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A long memory is necessary in untangling the political relationships among the Zulus as well as the historic conflict between the ANC and Inkatha, which Gary Busch assesses in his rejoinder to William Gumede

This article (Zuma and Zulu Nationalism, William Gumede, Pambazuka 19/12/12) is interesting because it leaves out the most important facts of the political relationships among the Zulus and any deep knowledge of what was actually happening during the struggle for independence. These are important in that they colour the current relationships with the ANC and any veteran of that struggle will remember them well.

The key to this schism within KwaZulu on the issue of the independence struggle lies with the strange alliance between the Zulus of the Inkatha Freedom Party and the Nationalist Government and the USA.

Politics in 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. Until that point it was open warfare.


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 Buthelezi 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 Operations 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 20 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.

Some of the money transferred to Inkatha came from the US Government through the US labour movement. One of the people supported by the AFL-CIO was Buthelezi and his Inkatha Freedom Party. In 1978 Buthelezi was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Cape Town. Other awards include Newsmaker of the Year by the South African Society of Journalists, French National Order of Merit and the George Meany Human Rights Award by the AFL-CIO.

Inkatha received generous support from the pathologically anti-communist of the AFL-CIO over many years, including the murderous years of Operation Marion. The AFL-CIO has often provided a secret conduit for CIA funds to other anti-Communist groups operating inside the labour movements of the world as well. The AFL-CIO was especially supportive of Inkatha's trade union front, the United Workers' Union of South Africa (UWUSA). UWUSA also received millions from the de Klerk regime. Documents leaked to the South African Weekly Mail showed that UWUSA was virtually a joint creation of the state security police and the authorities of the Inkatha-ruled KwaZulu Bantustan.

UWUSA was created to counter the powerful anti-apartheid Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), which is allied to the ANC and had a membership of around 1.2 million. Immediately after UWUSA's formation in 1986, it launched attacks against COSATU's membership, killing and injuring hundreds in attacks. Not surprisingly South African employers consistently favoured UWUSA –largely because it never took industrial action to secure pay rises or defend workers' conditions. Its executive was dominated by business people and managers.


After Buthelezi was given the AFL-CIO George Meany human rights award, Irving Brown, then head of the federation's international department, visited South Africa. He offered funds to unions opposed to the liberation movement's strategy of calling on the international community to impose economic sanctions to fight apartheid. The vast majority of unions rejected his advances. Buthelezi sought out Brown in Geneva in 1983, looking for money to allow Inkatha to involve itself with the trade unions. In 1986 UWUSA again approached the AFL-CIO, asking for ‘large-scale assistance’ which, according to the UWUSA's general secretary (and prominent KwaZulu businessman) S.Z. Conco, were provided. Funds were also advanced from Israel and West Germany, he said. Funds were also provided by the Nationalists for the all-white Miners Union led by Arie Paulus and white unions in other industries.


The response of the ANC of Mbeki was very different than the response of MK. The timing of the training of the Zulus to fight the ANC by the Boers was not accidental. It coincided with the move by the ANC’s leadership in exile to return some of its key leaders to South Africa from Lusaka, Mbabane, Mozambique, Russia and the Ukraine. These leaders who were re-infiltrated to South Africa were from both the political wing as well as from Umkonto we Sizwe (MK). This process was given the name Operation Vula. These leaders formed an important cadre of the ANC and were known as the ‘Vula Boys’.

The Vula boys were the collection of communists and ANC intelligence operatives who formed the backbone of Operation Vula, the secret pre-1990 ANC programme to develop the necessary leadership and material networks inside South Africa to launch a revolution or mass armed uprising. Vula was controversial because it was secret even inside the ANC: a special operation, sanctioned by the ailing Oliver Tambo from Lusaka, which was not known to the wider ANC leadership - including Thabo Mbeki operating elsewhere.

Vula was led by Mac Maharaj, the former Minister of Transport. It included Siphiwe Nyanda, Ronnie Kasrils, Mo Shaik and his brother Schabir. The then ANC intelligence chief, Jacob Zuma, was also within the network. This operation was supervised by the ANC leadership in Lusaka and was unknown to the ANC leadership in Luanda who were just then starting to establish links with the Nationalist government in a search for a negotiated settlement. Vula coincided with a parallel and contrary initiative within the ANC, led by Mbeki - the beginning of dialogue with the apartheid state. Vula continued, even after the unbanning of the ANC in 1990, but there was increasing conflict between the Vula operatives and the ANC leadership about the strategy and direction of negotiations. Despite repeated criticism from Maharaj and others the views of the Vula comrades were largely ignored.

