ULUNDI : JULY 29, 2001

Today is a very sad day, not only for the family of Bishop Lawrence Buthelezi, but for the wider Buthelezi family, for the Buthelezi Clan, and for the community of this district. We express our deepest condolences to Mrs Zodwa Buthelezi, his widow; to his children Mqabayethu, Thulasizwe, Zamashenge and Fanelesibonge. Our deepest sympathies also go to Mrs Letie Buthelezi (uMa-Mncube) his mother, and other members of the family. My sympathies go to the whole community which he served so well. When we feel as devastated as we do by the loss his family has suffered, through the sudden and untimely death of Bishop Lawrence, we can only imagine how members of his family feel at their irreparable loss.

We sympathise with members of his church and with many people in our community who regarded him as "the People's Pastor". He was very quick to bind the wounds of the people of this community, whether they were family, illness, death, or spiritual wounds. Today the people of this district know that they are without a man of God to whom they would flee in the face of any danger or tragedy.

At this year's Annual Conference of the IFP on the 7th of July, he was the one who led us in Devotions. It never occurred to us that he was ministering to us at that Conference for the very last time. On the 20th of July, I was invited by the Mayors of AbaQulusi and of the Zululand District to officiate at the handing over of a new community hall in Nsabekhuluma in the Mpithimpithini area of the Buthelezi Clan, whose Inkosi was Prince Thembitshe Buthelezi, who is now also deceased. On arrival there, I found that Bishop Lawrence Buthelezi had been requested to lead devotions prior to the function at which the hand-over of the community hall was to take place.

I had discovered that morning that the last one of my own father's widows, Indlunkulu Rebecca (Oka-Hobhe-Mthembu) had died at my Madaka homestead and I announced this loss at the function. I had 'phoned my parish priest, Canon Ntombela, informing him that we would bury mother Oka-Hobhe the following day, the 21st of July 2001. I knew that as a member of the Buthelezi family, that Bishop Buthelezi would probably be present but we had not had an opportunity to discuss the matter. Canon Ntombela had another commitment on the 21st July, but we agreed that he would join us at Madaka for the funeral service of mother Oka-Hobhe after the wedding which he conducted that day. When I arrived at Madaka for the funeral service, Bishop Lawrence had already arrived ahead of anyone else.

As Canon Ntombela was delayed, I then suggested to Bishop Buthelezi that he should start conducting the funeral service so that Canon Ntombela could take over when he arrived. Indeed, Bishop Buthelezi started the funeral service immediately and was joined by Canon Ntombela shortly thereafter. After the funeral service, I asked Bishop Lawrence to host a luncheon for some of the family members and other people which we had arranged for them. I remember him near the marque approaching me with Bishop Manas Buthelezi, the retired Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Soweto, to express thanks. It never occurred to me that this was the last time I would see him alive. I was not aware of any ailment or sickness in his body. To me he looked a specimen of health itself.

I left for Durban and Pretoria on the 22nd of July as we had a three-day Cabinet workshop called the Cabinet Lekgotla from the 23rd of July. It was with great shock after luncheon on the 23rd of July when the Rev. Musa Zondi told me the sad news that Bishop Lawrence had passed away suddenly in the early hours of that very morning. I couldn't believe my ears. I was quite devastated. Bishop Lawrence was very close to me and to my family, not merely because he belonged to the Buthelezi family, but because of a very special relationship which had grown between us over the years. I cannot recall the number of occasions when we had family tragedies and bereavements when he was a tower of strength not only to me but also to my family. A very special bond developed between him and our eldest daughter, Phumzile, as they were contemporaries as students at St. Augustine's High School in Nquthu. Indeed, we can never forget what Bishop Lawrence did for Phumzile and for all of us, when Phumzile's son, Nkosinathi, was killed in a car accident in February this year.

So with this background, you will understand what I am about to say as a tribute to this very special man of God, Lawrence Dumisani Buthelezi.

If Bishop Lawrence Buthelezi were standing at this podium today, I know he would find just the right words to comfort our broken hearts and would point us in the direction of a scriptural passage which perfectly captures the solemnity of the moment and the depth of our loss. This is how we knew our brother. His wise words, spoken on every occasion, will forever echo in our collective memory. It grieves me deeply that I stand here instead to mourn the passing of Bishop Buthelezi and to pay tribute to a man whose praises we may never cease to sing. I can almost not believe he is gone. As I have said, he was such a close friend and a well-known figure in this community. Something has changed in Ulundi, and today our community seems less like itself than it was last week. In fact it is so, for his death has left a big void in our entire community.

The shock of this tragedy remains with me as I offer condolences to the family of my brother, who was such a wonderful son to me. Words cannot express the compassion I feel towards you during this time. My heart aches to know that such a close-knit family is today bereaved. For his wife, Zodwa, his two sons and his two beautiful daughters, Lawrence Buthelezi leaves a gap that love alone may fill. His love for his family is large enough to transcend even death, and powerful enough to fuel his memory for years to come. I pray that God may comfort Fanelesibonge, who was with her father when he died, and that in His mercy He may grant her perfect recall of her fatherís strength, health, joviality and love. My prayers are likewise with Bishop Butheleziís wife, who has returned to Ulundi from the United Kingdom under such tragic circumstances. I welcome her home and pray for every solace she may find in being near her children, in their hour of great need.

