About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

28 Feb 2002: Love, Janet

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

POM. Janet, maybe we could begin with just talking about your background, where you were born, family, schooling, became aware of things going on around you, became involved at Wits.

JL. I was born in Johannesburg. I have one sibling, an older brother. Both he and I are first generation South African. My father was born in London and my mother was born in Lithuania, now it's a separate state but at the time it was – so she was born there. I think it's very much – our upbringing was very coloured by my parents' history, in particular my mother. She was somebody who at the age of 16 was taken into the ghettos and subsequently the concentration camps and seven years later –

POM. In Lithuania?

JL. She was taken into a ghetto initially that was very small sort of transit camp more than a ghetto in Lithuania but she was then taken to various ghettos and the concentration camp she spent most of her time in was a camp in Poland. Anyway, she met my father as a result of his being part of the armed forces that liberated her camp.  Then they were part of the British forces that spent some time in the aftermath of the war in Germany and then they subsequently went to London and then my father's job brought him here. So that's how they got here, we weren't born yet. When we were born my parents were involved with friends who were a mixture, some were Congress of Democrat type, some were more active. My parents themselves were not people who were in any way active, they were just, I suppose, on the border lines, the fringes, but they brought both of us up to really doubt that there were any legal options that were available to people here to become involved in a way that would really change things. I think because of their fear for our safety their preference would have been that we just sort of left the possibility of danger and everything that goes with illegality but there was never really an insistence on their part. That's the sort of background where I come from in terms of the family background.

POM. Would your mother talk much while you were growing up about her experiences in the camps both in Lithuania and Poland?

JL. To an extent. There's a lot that – I suppose we spoke more in general terms. Her own experiences were pretty horrific so it still is very difficult for her to go too far into them. She has done some work with the Spielberg Institute people who have been collecting testimony but it's quite a painful process. Her mother died in her arms and her sister died in her arms and her brother was executed and she was dislocated from her father. The whole trauma of that, it's just – fragments of it I think were ever present. So much of her make-up I think was coloured by that. My father very occasionally also used to talk about some of that.

. I think the reality of European conflict and especially the second world war and all the sorts of issues around racial persecution and discrimination on the most horrific scale meant that that was very much a part of my consciousness as a child, very much part of it.

POM. What year did they come here?

JL. They came here in 1951.

POM. So apartheid had been three years – had been legalised.

JL. That was 1950, yes.

POM. Did they feel, just because of what you say – a kind of … with the society they were living in, that around them there was repression and oppression, a police state?

JL. I think that what happened was that when they originally came here they came here on the basis that it was part of an induction process for people who worked for the multi-national, as infamous as it is, that my father was employed in – it was Lonhro, so his coming here was initially, or that was the basis of his coming here that it was a little bit of a tour of duty and what happened was then Lonhro's own internal developments led to a situation where the options that I think were put before him were the possibility to continue working for the company here or the possibility to be taken back to the UK but without any clear prospect of any job opportunity or security, certainly not, but it wasn't even clear whether he would go back to a job.

. So it was on that basis that they then stayed and as things unfolded already at that stage, when that became clear, it was shortly after my parents were hit by another tragedy altogether and I think then the possibility of uprooting – they lost a child, she drowned here, my sister, she was seven - so they stayed and it was with, always I think, an ongoing ambiguity about living here.

POM. When did you start becoming aware that this was … ?

JL. My Mom was a teacher and in addition to the teaching job that she had here she used to on a voluntary basis assist with the teaching of teachers in schools, a couple of schools, in particular a couple of schools from Soweto, Morris Isaacson was one in particular that she taught at. There was constant discussion around the issues of the way in which there was inequality in resources and the way in which text books were completely restricted. There was a law at that time that it was actually illegal for teachers to use books in class other than the prescribed set works, that kind of talk, and on a number of occasions I spent time with my mother in the sort of situations where she was helping with the training of teachers.

POM. Would it have been illegal for her to go into Soweto?

JL. Most of the training took place, this goes back in my mind, I suppose in the area where the farm was where a lot of the teachers used to come, there was a woman, she was a member of I think it was the Black Sash, I'm pretty sure it was the Black Sash, and she had a farm to which a number of the teachers came and she had organised that as a training centre for the teachers. Her name was – something like Mildred something or other.

POM. I'll send you a transcript of the interview anyway so you can fill in the blank.

JL. I can't remember her name but my Mom obviously will remember who she was. She was a very interesting woman.  At that time my Mom wasn't, as I say, involved in illegal things. She knew a couple of the people who subsequently – she knew the Goldreichs and she knew the Weinbergs and people like that but not in the sense – maybe the Goldreichs were a bit closer to her, Hazel in particular is somebody she's always kept contact with, but she was never herself involved in political activity in any direct way. I think the closest she got to that was in those various social interactions that she had with people.

. So the exposure was quite early and then when I was then in my second last year of school I got to know a few people who were already at Wits University and who were involved in an organisation called SAVS (South African Students Voluntary Service). SAVS is an organisation that at that time was involved in school-building programmes and also educational development programmes in rural areas in particular. So before I got to Wits I was involved with some of the people in SAVS in going out and spending time over weekends and so on and doing things like making bricks and classrooms and things like that. When I got to Wits I initially continued with that until I was kicked out of Gazankulu (one of the Bantustans) because I'd been involved in teaching teachers teaching methodologies and the tribal authorities in the area felt uncomfortable with that. They weren't having a problem with building classrooms but interaction with people was not what they had in mind so I was required to leave the area and as a result of that the work that I was doing with SAVS was put a little bit on hold and it gave me more time to be involved in NUSAS and Wages Commission and I then got elected onto the Students' Representative Council at Wits. That's really where I became increasingly involved with NUSAS and the Wages Commission in particular and through the Wages Commission with some of the –

POM. The Wages Commission was?

JL. It was a structure that was set up initially as a research kind of body where students would actually go out into the field and do research on issues that were relevant to working people. Migrant labour was a very definite topic of examination and research and I remember we did a very extensive examination of government statistics from the perspective of migrant workers and employment and unemployment and found that a lot of the employment that was calculated at the time was the measurement of the number of hours women collected sticks for fires as a way of increasing the perspectives on how much employment prevailed at the time. That sort of thing.

. One of the things that happened with the Wages Commissions is that it was also a platform from which students before me, and in my time as well, had the opportunity to also engage in a supportive way with people who were trying to form independent trade unions, black trade unions of the time. From the Wages Commissions in fact certainly in –

POM. Sorry to interrupt the flow, but the Wages Commission was called after? Was it a commission or a research project?

JL. It was almost like a society I suppose, a university society, and it was something that had an affiliation to NUSAS in that it started off as a research project but was born under the NUSAS umbrella into conditions of working people. Students basically went out and did research and just generally ferreted around and made themselves a nuisance.

POM. Went to the townships?

