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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

15 Mar 2002: Moleketi, Jabu

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

JM. Where do I start?

POM. You start maybe just with the remark you made. You said this is a part of your life that you don't like talking about.

JM. I'm uneasy. It's part of one's life that one does not like to talk about because it's part of our lives that was highly secretive. Whatever we did we never wrote about, we never spoke about. We did it because we believed in the cause and at no point did I think it would be something that is written about, something that probably a few people – it's a memory that is shared by a few people.

. Right, to start with I joined the ANC in nineteen -

POM. Where were you born, which year?

JM. Oh I was born in Pimville. Pimville is one of the oldest townships in Soweto. It was then old Pimville. If you know Alexandra, it was exactly that, it was a slum, but now people were removed and put into what is referred to as new Pimville which is Klerkspruit, it's a suburb that is as you enter Soweto on the old Potchefstroom Road, you pass Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, the old Power Park, electricity generation, the power station, and the next suburb you hit that's Pimville. It's now quite big but it was basically a very, very small intimate place that I think all of us who were born there are very proud to be coming from Pimville. It used to be called Skom, from skomplaas, you know skomplaas is an Afrikaans name.

. I was born there on 15 June 1957 in a one-roomed house, not a one-bedroomed house, it was basically like a normal shack, that's why I'm saying that you should go to Alex. I'm coming from a family of five. My father was an ex miner, he's late now, he passed away in 1991. My mother was a domestic worker, she's pensioned, she gets government pension. Both of them you could say that basically they never went to school, they're not literate, but they emphasised education for their children. I had two sisters, one is a nurse, a nursing sister, the other one is a social worker and then there's me. I came in as an activist but now I'm a politician.

POM. When you were growing up was politics part of family discussion or community discussion?

JM. Politics, when we grew up – the only vivid memory that one has, it's around the sixties, 1960, when we saw tanks rolling into our area, into Pimville. I think it was then, we didn't know what was happening. Our parents were just putting us, closing doors and all that and there were police that were raiding, taking everything from an axe, any instrument, axe, knives and all of that, I think that was during the banning of the organisations and all that. The regime was feared so I am not from a political family, not at all. My family was just ordinary working people and to a large extent that's the type of family I come from.

POM. Did you through your growing up and going to school feel there was something abnormal about the society, the fact that blacks had to live in one area and whites in another area, the pass books and restrictions on movements of blacks into white areas, or did you almost just having been born into it take it for granted, that's just the way things were?

JM. Let me tell you. I never went to town, to Johannesburg, up until I think I was about eight or nine to visit my mother's workplace in the suburbs. She was working in one of the Johannesburg suburbs. That tells you. All those years we just lived in this little place, you circulated in this little place. Your only treats were trips to school, to your own school or to an entertainment hall, there was a hall there, or to the soccer fields or visiting relatives in the neighbouring suburbs of Soweto. Going into town was like a big excursion for us, so that is exactly the extent of the isolation, that your world was informed by just those surroundings. There was no comparison, your comparison was your neighbour so there's that complete isolation. I think that's one of the things.

. The second thing is that I studied in a Catholic school, I had a Catholic background, upbringing, and there were Catholic nuns and priests and all that type of thing. That's where one began to have a notion of justice through the church. I was an altar boy, a very, very serious altar boy.

POM. I'm Irish, we share something in common.

JM. At some point I wanted to be a priest so I was quite serious and we had an Irish priest, Father Bernard Boyce, and I think also that the whole thing of justice, he was very critical of what was happening but not coming up with radical solutions. He used to take us to Power Park, that's where the priests lived which is just outside Soweto. It's a suburb, when you look at the Orlando power station, now it's just become a black suburb, it used to be a white suburb, it was fenced in, there was just one gate that goes through. You can see it, it's just open at the power station. That's where they lived so he used to take us there on Sundays, go visit, it was a rite. We would go there, spend the afternoon there and all that, play around, play with white boys and the neighbours would complain about these black boys who are here. I think it was his way of making a statement. When they complained, because we would be very noisy playing soccer and all that and would all come out Sunday afternoon, maybe they were resting, we were too noisy.

POM. How else can you play soccer but be noisy?

