A mandate to lead: Mangosuthu Buthelezi and the appropriation of Pixley ka Isaka Seme's legacy


  • Bongani Ngqulunga University of Johannesburg, South Africa




Appropriation, Political legacy, Liberation struggle, Zulu nationalism, Political competition, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Inkatha, Pixley ka Isaka Seme, African National Congress, Judgement of history, Toeëiening, Politieke erfenis, Vryheidstryd, Zoeloe nasionalisme, Politieke wedywering, Historiese oordeel


This article discusses the appropriation of Seme’s name and political legacy by Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). While Buthelezi has always invoked Seme’s name in his long political career, the analysis in the article focuses on two periods. The first was the 1980s when Buthelezi’s political party, Inkatha Yenkululeko Yesizwe, was involved in a fierce competitive struggle for political hegemony with the exiled African National Congress (ANC) and its allies inside the country. During this period, Buthelezi used Seme’s name to serve as a shield to protect him from political attacks from his adversaries in the broad ANC alliance. After the advent of democracy in the early 1990s, the political hostilities of the 1980s between the ANC and the IFP cooled down and the two parties worked together in the Government of National Unity (GNU). It was during this period that Buthelezi gradually moved closer to the ANC, especially under the leadership of its former president, Thabo Mbeki. Although the political circumstances had changed, Buthelezi continued to use Seme’s name to advance his political interests. The purpose for appropriating Seme’s name however changed. He invoked Seme in order to present himself as belonging to the broad black political tradition as represented by the ANC. I suggest that this change of tune and tack was Buthelezi’s tactic to secure himself a respectable position in the pantheon of the liberation struggle. In other words, he was staking a claim for his place in history.


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