He was educated at Impumalanga Primary School, Mahashini, Nongoma from 1933 to 1943, then at Adams College, Amanzimtoti from 1944 to 1947.
Mangosuthu studied at the University of Fort Hare from 1948 to 1950, where he joined the African National Congress Youth League and came into contact with Robert Mugabe and Robert Sobukwe. He was expelled from the university after student boycotts. He later completed his degree at the University of Natal.
He was an interpreter with the South African government’s Bantu Department in Durban until 1957 when he was appointed head of the Buthelezi tribe in the Mahlabatini district. On his return home he campaigned for English to be taught in schools in order to avoid total tribal isolation with the Zulu language.
On June 9, 1970, he was elected Chief Executive Officer of the newly established Zulu Territorial Authority, a title subsequently changed to Chief Minister. Repeated clashes between him and the South Africa government which backed the Zulu traditionalists in an attempt to curb his power reached a climax over the status of King Goodwill who was installed on December 3, 1971. Chief Buthelezi—although clad in full war dress with leopard skin and axe at the installation insisted that traditions belonged to the past and that the king’s role should be largely ceremonial. In the end he won.
On January 17, 1973, he rejected the South Africa government’s plan for land consolidation since it split the Zulu homelands into six units and left the best land with white farmers. He told Parliament: “We will not allow ourselves to be used as a facade. Your executive will not be a party to a fraudulent negotiation.” He espoused the cause of the Zulu workers on strike for higher wages at Richards Bay, Natal, in March 1972. Although he was warned that he had no right to intervene, he urged all Zulus not to undermine the campaign of the underpaid by accepting jobs as replacements at the aluminium works.
Outstanding leader of 4 million Zulus, sometimes hailed as South Africa’s equivalent of late Martin Luther King in America. Bravely, he works within the Bantustan system because of his conviction that “politics is the art of the Possible” but he never compromises in his opposition to apartheid. No stooge, he defies the South African government on every possible occasion, challenging over land allocation, which he condemned as “white avarice gone mad”, and over low wages paid to Africans.