JM. Those are some of the beginnings of to a large extent a sense of understanding but it was not in the home. In the home and I think in the community, and we were thoroughly intimidated, they hardly spoke about resisting. That was in the sixties, I started school in 1963 so it's basically in the sixties up until the seventies. Then I went to boarding school where I started my high school which was in Nchanga, another Catholic boarding school run by Catholic priests. It was called Nchanga High School. It's in the Valley of a Thousand Hills, it's between Pietermaritzburg and Durban on the old Pietermaritzburg/Durban road, beautiful place. It was really like an eye-opener for a fellow who grew up in this slum into going to the countryside, my first time into the countryside. That explained a number of things, I always said I'm a detribalised African. We never had these tribal, rural homes, no. My parents were thoroughly urbanised so that was the first excursion to this rural area in the Valley of a Thousand Hills, doing cross-country running, with other boys coming from different backgrounds, others from rural KwaZulu with us at school. Then there was a prince from the royal family.

POM. Was this a black boarding school?

JM. Yes black boarding school, yes, there was nothing mixed and it was a boys only boarding school. Studying with us was this prince from KwaZulu/Natal, from the royal family, and that shows you the type of people who came there. Then through that boarding school, the type of politics we had was Black Consciousness politics, power politics and all that. That's where I began to form opinions and then also Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi, that was in KZN, what he was saying, when you read and all that, those were some of the formative things about the beginnings of knowing a sense of justice and the priest there, the boarding master, in fact they were very upstanding about also challenging the status quo, saying that, well this is the status quo but this is not the right thing to do.

POM. Were all the priests black too?

JM. No, no, it was white priests. Black priests, no, you could find very few of them then but there it was white nuns and white priests, teachers. The principal of the school was an African, a Mr Khumalo, who was the principal. The boarding master was a white priest, a Catholic priest, Boyd. The other one was Boyce, he was Boyd. Irish all over but very good, doing a lot of excursions and I think it was a very, very good experience for us. That's what one grew up …

. Then we got expelled. Some of our colleagues got involved in these intimate things that young people get involved in, you know they had girl friends. Their girl friends, unfortunately for them, were kids of senior people in the Catholic church, the hierarchy, and one day they invited the girl friends to the dormitories and the girl friends spent the night and they got expelled to cut a long story short. And when they got expelled we went on strike because we said that it was mutual consent between people but then it was unacceptable. We went on strike, we got expelled. Got expelled, only came back to write exams, then decided that that's it, Catholic. At that point I was still studying – the vision was to become a Catholic priest, that was at JC then, there was this Junior Certificate that we got. Passed that, left that, I think it was a bit of a turning point, it was very politically analysed. It was that event, simple analysis at that point, I said it was not caring about people's futures, it was just a small event which destroyed the future of two thirds, everybody was expelled. Others were not even allowed to return, the prefects, because they led the strike and they were doing matric. The people who were involved in the actual incident got expelled, all of us who came out in solidarity got expelled though we were allowed back. We said, that's it, this is the way the church is and priests and all that type of thing, that's it. Went to my Catholic priest, Father Boyce, he was very disappointed. I said I no longer want to become a priest, that's it. I don't think this is what I want to associate with and all that, very bitter about it. And that's the last time I went to church consciously. I stopped going to church. That was in 1973, stopped being a practising Catholic. But I won't say stopped believing in God or whatever, but practising, churches and institutions, I lost confidence.

. Then I came to Musi High. Musi High School is a high school in Pimville, that's where I finished matric, passed matric. That's when I joined SASM which was a South African student movement, it was political, you can say it was – there was SASU, SASU was for universities, SASM was for high schools. We had a unit of SASM there. That's where we started political work, listening to Radio Freedom, it was around that time. Understand that there's ANC, there's Mandela and all that type of thing so clear political consciousness, developing it you can say in a very conscious way was during that period, my time in Musi High School.

POM. Were you still oriented to Black Consciousness?

JM. Yes of course. SASM, yes Black Consciousness, it was nothing else. But knowing that it's ANC, listening to Radio Freedom which was the voice of the ANC, but still BC, our analysis was BC, everything was defined. One of our teachers of history then was Jackie Selebi, the Commissioner, he was one of the good agitators, Jackie Selebi the Commissioner of Police.

POM. Oh yes!

JM. Yes, yes, he was one of the agitators then who got the spirit going. He was also expelled, he came to teach in Musi and was expelled from Turfloop. So those were the formative years - conscious politics and all that. The other one we were with in SASM was Murphy Morobe, he was a part of it, the other one is Billy Masetla the DG of Home Affairs, we were all in the same SASM. I'm mentioning the prominent ones, the ones that would basically ring a bell. Who's the other one who's a bit prominent besides those?

