Mangosuthu Buthelezi's tribute to Amichand Rajbansi

IFP president says late MF leader was a passionate leader but a gentleman (Dec 31)


South Africa has lost one of its political heavy weights with the passing away of the leader of the Minority Front. The passing of Mr Amichand Rajbansi is painful to bear, for his leadership is still needed and his passion will be hard to match. On behalf of the Inkatha Freedom Party, and my own family, I extend condolences to Mrs Shameen Thakur-Rajbansi and her family. I offer sympathy to Mr Rajbansi's children and to their mother, Ms Asha Devi. The depth of your loss cannot be measured.

I am humbled to stand in this Stadium and pay tribute to Mr Amichand Rajbansi. I knew him for four decades, both as a friend and a politician. As a young man, Mr Rajbansi was fond of soccer and boxing, and he met Inkosi Albert Luthuli whom he admired who was then involved in soccer in the Province at the time. He and I met in the same way, socially, through our shared interests. I recall visiting him at his home here in Chatsworth, and hosting him and his family in my own home.

Yet it was through our involvement in politics that I came to know him more closely. We served our country in its darkest hour, when the Apartheid regime imposed its policy of dividing race groups in South Africa. The regime tried to impose the homelands policy on our people, establishing independent states to make black South Africans foreigners in their own country. They created the Indian Council, to which Mr Rajbansi was elected in 1974, for the governance of Indians, and a separate entity for the governance of coloureds.

To further divide us, the Apartheid regime passed the Improper Interference Act which forbade people from different races from participating in the same political parties. The pressures and indignities of serving in that environment exposed the true character of leaders. While I had been fond of Mr Rajbansi when we shared an interest in sports, I came to respect him when we shared an interest in liberating our country.

In an effort to bridge the forced political divisions and bring South Africans together across racial lines, the Black Alliance was born on 11 January 1978. The Alliance brought together Inkatha, the Labour Party led by the Reverend Alan Hendrickse, some parties in the Free State, and the Reform Party of Mr Yellan Chinsamy, to which Mr Rajbansi belonged. We were trying to resist the separation being imposed on us by the Apartheid regime. I was elected chair of the Black Alliance, and served the cause of racial unity side by side with Mr Amichand Rajbansi.

Two years after the formation of the Black Alliance, the KwaZulu Legislative Assembly established the Buthelezi Commission, and our dialogue was enriched by the contribution of Indian Commissioners like Mr Rajbansi, Mr Chinsamy and Mr AM Moola. The Commission was a forerunner to the KwaZulu/Natal Indaba, which resulted in a proposal for a constitutional governmental structure. We were traveling together in hope, but we had a long road ahead.

The Apartheid regime then bolstered its efforts to separate us by creating the Tricameral Parliament, which extended representation to Indians and coloureds, but excluded blacks. I was a vocal opponent of the Tricameral system. The Black Alliance met in Eshowe to discuss the way forward, and I was deeply disappointed when we broke ranks.

The majority of the Indian and coloured members of the Black Alliance were lured away to join the Tricameral Parliament. I recall that Mr Chinsamy remained, together with the Reform Party, as did Mr Eric Lukas, Mr Norman Middleton and the Apollos family. But it pained me that others left. I predicted that the Tricameral Parliament, like the homelands policy, would not last.

I was saddened to see Mr Amichand Rajbansi among those who left the Black Alliance, however there was no animosity between us. We simply agreed to disagree. I will always hold Mr Rajbansi in the highest esteem for the way he handled this parting of ways. I do not recall him saying a single negative word about me or Inkatha, either then or in the years that followed. He was always respectful towards me, recognizing our shared passion for freedom and democracy.

On the eve of the 1994 elections, Mr Rajbansi launched the Minority Front, which won a seat in the KwaZulu Natal Legislature. Within five years, the Minority Front had grown to secure a seat in the National Assembly, and it continued to grow in strength and numbers from there. I was, of course, disappointed when the ANC managed to persuade Mr Rajbansi to join them in an alliance to keep the IFP out of governance in the KwaZulu Natal Legislature. Although the IFP had the majority in KwaZulu Natal in 1994, the 2004 elections did not bring us enough votes to run the Legislature.

Still, once again, there was no animosity between Mr Rajbansi and me. I respected him for fighting for his people and for his passion to serve the Indian community. The difference between us was his decision to fish from only one pond, while I sought political support from all communities and all races. Nevertheless I must pay him this compliment; as the provincial Minister of Sport and Recreation the ANC gave Mr Rajbansi's Department a miniscule budget and he distributed it evenly to all citizens of the Province. He did not favour the Indian community unfairly.

I know that Mr Rajbansi had a good relationship with former President Nelson Mandela, whom he invited to visit his home. So it was painful, but not surprising when the ANC dropped Mr Rajbansi from the Cabinet when they no longer needed him. It was also not surprising that Mr Rajbansi became embittered by this, which resulted in his forthright criticism of the ANC. He pointed out some of the many instances of corruption in the KwaZulu Natal Government, and his frank assessment of the ruling Party's failures were widely quoted.

He was always a passionate leader, but I will remember him as a gentleman. I was humbled that even in the Legislature, after we had parted company politically, he often quoted things I said and expressed support for things I did. Our relationship endured. He invited me to this Stadium last December for the grand finale of the celebrations in commemoration of 150 years since the arrival of Indian indentured labourers on South African soil. And we corresponded during the 2011 Local Government Elections, sharing our concerns over electoral fraud.

There are certain moments that one remembers when a friend passes. They are the moments that capture the essence of the friendship. Today I remember the many prayer breakfasts I held as Chief Minister of the erstwhile KwaZulu Government, before the opening of each parliamentary session. I invited leaders of all communities and people of every faith. I recall that Mr Amichand Rajbansi always attended.

When my daughter, Princess Lethuxolo, died in a tragic car accident in 2008, Mr Rajbansi wrote to me. His words encouraged me in my time of grief, for he said, "I know that words would never adequately confer the pain you feel as a father; but I do know that your strong spirituality and belief in God Almighty will help you summon enough courage to be the wonderful father and leader that you are during these trying circumstances." I was deeply touched when Amichand and Mrs Shameen Thakur-Rajbansi attended my 80th Birthday celebrations later that year.

Amichand Rajbansi left his mark on my life, and there is no doubt that he left an indelible mark in the annals of South Africa's politics. Although we walked different roads, we retained respect for one another. I am grateful for all he did for the Indian community, and for our country. We have truly suffered a loss.

May the Lord comfort the Rajbansi family. And may the legacy of Amichand Rajbansi continue to inspire the Minority Front to pursue the consolidation of democracy for the sake of all South Africans. Let us pick up the burden he has finally laid down and, as we do so, may he rest in peace.

Issued by the IFP, December 31 2011

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