The MEC for Arts and Culture, the Hon. Mrs Bongiwe Sithole-Moloi; Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi Museum and Documentation Centre, Prince Ntuthukoyezwe Zuzifa Buthelezi; Chairperson of the Arts and Culture Portfolio Committee, the Hon. Mr Makhosi Ntuli; Programme Director, Mr Mpumelelo Mnguni; Mayors, Councillors and representatives of Government; leaders of the IFP; members of the media; and all our distinguished guests.
During a recorded interview in April 2002, former President Nelson Mandela made a surprising statement. Speaking about me and my legacy, he said, “We have used every ammunition to destroy him, but we failed. And he is still there. He is a formidable survivor. We cannot ignore him.”
This statement is quite remarkable, not least because of the truth it reveals about the complex political history of our country. But the most remarkable part is that I could be ignored. History gives us endless examples of how those in power rewrote the narrative of the past, giving great weight to certain aspects, while minimising the importance of others.
It would have been wholly effective as an historical rewrite if the ANC were to ignore me and my legacy, minimising the value of my life’s contribution to the service of our nation. The prediction of Mr Alfred Nzo was, after all, that I would end up on the trash heap of history! And Mr Joe Slovo, who said by the time the first election took place, I would end up as just a smell in history.
But something quite extraordinary has happened. The MEC has chosen to demonstrate the meaning of democracy. I am quite without words to express my admiration. Throughout the world, in every democracy, when a party gains the majority it becomes the government of all the people. Leaders in Government acquire the power to honour whomever they choose. But they also receive the responsibility of listening to the people; not just the people who elected them, but all the people.
It is thus an act of pure democracy for a government to honour a leader outside the political majority, particularly someone like me who leads an opposition party. In my long experience, I don’t recall something like this ever happening. So I am quite humbled that it is happening to me, and that it is happening in my lifetime. This is, indeed, an historic moment.
What makes this even more significant is the fact that I am not being honoured with an award. While I am grateful for the many awards I have received, I have found that an award is somehow limited to a specific action or event. It speaks loudly about one aspect of a person’s life, but says nothing about other aspects.
What has been proposed by the MEC is much broader and has far more value. This is, in fact, not for me, but for the many researchers, students, historians and patriots who will seek to gain a fuller perspective on our nation’s past. The benefit of having an archive that preserves a legacy is perhaps best described by the first President of the Republic of Zambia.
When we opened the Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi Museum and Documentation Centre in 2015, former President Kaunda wrote to express his support. In his letter, he said – “(This) Centre is a great opportunity to learn not only about Mangosuthu Buthelezi as an individual, but various events and issues that affected South Africa and other countries… The Buthelezi Centre inspires the creation of many other centres. It will inspire many people, including my humble self, to efficiently organise their experiences so that other persons may learn from them.”
Friends, the task of organising one’s experiences, let alone efficiently, is a tremendous undertaking. I have been privileged to have the assistance of the Board of Trustees of the Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi Museum and Documentation Centre. Their efforts, and particularly the efforts of Mr Arthur Konigkramer, have been exceptional. There is still a mountain of correspondence, records and documents to be sifted through. But it is truly a worthwhile task.
Since we first began archiving the documents and artefacts in my personal collection, we have uncovered treasures of great historical importance. I strongly suspect that some of the records I have are the only records remaining to provide a factual paper trail into the past.
These are not just records of the IFP. I have filled many positions throughout my life. My work as President of the IFP has run in tandem with my work as Inkosi of the Buthelezi Clan, as Chief Minister of the erstwhile KwaZulu Government, as traditional Prime Minister to the Zulu Monarch and Nation, as South Africa’s first Minister of Home Affairs under democracy, and as Acting President of the Republic. There is, therefore, a wealth of information to be mined.
Moreover, the time to do it is now. I admire the MEC’s wisdom in launching this legacy preservation project today. The Lord alone knows how many more days He will give me on this earth. But the fact remains that time is limited. If we delay starting this project, we may well find that certain parts of the story could be lost.
Over the past few years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of requests I receive from academics, students and historians. I am by now so accustomed to speaking about the past, that I could do it in my sleep! But I sense the urgency in all these requests, for I am one of the few from my generation who is still here to tell the story of our past from personal experience. As my Secretary often says, I knew Mandela before he was Mandela. I lived our nation’s past. It is a legacy I want to give to the next generation.
I am therefore gratified to see a partnership begin between the KwaZulu Natal Department of Arts and Culture, and the Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi Museum and Documentation Centre. The Centre by itself could not complete the archiving project, as it demands, among other things, an extension to the Centre to house the many records being kept at various locations.
There is a sense that this is finally possible. With the valuable assistance of the Department, the project of preserving the past can finally be fulfilled. It gives me tremendous hope and is, perhaps, the greatest birthday present I could ask for.
Thank you MEC. Thank you for recognising the importance of this project, but thank you even more for demonstrating the real meaning of democracy. You are a leader representing all our people. I am proud that it is a Zulu lady who has done something so statesman-like. I wish that I knew her parents.
On behalf of my family, my Clan and my Party, I humbly thank you.