Prince Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi (1928-2023) was an influential figure in South African politics, wearing many hats throughout his life — a Zulu prince, a political leader, and a film actor. His journey began on 27 August 1928 when he was born at the Ceza Swedish Missionary Hospital in Mahlabathini in southeastern Natal. He belonged to the Zulu royal family, with his mother Princess Magogo being a daughter of the former Zulu King Dinuzulu and sister to King Solomon kaDinuzulu.

Early Life and Career

Buthelezi’s early life was deeply rooted in royal and traditional connections. His father, Mathole Buthelezi, chief of the Buthelezi clan, married Princess Magogo to mend ties between the clan and the royal family. This made young Buthelezi’s life intertwined with royalty and politics from the outset. He was often addressed by his clan name, Shenge, as a mark of respect.

In personal life, Buthelezi, affectionately known as “Mango” by the youth, tied the knot with Irene Audrey Thandekile Mzila in 1952. They were blessed with a large family, although several of their children sadly predeceased them.

Political Rise

Buthelezi’s foray into politics saw him serving as the traditional prime minister to the Zulu royal family for a staggering seven decades. King Bhekuzulu, the grandfather of the current King Misuzulu and a son of King Solomon, appointed him to this influential post.

In 1975, he founded the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), a role he would hold until 2019, transitioning to President Emeritus afterwards. His political journey was marked by significant roles, including the Chief Minister of the KwaZulu bantustan during apartheid and the Minister of Home Affairs (1994-2004).

Controversies and Contributions

Buthelezi’s political era during apartheid remains debatable. While he was the head of the KwaZulu government and an advocate for Zulu nationalism, he also faced criticisms for intolerance towards political opposition.

Yet, he showed resistance against the apartheid government, consistently called for the release of Nelson Mandela, and rejected superficial independence offers for KwaZulu. Despite his moderate stance on various political issues, his relations with the African National Congress (ANC) became strained in the 1980s, especially after it was discovered that he received support from the apartheid regime.

During the negotiations to end apartheid, Buthelezi, backed by the IFP, proposed a federal system for South Africa, emphasizing regional autonomy and the importance of Zulu traditional leaders. Although these proposals weren’t entirely adopted, Buthelezi’s influence in South African politics remained undiminished.

Legacy and Final Days

In the later years, as the IFP’s influence began to wane, Buthelezi was still a force to be reckoned with in the party, resisting efforts to oust him. In the 2019 general elections, he secured his sixth consecutive term as a Member of Parliament for the IFP.

Outside politics, Buthelezi showcased his passion for arts when he portrayed his maternal great-grandfather, King Cetshwayo kaMpande, in the 1964 film Zulu. His faith was also an integral part of his life, being a devout member of the Anglican Church.

Sadly, in August 2023, health concerns began plaguing Buthelezi, initially due to back problems. After a brief hospital stay, he passed away on 9 September 2023, leaving behind an indelible mark on South African politics and society.