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Buthelezi’s Legacy Consoles a Grieving Nation. 

On Sunday 16 September, 35 000 mourners converged in Ulundi, KwaZulu-Natal, to lay to rest one of South Africa’s greatest statesman. A flood of IFP regalia washed the streets in a tangible outpouring of love from the Party he founded. Within the stadium, alongside endless Zulu Regiments, was the evidence of a much wider admiration and respect.

Every living Head of State under a democratic South Africa had come to pay their respects, as had former President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, His Majesty the King of Zambia, the Royal Families of the Bapedi and Griqua nations, a delegation from the Royal Welsh Regiment whose ancestors fought at Isandlwana, an emissary of His Holiness the Dalia Lama of Tibet, leaders of opposition parties, and countless more whose paths had intersected at some point over the past nine decades with that of uMntwana waKwaPhindangene, HRH Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

This was no ordinary funeral, for he was no ordinary man.

Yet as grief swept through the Zulu Nation, the country and the world, one man lit a match – and ignited unthinkable pain.

The news of the Prince’s passing was still reaching his many friends around the world, when one Mondli Makhanya, Editor-in-Chief of City Press, committed the worst abuse of his platform as a newspaper editor, to launch a parallel narrative of repugnant lies. While headlines everywhere lamented a nation’s loss, Makhanya threw acid in a million wounds by declaring that the Prince had murdered 20,000 South Africans. He alone, Makhanya wrote, was responsible for the violence of our country’s past.

Beyond irrational at the most basic level, Makhanya’s vitriol did more to divide our nation than anything done since apartheid. He took the raw pain of grief and tried, with his poison pen, to turn it to hatred.

It was not journalism. It was a reckless attempt to stoke anger amongst communities. The ANC and IFP, who were parties to the conflict, have grown beyond counting bodies and casting blame. Every death is equally condemned, every act of violence deemed unacceptable. Who then does Makhanya speak for?

He is not acting on behalf of those bereaved, wounded or killed. If that were his motive, he would have spoken up not only for the victims of Boipatong, but for the 13 victims of KwaShange (1987), the 40 victims of Thokoza (08/09/1991), the children killed in the Mjika bombing (04/09/991), the 32 victims of Zonkizizwe (1992 – 1993), the 24 victims of Ensangwini (04/09/1992), the destitute of Hlanganani whose homes were burned (26/09/1992), the 23 killed in Crossroads (03/04/1992), the 19 gunned down outside Shell House (28/03/1994) – and countless other Inkatha leaders, members and supporters who were killed in the violent conflict.

Those atrocities are still kept hidden. In the words of the Goldstone Commission of Inquiry, “Unlike the so-called Boipatong massacre, these incidents have all but disappeared from the agenda and very little progress has been made in their investigation. This must leave innocent victims wondering whether there are different laws and different processes for groups affiliated to different political parties.”

There is another side to the selective stories Makhanya tells. And it is not just an IFP story. He offers no explanation for the murder of PAC and Azapo leaders and members, or for the murders of thousands of non-aligned black councillors, school principals and other persons of authority. The thousands of Black South Africans necklaced with car tyres doused in petrol, burnt to death for daring to go to work or school, or for daring to buy basic necessities during stayaways – to Makhanya they are all non-persons who deserved what they got.

There are thick files on every violent act perpetrated against innocent supporters of Inkatha, against those who were thought to support Inkatha, and even against those who simply ‘looked like a Zulu’. These are stories replete with atrocities, with a ghastly refrain: “necklaced”, “abducted”, “shot and killed”, “raped”, “hacked to death”, “boiled”, “stabbed”, “kidnapped”, “missing”, “burned”.

The stories are documented. They can be read by anyone seeking the truth. But there is nothing good to be gained from quoting from those files in response to Makhanya. It will merely fuel the fire he ignited and reopen a nation’s pain. It will feed the conflict he seeks to create.

In the end, there is only one quote that matters, because it puts everything else into perspective; and that is a quote of Makhanya’s own writing. This is no objective analyst, speaking up for the people. This is a man who gleefully participated in the violence against Inkatha members.

On 30 May 1991, in an article titled “My life as a comrade”, Makhanya wrote about his personal involvement in political violence as “a warrior in Natal’s bloody township wars”. He wrote –

                    “‘Umkhonto has arrived’ we shouted… Inkatha homes were burnt down and pupils with Inkatha sympathies were murdered in schools… I concentrated on burning shacks, while other comrades finished off wounded Inkatha warriors…

                    One man was literally chopped beyond recognition. His eyes were gouged out and his genitals cut off, while I looked on…

                    An elderly man, seeing the bloodthirsty mob running towards him, cried haplessly: ‘Forgive me my children, please forgive me.’ ‘Since when are we your children? Who among us looks like a klova?’ came the unsympathetic replies as bushknives and axes descended on the man, who was writhing on the ground with blood gushing from all over his body…

                    An image that shall always be engraved in my mind is the sight of a burning man. He was wounded when he was dragged from Richmond Farm down to the township, where he was set alight and rubble was piled on top of him. As the pungent smell emanated from this burning human being, the crowd began to move away. To me he was not a human being – he was an enemy who deserved what he got…

                    I genuinely felt that Inkatha needed to be fought and destroyed… I still hold those sentiments… I was angered when ANC branches held meetings with Inkatha… I enjoyed the excitement of battle: the sight of a sea of burning shacks and desperate men running for dear life. I loved it all.”

The peace meetings between the ANC and Inkatha, that Makhanya hated so much, were an initiative of Mr Archie Gumede and Prince Buthelezi. Like he did with Gumede of the UDF, Makhanya rebelled against anyone who refused to follow his dictates. It is known who funded the opposition to peace initiatives.

While Makhanya was sowing the mayhem that saw blood run in the streets of South Africa, the voice of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi was heard at rallies and meetings, on radio, in communities and at an endless procession of funerals, calling for peace. Stop the violence. Do not retaliate. Turn the other cheek. Ours is the path of non-violent resistance, laid at the foundation of the liberation movement.

Why, like a dog returning to its own vomit, does Makhanya reopen our people’s wounds again and again?

His actions in the wake of Prince Buthelezi’s passing have been antithetical to all that we stand for as a nation. He has poked at our bleeding hearts, to destroy social cohesion. We are left confounded by such unspeakable evil.

But Prince Buthelezi himself, who endured the attacks of Makhanya for many years, taught us to look at the psychology behind it. He said, “Mr Makhanya clearly has his reasons for wishing to portray me as the monster he needs me to be. For if I am not that monster, he will be forced to question his own acts of violence and brutality.”

Prince Buthelezi was right. And he was also right in asking Makhanya to stop, for the sake of all who lost so much to the conflicts of our country’s past. “I cannot be the scapegoat for his troubled conscience,” Prince Buthelezi said.

If he has a scrap of humanity left, Makhanya should apologise and quietly retreat. There are other ways of confronting your demons, without dragging a nation back into hell.

In this period of mourning, which should be afforded to every human being, it pains us to have to respond to this poison. But we must, for the sake of quenching the fire that Makhanya nurtures.

Prince Buthelezi taught us the urgency of reconciliation. His foremost priority was to heal the wounds of the past so that we could build the future together. That legacy will transcend the irrational voices of the present and will nourish us long after they are forgotten. For, as uMntwana’s life has taught us, the truth always triumphs.