Friday, January 30, 2004

South Africa's Inkatha Problem

Here's a news report that makes one appreciate that as bad as Mbeki's management of both the AIDS crisis and the Zimbabwe issue have been, things could have been a lot worse in that part of the world.

South African President Thabo Mbeki was mobbed by scores of opposition Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) supporters, carrying traditional weapons, during a visit to an IFP stronghold in the volatile KwaZulu Natal province on Thursday.

Zulus, carrying assegais (traditional spears) and shields and wearing t-shirts bearing the image of the veteran IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, surged forward surrounding Mbeki’s presidential convoy. They chanted that they were not afraid of the governing African National Congress (ANC) party.

Mbeki’s spokesman, Bheki Khumalo, said the Zulu opponents, traditionally IFP supporters, did not get close to Mbeki’s car which was approaching the small town of Tugela Ferry. Police and security officers had to clear the way for the convoy. There were later reports of another incident when police tried to confiscate a gun from one man.

The president is on a three-day "imbizo," touring KwaZulu Natal, as part of an interactive government programme aimed at putting the country’s political leaders in touch with the people, to discuss policies.

Now, the ANC isn't by any means a party of angels, but I regard Buthelezi and his Inkatha movement as entirely negative in their influence on South African affairs. Buthelezi's main priority since the bad old days of apartheid has always been his own self-aggrandizement, regardless of the cost to his fellow countrymen, and if that meant accepting funding from the apartheid regime to destabilize the country, Buthelezi was more than willing to go along. South African politics certainly needs some competition to the ANC, but I don't see the parochialists of either Inkatha or the ("New") National Party serving in that role. For now, let us at least hope that Buthelezi's desire to retain power doesn't plunge KwaZulu Natal into another round of mass killing.