IFP leader Hlabisa’s message of rational hope to nervous South Africans

Inkatha Freedom Party president Velenkosini Hlabisa, widely tipped for a key cabinet post in SA’s new Government of National Unity, addresses the key questions of the moment with BizNews editor Alec Hogg. These include the stability of the GNU, Zuma’s MK and how it will act in Parliament and the KZN Province, the goals of IFP-led KZN, and the extension of the GNU partnership to the local level. A massive dollop of rationality and hope for nervous South Africans.

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Summary of the interview

In an interview, Alec Hogg and Velenkosini Hlabisa, president of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), discussed South Africa’s new government of national unity. Hlabisa expressed gratitude for international praise, emphasizing that the coalition, comprising the ANC, Democratic Alliance, IFP, and smaller parties, marked a turning point for the country. He assured that the government was vigilant against potential unrest like the 2021 riots in KwaZulu-Natal, urging MK to pursue grievances legally.

Read more: 🔒 The Economist: Another SA lesson in democracy for the world. Bravo.

Hlabisa affirmed that the coalition’s national and provincial success would positively impact local governance, addressing municipal challenges through unity. Confident in the parties’ understanding of the voters’ mandate for unity, he highlighted the coalition’s rapid formation to tackle issues like poverty and corruption. Addressing cabinet size, Hlabisa hoped for a streamlined yet representative executive. The interview highlighted the coalition’s potential for transformative governance and stability in South Africa.

Edited transcript of the interview ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Alec Hogg (00:10.542)
The world is giving South Africa a huge thumbs up for the government of national unity. I’ve got to read this to you from The Economist, which is our partner in the UK and the most authoritative and highest reputation publication on earth. They say that 30 years after 1994, the rainbow nation has shown that it still has lessons in democracy for the rest of the world. High praise indeed.

Alec Hogg (00:44.078)
One of the key players in the government of national unity that South Africa will be participating in over the next few years is Mr. Velenkosini Hlabisa, the president of the Inkatha Freedom Party. He’s with us now. Mr. Hlabisa, it’s high praise indeed coming from the international community. I know you’re well connected and have many people around the world who’ve been watching this. What has the reaction been that you have received?

Velenkosini Hlabisa (01:19.385)
Thank you very much, Alec, and greetings to the viewers of the BizNews. South Africa has reached a turning point as we referred to the elections on 29 May. It will be a turning point where the majoritarian principle will be replaced by a coalition government. We are exactly there. Yesterday, the government of national unity was inaugurated, which is formed by a combination of political parties. Chiefly among them are the ANC, Democratic Alliance, the IFP, and other smaller parties. These parties have come together by the mandate of the voters because the voters did not give one political party a majority to govern South Africa. They said, “You work together, find common ground, and take South Africa forward.” This is a special moment for our country. The available abilities and skills will collectively work together to balance each other and also act as checks and balances so that all the ills that happened, especially in the past 20 years, are brought to an end and the available resources are not used as they had been through corruption but benefit the people of South Africa. We had long prepared for this period. The IFP has been part of study tours to countries like Denmark and Germany, countries with successful coalition governments. We learned good lessons, which we will share daily in shaping the government of national unity, a coalition government because it is not a choice of the political parties but a decision by voters to say, “You work together, find common ground, take our country forward.”

Alec Hogg (04:15.406)
It requires a lot of humility. I was wondering what it was like in the negotiations with the ANC and the DA. How did you find each other in those discussions? Was it a tough road?

