly protect their language, traditions and history, which gives them “important points of contact with Afrikaners”.
Always close to Afrikaners
Dr. Pieter Mulder, former FF Plus leader and cabinet minister, also believes Buthelezi’s views on his own Zulu culture have always placed him close to Afrikaners.
“Buthelezi saw himself as a Christian, Zulu, South African and global citizen at the same time.”
Mulder also describes him as a “Victorian jintelman”. “The old-school values of courtesy and respect were very important to him.”
Because culture was also so important to Buthelezi, throughout his political career the prince viewed federalism as a solution to South Africa’s political problems.
For this, over the years, he has been sharply criticized from ANC ranks and accused of wanting to keep ethnicity alive, says Mulder.
“Identity is the struggle that the ANC has never been able to solve.”
In a 2006Sunday Timesarticle, Buthelezi defended the importance of his Zulu culture during apartheid and post-1994:
“Our ethnicity was not invented by apartheid, only used by it. I did not create being Zulu. Being Zulu created me and it will live on long after I’m gone.”
This is something that Afrikaners can now also relate to in a dispensation where our culture is often used as a cloak against us, Mulder believes.
Mulder says this acceptance of multiple identities enabled Buthelezi to help overcome South Africa’s challenges around culture.
“One day he could wear his traditional Zulu clothes at the king’s cane dance and the next day a suit of clothes in parliament. For him it was not strange to be both.”
According to Mulder, Buthelezi definitely tried to follow his grandfather, King Dinuzulu’s example as a reconciliation figure between Afrikaners and Zulus.
King Dinuzulu had a good relationship with Louis Botha, leader of the ZAR. After the English threw Dinuzulu into prison in 1906, Botha released him the moment he became Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa in 1910.
“Buthelezi has continuously acknowledged Afrikaner history – the good and the bad.”
At the time, he apologized to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of his own accord for what Dingaan had done to Piet Retief, says Mulder.
“He spontaneously repeated it on several occasions afterwards.”