JL. Yes, and that sort of thing and also into rural areas and into some of the hostels and so on. Out of that, aside from the research projects, quite a lot of involvement by students took place with people who were interested or had already begun work in the formation of independent trade unions. Some of those people were actually in employment, African workers in employment. Some of those people who had formerly been students and who had already begun to be quite active politically, people like Jeanette Curtis and a lot of the linkages that she had with people like Eli Weinberg and so on were part of what initiated of lot of work with the establishment of advice centres in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. The Industrial Aid Society was the advice centre here and in Cape Town it was the Workers' Advice Bureau.

POM. These are all white students?

JL. It was a combination of ex students, present students and people who had some contact with trade unionism as organisers, African workers who were organisers. In fact a number of those people were very definitely linked to the ANC as well and it was through my involvement in the Wages Commission and my links to people involved in the Metal & Allied Workers Union, which was just forming at the time, the end of 1975/76 period, that I first came into contact with the ANC and that was how that happened.

POM. How did that happen?

JL. Well one of the people who was working for the Industrial Aid Society and who was also quite directly involved in the establishment of the Metal & Allied Workers Union was somebody who I had worked with distributing pamphlets and just generally helping around the office, which was an Advice Office, Industrial Aid Society, just running errands, who was the first person to ask me if I knew about the ANC and to give me stuff to read, a chap by the name of Phindele Mfeti. He was banished and subsequently disappeared seemingly into the hands of the hit squads in Natal but that was when I was already in exile.

POM. So you were asked to join?

JL. So, actually the formality of asking to join, it was over time and over meetings and over being asked to do and doing things that it became – nobody at that stage, it was only later on towards the end of 1976 when I met with people in Lesotho, in fact it was in 1977 when I met people in Lesotho that I was actually formally required to give an oath of allegiance and all the rest of it. But by then I had basically been working with the ANC or ANC people, not a wide number of them, a handful of people, for just over a year.

POM. Were you vetted in any way?

JL. I suppose to some extent I must have been. I mean when I went to university I already – I left home just after completing my matric and after staying for a few months in a flat in Berea I moved into a flat with Jeanette Curtis and we stayed in that flat for about nearly two years, the better part of 1975, 1976 and then a good chunk of 1977. So a lot of people knew me through Jeanette and people like Phindele knew me through the work that I was doing with the Wages Commission and the Industrial Aid Society and I suppose in whatever way existed at the time there was a vetting process. I am not sure how formal it was. I think at the time, I know at the time I was, I'm sure a very misguided belief, but it was much more formal and disciplined and all those sort of things which when I got to know the ANC better I understood more how the ANC worked. So my image of what was happening at the time was that that must be what was happening, very formal vetting process and so on.

. But then I got to know the ANC pretty well, I kind of know how the ANC …  formality was something that was so deeply rooted. I am sure that just over time and the possibility of being able to test the extent to which I would do certain things was part of, I suppose, the vetting process, but not in any very structured and rigid and formal way. I might be wrong, maybe somebody will correct me, but that's my impression now many years later.

. So that was my first, how I got involved with the ANC and in fact it was as a result of that that very soon after Mac was released from the Island that I met him in the country before he went out of the country.

POM. Where did you meet him? Was he banned?

JL. Yes he was banned, I met him through Phyllis Naidoo and I met him at his brother's flat. He was staying there. He smoked, not quite as heavily then but he managed to get through quite a few. Very full ashtrays of cigarettes. I think that that also was obviously very – he was somebody who regarded me as an ANC person. I think by that time I had been working one way or another with ANC people for around just over a year. It was the first time that I was exposed to somebody who was able to talk through a lot of ANC political positions in as stimulating a way as he did and as challenging and so on and so forth. So yes, and we met a few times but then he left and then the next time I met him was in London. I was going to leave the country for two months, which turned out to be ten years, but anyway that's when I met him again.

POM. Did you meet him in London?

JL. In London, yes.

POM. So you say you left, you thought, for two months and then it turned into ten years?

JL. Quite a gap, yes. I left at the end of 1977. A few of people that I'd been involved with, including some of the trade unionists, had been banned in October of 1977 and a number of people also who had been in hiding that I had been servicing. What had happened was one particular person had been pretty unwise, careless maybe, in terms of going to places where he was known and so on and he was followed and followed to the place where I had organised his ability to live there in hiding. At the same time there were also two other arrests of people who were known to have been associated with me and so it was suggested that I take a break, I go on holiday, and there were also quite a lot of issues and messages and people to see in relation to the organisations that were banned in October 1977 and the two things combined. It was agreed in December that I should leave for a couple of months and come back when things had settled down.

POM. To London?

JL. I initially went to London and I met with the ANC people there. I met with – Mac was the first person but then he connected me with the person who was Chief Representative at the time, September and so on and so forth. And again in that way the ANC had of – I think as part of quite a structured decision, in retrospect I'm quite sure that it wasn't as structured as I thought it was, I was advised that maybe I should stick around for a little longer and the way in which somebody put it to me, I'm just trying to think if it was Mac or if it was a colleague of Mac's, is that I was sufficiently exposed here inside the country that it would be difficult for people in the underground to touch me with a barge pole.

. So I am sure as much as from that kind of idealist naiveté about the organisation that I was committed to as well as my own confusion, I landed up staying in Holland, I went across to Holland to work for one of the anti-apartheid groups there for two months and then I went across to London and I was asked by the ANC to work in SACTU, the South African Congress of Trade Union offices, to run the office, partly because I was one of the few people around at the time who had fairly recent contact with some of the developments that had been going on with the independent trade union movement. So I worked in the SACTU office in London for two years.

POM. You were now where?

JL. In London. And then having really had more than my fill, two years more than my fill of the greyness of London, I managed to escape to Lusaka. I then continued working initially for SACTU but then for the ANC Political Mission. I was based initially in Lusaka and Angola. I travelled quite a lot between the two and then later on travelled within all the forward areas as part of the work I was doing. The work that I was doing in the forward areas was – initially I did quite a lot of interaction with the trade unionists coming from the country and then later on more generally in terms of people who were in ANC units in the country, both MK units as well as just from the political machinery side. I had an advantage, I was able to travel using, because of my father, a British passport so that also helped quite a lot.

. Then finally in 1985 there was an agreement that I could come back home and although I was not at that time briefed with the full dimensions of what later became Operation Vula it was agreed in 1985 at the Kabwe conference that there would be a group of people who were ANC members in exile who would base themselves inside the country. It was accepted that I would be considered and prepared to be one of those. And that's what happened.

POM. The briefing I got on you said, I think Mac wrote it up, first of all you went on military training.

JL. I had already done military training. I went on an intelligence training course, which involved a whole lot of stuff to do with underground work, and then I went on a specialised course which was a combination of disguise. I trained on various aspects of perfecting disguises, on myself and also on others, and also on the construction of dead letter boxes.

POM. Where did you do this training?

JL. That last part of the training I did in Cuba.

POM. How long did you spend in Cuba? What year was that?

JL. In Cuba I spent in total – some of the time we stayed in a house. There was a group of us, we were all being prepared for different reasons and different things. I was the only one from that group that was part of the contingent that actually eventually got settled into the country and then subsequently joined up with Operation Vula. But I also spent some time at a military establishment in Cuba as part of the training. That's just where they had the facilities.

