HOW WE MET

JANI ALLAN AND CHIEF BUTHELEZI

The journalist Jani Allan, 45, was born in Gauteng, South Africa. In 1992 she unsuccessfully sued Channel 4 for alleging she slept with the South African right-wing leader Eugene Terreblanche; the case made tabloid headlines when her best friend testified that she'd spied on the pair through a keyhole. Allan became a born-again Christian in 1994. Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, 68, is president of South Africa's Inkatha Freedom Party. He was born into Zulu aristocracy and had a traditional upbringing, working as a herdboy in his youth. He now holds the world record for the longest-ever speech (it lasted five days), has seven children and lives with his wife, Irene, in Kwazulu

JANI ALLAN: At the time I met Chief Buthelezi, in 1982, he was still flavour of the month - that was before political pragmatism took over. I remember an interminable lunch for the opening of the Drakensberg Sun Hotel in Natal. There wasn't an interview scheduled with His Excellency afterwards, but I thought I'd try and busk it anyway. The corridor outside his room was like a Japanese subway, packed with chiselled-faced Zulus. Very stern and very forbidding. My mind kept flashing back to a scene from the film Shaka Zulu where Impi warriors are chanting: "One Zulu is worth a thousand other men."

I felt embarrassed to be white, to be so terribly white and so terribly ignorant of his culture. Yet it was literally one of those synapse things when I walked into the room and actually met him - you just know somebody, maybe it's from another life or whatever.

He's a very controlled person and very measured; an epic character who I'm sure can be exacting - and I know he's a workaholic - but he's got the greatest sense of humour. I called him from London once and said to him: "You wait, they'll make homosexuality compulsory for anyone over five next. I just saw a guy at Wimbledon station wearing a dress - and it wasn't even a nice dress." It's not the kind of thing a Zulu would laugh at - but he laughed enormously. Buthelezi has a wide-open sort of laugh, like a train coming through a tunnel. And he sometimes says things that are unintentionally endearing, for example when he uses words like "balderdash" and "poppycock". It's so Brideshead Revisted.

Most of the time our discussions are political, because it's hard not to be political in this country (not like in Britain, where you can ignore the rather sedate way everything's going downhill). As I might as well come from a different planet, he doesn't exactly ask me for political advice, it's more really about how he's feeling. I've started thinking in my old age that I can't be friendly with someone if they disagree with me about key issues like hanging and abortion. Those are the bedrock issues from which the rest of a person's character flows. But despite the fact that everyone thinks that I'm an IFP member, I do not have any political affiliations. I support Buthelezi the man because he makes me believe that heroes still exist.

I'm always amazed how he straddles two cultures. Last year he took me for lunch in Pretoria. We went with all his bodyguards to a restaurant where the food looked so beautiful it should have been framed, not eaten. Needless to say, it was a great treat for me. Whenever I go out with somebody, I always think, "please let them not hold their knife like a pencil!" That's fatal. But Buthelezi was impeccable. He also invited me to commemorate Shaka Day, where the lunch was traditional food like putu (maize), which is eaten with one's fingers. When I went to the celebration it was like walking behind Mick Jagger. He's like a pop star, he is adored by his people. I've heard that people approach him on their knees. I just go, "hug, hug".

Whenever I've been near him I think I've smelled Aramis Devon, which is excellent. He dresses exquisitely - very Italianate: crocodile shoes, a little bit flashy. I think he thinks I'm stylish but I'm sure he also thinks I'm too thin.

He was in London just after my court case and he said: "I can't believe what they did to you." It's white people who go: "I wonder what the real story was?" Black people instinctively think it was a set-up. I received supportive faxes from him, which were enormously kind; and when my mother died he was the first person who phoned me.

Sometimes I can see why journalists get incredibly irritated when he closes his eyes as he launches into a big speech. But I know it's because he's so bored with these jumped-up people who haven't done their research. His speeches are so long because it's African style to talk at length. I've seen blacks sitting in the heat for hours and hours hanging on to every word while I've been battling to stay awake.

