Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi is the president of the Inkatha Freedom Party, and a Member of Parliament in South Africa. He is the “Traditional Prime Minister” to the Zulu Monarch and Zulu Nation.
United with Israel thanks Prince Buthelezi for this exclusive interview.
A Bold Supporter of Israel
In July 1986, I told a journalist of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that “Israel is indeed a land of miracles”. He reciprocated by writing in the Washington Jewish Week that I would become the first black president of South Africa. So you can see that my friendship with Israel has always been a two-way affair!
In truth though, I have suffered criticism for supporting Israel. South Africa’s Government has made no effort to conceal the fact that it supports the Palestinian cause, and I am often both embarrassed and ashamed of the way Israel is sidelined by our country’s leaders; particularly when South Africa has official diplomatic ties with Israel and recognizes its sovereignty.
Our Government has long maintained an unstated position with regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and one seldom hears an unbiased statement in Parliament.
Now the Department of Trade and Industry is suggesting that all products imported from Gaza and the West Bank to be labelled as originating from “Occupied Palestinian Territory”, rather than carrying the standard label, “Made in Israel”.
There is no legal basis in South Africa’s law or in international law to support this labeling requirement. Our Government is also discouraging citizens from visiting Israel, as a form of protest.
Even religious leaders, like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have expressed partisan views when it comes to our foreign policy. I, on the other hand, have been criticized for being openly supportive of Israel.
I believe it is irresponsible of South Africa’s Government to promote an anti-Israel agenda in an environment of heightened tension, credible threats and the imminent danger of violence.
As a political leader, I am kept informed, I am chided for my perceived bias and I am lobbied to take a stand. But what does one do with an issue as historically intractable as this?
As I Christian, I feel compelled to seek to understand the issues and to find a black and white solution. I know that Israel is close to the heart of the Maker. As I Believer, I am obliged to involve myself.
A Champion for Peace
But what I have realized over many years of contemplating the Arab-Israeli conflict, is that it is not for me to decide who is right and who is wrong. That is not my role.
I know that there is pain on both sides, violence on both sides, tragedy on both sides. There is a story to be told from many different perspectives. The narrative changes depending on the voice of the narrator.
But suffering is never something we can turn a blind eye to. We must support a peaceful outcome to this historic conflict. It is not about taking sides, but about ensuring that neither side sustains a loss of dignity or basic humanity.
It is about stemming the flow of blood and seeking a different path forward that embraces compromise as well as the importance of accommodating different views. It is about creating peace.
I have therefore expressed my support for a negotiated settlement and a two-state solution, and I have proclaimed Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign state.
We are Brothers in Suffering
By virtue of our long struggle for freedom, South Africa should relate to the heart’s cry of Israel. I think perhaps it is because we share the pathos of enduring oppression and heartache that I have found a kinship with many Jewish people, both in the South African diaspora as well as in Israel.
As the Chief Minister of the erstwhile KwaZulu Government, I was honoured to visit Israel at the invitation of Prime Minister Shimon Peres, in August of 1985.
The Israeli media were enthusiastic about my visit. Indeed, the Jerusalem Post credited me with preventing a revolutionary explosion in South Africa. I met with Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, former Minister Abba Eban and Director-General David Kimche.
I will never forget the words of Prime Minister Peres spoken to me in private, when he told me, “We are brothers in suffering”.
He understood the shared pathos that linked our people. He understood that just as we suffered one another’s suffering, we should celebrate one another’s victories. It was a poignant moment, realising that he understood my struggle for South Africa.
The Israeli Government provided agricultural aid, leadership training and assistance to women-led cooperatives in KwaZulu. We were deeply appreciative of the partnership that developed between the KwaZulu Government and the Government of Israel.
I also appreciated the friendship that grew between myself and Prime Minister Peres. Our friendship endured through many years, and I was privileged to attend his 80th birthday celebration in 2003.
During an interview on that occasion, I said that I have always warned against violence and promoted the route of negotiations. My stance has not changed.
I committed myself to non-violence as a young activist in the ANC Youth League, knowing that this was one of the fundamental principles articulated by the founding fathers of our liberation struggle in 1912.
I remained committed to non-violence throughout the armed struggle and the People’s War that was waged by the ANC and UDF against Inkatha. I entered a democratic South Africa on the basis of non-violence, and I still champion negotiations, reconciliation and peace.
I believe in this for my own country. How could I believe anything different for Israel?
Learning from Israel’s Economic and Social Development
It has been painful to see South Africa’s faltering economic and social progress since attaining democracy in April 1994. I think we could learn a few things from Israel’s experience.
On 14 May 1948 Israel proclaimed its independence. Within 24 hours, it was invaded by the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. That first War of Independence lasted some 15 months. When it ended, Israel held a national election to elect its first Parliament. Voter turnout stood at 85%. By the end of the first decade, the number of employed people had doubled, industrial output had doubled, and industrial exports had increased by four-fold. In the second decade, exports doubled and the Gross National Product increased by 10% annually.
I long to see South Africa’s own development take off at a rapid pace, for we will never meet the growing demand for social justice and shared prosperity unless economic growth is prioritized.
“The words of Ha-Tikvah resonate with me”
At my age, I am often asked what I would like to be remembered for. Over the course of more than half a century in politics and public life, I have waged many battles and taken up many causes. I have won accolades and received awards. I have influenced history and helped shape our nation. I have empowered the poorest of my people, and challenged the most powerful to do what is right.
But when I consider what should be captured on my epitaph, it is simply this: “He loved his country…”
I have loved my country so much that I endured vicious campaigns of vilification for the sake of pursuing its liberation. I have endured assassination attempts and threats on my life. I have sacrificed time with my family and the pursuit of my own ambitions. I have given my strength, my energy and my heart to seeing South Africans free. So the words of Ha-Tikvah resonate with me. As long as deep within my heart my soul is warm, my hope for South Africa is not yet lost. We, like Israel, seek “to be a free people in our own land.”
Prince Buthelezi was interviewed by United with Israel’s Joseph Sherman.
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