I grew up in the ANC Youth League - Mangosuthu Buthelezi

IFP leader wonders whether ANC will acknowledge complex truths in its centenary celebrations

Dear friends and fellow South Africans,

In September of 1984, just days before I unveiled a tombstone to Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme, I spoke at a prayer meeting in Lamontville and lamented that "Apartheid survives on the borrowed time which Black disunity gives to it." My words echoed those of Dr Seme himself who, in 1911, warned Africans that, "We are one people. These divisions, these jealousies, are the cause of all our woes and of all our backwardness and ignorance today." The animosity and feuds between us, he said, "must be buried and forgotten."

Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme was the founder of the African National Native Congress. He was also my uncle.

I grew up in the ANC Youth League at the University of Fort Hare. I was taught by Professor ZK Mathews, I knew Dr John Langalibalele Dube, I was mentored by Inkosi Albert Luthuli, and I worked closely with Mr Oliver Tambo and Mr Nelson Mandela. My personal history cannot be extricated from the history of the liberation struggle, or from that of the African National Congress.

Yet I have no doubt that some among the younger generation will wonder at my presence when I attend the centennial celebrations of the ANC in Bloemfontein this Sunday. Learners are not taught about the multi-strategy approach of the liberation struggle. Even university students remain in the dark about steps toward our freedom that were taken outside of the ANC.

The younger generation is seldom told that Inkatha was founded on the original ideals of the ANC, from which we have never deviated. They are not told that Inkatha adopted the colours and symbols of the ANC because it was created to pick up where the ANC left off when it was banned and when its leaders went into exile. Few know that I quoted Mandela wherever I went, when doing so was against the law, or that I held more rallies under the banner "Free Mandela" than anyone else in South Africa.

These facts are seldom known because everything I did and all that I sacrificed was covered with the thick shroud of propaganda ? from the Nationalist Government because I opposed Apartheid and from the ANC because I refused to make Inkatha its launching pad for the armed struggle. I rejected Apartheid, I rejected violence and I rejected the destruction of the economy our people would inherit. For this, I endured more than a decade of unjust and unrelenting vilification.

Nevertheless, when President FW de Klerk announced the dismantling of Apartheid on 2 February 1990, he acknowledged that my rejection of nominal independence for KwaZulu had rendered the grand scheme of Apartheid untenable. When he announced his decision to release Mandela, he acknowledged that it was I who had helped him reach that decision.

After our liberation, Mr Cleopas Nsibande, a Gauteng leader of the ANC, set the record straight about my role in the liberation struggle, acknowledging that I had taken up my position in the erstwhile KwaZulu Government at the behest of Inkosi Luthuli and Mr Oliver Tambo. He said this in the presence of the President and leadership of the ANC, and they knew it to be the truth.

In 2008, from the National Assembly, President Thabo Mbeki said, "I have made it a point to listen carefully to everything (Buthelezi) says. Constantly I have marveled at his wisdom and his deep concern to sustain a value system that is critical to the survival of our democracy." I appreciated this tribute from President Mbeki, whom I first met at the meeting in 1979 that saw Inkatha and the ANC part political ways.

There have been many efforts at reconciliation between the ANC and the IFP, both before and since 1994. The fact that it is not yet achieved speaks of the very real obstacles to our unity. Last year, during the unveiling of a tombstone of His Majesty King Goodwill Zwelithini's mother, members of the ANC Women's League booed me in the presence of President Jacob Zuma.

Thus when I was invited by the National Chairperson of the ANC, the Hon. Ms Baleka Mbete, to attend the launch of the ANC's centennial celebrations in July last year, I felt it important to know what role I would be expected to play.

I accepted the invitation in recognition of the heritage I share with the ANC. But the National Chairperson of the IFP wrote to Ms Mbete requesting that she meet with a small delegation from the IFP to discuss the parameters of our involvement in the celebrations and how we could capture this unique opportunity to complete the process of reconciliation.

The IFP recognized within the centennial celebration an opportunity to consolidate and deepen democracy, and to re-set the moral and ideological compass of South Africa which has veered away from true North. To us, this celebration should be about more than the ANC. It should be about the ideals upon which the ANC was founded. It should be about finding our way back to the values of unity and cooperation.

I regret that the National Chairperson of the ANC did not manage to convene the meeting we requested in July 2011. We are now at the threshold of the centennial. Thus, as I prepare to attend Sunday's celebration at the Free State Stadium, I remain unsure of how the ANC perceives my role.

Will the ANC grasp this opportunity to express the complex truth of our past, or will it narrate a narrow tale as I watch from the sidelines of invited guests? Of one thing I am certain - this centennial will establish in many people's minds their perception of the ANC, whether that be the carefully crafted image of sole liberator or the bitter picture of a party bent on power.

I pray that we can make space between these extremes for South Africa to see a leadership that honestly embraces the spirit of all-inclusiveness that was born in January 1912.

Yours in the service of our nation,

Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP

Issued by the IFP, January 5 2012

Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email newsletter