. Well, we'll come back. 1975, finished matric. My parents were poor, passed relatively OK, I had a university entrance. No bursary or scholarship. Parents couldn't afford so I spent 1976 doing nothing. There was no money to go anywhere. 1976 broke out and all that while we were still in SASM. I threw in my lot with a lot of the students though I was out of high school then. Then December left the country, December 1976 and joined the ANC. But before then already we were recruited into the ANC during 1976.

POM. How did that come about?

JM. Well it was a network. I later learned that it was put together by Joe Gqabi.  Joe Gqabi is one of the ANC leaders who was assassinated in Zimbabwe. The person who recruited me is still around, he's Rollo Masina(?) who was one of the accused in the Pretoria Twelve, you know the Joe Gqabi trial, he was the one who recruited us into the ANC. That was around 1976. So we started recruiting people to join the ANC during these uprisings. We had links, that whole Joe Gqabi network. Khehla Shubane, you should know Khehla Shubane, was among the links referring people out. He got arrested, that got us into trouble and we all basically decided that it's time to leave so we also left and joined the ANC in exile.

. The rest is the normal routine of everybody. Went through Swaziland illegally, found one in Maputo, that's where I met the Deputy President, Jacob Zuma, he was our first Commissar because we were among the first group that came into Maputo. Then he was the Deputy Representative of the ANC there. That was the first people who gave us ANC politics, Jacob Zuma, a group of us. We got training and were sent back in 1977.

POM. You got training – you were trained in Mozambique?

JM. Yes, yes, we were first trained in Mozambique, underground training in Mozambique, we never speak about it, in 1977.

POM. Was this military training?

JM. Yes military training and underground work. It was a unit of three people.

POM. Three.

JM. Yes, three of us.

POM. Who did the training?

JM. Oh, one of them is a General now in the army, General Romano, he's the Chief of the army I think here, Romano. General Romano is one of them. The other one is a retired General, what was his name again? He was also in the army, he's now retired.

POM. How long did that training last?

JM. The training was supposed to be a crash course to move back into the country but what subsequently happened is that Tokyo and them were going to be part of that network of Tokyo Sexwale and them. They got arrested. That let to the arrest of Joe Gqabi and there was the Pretoria Twelve, the trial that saw Tokyo spending so many years in prison. That was the trial. That was the network which was arrested. And now we're trapped outside in Maputo, could not come back because the network got arrested and the person who was responsible for taking us out of the country illegally became the chief state witness. His name was Ian Xara, we used to call him Inch. I might be wrong with my spelling in terms of the surname but I think I'm right. His code name was Inch. The other one, his other code name was Mulungu which means white. That was another, a good fellow, but I think he was thoroughly tortured and beaten and he broke and became a state witness. I saw him once or twice. I don't feel any animosity because we all understood. He worked very hard. He was one of the most – quite brave, very brave man. But he became a state witness so we couldn't come back up until the trial was almost concluded but the leadership then decided that we should come back and we came back.

. I re-entered the country on 15 April 1977 as a trained MK cadre. I remember those days because they are quite important. I was very nervous. I got nervous in the briefing. It's one thing to be trained but once you are told that now it's time for you to go to put into practice your training it's a different issue altogether. The briefing, it was the late Joe Modise and the late Joe Slovo, who were part and parcel of the briefing and we went back into SA. 1977 to 1980 we were operating in SA.

POM. How many of you were there?

JM. Two of us now. I think we were pioneers, we were called pioneers. We were under the current Chief of the Army, Chief of the Defence Force Siphiwe Nyanda. He was our Commander, externally based Commander, so we were operating. Then it was called Transvaal Urban, we were part of the Transvaal Urban, units that were operating under the Transvaal Urban. That's that. We were like pioneers, I think among the first units that went in.

POM. So during those years?

JM. We were underground and the church links, and the regime was not that sophisticated. We came in, stayed underground for some time, then we realised that there had been so much chaos during 1976, because from 1976 to 1978 there was just a lot of chaos in SA. We realised that a number of people were displaced, others went to boarding school and all that type of thing. But the regime to a large extent knew, it was in the trial they said that there were these three people who left but they didn't know who we were, because Inch didn't know us personally and all that so they couldn't identify who the three people are, and the fellow who recruited us got acquitted during that trial. He went into exile. So we came back, I worked for the church during that time. We were mixing up with Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa so I had a very good cover, worked for the church, doing ANC work but also working for the Catholic church, employed by the Southern African Catholic Bishop's Conference. So I had legalised, what you call legalising documents. If I'm stopped anywhere I was a working person being responsible for organising youth groups and all that in the church, but doing ANC work. So that is what contributed to the long spell of surviving up until –

POM. The church had no idea?