Velenkosini Hlabisa (04:34.201)
Indeed, Alec, there is a framework document which was signed yesterday as a preliminary guide to the GNU. The framework is still going to be refined and given details, creating structures like deadlock mechanisms. What do you do when you reach a deadlock? Create a political council which must meet consistently every week so that you do not wait for problems to occur and then convene a meeting. You have a standing meeting. It is true, it’s a combination of divergent political views. What will help? The IFP and the Democratic Alliance have been members of the multi-party charter. We spent 12 months meeting every fortnight, preparing for a new government. Unfortunately, the ANC was not there. We had different positions in terms of policies, but we tried to find common ground. The next step now, the leading political parties in government with divergent views on policies, need to find synergy on key areas. It cannot just change overnight to have one policy on foreign matters, the economy, and various issues. We need to identify common grounds and what can take our country forward. Where we have divergent views, involve experts to come and assist in finding common ground because the responsibility in front of us is to take the country forward. Your differences, find synergy. Find what will work for the people of South Africa. Go beyond your political ideologies. Political ideologies can be good for a political party but not for the country. You may believe in a particular political idea, only to find it is not helping to take the country forward. We need to revisit the reality that the key challenges—poverty, unemployment, a weak economy, crime, corruption, load-shedding—don’t need much of a political ideology; they need a practical approach and a short turnaround time to solve these problems and make people see the future being revived in their lifetime.

Alec Hogg (07:44.207)
For many of us, it feels similar to 1994. Is that an exaggeration or perhaps idealistic, or are we at a second transition for the country?

Velenkosini Hlabisa (08:00.633)
The only difference between now and 1994 is that in 1994, the ANC had a big majority. They could take decisions alone. In 2024, they don’t have the majority. Decisions must be consensus decisions. If it is not a consensus, it must be a sufficient consensus decision. If it can’t be reached even through consensus, there must be a deadlock-breaking mechanism. What is similar? You have extended brains beyond one political party working together, which allows the country to tap into the talent, skills, and abilities it has across political parties. You have sufficient checks and balances; we will be watchdogs for each other. Corruption will be priority number one to ensure it is brought to an end. We are all vigilant because we know it robbed our people of billions of rands that should have made a big change in our country. The only difference between now and 1994 is that the ANC cannot make decisions that do not make sense because it will need the support of other partners in the GNU.

Alec Hogg (09:50.702)
What about KwaZulu-Natal? You have worked together as a government of national unity to get a very small majority there, and the IFP will have the premier back in KZN. Given the forces on the other side and the threats being made by Jacob Zuma and MK, is that something that will be sustainable?

Velenkosini Hlabisa (10:20.153)
Yes, yesterday the premier was elected. KwaZulu-Natal is now under the IFP. We are confident the government that was inaugurated yesterday will take the province forward. The MK will be engaged to play a meaningful role in taking our country forward. The MK was not present in the National Assembly yesterday. It’s an indicator of a party still trying to resolve certain major problems, which at most are internal issues. What happened in KwaZulu-Natal was a new group came wanting to replace those who were gazetted. That is also an indicator of a political party with deep internal issues to resolve before it can be entrusted to make a contribution, let alone lead the province. On the day of inauguration, if you don’t understand that you can’t bring someone new who is not gazetted, you can’t expect more. Our approach is to engage the MK. Get your house in order. Deal with whether you accept the results or not. Deal with the court case. Make a final position so we understand if you want to build or are not in the mood to build because you are still fighting. I hope very soon, they will have their house in order and start to make a meaningful contribution. Through involvement, they will become part of taking KwaZulu-Natal forward and contribute in the National Assembly as well as other provinces in our country.

Alec Hogg’s interview notes

Alec Hogg (12:53.006)
What about the position of the NFP, the National Freedom Party, which holds the one single seat in the KZN government that gives the government of national unity the majority there? How secure is that one seat?

Velenkosini Hlabisa (13:00.793)
The NFP made the right decision and took the interest of the people of KwaZulu-Natal to heart. If the NFP chose to support the MK, it would be choosing a deadlock. If you apply brakes and want the car to move forward but put all your pressure on brakes, you are not assisting the car to go forward. That one vote will make KwaZulu-Natal accelerate if it belongs to the GNU of the province. I am confident if the NFP wants to see another day in politics after the next election, it will always act in the interest of taking the people of KwaZulu-Natal forward. The only way to take the people of KwaZulu-Natal forward is to be on the side of the GNU that will go forward. If you pull out from the GNU, you are creating a deadlock and people will judge you harshly in the next elections.

Alec Hogg (14:47.054)
In July 2021, there were riots well documented in KwaZulu-Natal. There have been subliminal, at least, threats that this will be repeated. How prepared would the government of KZN and indeed the government of national unity be for a repeat of what happened then?

