Monumental Man

By Terri Levin

SA Jewish community pays Tribute to Mangosuthu Buthelezi on his 90th birthday

On Monday 8th October 2018 at Yeshiva College in Johannesburg, the Jewish community gathered to pay tribute to Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi in celebration of his 90th Birthday. The SA Jewish Board of Deputies, together with the SA Zionist Federation, SA Friends of Israel, and the Office of the Chief Rabbi – hosted the event of a man who has always been a warm friend of the Jewish community, not only in his home province of Kwazulu-Natal, but also at the national level.

At a time when standing up for Israel has become increasingly unfashionable, Prince Buthelezi’s staunch opposition to anti-Israel bias in the political arena, his advocacy of closer ties between Israel and South Africa, and his consistent support for a peaceful, negotiated solution to the Middle East conflict has earned him the gratitude of the South African Jewish community.

“Brothers in suffering”

Following South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, Buthelezi led his Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) to join the government of national unity, led by Nelson Mandela. Buthelezi would serve as Minister of Home Affairs until 2004 and continued to serve as both leader of the IFP and an MP, retaining his seat in the 2014 general election.

A less well-known fact is that Prince Buthelezi’s maternal great-grandfather was none other than King Cetshwayo kaMpande who was the king of the Zulu Kingdom from 1873 to 1879 and its leader during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. He famously led the Zulu nation to victory against the British in the Battle of Isandlwana. An even less well-known fact is that Prince Buthelezi played his illustrious ancestor in the 1964 blockbuster, “Zulu” which was Michael Cain’s first starring role in a major movie.

Prince Buthelezi has consistently refuted the baseless lie that Israel is an Apartheid state. As Chief Minister of the erstwhile KwaZulu Government, he visited Israel at the invitation of then Prime Minister Shimon Peres in August of 1985, where he met with Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and former Foreign Minister Abba Eban, whose birthplace was Cape Town.

“I will never forget the words of Prime Minister Peres spoken to me in private, when he told me, “We are brothers in suffering”,” he later wrote.

He (Peres) understood the shared pathos that linked our people. He understood that just as we suffered one another’s suffering, we should celebrate one another’s victories. It was a poignant moment, realising that he understood my struggle for South Africa.”

Prince Buthelezi wrote of KwaZulu’s appreciation to “the Israeli Government for providing agricultural aid, leadership training and assistance to women-led cooperatives in KwaZulu. We were deeply appreciative of the partnership that developed between the KwaZulu Government and the Government of Israel.”

In a later interview with the Israeli left wing Haaretz on the occasion of Shimon Peres’ 80th birthday, he emphatically refuted the lie of Israel being an Apartheid regime stating on the contrary, “It is a unique case of democracy.” He added that if he would be asked by the Palestinians for advice, “I would tell them to avoid violence and to prefer negotiations. Armed struggle and violence do not solve problems, only create them, and generate more violence.”

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Forging Ties. South African Zionist Federation in Israel (Telfed) members Leon Charney and wife Menorah and Telfed Director, Sidney Shapiro meet with Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi on his official visit to Israel in 1985 at the invitation of Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

Honouring the Prince on his 90th, were stirring tributes by Avrom Krengel (President of SAZF), Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein, who delivered a Dvar Torah, Shaun Zagnoev (Chairman of SAJBD) and Ben Swartz (Chairman of SAZF), who recounted inspiring moments “we shared on our trip to Israel in 2014.”

Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, Lior Keinan, brought greetings from Israel, stating that “You have a place of honour not only in South Africa, but in Israel, too”

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Buthelezi’s Boisterous Bash. An animated Yeshiva’ College honouring Buthelezi turning ninety (Photo Alon).

Presenting the Prince with a Menorah, Rabbi Avraham Tanzer (Glenhazel Shul and Rosh Yeshiva) noted that like the Menorah – “you bring light unto the nation.” Memory and melody meshed with the Grade 1 pupils, leading the entire gathering in the singing of “Happy Birthday”.

Illuminating. A ‘light unto his nation’, Buthelezi receives Menorah from Rabbi Avraham Tanzer (Photo Alon)

Poised at the Podium

Upright, defiant and proud, the ninety-year old prince, took more than a physical stand at the podium; he took a stand against the ANC – notably its skewered position on Israel.

“From the start, I disagree with the decision taken by the ANC to downgrade South Africa’s embassy in Israel. It is short-sighted and regressive. Moreover, it stands in opposition to our country’s role as a mediator for peace.”

Following the loud applause, he then regaled his long and enriching friendships with such Jewish families, as Arnold and Rosemary Zulman and Dr Mosie and Helen Suzman (anti-apartheid activist and politician), who “opened their homes and hearts to my family during the Apartheid struggle.”

Closing his address, Prince Buthelezi unapologetically asserted:

“I have no shame in telling the truth about Israel or about my friendship with the Jewish community. Indeed, I am proud.”

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Tall and Proud. “I have no shame in telling the truth about Israel. Indeed, I am proud,” says Mangosuthu Buthelezi from the podium at Yeshiva College celebrating his 90th birthday with Johannesburg’s Jewish community (Photo Alon).
Terri Levin
Terri Levin

Terri Levin, Media Liaison Officer of the South African Zionist Federation contributed to this article. Edited by David E. Kaplan