Spy, cop and warlord-in-chief
One of his former classmates at Pietermaritzburg College described the young Philip Powell as a collector of Nazi paraphernalia “obsessed with warfare”.
Powell’s youthful interests led to an adult career as a campus spy, a secret policeman for the apartheid regime and a propagandist for a right-wing periodical, before he emerged as an Inkatha Freedom Party militant, “urban representative” for the KwaZulu homeland government and, allegedly, the IFP’s warlord-in-chief.
Powell claims he left the employ of the South African Police’s (SAP)security branch before joining the IFP.
However, according to former IFP insider Walter Felgate, who defected to the African National Congress, Powell remained on the secret police payroll after his emergence as an IFP functionary.
During in-camera testimony to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Felgate said he had information to the effect that Powell “had never come off the payroll and the official establishment of the police”. Former KwaZulu police Commissioner Brigadier Jac Buchner confirmed to the TRC that, after he joined the IFP, Powell was still in the employ of the SAP.
Felgate also told the TRC that the position Powell held as “urban representative” of the KwaZulu government was with a particular brief for training IFP self- protection units. In this capacity he was directly accountable to then chief minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Powell was linked to shadowy elements in the apartheid government’s security machine.
According to intelligence sources, in the early 1990s Powell was specifically connected to the security police’s D Section. He was also allegedly in contact with Longreach, the front company operated by former military intelligence spy Craig Williamson.
It was in his capacity as urban representative that Powell organised the paramilitary training of about 5 000 IFP loyalists at the Mlaba camp. The camp was set up under the auspices of the KwaZulu legislature in terms of a resolution passed on August 25 1993, and ran between October 1993 and April 1994 - when it was raided.
During the raid, Powell was arrested with two boxes of ammunition, a Ruger semi- automatic firearm and a 9mm pistol—as well as a home-made shotgun. However, the then provincial attorney general Tim McNally declined to prosecute, on grounds of lack of evidence.
Powell was also linked to right-wing plots to disrupt the 1994 elections under the auspices of Constand Viljoen’s Freedom Front. More recently, in October 1995 ANC MP Lindiwe Sisulu pointed to Powell’s involvement in attempts to build covert intelligence networks within the IFP aimed at furthering the party’s bid for secession.
Questions about the real agenda being pursued by Powell again came to the fore in 1996 when former ANC warlord and police spy Sifiso Nkabinde was expelled from the party and joined the United Democratic Movement.
Powell was with Nkabinde at news conferences about the event, and vocally lent support to the disgraced warlord. According to intelligence reports, during this time he trained both UDM and IFP paramilitaries.