I have the weirdest range of emotions with regard to Buthelezi. I feel very protective and at the same in awe. He gave me a perfect (my puppy couldn't fit in it) terracotta-coloured, ostrich-skin handbag for my birthday. It was extraordinary because I think he picked it himself. There is never, ever any impropriety, yet he can make you feel so special. It's a fine line to tread. He doesn't flirt with women but they adore him.

I've thought about our friendship a lot over all these years - he's a Christian like me and we play by the same book of rules, yet I often wonder what on earth two people who come from totally different worlds have in common? He is arguably the most criticised man in the South African press and I don't for one minute pretend to know him, know him, know him. How could I? But to me he is a prince in every sense of the word.

CHIEF BUTHELEZI: I was immediately impressed with Jani when I saw her at my opening of the Drakensberg Hotel, 15 years ago. She had a column in the Sunday Times in South Africa which many people enjoyed, and it was quite exciting for me to meet her in person after reading her work for so long.

I had an idea of her humour from her writing and I'd always appreciated that very English brand of wit. She has a razor-sharp mind. She is a very intelligent person, and I thought: "Now here is a good example of beauty and brains." We got along like a house on fire immediately. My wife, who was also at the function, equally enjoyed listening to her conversation.

I subsequently met Jani again over the years in London; sometimes she interviewed me and the friendship slowly grew. She's a very special person and highly cultured, so it was always a pleasure to speak to her, with her powerful brain and the way she expresses herself.

When Jani talks to me I always take it as from someone who is a sister in the Lord and who is concerned about my welfare. In that capacity we speak very freely to each other. She tells me what she thinks and so forth. I wouldn't say I take her political advice. We do however have some ideas that overlap: for instance on capital punishment and abortion laws. I think in a situation like South Africa and with the kind of society we have, it was too early to remove the death penalty. When murderers know they can kill people and nothing can happen to them, it's a matter of sheer common sense that prison will not deter them.

I'm a Virgo and one of the aspects of my culture is that Zulu people are very shy. If I wasn't a politician I think I would have been a musician. Jani and I have similar musical tastes. I often play the Songs of David and I find listening to Chopin is very good for my whole well-being when I work, which can be up to midnight every night. I am not a connoisseur as far as eating is concerned, but I enjoy relaxing with friends like Jani and eating a good meal. The only thing is, I suffer from gout, which limits my range of food to chicken and fish.

The one thing I regret about Jani is that she smokes so much. She's lessening her life by so many hours every day. It's something I lament - but I'm tolerant. I always say if those over 21 want to kill themselves, that's fine - but even as a passive smoker you can contract cancer. Smokers can commit suicide if they want, but why take me along?

When Jani was going through her trial with C4 over her alleged romantic links with Eugene Terreblanche, I felt very, very sorry for her. Being vilified by the press is something I know about, and in that respect I have great empathy with her. I used to be very popular - I was once honoured as Man and Newsmaker of the Year. But the winds of favour changed sharply and some newspapers now sarcastically refer to me as the most litigious politician. Criticism is something that one expects in politics and one is fair game. But there are limits and I have human rights too. Very often in their hatred and efforts to placate the ruling party in this country, the press has gone very far at my expense and quite a number of times I've had to take the papers to court. So I understood Jani's experience, because I've had a taste of it: the press would link me to Terreblanche too, though I've never even spoken to him. In that sense Jani is a tough cookie. A lesser soul than her would have completely gone to pieces. She is very strong in spirit and I admire that.

Very often in the morning I cry when I pray, because there's so much I should be doing and I don't know if I can accomplish it all. But I always believe that one must never abandon hope. I pray for other people who pray for me, and I'm sure Jani's one of them. I'm loyal to my friends, even though I've been deserted by so many.

Jani is a very sensitive and emotional person. I don't think I've got the same fine sensitivity or compassion that she has. But finding ourselves on the same wavelength as Christians is more profound and meaningful to me than anything else. Over the years we've warmed towards each other as Christians. That bond, apart from the friendship, rises above all different political ideas. It's more of a spiritual link.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn