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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Memoirs of the Island



S R 'Mac' Maharaj was sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment for sabotage in December 1964, and spent all but three months of his sentence on Robben Island, in the same section as Mandela and other ANC leaders.

1 (a) 'Esiqithini'

This piece was written as a tribute, on the occasion of Nelson Mandela's sixtieth birthday on 18 July 1978.

On 7 November 1978 Nelson Mandela will be commencing his seventeenth year in prison. He and hundreds of his fellow freedom fighters from South Africa and Namibia are incarcerated in the fortified island-prison known as Robben Island, which guards the entrance to Cape Town harbour.

Robben Island, better known simply as esiqithini ('at the island') among the African people, is intimately woven into the history of black resistance to colonialism and the struggle for national liberation. To it was banished Autshumayo, known in the books of the racist historians as Harry the Strandloper [Beachcomber], at the end of the 1658 war between the Khoi Khoi people and the Dutch. He is the only prisoner known to have successfully escaped from the island. He was followed by a long line of patriots and freedom fighters - heroes like Makana, commander of the Xhosa army in the fourth Xhosa war of resistance, Maqoma, commander in the fifth Xhosa war of resistance in 1834, Langalibalele, the Hlubi Chief sentenced for 'high treason' by a special court in Natal in 1873. Among others who lived and died on the island was Sheik Abdul Rahman Mantura, a political exile from Java.

Robben Island - notorious political prison, one time leper colony, Second World War naval fortress - a tiny outcrop of limestone, bleak, windswept and caught in the wash of the icy Benguella current from the Antarctic. It is an island crisscrossed with subterranean tunnels which were constructed as part of its fortifications and it has camouflaged heavy artillery facing outward towards the Atlantic Ocean. It is an island whose history counts the years of bondage of the black man in South Africa and it has been the home of Nelson Mandela for more than a decade and a half. In the early 1960s, when Verwoerd served as the White premier and Vorster was his Minister of Justice, the island was once more re-established as a political prison. By incarcerating Nelson Mandela and other freedom fighters there they hoped to wipe their names from the lips of the people of South Africa, to bury them living into oblivion.

But the name of Nelson Mandela lives on in the hearts and minds of his people and of all democrats throughout the world.

When Albert J Lutuli, President of the vanguard revolutionary organisation of the peoples of South Africa - the African National Congress died in 1967 a young South African poet, Jennifer Davis, in a tribute to him wrote these lines:

. Bounded
You gave me knowledge
Of freedom.

. Silenced
You taught me how
To speak.

So it is with Nelson Mandela and his colleagues. Within his lifetime Nelson has become a living legend and the people, through their actions, give the lie to the designs of the race-mad rulers of South Africa.

Since early 1976 South Africa has once more been in the throes of a rising tide of revolt. In the wave of uprisings that swept across the country thousands of militants, especially young militants, have been gunned down by the police and army, whisked away by the Security Police and in many cases murdered, while others have been brought before the racist courts charged for daring to rise in revolt.

In the midst of this massive inflow into the prisons one prisoner was on his way out of prison. Towards the end of 1976 I was completing my twelve-year sentence on Robben Island. In November 1976 I was removed from Robben Island to be placed under five-year house arrest in Durban on release. En route I passed through five different prisons in all four provinces of South Africa. In each of these prisons I was held in solitary confinement in order, among other things, to be kept apart from the young militants who were being crowded into the prisons.

In all five prisons, despite the conditions of solitary confinement, I managed to establish contact with some of the men. Some were being held incommunicado in detention, others had already been sentenced. Whenever the prison authorities became aware that I had established some form of contact they hastily removed me from the prison. As soon as the detainees and other prisoners learnt of my presence in the prison and knew where I came from the first questions they asked me were: 'Do you know Nelson Mandela? What kind of man is he?

Most 01 the youth who are now in the forefront of the struggle inside South Africa have neither met Mandela nor heard him speak. Indeed, when he was first imprisoned in 1962 they were mere infants. But the militant youth know of Mandela, who continues to grow in stature even from within the fastness of Robben Island prison. In June 1976 the Vice-President of the University of Zululand branch of the South African Students' Organisation (SASO), Wiseman Khuzwayo, spoke to a meeting using the text of Nelson Mandela's address to the court in the Rivonia trial as the basis of his speech. He and other students were immediately detained and eventually tried and acquitted of sabotage in connection with, amongst other things, the burning down of the administration block on the campus. The security police spared no torture while interrogating Wiseman to get him to surrender the book of Mandela's speeches they believed him to possess.

Is it true to speak of the identification of the masses in South Africa with Nelson Mandela? In order to grasp the relation between Nelson and the people we need to understand the forces that have moulded him into what he is.

Nelson Mandela entered prison as the first commander-in-chief of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the African National Congress. On 16 December 1961 Umkhonto announced its existence with a series of explosions that rocked the major centres of South Africa. In a manifesto put out that day it stated: 'The people's patience is not endless. The time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices: submit or fight. That time has now come in South Africa.' The birth of Umkhonto marked a turning-point in the struggle in South Africa: the time had come for the people, led by the African National Congress, to meet the violence of the racist State, its police and its army with armed struggle.

