Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi
Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi

With an old sparring partner

Elizabeth Ohene (EO): How have you been getting on, on a personal basis, with your colleagues in Cabinet? Many of them have slagged you off and you have slagged them off.


MANGOSUTHU BUTHELEZI (MB): The question you are putting to me is very pertinent because there are some ministers with whom I was very much at loggerheads.

Some of them were alleged to have been plotting my murder. 

But on the face of it, on a personal basis, as colleagues in the cabinet, we are operating very normally.

Even I am surprised at how smoothly it is working.

EO: Do you talk to them outside Cabinet?

MB: Oh yes.

 In fact, I talk and joke with all of them.

EO: How do you think the government has been doing so far?

MB: I must say that I am pleasantly surprised that the Government of National Unity has operated so smoothly.

 In fact, I didn’t think it would work too well because it was a very strange set-up.

We and the ANC were at loggerheads with different policies, but now we are operating together under the constitution, in the interests of the country.

EO: What has this government achieved?

MB: The first achievement was the smoothness of the transitional process.

Few believed it would be peaceful, but it was. 

Since then, we have scored a number of successes: for instance, feeding some of these children who are still in primary school; trying to provide free medical care for women who attend ante-natal medical clinics.

 In terms of the parameters within which we are trying to operate, given the little time we have been together and governed, it has started well so far.

EO: In your own portfolio of Home Affairs, Chief Buthelezi, one of the biggest problems you face seems to be illegal immigration.

How do you propose to deal with the problem?

MB: My sister, you are touching on a very important thing here. 

The main problem is with our immediate neighbours.

Naturally, their citizens look at our economy which is better than theirs and think that they can solve their personal problems by coming here. 

What is more, in southern Africa, as you know, there have been wars.

The biggest flood of illegal aliens and refugees is of people who are running away from the war in Mozambique, for example.

Now that they have had an election there, we are hoping things will be OK.


But I don’t think that the question of illegal immigrants and illegal aliens can be easily solved just like that.

I think we are going to have this problem for a very long time. 

EO: Now that you spend all this time in Pretoria or Cape Town and so much time away from your normal base in Kwazulu, are you missing it?

MB: There is a saying, my sister, which says: “East, west, north, south; home is the best”.


But of course, I realise that although I love home, I owe something to the entire country and must serve the whole country, not just Kwazulu.

EO: You are not only far away from Kwazulu, but your relations with the Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini, have gone very sour, hitting an all-time low during this year’s Shaka Day celebrations when he cancelled the celebrations and you insisted they went ahead.

He seems to be moving closer and closer to the ANC.

 Do you feel betrayed by him?

MB: I wouldn’t put it as strongly as that.


As far as I am concerned, I knew both his parents who were both my cousins, so even though he is 46, I still view him as my child, and myself as his uncle.

There is a feeling of pain of course about the fact that he is unable to resist the kind of pressure that the ANC has exerted on him to make him do what he is doing now, but I don’t take it personally to the extent that I should have hard feelings towards the King.

EO: Are you doing anything to try and repair relations between the two of you?

MB: Many people are trying to do that.

Many people are concerned about it. 

The Zulus themselves are very concerned about it and it worries me because some of the Zulus are very angry.

So I’m worried about the King if this thing is not sorted out.

 It is doing damage to his cause quite clearly.

EO: Chief Buthelezi, It seems as if you think the King only behaves properly when he supports you and by extension your party, the IFP.

MB: I don’t need the support of the King.

I have been with the Zulu people for over 40 years before the King was anywhere.

I stand on my political legs on my own merit. 

Without any canvassing I got more than ten per cent of the vote in the elections.

The media was saying that I had no more than three or five per cent support.

I proved them wrong.

EO: You never smile, Chief Buthelezi.

MB: I do smile.

 If they take pictures of me not smiling it’s not my fault.

Maybe if I come to London, I will take you out and then you can see me as I am.

EO: You are not difficult?

MB: Am I being difficult in this interview?

EO: You haven’t been difficult at all.

Where are you going from here, politically?

MB: I don’t know how it is going to go.

Where I still differ from the ANC is that I believe that this country, just like Nigeria, is a plural society. 

Therefore, the best government for this country will be a federal government to accommodate the minorities and so on.

We are writing the constitution but we are still moving in different orbits as far as that is concerned.

Your guess is as good as mine as to how it will go.

EO: When you are not being minister or leader of the IFP, or doing what your traditional duties require, what do you do with your time?

I hope there is some time left to do something.

MB: Not much time, but I listen to music.

 I read a lot.

I chat with my friends.

EO: What kind of music do you like?

MB: I am omnivorous as far as that is concerned because I like all sorts of music.

As far as indigenous music is concerned, my mother was one of the leading authorities. 

She died when I was an adult and she taught me a lot about it.

Some people regard me as an authority on traditional Zulu music.

But if you were to come to my house, you would find that I have hundreds and hundreds of tapes of jazz, pop, traditional music, African music.

And serious music from Sinatra to Vivaldi.

EO: And what kind of food do you like?

MB: I like traditional dishes.

Unfortunately, I suffer from gout.

As you know, eating meat is a tradition among Africans and I regret the fact that I can’t eat red meat now because of the uric acid. 

One of the Zulu traditions is that if the chief is visiting and you welcome him, you slaughter an animal for him.

They still slaughter cows for me, and I can’t take even a piece.

That I regret very much. 

EO: You wear very smart suits.

I wonder who your tailor is?

MB: When I come over to London I go to Marks and Spencer.

I buy off the peg.

EO: I don’t believe it.

Your suits don’t come from Marks and Spencer.

MB: I don’t think I have more than three suits that are tailored for me: it is too expensive.

I do have a couple of suits from Harrods but it is too expensive for me.

There are some very good shops in South Africa of course.

EO: Are you a rich man?

MB: Not really.

Not at all.

In fact many people are really surprised. 

My father was wealthy in cattle but that was more than 50 years ago.

I don’t even have a farm.

I have traditional lands around my home where I plant. 

I don’t regret not being rich because if one is a leader one can never understand the plight of one’s people if one is removed from it.

You must understand what poverty is.

EO: You reckon you understand what poverty is?

MB: Absolutely.

 I am a peasant.

I grew up among my people.

I am close to them, even as Chief Minister of Kwazulu.

There are many areas in the self-governing territories where people became very wealthy. 

They had farm businesses.

I don’t have a single thing like that. 

That is not my way of life.

That’s not my style.

EO: Thank you very, very much for talking to me.

MB: Thank you, sister, I have enjoyed it very much.

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