Is Shenge, emerging into the elder statesman of parliament?

The history of the IFP and its chequered role during the apartheid era, remains one with many shades of question. Depending on where you stand we know history is often rewritten by those who believe history a tool for managing. So the proverbial jury is still out on the violence of another era generally accredited to the IFP account and immanent in claim of black on black violence.

When it comes to the IFP it all depends on which side of the spectrum you find yourself. Its history as communicated by its leader is interpreted as liberating a role, yet from the other side it would echo a vehement remonstration in claims of incriminating and a violence based role.

However whilst we may never agree to that history in sanguinity of honesty, one thing is certain nobody more identifies or embodies that IFP history than Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Formerly known as Chief Gathsa Buthelezi. He is affectionately called by clan name of Shenge.

Buthelezi has emerged in this season in an avuncular sense as the elder statesman in parliament.

We have heard of conversations Buthelezi and Mandela shared in which mutual respect was claimed, so much that Buthelezi even served in Mandela’s cabinet. We equally know of times of grave disagreement between the two. Yet when Shenge talks of Madiba it is with a sense of deep friendship, brotherhood, love and closeness of proximity, though some protest against this as manufactured.

I must make my disclaimer upfront I hold no brief for Chief Buthelezi and must admit I wrestled long to come to terms with his historic role in our pursuit to liberation. The closest I came to him was when I worked as a member of the National Task Team assigned to design a national communications strategy for the first democratic municipal elections of 1995. Whilst our task was national I chose to make the Eastern Cape home because there were serious challenges to get the traditional leadership of CONTRALESA and others on board to secure their commitment to the registration process. We spent hours on end in places like the Savoy Hotel in Mthatha convincing in attempt at convincing Traditional leadership to endorse voter registration and education. Ultimately after much, negotiations we secured their buy in for the voter registration initiative. I remember paying Chief Mwelo Nonkonyana at his homestead a personal visit to discuss on the need for voter registration. During my investigations in many of the Eastern Cape rural towns like Mt. Ailif, Bizana, Flagstaff, Libode etc, I found the challenge of and absence of identity documents as a major a stumbling block to our assignment.

I felt obliged to share my discovery with the late Cadre Peter Mokaba in supplying him video recordings of this my discovery. Mokaba in turn shared this with Madiba whom I was told had been very upset and summoned Buthelezi the Minister of Home Affairs to explain why the Department was lagging so far behind on the subject. In the end the release of identity documents were fast tracked. I am not sure how the conversation had gone yet I can confirm Mokaba told me Madiba read Shenge the riot act. That was the closest I had come to Buthelezi. (Needless to say I never informed my seniors how Mokaba got hold of the tapes).

Well Madiba retired after one term now many years ago, not only did he retire but he left these shores to enrol at the heavenly desk of the ANC as he quipped, yet Shenge is continuing still as IFP leader and a very active member of parliament at the ripe age of 87.

What is interesting is how the stature of Buthelezi as an individual has grown in leaps and bounds particularly this during a time when his party has profusely declined, even with a ever dwindling support in trust of ballot. It seems an undeniable contradiction that he has emerged in such prominence.

What is indisputable is in an era where parliament has become a comedy of errors, and a proverbial kindergarten of political campaigning one figure has emerged as sensible, balanced tasked to save the day. He has assumed an almost symbolic elder statesman of the house. It is none other than Shenge. I wonder what Madiba would have made of this.

It is not difficult to see that Shenge has in a sense become the voice of reason in parliament. Shenge has not once but on many occasions saved the day for parliament’s business to continue when stalemates showed. When the EFF kindergarten, in red overalls decide to act up in disrespect of parliament it is Shenge the elder statesman that invokes an authority that brings a sense of order. When the Speaker of Parliament proves in proverbial sixes-and-sevens as to how to handle the rowdy ones of parliament Shenge rises in the house to help with order. He has emerged as the moral identity of parliament. This is far cry from the claims of warlord, violence driven leader that most of us have come to know the IFP in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

What is interesting is that when Shenge rises to speak he is seldom challenged particularly if it is about the business of parliament. Generally fellow members of parliament informed by their various ideological stances may not agree with him yet they accord him the status. One is not sure if its pure age for at 87 he warrants respect. Again one is not sure if this is a natural occurrence of an act deeply rooted in the traditional cultural context of respect for the elders that Shenge has emerged as the epitome of respect. It is commonly accepted that the Zuma presidency has brought a traditional cultural dimension that perhaps by default has assisted this respect for Shenge. One thing is certain Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi has become a voice of reason and has proven protective of the house as a dignified institution.

What is noteworthy is that unlike most vocal opposition parties the IFP has very seldom threatened legal action against the ANC in parliament majority or its leader as president, something common for the likes of the DA, EFF, COPE and the UDM. In fact at the unveiling of the Madiba statue at the Union Buildings in his speech Shenge referred to the ANC and SA President as Comrade Zuma with shouts or viva comrade president Zuma.

Is this the remake of the Buthelezi into the elder statesman perhaps so desperately needed in the House! What does it mean if Shenge appears to have has eclipsed his IFP history to commands respect in this era?

Clyde N. S.Ramalaine
Independent Observer


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