/ 18 June 1999

Buthelezi approved Powell’s war plans

New evidence shows IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi approved paramilitary activities aimed at undermining the 1994 election. Ivor Powell reports.

Mangosuthu Buthelezi was at a KwaZulu homeland cabinet meeting where the illegal acquisition of offensive weapons, such as machine guns and mortars, and the creation of a private army were approved, according to documents in the possession of the Mail & Guardian.

The documents are being studied by the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions, which could broaden its investigations into alleged treason by Inkatha Freedom Party strongman Philip Powell to Buthelezi and the former KwaZulu homeland cabinet. This could create a severe political dilemma for the government as it would not want a senior government minister in court on charges of treason. But it could not prosecute Powell without involving Buthelezi as well.

President Thabo Mbeki’s other option would be to grant a general amnesty to all involved in treasonous activities. This would mean pardoning old order South African Defence Force (SADF) and police personnel also implicated along with Powell. The documents in the M&G‘s possession prove that Buthelezi and his cabinet were aware of Powell’s plans to develop paramilitary units which could have destabilised the 1994 elections.

Buthelezi has denied either authorising or having been informed of the acquisition of illegal weapons by militants in the IFP. However, the former chief minister of KwaZulu was present at a homeland cabinet meeting on March 15 1994, where a highly subversive and almost certainly treasonable plan was approved. A memorandum submitted to the meeting by Powell proposed the establishment of a paramilitary unit concealed inside the KwaZulu Police (KZP).

The unit was to have its own command structures and answer directly to the KwaZulu cabinet. The plan also involved the buying of offensive military weapons like mortars and light machine guns.
KwaZulu-Natal deputy director of public prosecutions Chris McAdam told the M&G the treason charges being investigated against Powell grew out of recommendations in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report.

The report suggests possible prosecutions in respect of the apparently subversive intentions behind the Mlaba training camp – where 5 000 IFP loyalists were trained in 1993 and 1994 — and moves towards a militarised secession around the time of the 1994 elections to establish a “Kingdom of KwaZulu-Natal”. “If it is established that the issues referred to were the subject of KwaZulu cabinet resolutions, the question will have to be asked: is the cabinet also guilty?” McAdam said.

He confirmed that the Powell memorandum and the March 15 cabinet meeting made up part of the investigation into possible treason prosecutions. IFP representative Reverend Musa Zondi said he had no personal knowledge of the Powell memorandum. But, he added: “You have to see developments at the time in the context of what was happening at the time.

“We had a war situation. Mlaba was an open thing. There was nothing hanky-panky. “We in the IFP are tempted to think that anybody who pursues treason charges now is doing a dirty job and acting as a political tool.” The Powell proposal was approved by the cabinet, former KZP commissioner Roy During confirmed. During was called in towards the end of the cabinet meeting and instructed to facilitate the acquisition of weapons. He was also ordered to integrate the proposed unit into the structures of the KZP.

During said that in addition to the “Chief Minister [Buthelezi]” and Powell, others present at the meeting included current KwaZulu-Natal Premier Lionel Mtshali; former minister of arts, culture, science and technology Ben Ngubane; Prince Gideon Zulu; the secretary to the legislature, Stan Armstrong; and During’s deputy, Major General Sipho Mathe. Plans for the paramilitary outfit are spelt out in a memorandum marked “Secret”.

It explains plans for the establishment of a special “batallion /regimental-sized” paramilitary unit to be made up of 1 000 graduates of Powell’s Mlaba paramilitary training camp. Mlaba trainees testified to the truth commission that, in addition to conventional paramilitary training, they were schooled in planting limpet mines, manufacturing petrol bombs, sabotaging motor vehicles so they would explode when the ignition was turned and setting buses alight in such a way as to prevent those trapped inside from escaping.

Vlakplaas operative Snor Vermeulen, who was brought in as a trainer at the camp, said he was asked to provide lessons in firing mortars. By his own account, however, he declined “on principle”. Such training did apparently take place. Powell has confirmed he was one of the authors of the document discussed at the cabinet meeting, though he claims he was “not the sole author”.

In the document, the Mlaba unit – described as a “mobile rapid reaction force” – would be led by 100 members of the notorious group of IFP hit-squads trained by the SADF at the Caprivi Strip in the 1980s. Former South African security forces personnel were also to be brought in as special advisers. In addition to 1 000 G3 assault rifles, the document specifies that “squad level support weapons such as MAG-type belt-fed machine guns and 60mm mortars” would also have to be acquired, along with other specialised military equipment.

The proposed establishment of the rapid reaction force is justified in terms of a bizarre scenario in which the armed forces of the South African government (at the time still under the National Party) are presented as being in cahoots with civil society groupings like the Congress of South African Trade Unions. The goal, the document argues, is to bring down the KwaZulu homeland government through a combination of rolling mass action and military intervention.

The authors of the document spell out that, while the unit would be set up ostensibly within the KZP, it would be directly answerable to the IFP’s KwaZulu government and not to police hierarchies. The reason for concealing the unit is, as the document notes, that “legally the KwaZulu government is not entitled to train or develop an army” and that to go ahead with the establishment of an overtly military structure would be “tantamount to a declaration of independence”.

It is also noted that “it would be impossible to resource such an initiative through existing channels”. In terms of the Self-governing Territories Act of 1971, which legislated the status of the apartheid government’s bantustans, “non- independent homelands” were specifically prohibited from raising their own armies.

Attempts to sign on 1 000 Mlaba trainees as “special constables” within the KZP encountered resistance from During. Writing on March 18 to Buthelezi, with explicit reference to the cabinet meeting three days earlier, During expressed serious reservations. However, the integration of the paramilitary unit was finally forestalled when the Mlaba camp was raided by representatives of the Transitional Executive Council on April 26.

A large quantity of illegal weapons was confiscated. Efforts to obtain the specified consignment of 1 000 G3 assault rifles from Eskom ran aground at the 11th hour – after R2,1- million had already been made available by the KwaZulu government for their purchase. The deal was cancelled on March 25 when Eskom’s MD refused to allow it to go ahead.

The aborted deal became the subject of a Goldstone Commission investigation. There is no record of mortars and light machine guns having been acquired after the March 15 meeting. However, late in 1993, Powell took possession of an estimated 60 tons of military hardware dispatched to him by former Vlakplaas commander Eugene de Kock — who was also involved in securing the services of trainers for the programme. This consignment, only a fraction of which has been recovered, included the types of weapons Powell referred to in his memorandum to the KwaZulu cabinet.