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Opinion: Scourge, not stooge, of apartheid

20 October 2023

Leo Aylen pays tribute to the Zulu leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who died last month


MANGOSUTHU BUTHELEZI died last month, aged 95. He led the Zulu nation, and founded the Inkatha Freedom Party, whose aim was to abolish apartheid non-violently. The African National Congress (ANC), which stood for armed revolution, did its utmost to discredit or even destroy Inkatha.

I was friends with Mangosuthu for many years. My father, Charles Aylen, was the Anglican Bishop of Zululand, elected by Zulu priests against opposition by whites, who, the Zulus say, eventually ousted him from his diocese.

I was educated in England, but, when I return, the Zulus welcome me because of my father’s persistent resistance to the then Church of the Province of Southern Africa’s unspoken endorsement of apartheid. Controversially, he gave Christian burial to Mangosuthu’s uncle, King Solomon, who had been excommunicated for polygamy.

Buthelezi also forged a deep connection with Alphaeus Zulu, the first black bishop in South Africa. Bishop Alphaeus, who grew up in poverty, was Buthelezi’s mentor.

For accepting the semi-independent government of KwaZulu in 1977, Buthelezi was condemned as a stooge of apartheid; but this semi-independence allowed Zulus to run their own education, and so to educate in English, and to teach maths and science, which cannot be taught in Zulu.

In 1976, Soweto students destroyed schools. Buthelezi begged them not to wreck their education. The difference between the ANC and Inkatha can be summarised in these two slogans: ANC: “Liberation now; education later”; Bishop Alphaeus, Inkatha’s moral guide: “Education for Liberation.” ANC policy means that there are now too few skilled professionals to run South Africa.

TENSIONS between the ANC and Inkatha escalated drastically, during the mid- to late 1980s, into civil war, which received little media coverage. In 1987, I travelled to KwaZulu to investigate the war, which caused more than 20,000 deaths: mostly Zulu, mostly non-combatant. Three hundred were killed by the necklace: prolonged torture leading to an unbelievably painful death. There is evidence that the ANC used the necklace, but there is no evidence for its use by Inkatha.

The United Democratic Front (UDF), founded in 1983, was supported by many white people as a non-violent, non-racial, anti-apartheid association, while the ANC, which had been banned in 1960, used it as a front for their violent revolution.

In 1987, a church delegation arrived from Britain, accepting ANC/UDF propaganda without question. My investigations convinced me that the UDF was wrong and the Zulus were right about the best way to oppose apartheid. The ANC disregarded education. Semi-independent KwaZulu started science education, and opposed sanctions, which the Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Desmond Tutu, called for vociferously.

On 2 October 1987, the Church Times published an article by me, for which I was castigated by British church leaders, especially the bishops. I argued that the Church of England was ignoring Zulu opinions about the future of South Africa, and pointed to Dr Tutu’s endorsement of sanctions, which the Zulus opposed.

My argument was not academic. Dr Tutu, firmly UDF, used his authority as secretary of the South African Council of Churches to block money from Christian Aid from reaching the Zulus. Returning to Britain, begging Christian Aid, I met smiling refusals.

TODAY, South Africa lives in the aftermath of the struggle against apartheid, on which the ANC and Inkatha had competing visions.

South Africa has enormous mineral wealth. But has any reached the unprepossessing resettlement towns? Argument was necessary in 1987. What remains is the continual slog to provide food, medical care, and education. Near a resettlement town, and not that far from my birthplace, two nurses provide one meal a day for 400 AIDS orphans. I have no idea how they manage to find the food.

Nonhlanhla introduced me to a little girl with a urinary infection, lamenting that there was no lavatory; a hole in the ground was dangerous for little girls. Then, a charity funded a lavatory. For me, that lavatory is a building with a glory like Chartres Cathedral.

If you are young, black, urban, and educated, with a job, then South Africa is possibly the most exciting country in the world today. So many nations, Britain included, exalt the difference between rich and poor; South Africa is no exception to this. While the examples of poverty, such as Nonhlanhla’s AIDS orphans, are always black, there are now black people as well as white living lives far removed from those orphans. The challenge is to spread the wealth for the benefit of all.

I visited an art gallery in a semi-derelict Durban building, run by a mixed-race artist, Coral Bijou. It was displaying a lively variety of exciting experimental art. But the central exhibit was a tapestry picture by Allina Ndebele, now in her late eighties, who weaves tapestry pictures of ancient stories told her in her spirit hut by her grandmother. The old inspires the new.

The KwaZulu-Natal sugar farmers are worried that, if blacks take over their farms, the yield will go down. I met one white farmer who was trying to prepare for this: he has handed his farm to the Zulu manager, encouraged 12 farms, one of them owned by a Zulu, to amalgamate, and the enterprise to be run as a co-operative, the experienced whites offering help to inexperienced blacks. This sounded a good idea to me; white farmers to whom I talked, however, did not think much of him.

What continues to inspire me with huge hope is the first event of Prince Mangosuthu’s 90th-birthday celebrations in 2018: a mass, with 5000 communicants, celebrated by the Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba, assisted by six Anglican bishops, only one of them white and who has a Swazi wife, with participation by Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Free Churches, Muslims, Jews, and Hindus.

The Zulus have always had a tradition of welcoming strangers, and their spiritual energy, always powerful, seems able to feed on both the haphazard inventions of the new and the adaptable strengths of the old; to juxtapose Bijou and Ndebele; and to robe the ancient mass with the music of the new freedom.

Of course, I worry about South Africa now. But there are occasions when I believe that the Rainbow Nation truly is coming into existence.

Leo Aylen is an award-winning poet, who also works as a TV film director and scriptwriter.

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