© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: South Africa’s leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) Mangosuthu Buthelezi speaks to supporters ahead of the national elections, in Richards Bay, north of Durban, in South Africa, April 19, 2009. REUTERS/Rogan Ward/File Photo
ULUNDI, South Africa (Reuters) – Thousands of mourners gathered in eastern South Africa on Saturday for the state funeral of Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
The veteran South African politician, Zulu prince and controversial figure during the apartheid liberation struggle, died last week aged 95.
Mourners — some dressed in traditional Zulu outfits made of leopard and other animal skins and holding shields crafted from cow hides — gathered at a stadium in the town of Ulundi, where they danced, sang and cheered ahead of the service.
South African media reported that two giraffes and six impalas had been slaughtered and skinned as part of the ritual preparations.
Buthelezi, the founder of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) who served two terms as Minister of Home Affairs in the post-apartheid government after reconciling with his governing African National Congress (ANC) rival, had undergone a procedure for back pain in July and was later readmitted to hospital when it did not subside.
He founded the IFP in 1975 and it become the dominant force in what is now KwaZulu-Natal province.
Like the ANC, he was critical of white minority rule, which had relegated Zulus and other Black South Africans to downsized ‘homelands’.
But his Zulu nationalist movement became entangled in bloody conflicts with the ANC in the 1980s and 1990s. The ANC was dominated by members of the rival Xhosa nation, and its leaders saw Buthelezi’s on-off willingness to work with the apartheid authorities as a betrayal of all Black South Africans.
The two parties made peace when Buthelezi decided to participate in South Africa’s 1994 election, the first national poll since the end of white minority rule, which brought Nelson Mandela to power.
By then some 20,000 people had been killed and hundreds of thousands fled their homes in fighting between Buthelezi’s supporters and those of the ANC, as a result of which critics dubbed Buthelezi a war lord. He stepped down as IFP leader in 2019.