South Africa’s Liberation Struggle: Mangosuthu Buthelezi Perspective--A Response

Published on 8th February 2014

M. Buthelezi
One of the most important elements of the battle for control of South Africa in the wake of the burgeoning strength of the ANC and its military wing Umkonto we Sizwe (‘MK’) was the use by the Nationalists of the Zulus in Natal to oppose the ANC for control of the independence movement. The Nationalists funded the Inkatha Freedom Party (‘IFP) of Buthulezi and provided the fighters of the IFP with weapons, explosives, communications equipment and training facilities.

In ‘Operation Marion’ (well documented in the Truth and Reconciliation hearings) there is a detailed study of the training of 206 Zulus as assassins in ‘hit squads’ targeted at the ANC. By 1980 it had become clear that the open support of the South African Defence Forces to the opponents of the ANC risked exposure. So the securocrats decided that they would use their extensive facilities in the Caprivi Strip to train the Zulus of the IFP. In a submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: “The Caprivi Trainees 4 August 1997” it was shown that “since the mid 1980s, KwaZulu Natal and areas on the Witwatersrand have been involved, in varying degrees, in a low intensity war. This war has claimed the lives of more than 20 000 persons.”

The report states “The training and deployment of the Caprivi Trainees fell squarely within strategies adopted by the South African state in the mid-1980s. The state perceived itself to be facing an onslaught of 'total revolutionary war' from within and outside South Africa. To combat this threat the state employed counter revolutionary strategies which involved the taking of a wide range of actions.” These included political, psychological, economic and security or forceful measures.

By the mid-1980s, political and violent actions executed by anti-apartheid groups such as the ANC and their allied organisations reached unprecedented levels. The state adopted equally drastic measures to counter these threats, which included the use of acts of terrorism and guerrilla warfare. These were carried out by specific security organs and 'middle' or counter guerrilla groups, within and outside South Africa. The IFP's SADF-trained assassins were a case in point of such an operation within South Africa. The operation was codenamed 'Marion' and was executed by Intelligence Operation's Directorate of Special Tasks (DST). DST's support of groups such as Renamo in Mozambique and Unita in Angola are examples of such operations carried outside South Africa. Operation Marion was naturally accompanied by a program of deception and cover-ups. They still continue today.

At that time the ANC was part of a broader federation of like-minded groups under the rubric United Democratic Front (‘UDF’). It was gaining a great deal of support from the international community as well as domestically. On or about 28 May 1984 at Ulundi, M G Buthelezi, President of Inkatha and Chief Minister of KwaZulu (‘Buthelezi') set out in an address to the KwaZulu Legislative Assembly his need for a paramilitary wing to carry out protective and offensive actions. Buthelezi identified the UDF/ANC as the organisations responsible for the attacks which threatened the KwaZulu ’homeland’. According to a top secret SSC document dealing with the unrest situation in Natal, produced during March 1989, Inkatha took a decision during 1985 to turn the whole of KwaZulu and Natal into a 'no go area' for the UDF.

During November 1985 Buthelezi set out his needs to the then Director of Military Intelligence, Major-General T. Groenewald for military support, which included an offensive or attacking capacity. Buthelezi's requests were placed before an extra-ordinary meeting of the SSC at Tuynhuis on 20th December 1985. Minister of Defence, Magnus Malan, Minister of Law and Order, Louis Le Grange and Minister of Constitutional Development and Planning, Chris Heunis were tasked with establishing a "security force" for Buthelezi. Two hundred and six Inkatha men were recruited by M Z Khumalo. The 206 were taken to the Caprivi Strip in Namibia where they received training at Hippo Camp by the Special Operations component of Military Intelligence and Special Forces.

The recruits were divided into operational groups, one of which was an offensive group of some 30 men. The trainees were instructed that their targets would be located within the UDF/ANC. The other groups trained included Contra-mobilisation, Defence and VIP Protection. The Defensive group was an intelligence group whose members were trained in collecting information, surveillance, target development and compiling target dossiers. Those in the Contra-mobilisation group were trained in the propagation and promotion of Inkatha politics. The training lasted for approximately 6 months. They began a campaign of murder and destruction of the UDF/ANC leadership.