POM. Do you speak Spanish?

JL. No. They had an interpreter. That was all part of – some of the training also allowed a kind of legend to be constructed for me within the context of the exile community, the ANC community in Lusaka and Angola that it became established in people's minds that I was hovering around somewhere in Zimbabwe so that by the time I actually was located in SA in 1987 my absence in areas where I had spent a lot of time before had already been explained away.

POM. So you were infiltrated to Johannesburg as a one-person unit. A one-person unit of?

JL. Well what it meant is that I had to do two things. I had to come in. There had been a list of people that had been vetted for me to make contact with for the purposes of securing safe houses and also places where equipment could be stored, including printing equipment. The second thing that I was required to do was to set up the possibilities for printing and for communications generally.

POM. Were you part of the MK?

JL. I was a member of MK but I was linked to what later became a support base for Operation Vula outside the country. So Ivan was the person who was dealing with me when I came in. He was the person in charge of ensuring that I got infiltrated in and was in charge of just being in a situation to monitor the sort of progress and so on that I was making, the person that I linked back to. Over the period of going on for a year, it was about ten months, about three months, before I met with Mac was when he had come into the country and about two or three months after, two months I think, after he came into the country I was then connected with him.

POM. How did you return to the country?

JL. Ah! I had a passport with another name and I came via Mauritius to Durban and then from Durban to -

POM. You went to a flat or - ?

JL. When I first came here I made contact with one of the people that we had agreed I would and through him I organised one of the flats that I stayed in for a very short period because it was one of the flats that we wanted to use for communication purposes. Then at the time I stayed in other places. It was a bit difficult because I had to assess how much – firstly I had to be sure that the fact that I'd come here wasn't known about and secondly I had to assess how much could be done with as little bureaucracy and so on as possible. So what I landed up doing for about a period of – I shared a flat with a person who I didn't know. I saw the advert – I'm laughing because this person was so funny. He was a young guy - politics, reading books for him was just something that was completely remarkable. He was totally over the top but he was a very assertive young man who, a coloured guy who was a secretary, he was gay and very proud of it and he was one of the funniest youngsters. He used to make me laugh just because he was – he had this most incredibly camp way of talking and he would say things like, "I just couldn't understand why they thought I was gay." And he was fascinated with the fact that I used to read books. It didn't matter what kind of books they were, they could be thrillers, they could be anything. Anyway, so he had put up an advert and I was very desperate to get out of the flat that I was in because I very urgently needed to have a place that I wasn't staying in that I could locate equipment because I had to have that kind of separation.

. I also came back here with a very tight budget and I had had the advantage of servicing a lot of people for the ANC on the outside and I knew that one of the real big reasons for people who had gone back inside the country actually not being able to brace themselves on a long term basis was because the funding issue was not sorted out properly in advance. So when I finally did get back here, and it was after quite a long time of wanting to get back here, I was quite determined that I was not going to leave here, I was going to stay here. So knowing that although there were all these undertakings about all the various supports and resources and everything else that would flow from the mother body outside, I knew better so I geared myself for that. I lived incredibly frugally. The work that I did absorbed really 90% of the funds and I then requested permission to actually attempt to get, as part of the cover, also to get employment. I worked making ice cream for a while and that kind of in terms of income also gave me enough time to do everything else. Then later on the fact of having a cover people actually thought was very useful. It proved very useful to Operation Vula so we consolidated that. I then actually got a much more established job later on. Up until then it was not very common for people, (i) to come in and to stay in, from the ANC, and (ii) to come in and to establish themselves by means of not just a false identity but a false identity and an actual formal employment as part of the cover.

. Anyway, you were asking where I stayed. So I stayed with this young man, Reggie, who was hardly ever there and that's what attracted me to the advert. There was this advert on the billboard that said, "Looking for somebody to share a flat. The owner is hardly ever there." I thought how much better can you get? But then because I found him so vastly entertaining I stayed on. He knew me as Kathy, a most peculiar name but it was a name that stuck with me and everybody that I dealt with at the level, overtly other than the underground work I was doing, knew me as Kathy and I had blonde hair and green eyes and glasses. I had something that could alter my jaw, that was part of the disguise.

POM. This is the disguise?  So you came in with this disguise when you came back to the country?

JL. Yes.

POM. When you came back - ?

JL. The disguise I came back in is not the disguise that I then wore on a longer term basis. The extent to which you can disguise yourself depends also partly on what you're doing it for but also partly for how long the disguise has to last and if it has to last for months you just can't – there were occasions when I disguised myself as a man. Now that's not something you can do for any length of time whatever the novels tell you. It's just impossible, you've just got to have the possibility to look different and do certain things differently but to also not be so, to have so much time taken with having to make yourself up and put on endless amount of paraphernalia on a daily basis because you'll never get it perfectly right every day. So anyway, I came in in a disguise but it wasn't the disguise that 'Kathy' adopted.  Then I stayed here and in 1988 –

POM. From the time you came back was your work primarily setting up – ?

JL. We called them dead letter boxes but some of them were actually just safe houses and some were safe places to store equipment.

POM. Your contact would have been Ivan?

JL. Ivan. A wonderful man.

POM. Did you have many other contacts or were your contacts restricted?

JL. What we had agreed, and even in the time that I was doing work in the forward areas in the neighbouring countries, I took quite seriously the notion of the need to know. I actually didn't particularly want to know more than I had to know. When I came back here I knew what I had to do and in my mind I knew it had to fit in somewhere. I wasn't quite sure where that fit was going to be. But Ivan clearly knew that I was doing some of the ground work in preparation for Mac's arrival. I didn't know, I didn't speculate and that wasn't part of my issues. So coming back here – before I came back Ivan was very assertive about the fact that I needed to restrict my contacts to an agreed list of people that we had both discussed, some I might have known before, some not, for specific purposes and that was it. So everybody else that I knew was out of bounds and, again, I was more keen on ensuring – I didn't want to take all sorts of unnecessary forays into communities which I would have loved to have seen on a social basis but I suppose I survived because I was intense and serious and probably full of lip but quite disciplined. So that's probably how it was possible to survive as long as I did. And it wasn't easy.

POM. Was it lonely?

JL. Very, oh at times it was dreadful.

POM. You were never able to, of course this is a stupid question, never able to visit your parents or to make contact with them?

JL. No. My parents in any case – I was never able to visit and make contact with anybody other than that list and that list was very work related. My parents, my brother, as I think I mentioned, a couple of years older, he is a couple of years older than I am and he had studied medicine and after his medical degree ended he was called up for conscription to the army. It was the year after I had left, or two years after, and he then went and did his houseman's year and then he was called up again and he and his wife, who was also a doctor, decided to leave the country. They left in 1980 and my parents in a moment of extreme optimism thought that by leaving the country, which of course they were able to do just by virtue of their own – they had never taken out SA citizenship, they didn't feel they could vote for any party with any legitimacy, so it was easy for them to go back to the UK and they thought they would see their children. They thought that that's where I was based. Of course I wasn't there when they arrived and very soon after they arrived my brother was offered a research fellowship in the United States for three years, so they didn't see him either. So, yes, it was hard on them. But no, I didn't see anybody for social purposes.

