JOHANNESBURG — Mangosuthu Buthelezi, a towering figure in South African politics and outspoken Zulu chief, has died at the age of 95.
During the racist apartheid regime, he founded the Zulu Inkatha party after becoming disillusioned with the African National Congress (ANC).
Thousands were killed in clashes between supporters of the two parties in the early 1990s. But he was later welcomed back into the fold, serving as President Nelson Mandela’s minister of home affairs.
Chief Buthelezi was a shrewd but controversial politician, who disagreed with the ANC’s tactics of armed action against white-minority rule and trod a moderate path as leader of an ethnic-Zulu homeland.
He was opposed to international sanctions on South Africa, arguing that they would only harm the country’s black majority.
During the clashes in the early 1990s, Nelson Mandela’s ANC accused him of collaborating with the white-minority government.
Some feared the violence could lead to a civil war and derail the transition to democracy which saw Mandela become president in 1994.
Many believed that members of the apartheid security forces were working with the Inkatha movement to fight the ANC but Buthelezi always denied that.
President Cyril Ramaphosa led tributes, describing Chief Buthelezi as a “formidable leader”. He said he had “played a significant role in our country’s history for seven decades”.
The president added: “Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi has been an outstanding leader in the political and cultural life of our nation, including the ebbs and flows of our liberation struggle, the transition which secured our freedom in 1994 and our democratic dispensation.”
He said Chief Buthelezi had died in the early hours of Saturday, two weeks after celebrating his 95th birthday.
Chief Buthelezi was hereditary chief of the Zulus, South Africa’s largest ethnic group.
He was born into the Zulu royal family — his mother was Princess Magogo kaDinzulu, the sister of the Zulu king. Chief Buthelezi played the role of his own great-grandfather, the Zulu King Cetshwayo, in the 1964 film Zulu.
He was prime minister of KwaZulu, the Zulu homeland, and in 1975 founded the Inkatha Freedom Party, a Zulu political and cultural movement. He stepped down as party leader in 2019 after 44 years at its helm. — BBC