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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

The IFP, under strain

There have been many frustrating problems in the past 18 months of democratic transition. We have inherited an unwieldy and crisis-ridden civil service. Implementation of our programmes has sometimes been slow, With the multiplication of provincial government structures, we find ourselves in a constitutional dispensation that our country probably cannot afford. Nobody claimed that change would he easy, and there have indeed been frustrations.

But one outstanding success has been at the level of nation-building and the consolidation of democratic institutions. South Africa has the capacity to become a Bosnia, we were a Bosnia. Between 1991 and April 1994, between four and five thou-sand people were dying in political violence each year. The levels of political violence are dramatically down. Indeed they are more or less zero in all provinces with the sad exception of KwaZulu Natal.

When it comes to the forging of a common national consciousness, it is not always easy to point to precise statistics. But it is evident that an overwhelming majority of South Africans accept the new dispensation, whatever their gripes or unful-filled expectations might be. Even the majority of white South Africans, who did not vote ANC in April 1994, and who are unlikely to vote ANC in the forseeable future, feel a tangible pride in being part of a new South Africa and in having Mandela as "their" president. The majority of our security forces, and the majority of our people see themselves integrally within the post-apartheid constitutional framework.

There is, however, one major political force in our country that is an exception. This is the IFP, which belatedly came into the electoral process, on the very eve of the elections. The IFP operates partially as a constitutional entity, but it is clear that its attitudes, culture and key parts of its base and leadership are, at best, highly ambivalent about operating within the constitution.

Recent revelations about the complicity of senior IFP leaders in third force violence, no suprise to objective observers, are one case in point. Buthelezi himself continuously plays a game of brinkmanship.

But all is not well in the IFP. In the past, some leftists have argued that the "bourgeois" parliamentary system necessarily co-opts and mutes progressive forces. In a way, the IFP's ambivalent participation in elected institutions has created internal problems for a party of the right. At the top, the party has a very authoritarian character, with Buthelezi's domineering personality as a major factor. At the base, in its KwaZulu Natal rural heartland, the party's structures rely heavily on tribal chief, war-lord and patronage networks.

The new democratic realities, and the IFP's ambiguous presence within them, have created many internal disruptions within the party. Buthelezi likes the idea of being a national cabinet minister, but this interferes with his provincial ambitions, and his deeply suspicious personality, which brooks no challengers in his own backyard. He of-ten spends more time in KwaZulu Natal than as a national minister, undermining his national aspirations and his provincial leadership alike.

The realities of a national parliament and senate also provoke contradictions and deep strains within the IFP. IFP MPs have to participate actively in a range of debates and standing committees. The authoritarian, one-man leadership of the IFP constrains the ability of its MPs to function effectively. They are always looking over their shoulders. The same reality is reproduced at a provincial level. All of this has provoked major strains and irritations within the party.

The increased presence of the SANDF and SAPS in KwaZulu Natal, and the determination of the national security and justice ministries topursue those guilty of political violence, is beginning slowly to bear fruit. Murderers, for the first time, are starting to be arrested and prosecuted. This, too, is starting to under-mine the morale of the previously untouchable war-lord networks so crucial to the IFP's control of rural KwaZulu Natal.

But it is, perhaps, the IFP's absolute and manifest incapacity to govern effectively in KwaZulu Natal that has most undermined its reputation and deepened its internal crisis. The province is the one province in South Africa where political violence continues, in which the new institutional structures are in chronic disorder, and in which the ruling party alienates even its most natural allies in the legislature. As recently as 1986 liberals like Ken Owen were describing Inkatha as "impeccably liberal", Business circles in Natal, and even nationally, deluded themselves that the IFP was a "champion of the free market", and therefore an important counterweight to the ANC. But the "free market" itself is shunning an IFP controlled KwaZulu Natal.

The IFP is under strain. But this does not mean that we can he complacent. The internal contradictions within the party are, precisely, likely to increase the brinkmanship, paranoia and general recklessness of some of its leaders. If the national elections unmasked Buthelezi's pretensions to be an equal member of a national "troika" (Mandela-De Klerk-Buthelezi), local-level democratisation poses an even greater threat to the party. Democratic local government strikes at the war-lord and patronage base of the IFP. This is one of the major reasons why political violence flared up in the second half of this year. Indeed, the rising violence has successfully postponed local government elections in KwaZulu Natal for the moment.

The Government of National Unity must deal firmly with all forms of unconstitutionality and political violence, including its primary source at present - the IFP. Those business circles (there are still a few) who see financial support for the IFP as an "insurance", must wake up to the reality that they are nurturing instability, violence and uncertainty. They might not like socialism, hutnot even capitalism can be built in a war zone.

In our own ranks we must move away from easy illusions about some quick, knock-out blow that will finally deal with the IFP once and for all. Illusions in this direction encourage strategies that do not work, and which simply feed the grievance style mobilisation that the IFP has made its own. Developing a more comprehensive and consistent strategy means both marginalising the war lords in the IFP, but also encouraging those forces within the IFP that are most willing to find a place, as an opposition party of course, within an evolving democratic dispensation.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.