POM. The equipment you were dealing with, was this computer equipment?

JL. Computer equipment, there was some printing equipment but, OK, this was in the days, imagine such days, before the cell phone, before the Internet really took hold here, so although the net and even the cell phone as inventions were in existence even internationally they were not particularly part of the common thing. What we needed to do was we needed to lug around very heavy briefcases which were actually mobile phones and then also what I needed to do was I had to set up a whole lot of access – one of the things I had done in Cuba was learn how to pick locks and to make keys and things like that so I had to get access to a whole load of offices in order to be able to use different landlines for the purposes of the computer communication.

POM. This is before the Vula communications?

JL. It was the testing of the Vula communication system.

POM. So had you known Tim Jenkin?

JL. Oh yes, I knew Tim, I knew Tim from London but Tim before I came in, Tim was also on the other end of the Vula thing and I was very aware of him but he was very much as a kind of technical support person. He provided the lifeline. The programme was tested in the period that I was here and the glitches were ironed out.

POM. That was in nineteen eighty - ?

JL. End of 1987/88 that we were testing that prior to Mac's arrival and then by the time Mac came here –

POM. How would you get the computers in?

JL. OK, I firstly brought one computer with me.

POM. This would be a big computer?

JL. No, no, it was a laptop, although the laptops that existed at the time were nothing like the laptops now but it was one of the very first Toshiba laptops, small Toshiba laptops, that I came in with. Subsequently that had to be changed and there was an endless kind of exchanging thing of disks and me loading the new programmes on. There was a constant thing of having to load up programmes and change the software and also change the hardware.

POM. How would the contact between you - ?

JL. I went out of the country to go and fetch stuff a couple of times, to Zimbabwe, and on one occasion I used a passport and on another occasion I didn't, I just crossed at the border and then had meetings on both occasions with Ivan. It was at those meetings that he was in the role that I had been many a time of debriefing me and listening to my very irritated and angry complaints about things that were supposed to have happened that hadn't happened and so on and so forth which he took very well, as usual. On those occasions then some of the stuff – but then the other thing was they organised, although I think that was already after Mac arrived, they also then had ways, they had people that they sent things through, people who came here, disks especially which were then gotten to me through dead letter boxes and that kind of thing, to reload the programme in an updated version and all the rest of it.

. That sounds now, which is a very, very familiar sound, of when a computer is connected to the Internet, that sort of rush, slight screech with a rush, it was the most pleasurable sound. It took a long time to get it because we had to go to a place where we could get a signal with this stupid mobile phone and then we had to put – there weren't these nice little plug-in modems initially, it was that thing that looked like an extra large telephone receiver, we used to have to plug it into this damn thing. Yes, it was a mission just to get a signal but it was a lifeline also.

. The communication thing, I can't even describe to you how important it was. It became more important certainly when we were doing a lot more work and doing a lot more of the communication with people in prison to people outside the country and all that sort of thing. Then its broader functional role obviously came into play but just in terms of enabling structures to be established and enabling the real possibility for an underground, communication and its role – it's very difficult to explain.

POM. But if you were using, your first phase was testing the system out with Tim in London and getting rid of the glitches and seeing if you could communicate with each other and then communicate with Lusaka.

JL. That's right.

POM. So it was like Lusaka, South Africa.

JL. Initially it was SA/London, London/Lusaka, initially. Lusaka's connection to the Internet was somewhat delayed!

PAT. Was there more than your unit in SA?

JL. For the purposes of the communication, no, but there were actually. There were a couple of people who were here. They were people who were only linked with – just a handful who came in more or less at the same time as I did, that I linked with later.

POM. But none of you knew that the others were here?

JL. No, none of us.

POM. So Mac arrives and you become both his scribe and secretary.

JL. OK, I can go with that.

POM. Chief Communications Officer.

JL. Yes, I can go with those titles. Mac and I, we had known each other for a while but in the period in Lusaka we had had our various altercations so I didn't know who to expect.

POM. Altercations regarding?

JL. A whole lot of political stuff. OK, what happened was I got the message that I had to go to this laundrette to meet the person I was going to meet and so on and so forth. Didn't know who it was and I arrived there and when I saw who it was, well we connected and in that very disciplined way we made arrangements to go somewhere else and meet at a later stage, somewhere else where we could actually sit and talk. It was in Jo'burg, we met in a laundrette in town and then later on, about four hours later met in a place in Sandton. But in the intervening period I had to confirm that at least the initial contact had taken place and I can't remember what kind of vitriolic message I sent Ivan, I just know that it was heated. But that was good, we then sort of sat down and there's nothing like being underground to focus the mind so we had probably a need to spend –

POM. He was in disguise, right?

JL. Yes.

POM. But could you recognise him through his disguise?

JL. Yes I did. Yes I could recognise him. If I hadn't maybe known – that's another thing about disguise actually, if I know I'm going to see somebody and I don't necessarily know that person or if I do know that person I'm not necessarily going to recognise that person, my eyes are attuned differently to if I'm walking along the street and somebody, who might be vaguely familiar, passes me. It's not always the same recognition. I think if Mac had passed me in the street I probably also would have recognised him but that was because his disguise wasn't that good in my view. There's no doubt about it, when I was there in the laundrette I knew I was going to be meeting somebody. Ivan gave me the impression that it was somebody that I didn't know, in fact didn't give me the impression, he told me in so many words which probably added to the vitriol. But anyway, because he knew about my altercations with Mac but we sorted it out on that first evening and we worked very well, we'd worked well before together but we worked incredibly well after that. I think it made us a lot closer that we had to kind of cut through some of the bullshit of Lusaka.

POM. What were your altercations in Lusaka about?

JL. I suppose a lot about the different roles. Mac, I think, had probably a healthy amount of scepticism about some of the work that was being done with the trade union sector here and the extent to which it was as useful as it could have been. I think he had different ideas about how that should be done. I think also, as with any kind of organisation, people tend if they're not working very closely together, to associate the views of people that they're not working with, with people that those other people are associating with. So I was in different units to Mac and some of the people I was working with Mac was very critical of. I agree with some of it, I don't agree with others of it. I was tarnished with the same brush and vice versa and in close knit circles those things tend to dominate and I think you've just got to cut through them but you don't actually cut through them until the opportunity arises that you work closely again with somebody because then you have to cut through them, you have to say what was this about, and so on and so forth.

. The other thing is at the time I suppose Mac was most critical not so much about anything I was doing or not doing but about some of the work that the person who I was at the time married to was doing. I don't know. Some of what Mac felt was right, so I'm wrong, but it pissed the hell out of me that my partner, that's not me, give me a break. So we sorted all of that out and then we worked together very well. By that stage of course I smoked as much as he did so that also helped. We could have easily taken shares in the tobacco industry and made a lot of money but if he had been as capitalist inclined as he is now he would have done that.

POM. The communication system was used to send messages from Johannesburg to Lusaka, London? And then from London to?

JL. And it was used internally, and it wasn't only used from Jo'burg. I travelled around the country with my little laptop computer as did Mac. We were particularly in Durban quite a lot. We also travelled to Eastern Cape and to Cape Town, sometimes separately, sometimes together.

POM. So you would take the equipment with you?

JL. Yes. By that stage it was a lot more portable anyway but it had always been portable, even these horrible phones, radio phones are portable. You have to do a bit of body building before but they certainly can be carried around. So we used to use it quite a lot for internal communication between here and Durban and Cape Town as well as to London and Lusaka and so on.

. (Unintelligible)

JL. In some cases, in other cases not. I suppose one of the things that was a frustration was just in knowing that some people were not going to have the same degree of discipline about things like encrypting stuff, keeping stuff in particular places, etc., etc.  There's very little you can do other than repeatedly cleaning up disks when stuff is no longer needed and so on, which was predictable. They didn't do it, so, yes, that was a concern. But learning how to use it and being around if there were problems, we also used to use those pagers a lot, the little pagers – we used those a lot so if there was a problem you'd get a pager message, "For goodness sake phone", because you would understand that it was something that couldn't be communicated for whatever reason with the computer. And if it was a computer related problem either sort it out from here, occasionally I had to go to places to sort stuff out. We had somebody dealing with communications eventually on an ongoing basis in Durban. There was quite a lot of contact.

POM. Who was that?

JL. Soraya Jacobs. I was just thinking of her maiden name. Her name is Soraya Jacobs. She was at the time married to Mo Shaik.

POM. At university we would call them 'techies', the people who go around sorting out people's computer problems, young kids of 17.

JL. Yes. I'm sure relative to such things this wasn't quite at the same level of sophistication but it was just what we needed just to service our own system.

POM. What was your understanding of the purpose of Vula?

JL. It was always a twofold purpose I think. The first thing was that as a result of the recognition by the ANC leadership that to be able to give the necessary leadership to what was unfolding here in the country it could no longer depend on a leadership that was remote and removed so that in fact the first, I'm not going to call primary or secondary, but one of the very definite objectives was to locate leadership in the country to give direction to all facets of the political activity in the country both political underground structures of the ANC as well as military eventually. The idea was also military structures of the ANC as well as people who maybe were not organised in particular ANC structures in that sense but who were in the mass democratic movement and through their alignment to the ANC would strategise in terms of what their work was going to be at a more open and to the extent possible legal level but would strategise with ANC leadership as to how that should unfold.

. So I think the first aim was to locate leadership, not in the sense of leadership individuals but to ensure that initially it's going to be individuals, eventually it's going to be a structure where both people from the MDM structures as well as people from outside would join in establishing a leadership with its own national and regionalised structures of authority and leadership of the organisation in all its facets. I think that was the one aim.

. The second aim I think was just to enable a much more dynamic linkage between the leadership of the organisation that was in prison and the leadership of the organisation that was out of the country so the two things are not separated.

POM. Leadership that was in prison?

JL. In prison and the leadership that was out of the country. There was a real focus on people who were in prison at the time, the ANC leadership whether it was Nelson Mandela or Walter Sisulu or people who were in the common, the group, cells in Robben Island or elsewhere. There was a recognition that ANC leadership was playing a role, was needing to be dynamic in communication with people outside the country and the two sort of polar regions needed to be dynamically linked with a leadership that had established itself and was rooted inside the country.

POM. How would you communicate with somebody in Robben Island?

JL. People who were in the prisons were visited and we met with people who were doing the visiting and we got documents in and out and part of what I had to do on a number of occasions was type up hand-written documents that had been smuggled out of the prison for transmission to Lusaka via London. In fact Madiba's communications about the negotiations were transmitted in that way mostly. So that was I think a second aim.

. Those were, what I would say, the big aims. It was about establishing the leadership of the organisation, consolidating it with all its tentacles and rooting it inside the country.

PAT. Was there a sense out of the country that the leadership … ?

JL. I'm sure there was a little bit of both but the reality is that there were so many occasions where people would come outside and the possibility to get the necessary feedback that they wanted would not be there and feedback is not usually – I mean things had gone beyond in many instances a situation where you come out and you ask a question about what's the next step and the next step is so complicated that there's no easy answer. It's a question of debating with people who have – I think there was a recognition that people who were in leadership positions, not everybody, but a number of people who were in leadership positions in the MDM structures were as able, as politically competent, as committed, as knowledgeable about where things should go to engage. They were not needing to be passive receptacles of some great wisdom from afar. I think there was a real recognition of that.

. Secondly, I think that there was an understanding that things were moving very quickly in the country. So, sure, things were happening inside and the ANC better be there because being there on a remote basis is just never going to be able to keep pace with the speed at which things were moving. So that was very definitely part of what drove the decision making process to pursue this kind of agenda for the organisation.

POM. How was Mandela brought into the loop?

JL. When he was in prison –

POM. This is when he would be in Victor Verster.

JL. That's right, Victor Verster. He wasn't aware or particularly wanting to be aware of how what he wrote or what he said got to the leadership. By that stage he had a sufficient level of confidence through the years that had passed that somehow that communication would happen and other people would sort out beyond his actually handing over to the various people that he used as couriers coming out of the prison. What happened to stuff thereafter was their problem. You know what I mean? And I think he had that confidence. So when you say, how did he get brought into the loop? He was in the loop without particularly knowing what loop he was in as far as which system of communication was being utilised at the time.

POM. But he was aware that - ?

JL. That his stuff was getting to Lusaka.

POM. That something called Operation Vula was - ?

JL. While he was in prison? No. While he was in prison, no, not as an operation. He was aware that a decision had been taken by the ANC to locate leadership on a long term basis in the country.

POM. He knew that Mac was in the country?

JL. I'm pretty sure he knew that Mac had come into the country. I don't know whether he knew that Mac intended to be a permanent fixture or not. I really wouldn't – you'd have to ask Mac. I don't recall. He did know that Mac had been in the country but I don't think that he – and as I say he knew that there was a decision to locate leadership on a long term basis in the country but whether he knew that Mac was one of those people or that there was an operation specifically named Operation Vula I doubt. I don't think he did.

POM. So you come to Mandela's release. Vula is still in operation and then comes June 1990.

JL. Yes, Gebhuza.

POM. He is picked up after, first of all two operatives are picked up and later killed and then he's picked up.

JL. They were disks and no it didn't. In fact I was – when I got the call that there was a problem, it was actually probably hours before Gebhuza was picked up but certainly there was a recognition there was a problem. I got a call one night and it was a pager message and it was clear to me just from the nature of the message that it was a problem and when I went and picked up the message I was told that the two people, David and Charles, well in fact his name's Vuyo, Vuyo and Charles had been missing for more than – at that stage it was already going on for 48 hours. I then indicated to Soraya that she needed to communicate to people because it should have already happened a good 20 hours before, that everybody needed to go on red alert which meant that everybody needed to take a whole lot of measures about where they stayed, where things were kept. There were a lot of things we discussed. At the time that I got the next call, she had certainly attempted to communicate.

POM. This is who?

