Mourners Gather in South Africa for State Funeral of Divisive Zulu Leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi

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Thousands are expected to pay tribute to Buthelezi, the once-feared founder of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) who died last week aged 95.

Thousands of mourners in traditional warrior headbands gathered in eastern South Africa on Saturday for the state funeral of Mangosuthu Buthelezi, a powerful but divisive leader implicated in a wave of deadly violence that marked the birth of modern South Africa.

Buthelezi -- a veteran South African politician, Zulu prince, and controversial figure during the apartheid liberation struggle -- died last week aged 95.

Mourners streamed into a stadium in the town of Ulundi -- the ancient capital of the Zulu kingdom -- wearing traditional Zulu outfits made of leopard and other animal skins. They sang and danced ahead of the funeral.

The eulogy was set to be delivered by President Cyril Ramaphosa, who ordered flags to be flown at half-staff across the country. His predecessor, Jacob Zuma, was also in attendance.

South African media reported that two giraffes and six impalas had been slaughtered as part of the ritual preparations.

Buthelezi, who founded the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) in 1975, had undergone a procedure for back pain in July and was later readmitted to hospital when it did not subside.

Since the 1970s, he had served as premier of the nominally independent homeland of KwaZulu -- a political creation of the apartheid government that was used to deprive Black South Africans of their rights elsewhere in the country.

Buthelezi was dogged by allegations of being an ally of the apartheid government, which he furiously denied.

He was once a foe of Ramaphosa and his late boss Nelson Mandela, as the pair led negotiations to end white rule in South Africa. For years, Buthelezi was defined by his bitter rivalry with the ruling African National Congress (ANC), led by Mandela.

The party, which has governed since the first post-apartheid elections in 1994, was his political home until he broke away to form the IFP, which became the dominant force in what is now KwaZulu-Natal province.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Buthelezi's Zulu nationalist movement became entangled in a bloody conflict with the ANC, causing some 20,000 people to die and hundreds of thousands of others to flee their homes.

Both parties put aside their differences when Buthelezi agreed to run in South Africa's 1994 multi-racial elections, which brought Mandela to power.

Buthelezi, who went on to serve two terms as minister of home affairs in the post-apartheid government, stepped down as IFP leader in 2019.

"Buthelezi has been an outstanding leader in the political and cultural life of our nation, including the ebbs and flows of our liberation struggle," Ramaphosa had said when announcing Buthelezi's death last Saturday.