JM. Had no idea.

POM. You were operating under an alias or - ?

JM. Real name, my own name. Philip Jabulani Moleketi. That got blown in 1980 when one of the fellows who was training with us saw one of our colleagues, I think on the old Potchefstroom Road, around Baragwanath. He was a turncoat, but he also was not sure when he saw that colleague, he went to him and said, "Don't I know you from somewhere?" And the comrade of mine said, "No, we've never met." He said, "Are you sure?" He said, "No, no, we have never met." Then we knew that it was this fellow, his name was Rasta, that would turn already, and he said, "It's bad." Then subsequently there were a number of problems one of which was the Chiawelo Incident where an MK cadre was cornered in Chiawelo and caught by the regime but he was killed. We called him the Lion of Chiawelo. Then the decision was that we should leave, it's safer that we leave and we left in 1980 December.

POM. Were you involved in - ?

JM. Basically a combat unit, sabotage unit and all that. We were not a political unit.

POM. Were you involved in a number of - ?

JM. We were involved in activities, yes. That's why I got a star, I lost an eye and all that. I lost my right eye.

POM. How did that happen?

JM. Well it's a long story. Let's continue.

POM. Give us the short version.

JM. So that's that. It's difficult to speak about specific incidents. That was 1980. Then I left in 1980, I'm coming to Vula, I left in 1980, went through Lesotho, that's where I met for the first time Chris Hani who was responsible for the area there. From Lesotho I went to Mozambique, from Mozambique to Lusaka and in Mozambique meeting my old Commander, debriefs and all that type of thing. Lusaka to Angola, Angola to Soviet Union for training. For more than a year we were training in a military institution there, an officer's course.

POM. When you were in the Soviet Union were you in a boarding school type of situation?

JM. Military camp. We were soldiers, it was an officer's course.

POM. So were you free to move around?

JM. Yes, weekends when we were not doing anything we trained up until, our programme started Monday up until Saturday afternoon and thereafter we were free. We were based in Moscow, part of it was in Moscow and the Ukraine. Training took part in the Ukraine.

POM. When you were on the weekends moving about did anything peculiar about the Soviet Union strike you?

JM. You know coming from SA, I'm going to be very honest with you, it is the most wonderful place I've ever been to where from SA the only thing when you relate to white people is it's on a racial basis, you're not treated as a human being. You learn to realise that in a practical way, not theoretically, that indeed people can live together. At no stage did I feel when I was in the Soviet Union that I was treated as inferior. We saw this socialism that everyone basically is equal, we didn't see beggars and all that type of thing. When you are not doing any research you saw what you saw but we were moving freely in Moscow. You could go into a shop and buy and people would treat you with respect and people knew about Africa and about SA. They were highly educated I would say and understood and even now when I compare them, when I go to other countries, some countries don't even know where SA is but there they knew about the struggles, you meet ordinary people, ordinary workers, "Where are you from?" "South Africa." "Oh, are you SWAPO?" "No, no, ANC". SWAPO was more prominent than us, they knew more about SWAPO.  "ANC, oh!" You know, that type of thing. So that is the experience of the Soviet Union. Living there was a good experience, I had very good time. Training was tough and all that but the whole experience was a very, very positive one.

. That's the Soviet Union. Just moved around and these stories about being followed wherever you go, I don't know, maybe, probably. Maybe other people have different experiences. We never experienced that. We went into the metro, the underground where you pay five kopecs and you could go anywhere. The transport system coming from SA – that's why our comparison was SA, that's one other objective that ought to be looked at, from SA into that type of development. It was quite a positive experience.

. Then we went to Leningrad. After our training we got sent on holiday to Leningrad, it's a beautiful place. The first time I was in an opera was in the Soviet Union. The first time I saw live ballet, Soviet Union, circus – there were too many firsts which is an income problem in SA. Probably for a white child in SA that would have been just a  normal thing but for a number of us black kids who were coming from disadvantaged homes there were a number of firsts so it had to make this massive impact on our lives. We ate things, delicacies like caviar, black and red caviar, we had them, they were plentiful there in the Soviet Union. Whenever there was an important day, be it a South African important day or a Soviet important day, it was laid out. It felt good and the spirit was very good. Our commanders and officers who were responsible for us were very good. That's where I met Geraldine, no I met Geraldine in Angola, my wife. That's where our first baby was conceived, Natalie, yes in Moscow. So when she came back she was pregnant, she was part of the cause. She was also part of the group that was training there.

