The IFP reshapes itself
The IFP conference held this weekend was an important moment in the current political landscape, and one which may have lasting ramifications. On Friday, Mangosuthu Buthelezi took the politically-correct step of releasing himself from the leadership but was unsurprisingly voted back into that position without much further fuss. However, national chairman Lionel Mtshali made a rather dejected departure after being voted out of his position and replaced by Dr Ziba Jiyane.
In his address to his party, Buthelezi stated an interest in calling a conference of all opposition groups to define the role of the 'opposition'. This is an important move that will win the IFP no friends within the DA, but could be music to the ears of disgruntled South Africans voters.
The IFP party strategists believe that they can challenge the ANC head-on, with the Sunday Times reporting that "they believe they have a chance of driving a wedge between the ANC leadership and its supporters at a time when the ANC does not have a clear post-Mbeki succession plan."
With no disrespect to the DA, I personally think that if anyone can take ANC voters from their base, perhaps the IFP can. If the ANC fails in this second Mbeki term to comprehensively solve its problems in delivery of services and 1994 election promises, the IFP could take advantage of growing dissatisfaction amongst the ANC voting base. This however, would be dependent on the strength of traditional Xhosa-Zulu rivalries.
Much has been made, particularly in KZN itself, of the spat between the DA and the IFP for the title of official opposition. However, the IFP holds the distinct advantage over the DA as having higher moral currency as an opposition party, considering its history.
However, the party has significant problems to overcome. Firstly, the party has never truly succeeded in breaking out of its traditional power base of Kwazulu-Natal. Secondly, the party has not proved itself to be very efficient in terms of election strategy or campaigning abilities. The IFP has taken some disastrous strategic decisions over the past decade, which has led them to their current position which is tenous at best. The IFP has also struggled to develop a strong enough leadership structure beneath Buthelezi.
The answer in truly challenging the ANC will be in the alignment with other smaller opposition parties and offering of a pragmatic alternative choice to the ANC's voters. Where the DA fits into that alliance could largely depend on that conference, but one feels that no alliance can be big enough to fit two leaders as egotistical and charasmatic as Leon and Buthelezi.