JL. Soraya, she was the communication person in Durban. But by the time she had managed to locate or establish what had happened to Gebhuza in fact he had been picked up. So the second message I got from her was to tell me that he had been picked up and the first thing I said to her was, "Where are his disks? Get his disks. Whatever you do don't do anything else, go and find those disks." Because I knew that he would be one of the people, he was one of the people who was very careless with his disks. Unfortunately, he had not only been careless in terms of not encrypting and he had also not directed that the alert shouldn't take place, he had also kept the disks at the place where he stayed. So it was a very quick haul for the police to get hold of these disks.

POM. But they were unencrypted.

JL. Unencrypted. Very against – it is still one of those things that I'd like to strangle him for because they were not difficult to encrypt, it was not a major labour to encrypt what was on the disk. It was very easy to do it. It just required a certain amount of discipline to do it really, that's all. It's very easy to encrypt a whole disk. You just had to type in a sentence and if you were that lazy you could allow the thing to do all the work for you. Of course each time you wanted to unencrypt if you had been that lazy it would unencrypt everything, so essentially it was a lot better for you to encrypt one by one so that what you needed to work with you would get unencrypted straight away. And that didn't take long but it didn't happen so they had everything unencrypted.

PAT. Did he have everything?

JL. Well no he didn't have everything. They had everything of his. No he didn't, which is why after he was picked up with the people immediately associated with him who were gotten in that same raid, after that they never caught anybody or anything and I took major delight in ensuring that they didn't. Basically as soon as I heard that he was picked up, and notwithstanding I asked Soraya to go and get his disks, within the next 38 hours here in Gauteng every person, every item of equipment, every single thing was moved from where it had been and so there was this systematic thing of hearing about the cops having gone in one instance only hours after we had cleared out various DLBs. And then he didn't have all the locations of safe houses and stuff, fortunately. For example, the very first place that I used as a base was a place that was never located. It was a flat in Hillbrow. It was never identified. As a result of that they never got any further by picking anybody else up.

POM. So you went further underground.

JL. So then I became a night owl because one of the things that Gebhuza had is that he had my pager number and the cops went to the pager company and got the records of everybody who had paged me. Now the bulk of those people, he was not supposed to have had that pager number but he did in case of emergency and all he had to remember was the code as opposed to the number but anyway the result was that everybody who knew me as Kathy had little visits from the police, lots of visits from the police because the police didn't actually believe that they only knew me as Kathy, and in fact the same chap that I mentioned, Reggie, this young chap that I stayed with, I kept in contact with him and he at the time that all this happened was staying with some, I am sure, gorgeous looking young African man in Hillbrow when in the dead of night these four rugby-like thugs, three of them actually, came to his door. I bumped into him more than a year later so I heard the story and it was just such a funny experience. They came to the flat where he was staying, they thumped at the door wearing just T-shirts and jeans and he said, "Who's there?" and they said, "The police." And he said, "And I looked through the peephole and I said to them, no you're not police." And they said, "We're police, let us in." And he said, "No you're not police and if you don't go away I'll call the police." Anyway that altercation at about two thirty, three in the morning went on for a good half hour at which point he did phone the police, the Hillbrow Police Station and he said, "There are these three thugs outside my house, my flat, and they won't leave me alone and I want you to come and remove them and they're also claiming to the police." So he left his contact numbers and he explained to me that the reason that they couldn't have been police was that not only were they dressed in plain clothes but police come in twos! The idea of this two by two story!  So then the Hillbrow Police Station phoned him back and they said to him that indeed those three people are police. And he then said to them that it's not possible, he's not willing to deal with them. They have to send police in a police car that he can see over his balcony and they must be wearing uniform. So eventually they did just that and the police came, the ones in uniform. They came in a pair, two of them, so they were OK, and he then let them all in and they all went into this what I understand is a one-bedroom flat and he and his lover were well ensconced there and he spoke beautiful, beautiful Afrikaans. As somebody brought up in a coloured community here, he was also, very, very bright guy, so he was able to speak very good Afrikaans and they said, they showed him a photograph of me and they asked him who I was and he said I was Kathy, and they said, no who was I really? And he said, no I was really Kathy. Then he asked them why were they looking and they said to him they were looking for me because I was being looked for as a result of a fraud charge. He said, "She would never do anything like that." They then spent an hour with him when he told them that, no, no, I always used to make sure that he always paid his bills and no, I would just never, it was not possible.

POM. You were reading all the time.

JL. I was always reading and I was so responsible, I was a big sister and it just couldn't happen. Anyway he then went, they took him to Sandton Police Station and they kept him there until ten o'clock the following morning and then they saw him quite a number of times thereafter, and various other people the same things happened to all the people who knew me as Kathy.

POM. Were you in disguise at this point?

JL. Oh yes, absolutely, very, very new disguise. No more blonde hair for a start but I also only used to travel almost exclusively only at night. A year.

POM. Now Vula went on, it continued.

JL. It did, it did. Look notwithstanding the negotiations there were a lot of things that were happening in the townships. The hit squads were very, very busy. The kind of killings that were going on in the Vaal and the East Rand and so on and so forth of people who were either open or not openly, but associated with ANC or with ANC aligned organisations like the COSATU unions. Literally at Iscor there were killings on a weekly basis of workers at Iscor who were members of the COSATU union there, what had been MAWU.

POM. Was Vula setting up SDUs?

JL. Yes. So the self defence unit formation was very much – a number of the people who during the period that Vula was operating had been responsible for securing and knowing the location of some of the DLBs with the armaments in were people who then approached people in Operation Vula because of genuine conflict that was going on and being mounted against people. So some of the SDUs then became very close formations working with us and others less so. In some of the SDUs there were people who were trained MK combatants who were part of the SDUs, in others not. I think that was an aspect of Vula.

. In addition to that there was also still a lot of information coming in about people, there were also some disappearances at the time, but also people who were involved in especially the sort of hit squad network both here as well as KZN associated with the IFP. It was clear that it was third force engineered. The incident that happened in the Sebokeng hostels here, Themba Khoza was identified. People who knew him as long as the two of you know each other, knew this is Themba Khoza, there's no mistaken identity, reported it to the police. The man was strutting around the area and no action was taken and when people from the hostel nearly caught Themba then the police themselves put a cordon round him and moved him out of the hostel grounds. There were incidents like that that were happening.

POM. Janet, you were just saying you were in the communications, was the communication system now being used in the same way?

JL. Not internally as much. Internally it was being used very much for people who were part of the formal Operation Vula structure and it was being used to communicate between ourselves and people outside and through people outside to some of the people in Lusaka. But then already people had started to come inside the country, so, for example, I had various meetings with Chris Hani and JS while they were here and while I was underground and they were not underground.

POM. Was the communication system used to orchestrate the importation of arms or was that a separate operation? I mean between 1988 while it was underground, before 1990?

JL. Yes before 1990 the fact of equipment coming in was communicated through Operation Vula.

POM. It would be arranged through?

JL. Well what would happen is that you would first get information that there was going to be a deposit made of items and then later on there would be information about what it was and where it needed to be collected from. So, yes it was.

