JOHANNESBURG– Following the unexpected announcement by Inkosi Mangosuthu Buthelezi on Sunday that he is stepping down as president of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), attention is now focused on his successor and whether he will be able to take the Zulu-based opposition party to new heights.

Velenkosini Hlabisa, 52, is the man set to become the next IFP president, taking over the reins from 89-year-old Inkosi Buthelezi who has led the party since it was founded in 1975. A modest and respected leader, Hlabisa joined the IFP at the age of 13 and grew in its ranks.

A teacher by profession, he had served as a member of the Youth Brigade and was later elected as its National Secretary. He has also represented the party in local government since 1995. In 2011, he was elected Provincial Secretary.

Buthelezi has described him as a man of integrity who has served the IFP with distinction and analysts believe, it is such traits which aided his rise to the top.

Prof Bheki Mngomezulu, a political analyst said: “Given his loyalty and long service in the party and the fact he is relatively young when compared with Buthelezi for example, we know one of the concerns is that the youth have been crying foul about not being well represented in the national structures of the party.

Prof Mngomezulu believes Inkosi Buthelezi has made the right move at the right time, “The timing is perfect because Inkosi Buthulezi will be there to provide support that is needed and it’s good that he did it now, while he is still available, the only thing that would been worse is if Hlabisa came into the picture when Buthelezi was no more than it would have been chaos.