Zulu prince, politician Mangosuthu Buthelezi dead at 95


Mangosuthu Buthelezi, a veteran South African politician, Zulu prince and controversial figure during the apartheid liberation struggle, has died aged 95.

The founder of the Inkatha Freedom Party served two terms as minister of home affairs in the post-apartheid government after burying the hatchet with the governing African National Congress party in 1994.

"I am deeply saddened to announce the passing of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the Prince of KwaPhindangene, Traditional Prime Minister to the Zulu Monarch and Nation, and the Founder and President Emeritus of the Inkatha Freedom Party," President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a statement on Saturday.

Buthelezi had a procedure for back pain in July and was later readmitted to hospital when the pain did not subside, according to local news website News24.

He founded the IFP in 1975 as a national cultural movement that became a political force in what is now KwaZulu-Natal province, and his party was embroiled in bloody conflicts with the ANC in the 1980s and 1990s.

His last-minute decision to participate in the first post-apartheid election in 1994 brought peace between the two parties.

The vote brought the ANC and its leader, the late Nelson Mandela, to power.

Buthelezi was a champion of his people and a prominent figure in the struggle against apartheid but his rivalry with the ANC led to fraught days and much bloodshed before South Africa was able to elect its first Black leader.

Critics dubbed Buthelezi a warlord but to his legion of followers in the rural Zulu heartland, he was a visionary.

For a decade before the end of white rule in 1994, Buthelezi - dressed in leopard skins and waving a short silver-topped stick - was a familiar sight at rallies while Inkatha was embroiled in conflict with the ANC.

About 20,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands forced from their homes as fighting raged in KwaZulu and in men's hostels built to house migrant labourers who toiled in the gold mines near Johannesburg.

The price for peace was Buthelezi's participation in a government of national unity as minister of home affairs - a ministry that became a byword for graft and incompetence under his watch.

"It's not pleasant, it's not easy for me" Buthelezi told Reuters in an interview in July 2003.

"Neither is it easy for President Thabo Mbeki (Mandela's successor) to have me and my colleagues in the cabinet.

"We did it to end a low-intensity civil war."

He was also cast in other roles away from politics.

Buthelezi played his own great-grandfather King Cetshwayo in the 1964 film Zulu, which immortalised the 1879 defence of Rorke's Drift by British troops against thousands of Zulu fighters but also spread the image of the Zulus beyond South Africa as a mighty warrior race.

Longevity marked his political career, and he only stepped down as the IFP's leader in 2019, aged 90.

Long-winded speeches - delivered in Zulu or English and often hours long - were a Buthelezi trademark.

Ashpenaz Nathan Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi was born on August 27, 1928, in Mahlabathini, the son and heir of Chief Matoli Buthelezi and Princess Constance Magago Dinuzulu.

Buthelezi grew up in a traditional household, spending his early years as a herd boy.

In 1953 he was installed as acting chief of the prominent Buthelezi clan and four years later was confirmed as chief.

He was married to Irene Mzila, a nurse, eschewing the polygamy followed by many Zulu chiefs.

They had three sons and four daughters.