POM. Then after 1990?

JL. After 1990, certainly after June there was no more transportation or emptying of caches being brought in afresh from outside but by then we had a fair armoury around so we did move armaments around the country at that time.

POM. Even though the armed struggle was suspended it was a different - ?

JL. Initially after June we had to move everything simply to relocate it and in the process of that some of the equipment was placed in the custody of people we'd been working with before 1990. But there was no effort organised by Operation Vula to continue any armed activity in any sort of organised way and the movement of arms was not geared towards that. The movement of arms that took place around or in 1990 was very much around avoiding of capture. The fact that some of those armaments were used by the self defence units was because in the process also of moving the arms from very well-established arms caches they were put in much smaller caches and some of those caches were very definitely caches that people who we had worked with now for more than a year but who themselves, as well as the communities within which they worked, were people who were very vulnerable and were part of then the self defence unit activity. Some, not all, some of the armaments weren't at all located in a way that that happened.

. I know of particular issues but by that time also Ronnie Kasrils had come in so some of that movement or some of those groupings were not groupings I knew of personally. Some I knew of personally.

POM. Have you any idea of how many of the outside leadership were actually brought into the country during the period that Vula was in operation before Mandela was released?

JL. People from outside, leadership from outside, sort of two dozen I would say in total, not at the leadership level of Mac but people who were able to play leading roles. But what had happened, and I think that that's quite important, is that notwithstanding the initiative around Operation Vula simultaneously because Operation Vula had not yet established key leadership structures in all of the provinces which had begun to exercise leadership over all the ANC units and there were a lot of MK units that were not under the direct authority of Operation Vula that were in the country. That is actually, it's very much on the basis of that in all probability that Charles was captured. It was because his brother was one of those MK units. We knew about some of those units and some of the communication that used to be sent outside was because of concern and including Charles' brother about some of those units because they were very exposed. I mean if we knew about Charles' brother we reckon so did probably a lot of other people and in this particular instance we were right.

. It becomes a little difficult to count heads because some of the people didn't come in under the auspices or with the immediate intention of the organisation of linking up with Operation Vula but certainly the intention of Operation Vula was to consolidate all the units inside the country including those but at the time we're talking about that level of consolidation had not really happened as yet.

POM. In the end was it a question that in a sense time ran out and negotiations began and you hadn't – you were kind of setting up, getting into - ?

JL. The structures were being established and contact was being made and in a parallel process negotiations were going on. At the time when things were ripening, on both sides things were ripening and at the time when conditions were a lot riper to establish an underground leadership structure a lot of the leadership who had been based in Lusaka, although at that stage it was not entirely clear that it would be on a long term basis, but were seeing the prospects of being back here on a longer term basis, so the energy and the time needed to invest on how to make structures function on an underground basis here when you're looking at a potential prospect of spending – well you're looking at the possibility of spending your energies on a potential prospect of being able to have an overt legal leadership. I think those two things were happening in tandem really. So to me it's not so much time ran out as if – it wasn't, they weren't happening in sequence, they were happening in parallel and I think we were committed to both of those processes happening. I think the problematic issue was more around the fact that in many areas there could have been a much smoother transition for what had been built up both through the underground as well as through the MDM structures and what came into the country as part of the leadership from outside. I think the transition could have been smoother and I think therefore a lot of the gains that had been made could have been capitalised on a lot better.

. If I look for example, for me the classical example is what happened to the women's organisations. There were really a number of women's organisations, grassroots organisations scattered throughout the country that were doing incredibly good work, had loose network associations throughout the country. The ANC nowhere capitalised on those organisations and in fact if anything was very much part of the collapse of grassroots women's organisations and I don't think we've ever quite seen the recovery of that movement as a movement, as it could have become a lot more easily with a smoother transition. A lot of that is ifs, but it's certainly my analysis of what could have happened.

. So for us it wasn't so much a question of, ah! you know, oh damn it! Negotiations are succeeding and we were almost there. That wasn't the problem. Otherwise had we felt that way I think we would have not seen as part of our task to facilitate the communication that was part of those negotiations. Our problem was more that there were opportunities for what finally became established as an overt organisation and so on and so forth were lost in the process which wasn't necessary.

POM. I'm not going to detain you an awful lot longer.

JL. I'm going to have to go quite soon.

POM. This is an article or series of articles that were written by Tim Jenkin that were published in Mayibuye and I'd just like to hear your comments on some of the things that he had to say about setting up Operation Vula and the way it worked and how it functioned.

. He says: - "In the mid 1980s there was a great deal of soul searching taking place in the ANC. While there had been some spectacular armed attacks against the apartheid regime the underground struggle had not really taken off. There was very little to show for years of struggle."

. . Would you agree or disagree with that?

JL. I would agree in this sense that there was very little to show in the sense of a structured organisation which had lines of accountability and lines of authority. There was very little to show. I think there was a lot to show in the sense of the influence the organisation had had and the way in which the organisation prevailed but the problem is there's a point there where you need to be able to give structured leadership to those loose formations. There needs to be a way in which, through a process, that is able to count on its legitimacy and can assert itself over activities and concerns that the organisation has.

. For example, the time when there needed to be a way of dealing with even formations like the IFP let alone formations like the Patriotic Front, the notion of dealing with some of the institutions of the Bantustans had been in existence and had been pursued by the ANC while it was in exile for some time. Sure, notwithstanding the problems with the IFP and also some of the more problematic elements in these establishments but there are people who particularly in places like Mpumalanga today who were part of the Bantustan authority but nonetheless had already an active association with the ANC. Now just if you take that as an example, there needed to be a way where one could assert on the one hand, one could assert a leadership that was full of the dynamism and so on of the MDM structures but at the same time be able to give those structures a mature ability to cope with the contradictions of dealing with some of these Bantustan authorities in the interests of forging together a greater unity to overthrow an apartheid regime which these institutions might have been the children of but didn't have to remain in the stable of. That's an example.

. Now to do that it required more than the distant communication, the lengthy periods of time in between being able to give clear instructions. Of course also within the MDM structures there was also evidence of instigators, of people who were essentially agents of the regime. There were also people whose charisma had caused them to become in their own minds more important than the organisation and so there were those kinds of tensions internally. Again, you can't assert – the obvious one would have been the notorious football association that was associated with some of the people around Winnie Mandela. The issue there is you can't come to terms with those kinds of things, you can't provide that sort of leadership at a distance unless you have something more structured that has legitimacy but also has structure.

POM. That might lead to a second point, that there was no real ANC presence inside the country and the ANC could not legitimately claim to be the leading force behind the mass struggles taking place.

JL. You see there I would look at it differently. I think the ANC could claim legitimately to be the force behind the struggle because many of the people involved in the struggle declared their ANC allegiance apologetically. But I think the issue is more that that's an emotional affiliation and leadership has to go beyond that. Sometimes leadership has to take people and embrace that enthusiasm, that commitment and those leadership qualities and mould them around some objectives which just take that much more of a longer view, which are that much more sober in what they're trying to achieve.

