The coffin covered with animal skin entered the stadium led by warriors in traditional dress: thousands of Zulus gathered on Saturday in South Africa for the funeral of an influential and feared figure of the powerful ethnic group, Mangosuthu Buthelezi .

The founder of the nationalist Inkatha party and member of the royal family died last weekend at 95 at his home in the southeastern province of KwaZulu-Natal. At the origin of a fratricidal war with Nelson Mandela’s ANC during the troubled period preceding the fall of apartheid, for some he embodied the proud Zulu spirit, for others, he dangerously resembled a warrior leader.

Saturday in Ulundi, one of the birthplaces of the most demographically important tribe in the southern African country (11 million), his remains were placed in the center of the packed stadium where the matches began at midday. state funeral.

The head of state, Cyril Ramaphosa, is to deliver the eulogy. His sulphurous predecessor, Jacob Zuma (2009-2018), party leaders and senior officials settled under a white marquee.

Throughout the morning, under a blazing sun, regiments of the women’s brigade of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) marched at a slow trot, chanting: “He led us this far.”

In leopard skins, imposing rows of “amabutho” warriors, traditionally dedicated to the protection of the royal family, brandished spears and shields, miming war. The day before, these men led the procession accompanying the remains of the Zulu chief from the morgue to the family home.

In the crowd, Bonga Makhoba, 31, told AFP that he drove 150 km and spent the night in his car to be present: Buthelezi “treated all of us Zulus like members of one family. That’s why I’m here.”

Flags across the country were lowered to half-mast. And for several days already, lines have lined up around the house of the deceased for public prayers. Some were wrapped in Inkatha flags, while others were equipped with pennants bearing the image of the deceased.

Initially a member of the historic ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), Mangosuthu Buthelezi created the Inkatha party in 1975. Initially envisaged as a Zulu cultural organization, the movement which he led with an iron fist for more than forty years, however, did not take long to enter into a bloody rivalry with the ANC.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the IFP led territorial wars with activists from Mandela’s party in predominantly black townships: the violence, described as the most significant in the country before the first multiracial elections in 1994, caused thousands of deaths.

A charismatic speaker despite a strong stutter, the Zulu leader questions the ANC’s anti-apartheid strategies and considers that Nelson Mandela, then in prison, weakened black positions.

Buthelezi is accused of having thus endangered the liberation movement against the racist apartheid regime and of having played the game of white power, which he has always denied. And despite the controversies, he had a long political career, spanning apartheid and the advent of democracy.

Prime Minister of the Zulu “Bantustan” – one of the pseudo “independent” territorial entities assigned to blacks under apartheid – he was elected MP in 1994 and appointed Minister of the Interior in Mandela’s government of national unity.

For some, his legacy will remain a subject of debate in the future but the foundation which bears his name has called for an end to perpetuating “old lies”.

09/16/2023 1:15:16 p.m. –         Ulundi (South Africa) (AFP) –        © 2023 AFP