Operation Marion was a domestic military operation by the South African Defence Force (SADF) during the 1980s. The origins can be traced back to the murder of Piet Retief on 6 February 1838 by the Zulu king Dingane, which led to an alliance between the Boer (a subgroup of the Afrikaner) people and the Zulus, whereby Afrikaner security was deemed to be closely linked to Zulu security.
Operation Marion thus became an important element of the Apartheid government of South Africa's response to the rising Umkhonto we Sizwe insurgency during the 1980s, where a Zulu militia was trained by SADF Special Forces at one of their many camps in the Caprivi Strip in 1985. The first group of Zulu militia from the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) were despatched to the Caprivi Strip from Durban by Hercules C-130 aircraft on 16 April 1986.
On 20 January 1987 the first of the trained militia were used in what later became known as the KwaMakutha Massacre when 13 innocent people were killed as a result of flawed intelligence. In January 1988 Mangosuthu Buthelezi, leader of the IFP, again approached Chief of Staff Intelligence asking for additional training of his militia in order to swing the balance of power against the United Democratic Front (UDF) and Confederation of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) forces, then operating as a surrogate for the African National Congress (ANC) in areas of KwaZulu. This request was interpreted as being consistent with the Total National Strategy then in place, so the support was given.
On 1 December 1988 a vigilante force from the IFP took over a place called Trust Feed, which had recently become a UDF centre of power. On 3 December the Trust Feed Massacre took place, killing 11 and wounding 2 people.
The perpetrators were brought to trial and sentenced to 15 years in prison on 23 May 1992. Probably one of the most high impact activities arising from Operation Marion was the Boipatong massacre, which left 43 dead on 17 June 1992. This single act became a turning point for the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) when Nelson Mandela withdrew the ANC as a result. The activities arising from Operation Marion became the subject of intense investigation by the Goldstone Commission of Enquiry.
- Turton, A.R. 2010. Shaking Hands with Billy. Durban: Just Done Publications. http://www.shakinghandswithbilly.com
- Stiff. P. 2001. Warfare by Other Means: South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s. Alberton: Galago.
- Welsh. F. 2000. A History of South Africa. London: Harper Collins.
- O’Malley, Padraig. "Goldstone Commission on Allegations of SADF funding of Violence in Townships". Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory - The Heart of Hope. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
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