Thapelo Mokoatsi

Thapelo Mokoatsi speaks to South African politician and the founder of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, about his personal encounters with historical Pioneers who led the way for media freedom.

It is a chilly afternoon in Cape Town and Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi only has a few minutes to spare. With his kind face and warm hands, he greets us before rushing us into the IFP offices at Parliament. His office is huge and filled with pictures of historical figures.

He’s met most of them in person, whereas I’ve only read about them in history books. On his desk sits portraits of Chief Albert Luthuli, Pixley ka Isaka Seme and his mother, Princess Magogo.

The entire Zulu royalty bloodline runs in his veins. This is the son of Princess Magogo who was a sister to Solomon ka Dinizulu of Cetshwayo of Mpande. Shenge, his clan name, was born on 27 August 1928 in Mahlabathini in KwaZulu Natal.

He studied History and Bantu Administration at the University of Fort Hare in the late forties at about the same time that Daniel Francois Malan became the first apartheid era Prime Minister. In 1972, three years before he founded the Inkatha Freedom Party, he became chief minister of Kwa-Zulu. In a democratic South Africa, he served two terms as minister of Home Affairs, between 1994 and 2004.

A repository of our hidden African history, he lived and interacted with some of the pioneer journalists who paved the way for black media freedom in South Africa.

On Pixley ka Isaka Seme

In his office there is a picture of the Pixley ka Isaka Seme, the founder of the ANC and Abantu-Batho newspaper. “He was my mentor,” says Buthelezi. Seme was an advisor to Buthelezi’s uncle, King Solomon ka Dinizulu.

“Dr Seme was married to my uncle’s eldest daughter – King Dinizulu. At one time he had a homestead near the palace where I grew up in Mahashini. I remember running errands for him during school holidays when I was in Matric at Adams College, South of Durban. I would write letters on his behalf and he would dictate them to others,” he says, recalling the memory fondly.

“When I got involved in the ANC Youth League activities at the University of Fort Hare, and got expelled, he wrote a letter to Professor Z.K. Matthews who was deputy principal of Fort Hare, to intervene on my behalf. When he passed on, his tombstone was built by Inkatha and myself in Croesus Cemetery in Johannesburg,” he says.

Buthelezi attended Seme’s funeral back in the 1950s. He has seen many pioneers and historical figures pass away.

On Albert Wessels George Champion and Selby Msimang

He leads us back to the corridors where pictures of prominent IFP members are exhibited. Amongst them are AWG Champion and Selby Msimang, who are former ANC members.

“I worked with Selby Msimang and AWG Champion,” says Buthelezi, pointing to one of the portraits.

“They were members of my central committee of Inkatha…Champion is also a very important historical figure because he is the one who founded the first black trade union in South Africa, the ICU-Industrial and Commercial Union with Clements Kadalie of Malawi. But later Mr Champion became the leader of the ANC in Natal,” he says.

After being expelled from Fort Hare, Buthelezi moved back to Durban where he was a member of the ANC Youth League at the time, he was present at the meeting that saw Champion ousted as the league’s leader which was held at the YMCA in Durban.

“Mr Champion’s time had expired. The Youth League was promoting iNkosi Albert Luthuli as a preferred candidate. And of course, there were more of us on Luthuli’s side. That is how Luthuli first became the leader of the ANC in the province and later he became the President General of the ANC,” he says.

“When Mr Champion was the leader of the ANC in Natal, Msimang was the Secretary of the ANC. He wrote brilliant articles in isiZulu in [the publication] Ilanga. Both of them used to write for Ilanga. Mr Champion used to have a column while Msimang would contribute every now and then”, he says.

On John Dube

Buthelezi’s recollection of John Dube of Ilanga, was when he was a youngster.

“When my uncle died in 1933, his younger brother Prince Mshiyeni took over as a regent. I used to see Dr John Dube at imbizos called by my uncle. I remember that in 1944 my uncle was taking us to Adams College, we made a stop at Ohlange at Dr Dube’s house. He wanted to show Dr Dube that he had educated children in the royal family. Two of my cousins were introduced to Dr Dube”, he smiles recalling the event as he continues walking down the passage.

“You can take as many photographs as you like,” he adds with a smile.

On Jordan Kush Ngubane

“Jordan was very close to me”, says Buthelezi. “We admired him as a youngster doing matric at Adams College. We used to visit him at the house at Adams mission where the high school was. I knew him from my teen years. He was a very outstanding journalist. We used to admire long opinion pieces that he wrote for The Mercury and other newspapers. He later became the editor of the newspaper, Inkundla ya Bantu – People’s Forum. He was also one of the founding members of the ANC Youth League”, he says.

Ngubane would later use his editorial might to depose Champion from the ANC leadership position in Natal in favour of Chief Albert Luthuli.

“At that time the apartheid government was arresting people and he [Ngubane] migrated to Swaziland before he went to Washington. When I went to Washington, very often, I visited him,” recalls Buthelezi.

On the Dhlomo brothers, H.I.E. and R.R.R.

“I knew [the Dhlomo brothers] very well. They were sort of related to my in-laws. I was very close to Herbert [H.I.E Dhlomo]. I remember that when my cousin, King Cyprian Bhekizulu ka Solomon, was being introduced to the Zulu people in Durban, around the same time as the ANC organizing stayaways, the white officials in the municipal native administration office wanted to influence him to tell Zulus not to stay away. I and Herbert talked to the King and we saw the speech that was prepared for him by the municipal native administration office, which was later published in the Natal Mercury”, he recalls.

“We [Buthelezi and some gentlemen] were very upset, and we spoke to the King after that gathering. We had drafted [the rejoinder] which we took to Ilanga to Herbert who worked at the newspaper and his brother, RRR, who edited it at the time.” The rejoinder was never run.

By the end of my conversation with Prince Buthelezi it was clear that he knew these pioneers intimately.
Before we can get more memories and details about the giants who grace the walls of the chamber, it’s time for Buthelezi to rush off. We say our goodbyes with a smile, knowing that we’ve captured just one more page in the library of our South African black media pioneer archive.

Images courtesy of Masabata Mokgesi.