As I consider the loss we have all suffered, I am reminded of the precarious nature of our happiness which, dressed in the comfort of familiarity, may be snatched away at any moment. What seems permanent is temporary, and our own desire to keep things unchanged holds no sway in this world. I have watched Ulundi grow and transform throughout the years and with each change I have felt my own heart take time to become accustomed to a new landscape. Man can adapt to nearly anything, but when one familiar element is removed so suddenly, so unexpectedly, from his experience, a vacuum is left in his heart. Bishop Lawrence Buthelezi leaves just such a vacuum. He is so familiar to us. He was always present, always involved, always playing a role in our meetings, interactions and daily life. He would be with us when we rejoiced or when we mourned our loved ones.

His name and his friendly face were well-known at community events and many expected, with good reason, to see him wherever the IFP gathered. I will forever be grateful to my brother and Father-in-the-Lord for his faithful devotion to my Party, out of which an intimate friendship grew between us that has spanned a great number of years. Bishop Buthelezi was always reliable. One was always sure where one stood with him. Indeed, Mrs Zodwa Buthelezi can recall an occasion when Bishop Lawrence and herself had to flee Modderport where there was an SACC workshop because of the hostility they encountered from some political activists.

In the style of a true leader, he communicated openly and constantly with those around him, confirming his genuine interest in people by listening and speaking about their lives. Unlike some who are afraid to get too involved, Bishop Buthelezi believed that if one cares, involvement is unavoidable, necessary and expected. He never shied away from the real issues or hid behind superficial words. His was a true and a profound compassion which expressed itself in action as much as in words. He immersed himself in the life of this community and became almost synonymous with community life in this district. Taking the responsibility to lead upon his shoulders, he determined to become fully involved.

Motivated by this decision, Bishop Buthelezi played a conciliatory role in many disputes and disagreements, both at a personal and political level. At perhaps the highest level, his presence served to infuse greater energy and commitment into the recent meetings between church leaders and traditional leaders as the future and the difficulties of our amaKhosi were discussed. This is a work left unfinished which must be taken up with enthusiasm towards completion, not only in honour of Bishop Buthelezi, but for the sake of a way of life which he also respected and recognised. He has given the example. Deeply involved in this community, Bishop Lawrence Buthelezi was never timid to make his mark on our landscape. A debt of gratitude is owed for the church centre which he built, which I trust shall remain a venue for social and religious gatherings, where minds may meet and hearts be knit together.

I feel that I should share with you what in retrospect I regarded as a warning to me that we had suffered this loss. Without knowing that he had already passed on, I did my meditations on the morning of the 23rd of July and this is what I read in a book of meditations entitled "Daily Light".


Of that day and that hour knoweth no man no, not the Angels which are in heaven, neither the son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. And what I say unto you I say unto you all, watch - The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men court slackness; but is long suffering to us-ward - not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. - The coming of the Lord draweth nigh. The judge standeth before the door. - Surely I come quickly.

I was so struck by the coincidence of such a message on the day Bishop Lawrence Buthelezi passed away. As if that was not surprising enough for me, on the following day, the 24th of July, I also read from the same book:


It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth him good. - whom, though I were righteous yet would I not answer, but I would make supplication to my judge. - The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. - What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? Jesus wept - A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. - Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.

It was as if the Lord was preparing me for the sad news and already comforting me.

In every aspect of life, our brother gave foremost place to the truths of his faith. As a local businessman, Bishop Buthelezi took up the role of tending gardens, and I feel that he would be the first to point out the significance of manís dominion mandate to subdue the earth and tend it. Such harmony is consistent with the character of Lawrence Buthelezi. In my own mind, I shall always remember him as being intimately intertwined with the truths of life, seeking closer communion with God, his fellow man and himself. In every conversation, he unerringly produced the perfect analogy or the most apt biblical quote to beautifully illustrate his vision and view. Time and again I have been struck by the remarkable clarity with which he understood and spoke of our shared Christian faith.

On many occasions I have been deeply encouraged by Bishop Buthelezi and always found his observations appropriate and thought-provoking. There are many conversations we have shared which shall continue to occupy my mind, and I shall recall my brotherís words and friendly laughter for the rest of my days. It is my fondest desire that his journey towards truth now finds fulfilment and that his consuming thirst for intimacy with the Almighty may at last be quenched. As it is written in 1 Corinthians 13 verse 12: 

"For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known."

Paul continues his exhortation saying: 

"And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." 

Indeed, it is love which allows us to celebrate Lawrence Butheleziís victorious life, even as we grieve his passing.

There can be no end to my praises of my son and brother in Christ, and no end to the sorrow I feel knowing that so abruptly he has exited from our daily lives. For some time to come, no meeting will feel quite the same, no gathering will seem complete. Wherever members of this community meet, whenever there is a dispute to be solved or a need to be met, or a cause to stand for, Bishop Lawrence Buthelezi will be missed. In the every-day experience of Ulundi, something has changed. We are poorer for his death, but richer for having shared his life. I feel certain that there are very few who have not personally been moved by the simplest messages of our brother as he stood before political gatherings, social get-togethers and individual men and women. I truly feel that the prophetic words of Isaiah concerning Christ could also have been uttered from the lips of our brother, when he said: 

"The Lord God has given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary." [Isaiah 50 verse 4].

Let us take comfort in knowing that Bishop Buthelezi is permanently written into a chapter in the history of this community. Nothing may erase his memory, neither time nor untimely tragedy. As seasons and landscapes change, this one certainly shall remain, that the footprints of a man well-loved and deeply respected forever cover the length and breadth of KwaZulu Natal. I pray that his family may be comforted and draw strength from our shared suffering. You love him because he belonged to you; we love him as our own. Now, may our brother rest in eternal peace at the wellspring of overwhelming joy.


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