. If you also take into account that notwithstanding the successes on the military side, I don't think there were very many people in the ANC leadership who believed that the struggle would be able to be won in this country through military means primarily. Military had a role to play but certainly the political struggle had to take precedence. Now how does it take precedence? A general strike is a weapon but you can't rely on a general strike in a situation of SA where you've got the fractious formations that you had in the rural areas which held so many of the people. How do you deal with that? You can't just ignore a Bantustan formation without having something else to bring the people who are in one way or another beholden to the tribal authorities that the regime had capitalised on.

. I'm saying these things were the kind of issues that an organisation like the ANC needed to grapple with, not in some sense of supreme isolation in Lusaka but with people on the ground and needed to argue and fight about those things. At the end of the day some of those formations that the ANC might have wanted and actually did try to embrace in the Patriotic Front were complete dead losses to begin with and maybe that kind of dynamic exchange would have flushed that out earlier.

. I don't think that the ANC had a problem in claiming that it was a leading force, that it was a driving force, that it was the motor behind really the bulk, the overwhelming Mass Democratic Movement force that was in the country. But that's not enough, that's not giving leadership. That means you're present, that means you've got a role, that means your energy almost at a populace level is driving things, but to lead strategically you need something more. I think it's the issue of giving strategic leadership that you need an organised formation to do that and that was not here.

POM. Next he says: - "Underground work up to that point had largely been hit and run operations."

JL. True. I think hit and run but also people either going in to do specific things or people coming out. Again, not only hit and run in other words. There were people who came out specifically nothing to do with hitting in that sense but people who were involved, for example, in the trade union movement, for example in some of the MDM formations, church formations.

POM. They're kind of saying, he says: - "Cadres were trained outside the country, briefed, equipped and sent into SA on missions. They carried out their tasks and if not captured by the enemy returned to the sanctuary of one of the frontline states."

JL. OK. He's talking very much on the military side and that is also true on the military side. That is what happened and certainly one of the objectives of Operation Vula, well it wasn't only an objective, it happened, was to provide training for people inside the country precisely so they didn't have to go outside to receive training. They received training inside the country. So he's right on the military side but some of the comments that he's making can be interpreted also to be not only on the military side but in the more general political arena. Certainly Operation Vula was geared at both. It was not an initiative that was aimed primarily even at ensuring that the military struggle would be able to become more rooted and able to succeed. That was part of it but only a part. It wasn't the more important part. It was a component in what the ANC was trying to do in general and therefore what Vula sought to do. . A lot of the time, for example, that Mac spent was spent very much in trying to create the kind of strategic thinking within people who had no intention of forging, or pursuing their struggle against the regime on a military basis.

. I think what he's saying has relevance for both because even prior to the decision of 1985 and the subsequent shift of us into the country, I think prior to that even on the political side there was this thing of people coming out. Again, having debriefed a lot of those people the frustration was felt on both sides. You have a situation where you're getting certain information, you've already received certain reports written and verbal from other people, you're beginning to engage, you're beginning to make input but there's a limit to how much you can do. The person goes back, takes back what you say, you've got to wait – I don't know, another week if you're lucky, usually another month for somebody else to come to give feedback. There's a limit.

. Alternatively, if you go into the country and you meet with people, even then there's a limit to how much you can engage before you then go away again. I think that at the political level that would be what you could call an equivalent of a hit and run because you're kind of in and out but the hit and run side of it is very much more of a military thing and he's correct in that, it's true. People would go in, carry out an operation or carry out a certain element of reconnaissance and then have to retreat.

POM. So he says: - "These were the armed propaganda years and the imperative was to concentrate on actions to keep alive the notion that the ANC was present and active in SA. Little attention was given to the setting up of internal structures that would have made the war self-sustaining."

JL. Again, maybe in the time that Tim is talking there might have been people, I think it's true that there were in the sixties, the late sixties and early seventies, there were people who did believe, who placed more store by what could be achieved through military interventions. I think that by the late seventies there was already a healthy understanding (healthy in my view) of the balance that needed to be achieved. Armed propaganda certainly even then had its role, had its role right into the eighties, no question about it. We didn't have the terrain and the opportunity, I don't believe, in this country as the Namibians didn't in Namibia to achieve, to have a protracted guerrilla struggle as was possibly by virtue of conditions that prevailed in places like Angola and Mozambique. You have a country here where the possibility to carry out guerrilla operations even internally, a hit and then retreat internally, let alone going outside, on a hit and run basis you can cause damage, you can cause moral decay, you can cause real divisions to take hold of the ruling class. All of that happened and could have been accelerated had MK been able to be based in the country. I am still not sure that even if that had happened we would have been realistically able to achieve an overthrow of the state by those primarily military means. I think the political reality would have remained the important weapon to forge ahead with.

POM. That kind of bears out, I think, what he says in his next sentence: - "… was sent into the country where the ANC soldiers, the Generals, remained at base. This was the crux of the problem, a rudderless army with nowhere to hide, with no contact with its leaders and with extremely fragile lines of supply. This meant actions were limited to solitary operations. As the number of armed incidents increased so too did the number of casualties. It was difficult to understand how it took the leadership so long to begin thinking about changing tactics. For ten years after the Soweto rising this was the pattern of things. It was only after the Kabwe Conference in 1985 that many came to acknowledge that there was something seriously wrong and there had to be a radical change in tactics."

JL. I think Kabwe was not where people began, it was where people took a decision that there had to be a change in tactics. So I think some of the thinking had already started I would say for a good couple of years. That sort of thinking had been growing and so it became possible by the time we got to Kabwe for the sort of resolutions to be adopted and for the action to follow on very smartly from the Kabwe Conference. The initial plans for actually moving on these resolutions were taken even while the conference was still going on. I think just in the timing there's a little difference but the other thing I would say about that is that – I'm not sure, I think that Tim's surprise in retrospect, because Tim's statement has the wisdom of retrospect, because at the time if you think about what happened in 1976 the organisation spent a good five years just coping with what was coming at it from inside the country. It was very much of a reactive thing and what was coming at it was not unadulterated committed young idealists. It had its fair share of agents that the regime attempted to infiltrate, it had its fair share of problems in terms of how you accommodate and how you look after and how you train and all of those logistical problems.

. For me it's not as hard to understand how it did take the time that it took to have a fresh look. Really you're talking about thousands of people descending on an organisation and I think it was really remarkable that the ANC managed to do what it did if you look at it from that perspective in terms of coping and dealing with those people who were coming out of the country looking for the answer. Anyway I think in retrospect it's correct what he's saying but I think it has the wisdom of hindsight and maybe it doesn't come to terms with what was really facing the ANC in terms of people coming out of the country.

POM. I know you've spent an awful lot of time here and I know you want to get out, you should want to get out! There are some other questions, they all in fact refer to Tim's article. He did six pieces for Mayibuye that were collected and I'd like to hear other people who were connected with Vula, their observations on his observations of the thing so we could do it at another time. It would take much less time.

JL. That would be fine. You live very near to where I'm staying so it's not a problem for me, it's a stone's throw. I live in Westdene.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.