Mangosuthu Buthelezi, a prominent Zulu nationalist leader who played a significant role in South Africa’s history, has passed away at the age of 95, as confirmed by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
President Ramaphosa expressed his condolences, saying, “I am deeply saddened to announce the passing of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi … Traditional Prime Minister to the Zulu Monarch and Nation, and the Founder and President Emeritus of the Inkatha Freedom Party.” He added that Prince Buthelezi passed away just two weeks after celebrating his 95th birthday.
Born on August 27, 1928, Buthelezi was a hereditary chief of the Zulu people, South Africa’s largest ethnic group. He served as the prime minister of KwaZulu, the Zulu homeland, and was the founder of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).
Initially, he was a member of the African National Congress (ANC) but later founded the IFP in 1975, originally as a Zulu cultural organization. This move led to a rivalry between the ANC and IFP, resulting in deadly territorial conflicts in black-majority townships during the 1980s and 1990s, with over 5,000 casualties.
Ramaphosa acknowledged Buthelezi’s role in South Africa’s political and cultural life, from the liberation struggle to the transition to democracy in 1994 and the subsequent democratic dispensation.
Mangosuthu Buthelezi was often seen wearing leopard skins, a Zulu tradition, during Inkatha parades in his strongholds in Johannesburg and Durban. He also played a mediating role in the succession disputes following the death of Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini in 2021. However, reports of a strained relationship between him and the new king surfaced, indicating a diminishing influence at the royal court.
In his later years, Buthelezi’s health deteriorated, and he struggled to walk. Despite his physical challenges, he continued to passionately defend the Zulu monarchy. His presence at the Zulu annual reed dance in September 2022, though diminished, reflected his unwavering commitment to his cultural heritage.