The court ruling was brief and brutal — dismissal with costs and the judge didn’t even bother to supply the reasons in the verbal version of the judgement as delivered in court on January 17 2011. Thus failed the national chairperson of the Inkatha Freedom Party, Victoria Zanele KaMagwaza-Msibi, in her bid to prevent South Africa’s fourth largest political party from conducting a disciplinary inquiry against her. She also failed spectacularly in her bid to force an elective conference of the party — following several postponements of the same.
Clearly, this was a bitter political pill to swallow for Victoria Zanele (VZ), the Friends of VZ, as well as her supporters. The IFP leadership may now proceed to rid the party of her, a process that appears to have started already. Ironically, this is precisely what VZ tried to avoid in her pre-emptive court action. But her bid had three aims: to escape party censure, to force an elective conference and of course the unspoken but clear bid for the party presidency. VZ will argue that she was left with no choice. Either she ran to the courts of the land or submitted herself to the party structures for inevitable disqualification from running for the presidency at best or expulsion from the party at worse. The problem with a pre-emptive court action of the VZ kind is that, while the litigant may be seen as a victim generally by his/her supporters who have intimate knowledge of what has been going on inside the party, the litigant does not go to court as victim but a perpetrator of the court action (at least). The IFP was quick to point this out yesterday. She was painted as the aggressor while the party leadership was presented as defenders of the party’s integrity and constitution. Could this erode some of the support VZ enjoyed before going to court? Should she have waited for the party to take action before going to court? These questions are now academic. Water under the bridge!
South African intra-party politics are brutal, especially when it comes to matters of succession. Ask former ANC president Thabo Mbeki, the erstwhile national chairperson of the ANC, a certain Mr Lekota of Cope (is he still with Cope?), or even Patricia de Lille of the ID (is she still with the ID?).
For various reasons, the IFP was always going to be a difficult terrain for a VZ to try and do a JZ (Jacob Zuma). The VZ campaign was clearly modelled after the JZ campaign against Mbeki and against the indictments pertaining to corruption and rape — down to the notion of “Friends of VZ”. Nor could one miss the similarities in court crowd behaviour, both before and after the court ruling. But there are several significant differences. The IFP has been a lot more meticulous, if not vicious in dealing with prominent supporters of VZ than Mbeki’s ANC had been with supporters of JZ. Indeed how did Mbeki think he could work with JZ as his party deputy after dismissing him as his deputy in the country’s presidency? We have seen no such prevarication in the conduct of the IFP leadership once their mind was made about VZ. We have seen the party act swiftly, sometimes controversially, to systematically demote her and strip her of much of the aura of power within the party that once surrounded her. While JZ could add to the support of some ANC members, the support of Cosatu, the Youth League and the SACP, VZ does not appear to have similar kinds of extra support, or does she? It is unclear how influential, within the party and beyond, the Friends of VZ are.
And yet, we must not underestimate the significance of VZ and this thing that she has brought about within the IFP. Here is a woman who has done the taboo thing, the unthinkable. She has challenged for president of the party and done so without the permission or patronage not only of the party leadership, but of the party founder and patriarch, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi. In one swoop she has challenged male political and chiefly power. For a long time the winds of change have been blowing inside the IFP. She is not the first one to try and respond to the call of the winds. Ziba Jiyane did. His fate and that of his party could well await her. But she has done it her way — as Sinatra sang. Indications are that she might have a lot more support than Jiyane did. For her, the immediate challenge is how to lose the party (IFP) without losing her supporters. For the IFP, the immediate challenge is how to lose VZ without losing those IFP members who supported her. Her utterances after the court verdict seem to suggest that she will jump before she is formally pushed, arguing that she has gallantly resisted being pushed by the IFP leadership for a long time.
Clearly leaving the IFP was not her first prize. But she might have no choice now. She has said so herself. If she leaves where does she go? Join another political party? Several political parties might be interested. De Lille and Zille would be delighted to add a third member to the team. The ANC could well be interested. Could we read anything more than concerns with security into the presence of General Bheki Cele at court? But how does she join another political party without losing her IFP supporters, without abandoning the political project that has defined her until now, namely, the transformation and renewal of the IFP and without giving up on her own personal profile as an emerging political leader? She could consider starting another political party? Then she must be willing to face all the challenges that come with the founding of a political party particularly in the context of the narrow space available to opposition political parties in South Africa. This is a mammoth task. Suggestions have been made that she might, for now, run as an independent candidate and in that way test the waters, if the political field (in KwaZulu-Natal) is ready for another political party or better still, if there might be a route back to the IFP for her. Perhaps? The independent candidate route appears to be the most reasonable option, at least for the purposes of the impending local elections.
Whatever happens to the future of VZ, what she has clearly done is pave the way for a VZ of the future within the IFP and perhaps within the South African political landscape. The IFP can no longer return to its pre-KaMagwaza-Msibi innocence. Both the IFP and VZ must now ponder their future and they must do so urgently. Time for VZ to change her hat?