Liezl van der Merwe rushes to the defence of Mangosuthu Buthelezi (SA needs Buthelezi, Letters, July 4) and, although she makes some valid points, Prince Buthelezi's leadership of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) deserves to be criticised.

The party has not held an electoral conference since 2007, and is unlikely to do so soon. The founding of the National Freedom Party was probably a direct result of Prince Buthelezi's dictatorial tendencies.

In addition, on his watch the IFP has fallen from being the largest party in KwaZulu-Natal and a relatively significant national political force to an organisation with no national reach or significant support outside some areas in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

In most political parties, such a collapse in support would have seen the party leader ousted, but this has not been the case in the IFP. One can only surmise that this is because of Prince Buthelezi's iron grip on the party, with most members and officials afraid to challenge him.

It should also be pointed out that Prince Buthelezi has been leading Inkatha since 1975, longer than President Robert Mugabe has been in charge of Zimbabwe.

No organisation can remain healthy and vibrant with one leader at the helm for so long. It leads only to organisational stagnation and a hostility to new ideas and ways of doing things.

It should be remembered that, during apartheid, Prince Buthelezi was a brave and principled man, and under the current government his role in standing up to the National Party regime has probably not been recognised as it should have been. He certainly did more than any other homeland leader in defying Pretoria.

However, one should also not forget that his stubbornness before the 1994 election brought this country to the brink of civil war, as well as a number of other indiscretions, such as his flirtations with the militant white right in organisations such as the Freedom Alliance.

Prince Buthelezi should be lauded as a great South African. However, he is yesterday's man. His continued leadership of the IFP will mean that his party will continue its slide towards irrelevancy, and into the dustbin of history.

Marius Roodt