POM. So your first born child can claim Soviet - ?

JM. No, she was born in Zimbabwe, conceived in the Soviet Union but born in Zimbabwe.  We were there from 1981 to 1982, just more than a year, so we know their summer and their winter in the Soviet Union. We learnt a bit of Ruskie, it was one of the courses that we were offered but if you don't practice a language it's gone except a few words. It was quite nice. We then came back.

POM. On your route back you went from?

JM. From Moscow to Luanda, then from Luanda I was going to the front, sent to Lusaka. That's when I said goodbye to Geraldine, she was pregnant, I was sent to Lesotho. The next time I saw Geraldine my daughter was born and was 11 months old. I was sent to Lesotho so I was in Lesotho operating at the front. Then from there went to Zimbabwe, operated in Zimbabwe. That's where I linked up with Vula. That's where I got involved in Vula.

POM. So when you went to Lesotho did you cross the border and carry out military operations?

JM. No, no. We were mainly a command structure based in Lesotho. Never across the border when I was in Lesotho. I then went to Zimbabwe.

POM. Did you enter Zimbabwe legally?

JM. Legally, but using not Jabu Moleketi. I had a number of names, my other name was Raphael, that's the popular name that I was known by, Raphael. I chose it. So I went to Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe, stayed for quite some time but when I was recruited into Vula I was –

POM. In Zimbabwe what were you doing?

JM. Still the same thing, command structures, responsible for ensuring that work inside SA continues, military and politically because in Zimbabwe also I was in the leadership of the party region, the SACP region responsible for internal work of the party. Along the line I was recruited into the party, along the route.

POM. From Catholicism to communism, a straight line.

JM. There were many of us who were on that route. Jeremy Cronin, Chris Hani, they've all had this Catholic/communist – it's a strange thing. Who is the other one I was talking about that was a Catholic/communist, another communist has been saying that also. But that's the route. I was also responsible for political work and also military work. When Vula recruited me there were structures that were called political regional/political military committees. I took over after Ngoako Ramatlhodi, you know Ngoako Ramatlhodi is the Premier of Limpopo, he was heading it. Then he was redeployed to Lusaka, I took after him to head that political/military structure whose main task is to harness the internal efforts of the ANC from Zimbabwe and there were number of such structures. We had one in Botswana, in Lesotho and all that, all the front areas had these structures. So I headed that. That's when I was recruited to Vula, from that level. Left that, became an operative of Vula. My task with Vula was very simple.

POM. How were you recruited?

JM. Into Vula, well there is a fellow Ivan Pillay, he's with SARS now, he came and spoke to me and said, "We know that you are doing important work but there is this other work that needs to be done", and he explained what it was. All of us had this thing of going back home and all that. We didn't hesitate.

POM. What did you understand the purpose of Vula to be?

JM. That's to strengthen in the internal structures and to ensure that the leadership is inside the country and that at the end of the day we begin to co-ordinate the effort to overthrow the regime from within SA. That's what it is in short. My task was very simple, to lead the effort of infiltration from southern Africa, the infiltration of personnel and arms into SA, that's what I did, infiltration ensuring that weapons go into the country, we did that. Actually I was responsible for that but it did not mean that you just did the reconnoitre of the border. I did that in Swaziland many times but not only that, one didn't have to move in, so you don't just say this is safe, walked in with people, put them safely, hand them over.

POM. Did you have trouble crossing the border?

JM. No, we did good reconnoitre. You know the borders, that's where you realise that even the regime, and it was at the height of repression, even at that height they couldn't police the border and we had very good contacts with people living around the border. They would tell us that well, they are here, there are soldiers but they're camped over there.

POM. So you'd have kind of look-out posts in Zimbabwe?

JM. No, no, we infiltrated from Swaziland. That's why I'm saying that policing the borders of SA is near an impossibility. Even at that height there would be soldiers, people would say, no they are there but they are camped over there and we would be able to cross in and out. I did that several times.

POM. Who took you in the first time? I think it was Tootsie?

