What you need to know:
- Prof Okumu persuaded Prince Buthelezi to participate in South Africa's democratic elections in 1994, ensuring a peaceful transition for South African politics.
- For his role in South Africa's peace initiative, Prof Okumu's home in Siaya County, has been named 'Dala Kwe' (Home of Peace).
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the anti-apartheid freedom titan and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) supremo, died on Saturday at the age of 95, bringing to an end the life of a man whose profile came in all forms.
But unknown to many, in a protracted power struggle between the ANC's Nelson Mandela and the IFP's Buthelezi on the eve of South Africa's independence in 1994, a Kenyan professor and seasoned diplomat Washington Aggrey Jalang'o Okumu, stepped in after the spectacular collapse of talks at the mediation table led by international mediators, including top American diplomat Henry Kissinger.
Prof Okumu's mediation for peace is often cited as one of the reasons South Africa was able to hold its first post-apartheid elections, which Mandela won.
Prof Okumu, a former private secretary to Kenya's founding president Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, was a close confidant of Mr Mandela.
In media interviews before his death, Prof Okumu, who died in 2016, recalled how other negotiators, including former British Prime Minister Jim Callaghan, who were part of the negotiating team, had despaired and flown out.
Push for independent Zulu nation
This left Prof Okumu, born in Nyang'oma village, Bondo in 1936, as the sole negotiator who managed to persuade Prince Buthelezi to honour the talks and drop his push for an independent Zulu nation.
Back in South Africa, Prof Okumu was dealing with a delicate negotiation offer in a year that was generally bad for Africa. Rwanda was witnessing the genocide against the Tutsi, in which more than a million people died.
This sent shivers down the spines of South Africans as their political impasse descended into bloodshed. Buthelezi and Mandela were one and the same, separately labelled terrorists for their violent tendencies.
The dispute: Buthelezi wanted a post-apartheid federal government that would give his region autonomy. But Mandela and then-president FW de Klerk had agreed on a unitary, decentralised government.
As the elections approached, everyone worried that South Africa might break apart. On March 28, 1994, a month before the election, IFP gangs descended on Johannesburg with crude weapons. But they were shot dead by ANC security forces. At least 50 people died in the melee.
Saved South Africa from bloodshed
That is why, when he died at the age of 80, South Africa's Business Day described Okumu as a man who came to South Africa and saved it from bloodshed.
"Okumu was then an ebullient, larger-than-life 58-year-old economics professor and former diplomat who had worked for the UN and been Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta's private secretary," the paper wrote in 2016. His past experience came in handy, although at 58 he was the youngest of the three negotiators.
He had studied at Cambridge University on a Commonwealth scholarship and went on to Harvard, where he studied African economics and politics, specialising in apartheid policies.
It was during this time that he met Buthelezi as a student and Mandela after a meeting in London.
Prof Okumu persuaded Prince Buthelezi to participate in South Africa's democratic elections in 1994, ensuring a peaceful transition for South African politics.
"In a welcome if last-minute deal brokered by an African mediator, Prof Washington Okumu of Kenya, Buthelezi dropped his uncompromising demands for parochial changes to the constitution. He also gave up his self-centred insistence on postponing the April 26-28 elections," wrote the Los Angeles Times on 21 April 1994.
"The compromise could also reduce the internecine fighting between supporters of the ANC and Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party. Their brutal political rivalry, which culminated in a recent massacre in Johannesburg's financial district, has left thousands dead or wounded. The killing cannot continue if a free and fair election is to proceed smoothly. Calm is also needed to persuade foreign investors to return."
For his role in South Africa's peace initiative, Prof Okumu's home in Siaya County, has been named 'Dala Kwe' (Home of Peace).
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa described Buthelezi as "an outstanding leader in the political and cultural life" of the country and thanked him for his contribution to South Africa's "liberation struggle, the transition that secured our freedom in 1994 and our democratic dispensation".
Prince Buthelezi served as democratic South Africa's first Minister of Home Affairs. He died just two weeks after celebrating his 95th birthday.