The ANC led government’s decision to offer late IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi is a betrayal of the memory of the martyrs and freedom fighters whose struggles elevated it to power, writes political commentator Mametlwe Sebei. Photo: GCIS
BY MAMETLWE SEBEI
THE ANC-led government’s decision to offer late IFP leader Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi is a betrayal of the memory of the martyrs and freedom fighters whose struggles elevated it to power writes Mametlwe Sebei
Since the passing of Mangosuthu Buthelezi a controversy has opened in the public discourse, which has polarised society like no other death in recent times.
In recent times we have had the passing of a generation of public figures that entered the political scene in the 1940s and many of whom went to shape the political landscape of the country, in its transition from the Apartheid system to the post-1994 democratic dispensation.
These include Nelson Mandela, and FW De Klerk. Whereas many were clear that Nelson Mandela was a heroic figure of the national liberation struggle, and De Klerk was the last president of the vile system of Apartheid.
In the case of Mangosuthu Buthelezi that debate has been extremely polarised, and confused across the spectrum.
The decision by president Cyril Ramaphosa to offer a special provincial funeral for Buthelezi and false testimonials at his funeral yesterday, which prompted this piece, will not settle the matter.
The decision has only deepened the pain and sense of betrayal for those who rightfully choose to remember who Gatsha Buthelezi truly was, in his life and times. Above all, the false testaments, grieving and opportunism of the political elite has forced many, myself included, to intensify the fight for memory.
Whilst there is no point in rejoicing at the grief of his family, we have an absolute duty to say what it is for the sake of the class still in struggle.
The working class and its youth are still fighting today because they were robbed of unqualified victory not only against Apartheid regime, which they already rendered ungovernable.
Gatsha’s bloody mercenaries ensured that the workers and young people accepted the end of Apartheid at all cost, including preservation of monopoly capitalism that imposed unbearable hardships they still endure today.
The ANC led government denounces its martyrs and victims of the national liberation struggle.
For the black majority, the ANC-led government to give this honour to Buthelezi, it is not only betraying the memory of the martyrs and freedom fighters whose struggles elevated it to power.
This decision, like all previous acts of whitewashing former Apartheid leaders, and collaborators, rewrites history.
In effect, this new history slanders and politically denounces hundreds of thousands of black workers and young people who sacrificed their lives, limbs and livelihoods fighting Gatsha, his murderous fascist regiments and authoritarian Bantustan regime that was part of the vile system of Apartheid he defended.
Not that honour by this pro-Imperialist, neoliberal ANC government means much to principled revolutionaries still in the trenches today. Still it elevates none other than the types of Gatsha Buthelezi, it desperately tries to rescue such from the bin of historic shame.
However, to defend the honour and memory of many freedom fighters, who resisted and fought his murderous gangs, we should tirelessly protest this underserved ‘honour’ and other treacherous attempts to sanitise his bloody, counter-revolutionary legacy, and many others like him.
If Gatsha was a ‘statesman’, ‘peacemaker’ and ‘opposed to Apartheid’, what were those who died in his hands?
Beside the memory of those who died and survived, as well as the pain of their families and communities, the fundamental issues over which the fate of this country was fought, Gatsha and his Inkatha impis terrorised activists and working class people, remain with us.
Controversy in public discourse: A myth of mixed legacy.
The nature of public discourse over Gatsha’s legacy is incurably flawed, except for a few voices. The controversy over his legacy can be reduced down to two streams of deceptions: evasive diversion, and historic revisionism.
The most sophisticated whitewash of Gatsha has been those who, in a desperate search for misguided ‘balance’, have been trying hard to misdirect us to his many other sides, to prove the myth of his ‘complex and mixed’ legacy.
In this narrative, he was also a father figure, a defender of Zulu culture, etc, for which he must also be venerated.
But all of these are disingenuous attempts to misdirect the public discourse by those who fully know they have no leg to stand on. There are many father figures who do great by their families; live and die honorably without news coverage.
Public media doesn’t publish their deeds for the same reason we don’t praise birds for flying. Cultural activists have their spaces in the public discourse and media. It is not parliament and institutions of political leadership. Hendrik Verwoed was also a family man, psychologist by profession and considered himself, a defender of Afrikaner culture.
Does this make his legacy ‘more complex or mixed’? Except for the lunatic fringe of rightwing extremists, nobody will dare to suggest it does.
Gatsha Buthelezi was essentially a political figure, and for this, he was known during his life, and debated in his death. Anything else is a diversion. Opportunistic historical revisionism. Politicians, who want to reach out to the reactionary, tribalist electoral base he built and consolidated over six decades, are hard at work rewriting his political history also. Unfortunately, these include former liberation movements which have descended so low they want to cast an image of this Apartheid collaborator, as a fellow freedom fighter.
It is not just the ANC which clearly hope to swallow IFP, as it did with the Nationalist Party. PAC reminds us that Gatsha Buthelezi had cordial relations with Robert Sobukwe, and together, they belong to that whole generation of ANC youth leagurers, including Mothopeng, Mandela and Tambo, who fought to transform the ANC into a militant nationalist movement.
They went to university, and joined ANC, together. So what? What else do they have in common? Sobukwe was arrested and isolated by Apartheid regime. Buthelezi roamed freely. He was embraced by the regime, authorized and armed by the regime, to arrest those that opposed it and the Bantustan regime he presided over. Mussolini in his youth belonged to the socialist movement. EFF says he was a man of peace. By this logic, EFF, like the ANC, accuses those who died in his bloody hands of provoking him. None of these surprises.
History is a stream of development in which the past always dwells in the present. The seismic shifts in positions of many parties and figures on Gatsha Buthelezi are instructive on the qualitative changes in the political character of these erstwhile liberation movements. But all of these must be exposed for it is, a revisionary, and desperate capitulation to his reactionary base.
Despite his youthful activism, and indeed, a common political and social pedigree, Gatsha Buthelezi is separated from the pantheon of the nationalist liberation movements, by an impassable river of blood. It is the stream curved by tidal flow of blood shed in a bitter and irreconcilable struggle between the forces of revolution and counter-revolution over three decades.
There is no question where Gatsha stood in this struggle. Just a glimpse on who he killed, who were his friends and those who trained, and armed his impis, settle any reasonable doubt. A bloody whip of counterrevolution Mangosuthu Buthelezi opposed Apartheid the same way Hitler raved against ‘capitalism’, and his Inkatha Freedom Party, fought for freedom, just as National Socialists did for ‘socialism’.
Just as Hitler used his fascist brown shirts to smash real workers organisations actively challenging the power of the capitalists, and slaughtered genuine socialists; from the 1973 Durban strikes, independent black trade unions, student uprisings, township revolts, to the armed struggle, sanctions and boycotts, Gatsha actively opposed every single, genuine movement challenging the Apartheid regime, and its capitalist system.
He directed his impis against the black workers and youth fighting for freedom and not once against the institutions of the white minority rule. Buthelezi inflicted immeasurable pain and suffering just as we approached a “peaceful transition”. The impis he directed killed thousands of anti-apartheid activists and ordinary black working class people, during Boipatong, Shobashobane, Swanieville, Kwa-Makhutha, Katlegong massacres, and in the killing fields of KwaZulu-Natal. They injured, brutalized and terrorised many more everywhere their impis could reach.
His own Bantustan government never tolerated unions and identified and killed class fighters such as Jabu Ndlovu, a leading shop steward in the heroic BTR strike in the 1980s. In the post-1994 period, he used his influence to consolidate Zulu royalty, and for this, the people of KZN are supposed to be grateful. The must also be grateful that he handed over their land to Ingonyama Trust that generate over R120 million a year in rental from Zulu people staying on their land.
In effect, he is being praised for subverting Zulu traditional authority, he used to support consolidation of Apartheid regime against the heroic masses of the Zulu people. He turned the seat of legendary Dingane, and Cetshwayo in the service of the colonialist minority they fought; he turned the people of fearless Bambatha, against the followers of Reverend Dube and Chief Luthuli. For this shameful role, the legacy of which is still alive in the entrenched tribalism, violence and political assassinations in KZN, we are supposed to honour and celebrate him.
The workers movement must draw the balance sheet. We are also told he shaped the transition. We are just not told exactly how he shaped the transition to majority rule he never accepted. Instead he fought to create a confederal South Africa of the Bantustans and white areas, a Verwoed idea, as a new dispensation. When the United States dropped its support for such a strategy he was left to fight alone against the future. Where attempts are made to justify his “support for the transition” it is pure fabrication.
The only truth here is that he shaped the transition, however, contrary to the way his apologists suggest in a frightful outbreak of violence against black people who looked to a better life. Inkatha’s bloody terror against anti-Apartheid activists immensely contributed in defending the system of racialized, neocolonial capitalism and imperialist monopoly over the economy.
By unleashing his murderous impis, Buthelezi, more than any other, forced the hands of the black working class youth to accept the compromises ANC leadership made. Thereby, Gatsha denied the working class and young people suffering from unemployment, poverty and lack of access to quality public services under neoliberal capitalism, the freedom they deserved. In their increasingly organised, emboldened and militant revolts in many black townships and rural areas, workplaces, and learning institutions, the workers and youth sharply posed the question of revolutionary overturn of Apartheid regime and a socialist future.
Proliferation of Self-Defence Units laid the basis for an outlines of an organised, disciplined and armed mass insurrection, Apartheid regime would have found far more difficult to check than exile-based, guerilla armies of the MK, APLA and AZANLA. The building of independently constituted power of working people would have ushered a far reaching, revolutionary transformation of economic and political structures of society, and not the caricature of freedom we have today, as an outcome the negotiated settlement.
From 1973, Apartheid regime faced a political challenge like no any other before it. The prospect of an organised black working class occupying decisive position in society and economy, presented a revolutionary challenge, Apartheid regime could no suppress through armed security forces alone. Being a bourgeois military-police state socially resting on the white minority it elevated into a privileged racial caste, Apartheid regime required an aide of the fifth column.
It needed a counter-revolutionary force that could infiltrate, divide and terrorise the working class in workplaces, communities, and every theatre of struggle. It needed well organized and armed black reaction. Buthelezi offered himself for this political service to the regime. Exploiting his ANC background, links with its theoretically misguided exiled leadership and Zulu royalty, and Zulu ethno-nationalism, he was able to forge a reactionary mass movement based on the politically backward layers of rural KZN and declassed elements of the urban poor alienated by degrading conditions of hostel life in townships.
He weaponized and set them against the political vanguard of the black working class, organised in independent black trade unions, and Community Civics. The pseudo union UWUSA which gathered company unions was launched to destroy COSATU by killing its best leaders.
UWUSA, and impis of Self-Protection Units were funded and trained by monopoly capital and Apartheid regime, as part of this strategy. By this criterion alone, his role in shaping transition should be judged very harshly. Any other consideration is a revisionary diversion, and political opportunism, and if not outright, justification for his crimes. Workers movement must fight for memory, to educate the masses.
The deafening silence of the workers movement on this assault on the historic memory of resistance is no solution either. If anything, it graphically highlights the serious weakening of the working-class movements. Working class leaders- trade union and community civics- are quiet and by so doing, abdicate responsibility to defend the memory of the heroic martyrs who laid the foundations of our mighty organisations with their tortured bodies.
The silence betrays those who died in the bloody denouements with this tribalist collaborator and his fascist mobs who terrorised workers and communities under Apartheid and during the transition. This comes as no surprise. The workers movement fail for the same reason they are quiet and unable to unequivocally condemn and defend workers and communities against the xenophobic fascist and neoliberal reaction, represented by Operation Dudula and ActionSA, Patriotic Alliance, etc, today.
It reflects the political timidity of its leadership in the face of the daily onslaught on working people, and growing political reaction that defines the current historical conjuncture. This state sponsored funeral heaps on division and despondency. The workers movement must overcome this if we are to turn the current tides of reaction to renewed confidence in our youth, unions and communities; in our power. We need a leadership that can call things as they are.
As Rosa Luxemburg says, it is revolutionary to say what is. There is a political duty to actively combat liesof the ruling class and its propagandists. They revise history to erase the memory of the working class, about our heroic deeds, our fallen heroes and fearful odds we had to confront to throw off the yoke of the capitalist white minority rule.
They want the labour of the working class without the confidence in the immense power of its collective strength, capacity to struggle and change the course of history. The fight for our memory is not just about the truths of the past. It is about the living forces and struggles today. As we face new upheavals in society not of our making, the threat of counterrevolution stalks us today, as it did in the past. Reaction today may use nationality, instead of tribalism, but the essence of the political and class strategy remains. It attacks the poor in the name of the poor.
Its rhetoric is against status quo, whilst openly collaborating with the security forces maintaining it, and dines and wine with the establishment in day light, exactly as Gatsha did. As Gatsha gets laid, we choose to remember Jabu Ndlovu and our many unremembered fallen fighters. Like many of his generation, he fought for a different future, a future without load shedding, mass unemployment, impoverishment and despair; a future of solidarity and socialism. [email protected]
Mametlwe Sebei is a lecturer in the Department of Jurisprudence at the University of South Africa.