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Zulu Leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi's State Funeral Marks the End of an Era

Published September 21, 2023
9 months ago

September 18, South Africa – Thousands, with some donned in traditional warrior clothing, gathered on Saturday to bid their final farewell to Mangosuthu Buthelezi, a controversial Zulu leader and founder of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). The state-organized funeral was held in Ulundi, the ancient Zulu kingdom's capital situated in the eastern part of South Africa. Buthelezi died on September 9 at the age of 95.

Throughout his life, Buthelezi played a pivotal role in shaping South Africa's modern history. As President Cyril Ramaphosa declared in his eulogy, the sun has set on an era marked by Buthelezi's influence. However, his legacy remains contentious. Born of royal blood, Buthelezi was regarded to some as a proud embodiment of Zulu spirit, while others viewed him as a warlord.

His political journey spanned decades, marked by a rupture with the ruling African National Congress (ANC). This break led him to create the Inkatha movement in 1975. Through the years, he fiercely denied allegations surrounding his collaboration with the apartheid government, despite consistent claims otherwise.

Former Presidents Jacob Zuma and Thabo Mbeki joined the day's mourners, who sang songs and paid tribute to "Shenge", as Buthelezi was often called, derived from his clan name. Violence between the ANC and IFP in the build-up to the 1994 democratic elections claimed about 12,000 lives, resulting in Buthelezi's image being marred by his perceived role.

Current IFP leader Velenkosini Hlabisa painted a juxtaposing image of Buthelezi, remembering him as a "giant of Africa". After the ceremony, Buthelezi's body was returned to his family home for burial, drawing a conclusion to an era that will remain a significant part of South Africa's history.

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