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PoliticsSouth Africa

South Africa holds state funeral for Zulu leader Buthelezi

September 16, 2023

Mangosuthu Buthelezi was a controversial figure in South Africa's freedom struggle but many Zulus see him protector of their culture. President Cyril Ramaphosa was due to deliver the eulogy.

The funeral procession for Mangosuthu Buthelezi
Mangosuthu Buthelezi died last week at the age of 95Image: Rajesh Jantilal/AFP/Getty Images

Thousands of mourners gathered in eastern South Africa on Saturday for the state funeral of Mangosuthu Buthelezi, a divisive Zulu leader.

Buthelezi, a veteran South African politician, Zulu prince and controversial figure during the apartheid liberation struggle, died last week aged 95.

Mourners attended a stadium in the town of Ulundi wearing traditional Zulu outfits made of leopard and other animal skins.

They sang and danced ahead of the service.

A man in traditional Zulu attire holding a shield at the funeral of Mangosuthu Buthelezi
Many attendees wore traditional Zulu clothes made of leopard skinsImage: Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images

The eulogy was set to be delivered by President Cyril Ramaphosa. His predecessor, Jacob Zuma, was also in attendance.

South African media reported that two giraffes and six impalas had been slaughtered as part of the ritual preparations.

Who was Mangosuthu Buthelezi?

Buthelezi was a traditional Zulu prince who founded the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) in 1975.

Since the 1970s, he had served as premier of the nominally independent homeland of KwaZulu — a political creation of the apartheid government that was used to deprive Black South Africans of their rights elsewhere in the country.

Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Nelson Mandela
Mangosuthu Buthelezi became a minister in Nelson Mandela's government in 1994Image: Walter Dhladhla/AFP/Getty Images

Buthelezi was dogged by allegations of being an ally of the apartheid government, which he furiously denied.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Buthelezi's Zulu nationalist movement became entangled in a bloody conflict with the African National Congress, led by Nelson Mandela.

Some 20,000 people died in the fighting and hundreds of thousands fled their homes.

The two movements put aside their differences when Buthelezi agreed to run in South Africa's first multi-racial elections in 1994.

People sitting at the funeral of Mangosuthu Buthelezi
Thousands of mourners attended the funeral in KwaZulu-NatalImage: Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images

He went on to serve two terms as minister of home affairs in the post-apartheid government ushered in by Mandela.

"Buthelezi has been an outstanding leader in the political and cultural life of our nation, including the ebbs and flows of our liberation struggle," Ramaphosa had said when announcing Buthelezi's death last Saturday.

zc/sms (Reuters, AFP)