Velenkosini Hlabisa (15:11.161)
Everybody is vigilant, in standby for anything. And the people of KwaZulu-Natal have seen a lot during the violence, in the early 90s. No one wants to see that time coming back again. The 2021 July riots came up unexpectedly, and everybody knows the impact. Some businesses closed up to date and people lost jobs. Really, people would not entertain doing that again.

Velenkosini Hlabisa (16:07.609)
I’m confident that the MK will do what is right. People voted the MK to go and represent them in government. Whatever views they have, they must express those views in government. If they object to the results, they must follow the court process to challenge the outcome. The point then of resorting to violence will not be a suitable thing to do for the interest of the Pondo Isizu as a political party and also for the people of KwaZulu-Natal. I’m sure if the MKs see that they can’t make it through the court of law, they will get into a constructive engagement of how they get involved in the governments and taking forward the province of KwaZulu-Natal as well as the country at a national level in other provinces.

Alec Hogg (17:24.494)
Mr. Hlabisa, what about further down the governance scales for the government of national unity? Are you now going to be working together to fix the metros that have really been broken? Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Nelson Mandela Bay. If your GNU parties were to be working together there, those deadlocks could also have been improved and the corruption also addressed. Is that on the agenda?

Velenkosini Hlabisa (17:56.377)
Definitely, the 2024 elections marked a turning point in our country. Although they were elections at a provincial and national government spheres, willy-nilly, they will impact the local government sphere. Once the provincial and national government establishment has been finalized, the next phase will be to look at the functionality of the local governments because the municipalities that do not function well are the municipalities in most cases which are hung municipalities where people spend most of their time arguing and debating their political ideologies in the boardroom other than attending the issues that affect people. Definitely, there will be a relook at the municipalities that are hung and where there is contestation in order to infuse the spirit of a local government sphere where the government is working for unity and advancing people.

Alec Hogg (19:20.014)
That’s all very good news and not surprisingly the world is applauding, but what could derail this? What could knock it all off track?

Velenkosini Hlabisa (19:34.649)
I have confidence that the political parties got the message clear. There was no ambiguity. We did not just decide that no, let us come together. The voters said come together. And it’s urgent. We had 14 days to meet the deadline. People were working day in and day out to find a common ground to get the inauguration done within 14 days, which ends today with the inauguration of the NCOP. To me, that success in other countries, as you know Alec, there is sufficient time for coalitions to engage and eventually form a government. In South Africa, it’s only 40 days after the results. And we made it. To me, the sense of urgency is there, and we know what needs to be done when. We are all clear. Our country in the past 20 years has moved from good to bad and nearly to worse. There is no time to waste but to reverse, push back the tides of poverty, crime, unemployment, corruption, and load-shedding. The determination will have to overcome whatever challenge that can crop up. That is my view.

Alec Hogg (21:36.078)
And finally, on the cabinet. Now, clearly there has been a lot of criticism on the size of the cabinet. But with a government of national unity, many parties would like to be represented there. Have you broached that subject at all in your discussions?

Velenkosini Hlabisa (21:56.601)
The president indicated that he is configuring a new structure bearing in mind the size of the cabinet. And once, as a leading party, he has made up his mind, he will give the determination. And when we were campaigning, we expressed that challenge that our cabinet is bloated, there are ministries which we don’t need. There are deputy ministries which you don’t need.

Velenkosini Hlabisa (22:41.721)
We hope he will take into consideration as he indicated that he’s contemplating on it because he himself is aware. And how to mitigate that now you have various political parties whom you must satisfy at an executive level so that they can have a platform to express their views and make their contribution. I’m sure he will find a way how to navigate and get a cabinet that will turn things around and make the economy of our country grow, create jobs, and deal with the challenges facing our people. Because Alec, what creates a bigger problem is when you have a bigger, a bloated cabinet that is failing to deliver. Then you say, but you see, the first thing you should do, just cut it down because it is not giving any results. But sometimes if you have a big cabinet that is delivering to the maximum, you might applaud it because the benefits are good.

Alec Hogg (23:38.638)
Velenkosini Hlabisa is the president of the Inkatha Freedom Party, and I’m Alec Hogg from Biznews.com.

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