JM. Tootsie, yes, yes. She was a specialist. From then on some of the things, moving in and out, taking people. I remember when the ANC was unbanned and I was in Swaziland crossing people, we had a discussion amongst us, when we cross in, I'm crossing in out because it was a given, when you cross the border, when we're out, if there's any eventuality we should get out. There was that discussion. We were crossing and the person who was there was Solly Shope, Jabu, he's now one of the Generals, he's a very good friend of mine. We've been with my – the other story I was relating to, the ADs coming back into the country and all that. We were in the same unit though we were not working together. We were under the same umbrella of the Transvaal Urban so we had a long history though we were not directly connected besides talking to him and all that. Then we decided, yes, we are going in armed so we went in armed. They were crossing, it was Jabu and the other comrade who was among those who were arrested and disappeared when Vula, when there was a Vula round up.

POM. This was Tshabalala and – ?

JM. He's not Tshabalala, he's the other one, he's Charles, Charles was part of that. So we went in. I remember he drove like a maniac. I can drive well, in a bakkie, rushing for the border because we're late. It was their passports, legalising documents were not made ready on time because once they're in SA they must have documents so if they are stopped by any roadblock they can produce something. Those documents did not arrive on time. When they did arrive from another unit of MK who were experts in forging documents, I said to them, "Let's make it, let's try it", because we knew that there are people who came from wherever who were going to meet them and there is no way that we can't make the appointment. We drove like a maniac through the border, crossed, right across.

POM. No trouble?

JM. No trouble. We met trouble when we came back. The Swazis stopped us. We were with Tootsie but the mission was accomplished but coming back the Swazi patrol stopped us. I did a thing that I'm normally trained to do, to talk my way out of things. Talk my way, any way to get out.

POM. That's why you're Finance Minister.

JM. Talk my way through. They realised that we had arms, bribed them, gave them money and they looked the other way and we continued.

POM. So how many people do you think you brought into the country?

JM. Vula at that time, just on Vula I think the last one was a military intelligence, what is it called now? He also got arrested during the Vula thing.

POM. During any of this period did you – ?

JM. Four or five illegally, others went through the airport. That one participated, one of them was Charles Nqakula, he landed at Jan Smuts Airport. Charles Nqakula, the Deputy Minister, he landed it was then Jan Smuts Airport. One's task was to organise the relevant document and to ensure that he leaves Zimbabwe. We had contacts. That's one thing - that's why Vula was - we were recruited into Vula, the extent of the contacts we had in Zimbabwe, we could get any stamp.

POM. In Zimbabwe?

JM. Yes, that would say that the person was here for so many days so that when he enters SA he could come with the passport with no stamps, but we will give you a stamp that will say you were in Zimbabwe, entered Zimbabwe and you stayed in Zimbabwe for this duration of time, you were on holiday for two weeks and now you're going back to SA. It was very easy.

POM. But you were operating out of Swaziland.

JM. Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Botswana, three countries that I was responsible for operating from. Zimbabwe, Botswana. Botswana was mainly the route for arms. Swaziland, infiltration. If people wanted to go in legally Zimbabwe, they could fly from Zimbabwe to SA.

POM. How did Vula work from where you were?

JM. One of the things was the very sophisticated communication system, the modems. We used to communicate through modems. I had a communication station, a person was in charge, where we used to get messages and send messages. It was not through a telephone conversation, it was all encoded through a modem. So that was one of the things.

POM. So you would communicate with Lusaka?

JM. Yes, yes. And Lusaka would communicate with us through basically what now is obvious technology, computer and a modem, that's what we had. That's how it used to work. It was well co-ordinated, communicate now, you have to have dates and you have to go to this place, prepare for a crossing of people from Swaziland. Swaziland also I was using what was illegal documents into Swaziland.

POM. Were you in contact at any point with Mac Maharaj?

JM. I knew he was inside.

POM. Inside the country.

JM. I was told, but that was one of the very … be ready to take risks. I got to know, it's not that it was a well known secret because I think at that point one was quite senior in the structures of Vula to know that Mac is inside. So I never communicated with him directly, no. We used to communicate through Lusaka, through London, never communicated with him directly.

POM. When the ANC was unbanned –

JM. I was in Swaziland, like I was telling you. We crossed people, came back. In fact even after that we crossed another person, it was the last person. We used to call him Peter Patel, I'm not sure what his name is now. He's in the army, Military Intelligence in the army. Came back, went to Harare, the ANC is unbanned. I wanted to go home, simple as that, I wanted to go home. Then I had a problem in getting indemnity from the regime. Ultimately I got it, I don't know why they were giving a hassle but before they gave me an indemnity they raided my home. The police came and raided my place. I was in Harare. They were looking for me quite obviously, I don't know why.