On 21 January 1988 Putter and Chief Director Intelligence Operations, Major General Neels Van Tonder met with Buthelezi. Van Niekerk, Colonel Mike Van den Berg (Senior Staff Officer for Operation Marion) and with M.Z. Khumalo. Putter sent a memorandum to Geldenhuys dated 28 January 1988. According to this document Buthelezi asked for further clandestine training. M.Z. Khumalo suggested a solution to the IFP in-fighting be solved by building a base from where Marion members could 'plan and take action'. A base for the offensive group was built at Port Durnford and a separate base for the rest of the group at Mkhuze was set up. A number of Inkatha fighters who were fugitives from justice were concealed at the Mkhuze base. Offensive actions of the Caprivi Trainees continued under the cover of the KwaZulu Police force in the early 1990s.

In at least one police district, at Esikaweni, a hit squad cell was formed around individual trainees. They were controlled by a local committee comprising IFP leaders and senior KwaZulu Police officers. The Esikaweni hit squad carried out a large number of attacks on ANC and COSATU individuals resulting in many deaths. The KwaZulu Police commander, Brigadier C P Mzimela ensured that their activities were covered up. This permitted the hit squads to act with absolute impunity. They conducted an unhindered and systematic reign of terror over a period of more than two years. The few KwaZulu Policemen who attempted to investigate were either murdered or intimidated from acting.

In the Truth and Reconciliation Hearings, the admissions were, even to a jaded South African audience, devastating. The most dramatic revelations involved systematic brutality by the white-led police and military that extended into the smallest towns and rural areas. The commission has established, for example, that each of the eleven area branches of the security police had its own hit squad to deal with troublesome local activists. "You thought you knew the horrors of apartheid," said Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the commission's chairman, in an interview, "and then you are bowled over completely by the depth of depravity that has been surfacing." Partisans and victims in the fighting were mostly local residents.

The bitter clashes, which divided villages, schools, churches and families, eventually spread to areas around Johannesburg, abating only with Buthelezi's last-minute agreement to participate in the 1994 poll. Although killing sharply declined thereafter, tensions between the ANC and Inkatha still ran high. Operation Marion predates previously publicized activities in which undercover police and military officers, in what came to be referred to as a "third force," provided logistical backing when Inkatha's battle with the ANC escalated after Mandela's release in 1990.

With elections on the horizon, Caprivi trainees in late 1993 took part in training some 5,000 recruits for "Self Protection Units" Inkatha was creating throughout the province. As the voting neared, violence rose to new levels. More than half the number of fatalities occurred after 1990, that is: after the National Party had unbanned the liberation movements, and committed itself to negotiated political change; and after the ANC had suspended its armed struggle. The three-month period preceding the first democratic elections in April 1994 was especially tense; during this period around 1,000 people were killed. Since 1994, around 2,000 people have been killed in political violence in KZN.

In the post-apartheid era, KwaZulu-Natal has been marked by a divided system of political authority, with - reflecting electoral support - provincial power vested in favour of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and national power with the ANC. A top level peace process was instituted, and by mid-1996 political leaders declared the political conflict over. Inkatha, led by Buthelezi, moved away from an ethnically couched confrontational style towards a more inclusive politics, and the ANC's view was that instead of conflict, there should be co-operation and reconciliation.

Following the results of the 1999 general election, a coalition government involving both the IFP and ANC was formed at provincial level; Zuma played an active part in this reconciliation process. Some of the arms and support for Inkatha also came directly from the US. The Inkatha fighters engaged in vicious attacks against the township residents were the recipients of forty tonnes of grenades, shotguns, rifles and ammunition illegally shipped from the United States according to the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Three US arms companies were indicted in connection with shipments of arms to South Africa in violation of the United Nations arms embargo.

The US Congress voted to donate US$2.5 million to Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party, choosing to disregard the “Inkathagate” scandal, which had exposed Buthelezi as little more than a puppet of the apartheid regime. Congress also ignored the organisation's murderous attacks, which have cost the lives of thousands of defenceless township residents, often in collusion with South African police and soldiers. The donation was part of the Bush administration's “Transition to Democracy” project. Following revelations that the South African government had secretly channelled millions of rends to Inkatha, the US actually doubled the original proposed donation.

By Dr. Gary K. Busch

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