Dr. Ashpenaz Nathan Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, the political leader of South Africa’s most well-known ethnic group, the Zulu, was born in Mahlabathini, KwaZulu on 27 August 1928 as the son of Chief Mathole Buthelezi and Princess Magogo ka Dinuzulu, the sister of King Solomon ka Dinuzulu. He can trace his ancestry via grandfather Dinuzulu to Shaka, the founder of Zulu nation. He received his education at Impumalanga Primary School, Mahashini, Nongoma (1933-1943), Adams College, Amanzimtoti (1944-1947), and the University of Fort Hare, where he was expelled in 1951 due to ANC Youth League activities.
After obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in History at the University of Natal in 1950, he decided to follow a legal career, but his ideal was cut short when he inherited the chieftainship of the large Buthelezi tribe in 1953 – a position he still holds today. He married Irene Audrey Thandekile Mzila on 2 July 1952, and the couple has three sons and four daughters. Within the political set-up he became head of the Masho Nangashoni Regional Authority in 1968, was elected chairman of the Zulu Territorial Authority in 1970, and Chief Minister of the KwaZulu homeland of the Zulu people of South Africa in 1972 and finally Chief Executive Councillor of the KwaZulu Legislative Assembly in 1976. He was constantly opposed to the homelands policy of the South African government and, unlike the Xhosa, Venda and Tswana nations, refused independence from rest of the nation.
Initially Buthelezi was an activist within the Youth League of the African National Congress (ANC), but in 1975 revived Inkatha ye Nkuleleko ye Sizwe (popularly known as Inkatha), a Zulu cultural organization, and acting as an anti-apartheid and Zulu nationalist organization. It later became and is still known as the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). He joined the ANC as a young man, but was opposed its radical agenda after the late 1970s, and broke with it in 1980. Inkhatha acted as a counterforce to the African National Congress in the struggle to end apartheid. Buthelezi often called for the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, but his disagreement to sanctions increased his isolation from the ANC. He was wooed both by the government and by business leaders who feared the greater radicalism of the ANC.
His political influence grew enormously in the early 1990s, after the ANC was legalized, and because he rejected the latter’s explicit Marxist economic policies. Violent clashes between Inkatha and ANC supporters increasingly occurred in the early 1990s. After the 1994 elections he was appointed Minister of Home Affairs in Nelson Mandela‘s first government, a position he retained under President Mbeki. He was left out of cabinet following the elections of 2004. In June 1999 Buthelezi was offered the post of deputy president of South Africa by President Thabo Mbeki but he refused the position.
Buthelezi is the author of a number of published works. He is also the recipient of the Knight Commander of the Star of Africa, for outstanding leadership, Liberia 1975, French National Order of Merit 1981, King’s Cross Award by HM King Zwelithini Goodwill ka Bhekuzulu, Ulundi 1989, as well as a number of Honorary Doctorates in Law.