POM. Was this after the ANC was unbanned?

JM. Yes, after the ANC was unbanned and Geraldine was staying with my parents. She was already in. She had received indemnity before. They raided my place looking for me after the ANC was unbanned and all that, but ultimately got indemnity. When I left, left everything with Tootsie's husband who also came after the unbanning. They had problems, after the arrests and all that. He was among the people I took in also.

POM. Who?

JM. Bricks. It could be six or seven people now. The numbers I forget so quickly. But sometimes they tell us that some of the things you must forget. Bricks, yes. Left everything, papers and all that and came home.

POM. You took all your equipment back with you?

JM. No, no, left them there in the care of Tootsie. I said now I'm going, I'm going home, I'm leaving everything.

POM. But you're still part of Vula?

JM. When I got here, I had no brief, I had no Vula brief when I got here because the arrests and all that, the person I met is Jabu who was still in Vula. I met underground with Jabu.  We spoke, basically just briefing me, saying how the situation is. But we knew that Vula like everything else was folding at that point, it was winding down.  And Ronnie Kasrils, I think I met once with him when I was back here.

POM. When the first round of arrests took place and Nyanda was picked up –

JM. I was still in Zimbabwe then. Yes, I was still in Zimbabwe when the first arrests took place, I was still outside.

POM. At that point – was this before or after the police raided your home?

JM. Around the same period, generally around the same period.

POM. You applied for indemnity?

JM. Yes, through the ANC.

POM. How long did that take?

JM. Oh it took long. I was very frustrated. I wanted to come back home. The person who followed it up was the late Joe Slovo, kept on raising it. Because when I came back I became a full time organiser of the party, of the SACP. He kept on raising it. It took a bit of time but I think it was normal bureaucratic hassles, I hoped there was nothing else. But they raided my home, I think it was a form of intimidation or whatever but ultimately I came back and I have never had an obvious harassment from the police.

POM. How would you evaluate the importance of Vula?

JM. Through Vula, I would say that Vula though it had not really been able to operate for a long time because a number of things took place, the unbanning being of them. I think already we were beginning to see a development of a very tight leadership and co-ordination among the different efforts in SA ranging from the mass action. Leadership was here, was in reach, people could go and get leadership, not travel long distances to Lusaka and all that. Leadership was inside. The co-ordination of – the relationship between mass action and the areas of armed struggle, so it introduced a very, very important strategic element in the execution of our struggle. I think for me that was a contribution. It's difficult to evaluate, it was very short. There was the unbanning and all that, but had it been able to be much more over a longer period the significance of it would have been even much more clear. I think that's one of the things that one can point out. Any struggle if you shorten the supply routes and the communication becomes more effective, when you get any struggle, not even a struggle, any form of operation, the shorter your supply routes and the shorter the chain of command the more effective you become so that is what Vula was doing. Supply routes are becoming shorter and the chain of command was becoming more effective and shorter. The effectiveness was basically the clear result, an outcome of that. So that would have been a contribution.

POM. Mac and Nyanda and Pravin Gordhan and Tshabalala were all arrested. You were still in Zimbabwe. Had they been released by the time you came back? Vula didn't really wind up until the end of 1991.

JM. I came back 1991.

POM. Was Vula at that stage, had it wound up or was it still importing arms?

JM. No, no. I don't think so. I don't think it was still importing arms.

POM. You really didn't have any part – it was an organised structure.

JM. We were cadres from the ANC. Now it was the leadership of the ANC which was unbanned and operating in SA so the role of Vula was no longer there. The movement took a decision that there is one leadership and that leadership is there. So the leadership was inside the country. It was just a matter of time of people winding up and that was also a function of how soon are people being given their own indemnity. I know that people like Ronnie struggled to get indemnity, went underground for a very long time, Jabu also. A number of people had that and Mac and them were imprisoned but they also got released. I don't think there was a point, as far as I know, where there was this serious underground activity that was divorced from the leadership of the movement.

POM. You go from being an organiser for the party –

JM. For the party, then moved to the ANC, became a key organiser. That's where I think we linked up on election monitoring for the whole country organising party agents and all that type of thing. That's what I'm good at, putting things together, organising and all that. Thereafter I became an MEC of, I was on the list of the ANC Provincial Legislature, appointed MEC of Finance and that's what I've done since 1994.