By June 1990 Vula was blown, following the arrest in Natal of two Vula operatives, Charles Ndaba and Mbuso Shabalala. The two were later killed by the security police. In the midst of negotiations, Mbeki was confronted with evidence of a secret ANC unit he was unaware of - and which the de Klerk government claimed was still plotting a revolutionary insurrection, rather than a negotiated settlement. Mbeki was angry and allowed the Vula network to be sanctioned. Maharaj and others were arrested and only released on bail in November, after the Pretoria agreement with de Klerk had already been signed. Key ‘hawks’ within the ANC, especially the MK, were side-lined during that period of negotiation and retained a deep resentment against Mbeki.


With the coming of an ANC Government many of the ANC and MK leaders were installed in powerful positions in the government. The Vula boys were not excluded. They positioned themselves rather strategically. The hard-line communist Pravin Gordhan became head of the SA Revenue Service, and was joined by Vuso Shabalala (as general manager of customs); Ivan Pillay took over special investigations at SARS and Sirish Soni joined him. Solly Shoke became mission director for the SANDF; Raymond Lalla became a senior official in police intelligence and Mpho Scott was elected as an MP

Perhaps the most successful has been Ronnie Kasrils. Ronnie Kasrils has been the South African Minister for Intelligence Services since 27 April 2004. He has been a member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the African National Congress (ANC) since 1987 as well as a member of the Central Committee of the South African Communist Party (SACP) since December 1986. He was a founding member of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) as member of Natal Regional Command during the same year. He became the commander of Natal Regional Command in 1963. He underwent military training in 1964 in Odessa, USSR and at the end of 1965 was sent to London to work for the movement there. Kasrils eventually became a member of MK's High Command and was appointed as Chief of MK Intelligence. Kasrils also served on the ANC's Politico-Military Council from 1985 to 1989 and worked underground for the ANC in South Africa during Operation Vula from 1990 to 1991. He was appointed as Deputy Minister of Defence on 24 June 1994, a post which he held until 16 June 1999. He remains a powerful, if Stalinist, figure in South African intelligence.

Equally as powerful was his comrade in the Luthuli Brigade, famous for the brigade’s attack on Wankie in Rhodesia in 1967 in support of Nkomo’s ZAPU; Chris Hani (born Martin Thembisile Hani). Chris Hani, after graduating from Rhodes University with a B.A. degree in Latin and English, received instructions from the high command of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the ANC's newly formed military wing, to leave the country for military training. In 1967 he was political commissar for the Luthuli brigade. He was elected to the ANC's national executive council in 1975 and appointed MK deputy commander in 1982. He continued to rise through the ranks to become MK chief of staff in 1987, the number two post in the commando organization, a position he relinquished only in 1992. He remained the Secretary General of the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the most popular political personality in South Africa after Nelson Mandela until his assassination at Boksburg on April 9, 1993.


While the Vula boys progressed in their roles, the Mbeki boys rose to dizzying heights of power and wealth in the new South Africa. When the ANC moved into the control of the government it found a country with immense wealth, well-developed industries; a thriving banking system; and a nexus of secretive relationships between government and the private sector.

These ANC loyalists were appointed to high posts in all levels of the South African government and were also spurred on in their invasion of the private sector by a program of Black Empowerment. This Black Empowerment made many African millionaires and put key ANC supporters at the heads of many indigenous industries. However this was an upwards enrichment of the African leadership. For many of the ANC supporters, their leaders’ lifestyles and economic opportunities did not live up to their expectations in the wake of the ANC takeover from the Nationalists. There were now African plutocrats as well as white plutocrats but poor people tended to stay poor. This has been the key area of disenchantment with the Mbeki government.

This continuing split between the Vula boys and the Mbeki loyalists is a powerful force within the ANC still and the war between Inkatha and the ANC and MK has continued to split the powerful forces within the ranks of the Zulu.

So, it is may be difficult or impolite for Gumede to mention the background of the ANC split and the distrust of the ANC towards Zulu politicians. It is difficult for COSATU to fully dispel many of their earlier experiences. These, too, are an important part of understanding the recent vote at Bloemfontein. A long memory is the most radical force in politics.

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* Gary K. Busch (Dr)