POM. That's what you're happy doing.

JM. Well I think ten years is a long time. I don't see myself doing the same thing after 2004. We can but make so much contribution. If you overstay that, that in itself becomes an impediment to the institution. The institution must change people that are responsible for certain things. I don't see myself going beyond that. I'll still be in the ANC and the ANC will see where best to deploy me but I don't think you can stay for more than – it's eight years now - for more than ten because everything becomes a routine.

POM. How do you look back on your years in the underground both in the country and outside the country?

JM. I would give anything to – those are the best, I think I've had a very valuable opportunity notwithstanding the dangers. You think it's the best thing that could have happened to you but now looking back I think it's the best thing that could have happened because it allowed one always to be in the forefront of things in terms of how we can improve the lives of our people, fighting the regime. Even now, now in governance, what is it that we need to do to ensure that the lives of people improve in SA? I think that's an honour to be in the front trenches and that's what I had unlike a number of the cadres who have trained and stayed in Angola. I've always had an opportunity which I valued, I'm happy for it, always I've always been deployed in the front. That's something that I think is one of the experiences that I think was quite important. Very good in forming one's character, one's views. When I came in I was a fire eater, that experience begins to tell me that life is not like a thing that could be manipulated and changed as you wish. Life itself is a very complex phenomena and your contribution is tiny. That you only begin to appreciate when you are involved in a struggle. You don't appreciate it because when it was June 16th I think that just a few of us thought we could overthrow the regime. No, no. Life is very, very complex, it means people must be ready and all that. So those are some of the things that I've appreciated and by one being given an opportunity to decide.

. There were difficult times and all that type of thing but on the whole it has been a very, very rewarding experience and very few people would have had that. I am 45 now, more than 60% of my life I was basically involved in this and I think it's very rewarding.

POM. So in Vula, just to summarise, most of your time was spent in Zimbabwe co-ordinating the infiltration of leadership into SA from either Swaziland, Botswana or Zimbabwe itself.

JM. Yes, but Botswana was mainly arms. Personnel was Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

POM. How would the movement of arms happen?

JM. It was very, very complex. That's why I'm saying that you learnt to co-ordinate, people were organised from within SA, cars were doctored, they would come up to Botswana and link up with them, take the cars somewhere, fill them up with arms, drive back through the borders to SA. Sounds simple but a lot of effort goes into that. The movement of arms into Botswana was another complex programme because we were not operating legally in Botswana. Botswana did not allow us to do that but we had caches in Botswana that we were using to move things up and down. In some instances I also drove with arms from Zimbabwe into Botswana.

POM. Arms, in Zimbabwe the arms would come from? How would they get into Zimbabwe?

JM. Oh! That part. Someone else was responsible for it. They came from further north, illegally also into Zimbabwe because we were not allowed also in Zimbabwe.


JM. They would come from wherever into Zimbabwe.

POM. Now how would you get the message that the arms shipments had arrived?

JM. Oh no, we would get the message. We had our own contacts there. MK structures would say that you requested this, your consignment is here, come and fetch it. I'd fetch my consignment, do whatever with it, it goes down to Botswana. The issue is an issue of trust, very trustworthy people, it was a chain of personal contact. That's how it happened.

POM. How much arms could you take, say, from Botswana into SA?

JM. Not like tons. I am sure there were other major operations that infiltrated tons of arms, but quite a sizeable cache but not like tons of arms because there were other efforts through other specialised MK units that were infiltrating tons into SA. Others were basically reasonable consignments.

POM. Taken by car?

JM. Yes.

POM. Would the car be specially modified?

JM. Modified, yes.

POM. Did you ever encounter any trouble?

JM. No, not at all.

POM. You'd just cross the border?

JM. Go right through.

POM. Go right through?

JM. Yes.

POM. Back to SA.

JM. Yes. It's all metal. How do you detect? They had come from SA to Botswana, people had legitimate reasons to come up in modified cars, put the weapons into the car and drive back. That's why I'm saying it's difficult to stop anybody who is professional to infiltrate things into countries. The police have a tough job. Even at that point we knew that the regime was sophisticated but we did that and it happened, it happened.

POM. I'll get a transcript of this back to you. You can go through it. There will probably be mis-spellings and things like that and you can correct them. If something crosses your mind that hasn't immediately - I would like to know how you lost your eye. So I might come back and see you again if it's OK with you.

JM. OK, maybe we'll find time.

POM. Thank you very, very much.

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.