It has been a long, hard road to give effective shape and form to that recognition. The essential point is that side by side with the slow and painful advances registered so far, we have reached the point where at the mass level the armed struggle has come to be accepted as the crucial weapon in the armoury of the liberation movement if victory is to be achieved. The fact of young militants coming forward on a mass scale to face the tanks and rifles of the enemy with sticks and stones and bare hands underlines this lesson. In their search for the way forward the identification of the masses with Nelson Mandela is an identification that goes beyond the person of Mandela and sees him as the first commander-in-chief of Umkhonto. It is an identification that leads the masses forward and into the ranks of Umkhonto we Sizwe and the African National Congress.

Nelson Mandela the individual cannot be separated from Umkhonto and the ANC. He is above all a product of the ANC and the whole course of his political development has been within the ranks of the ANC. This development has encompassed not simply a growing sharpness and depth in his political consciousness but, equally significantly, finding his way to working as part of an organisation, a team, a collective. Both inside and outside prison, the struggle continues.

1 (b) Interview with 'Mac Maharaj'

'Mac' Maharaj was interviewed in London in 1978 by a member of the Research, Information and Publications Department of IDAF.


Q. What kind of cell does Mandela have?

A. He has been living in a concrete cell, outside walls of grey stone 7ft by 7ft and about 9 ft high. It was lit with one 40 watt globe. It had originally no furnishings except for a bed roll and mat, no bench, no table, nothing. Then as a result of demands made by us some were provided with small tables 2ft by 2ft 6 in and later on it was extended to all the prisoners in that section and they built post office type counters against the wall without benches, you had to stand and work. They then provided benches and one wooden shelf, just a plank to keep your books on but we ourselves got cardboard paper and plastic and made cupboards for ourselves. Somewhere around 1973-74 when Nelson was ill he was granted a bed for the first time, so in his cell there is a bed. Then I think, oh yes, as a result of his back trouble he received a chair instead of a bench.

Q. Does he have hot water to wash in?

A. From the beginning of our imprisonment up to 1973 we only had access to cold water. There were periods when they changed the water to sea water instead of brack water. They reverted to brack water for washing and provided fresh water brought from the mainland in drums for us to drink from. They introduced hot water into the isolation section in 1973 a little earlier in the main sections of the prison. There are communal showers. No again, typically of the administration, you will find that these facilities which you begin to enjoy are then used as forms of punishment. It is difficult to talk of hot water for showering without remembering that in mid-winter we will find that when we are engaged in some struggle against the authorities, suddenly there is no hot water and that will go on for weeks and weeks. The same thing will happen with the taped music they were playing for us. Once you've got used to it the next thing it is used as a form of punishment - it is taken away. Of course they do not say it is a form of punishment but you will find that it's out of order for six months or a year.

Q. What toilet facilities are available?

A. In the single cell section we have communal toilets to which we have no access except when the cells are opened. In your cells when you are confined and you spend an average of 15 hours on weekdays, and during weekends up to 17 hours or more in your cell - you are provided with a sanitary pail, and you are given a plastic bottle which takes about one and a half pints of water for drinking purposes or any other use while you are locked up.

Q. What diet does Mandela have? How does it compare with that of other prisoners?

A. Right at the beginning of his imprisonment and when Nelson got to Robben Island as part of the Rivonia group he was offered by the head of prison security a special diet. Nelson refused because he realised that it was a subterfuge based not on his actual medical condition but merely a roundabout way of giving him a diet different from his colleagues. So his diet has been the normal prisoner's diet which of course discriminates on the basis of whether you are African, Coloured or Indian. Just to illustrate how it works: there is porridge for breakfast (maize-meal porridge) for all but African comrades are allowed half a tablespoon of sugar Indians and Coloureds one tablespoon. At lunchtime Africans may be given plain boiled mealies and perhaps boiled samp the next day, both being different forms of maize. Now Indians and Coloureds in the same section might also get samp but not on the day when the African comrades get it, and then the next day might get mealie rice which is just more crushed maize. So that although you have to eat food which is classified differently according to race, in fact it is mostly different forms of the same thing maize. Now Nelson is treated in the same way with the difference that in recent years his meal has been salt-free.

In 1973-74 when he was not well the result of high blood pressure he was given treatment, a bed and he was put on a supplementary medical diet. He also has to have a salt-free diet so that his food comes separately. It's the same food but it's prepared without salt and in addition he has been given milk.

Q. How are prisoner's separated from each other and how many groups are there?

A. When I was on the island there were three groups of prisoners those in the 'single cells', which included the prisoners from the Rivonia trial and others and Toivo of SWAPO. Then there are the main sections which are communal cells divided into two sections with a wall separating them. One houses primarily the South African political prisoners but includes some short-term Namibian prisoners. Then there is the other communal section, a smaller section housing primarily the Namibian comrades, but it includes some of South Africans sentenced under the Terrorism Act including quite a few ANC men.

Since March 1977 another communal section has been built where they now hold the people sentenced in the last two years, particularly the younger ones, in an attempt to keep them isolated from the bulk of the prisoners.

We don't know how they categorised us I don't know why they put me in the single cells, for instance.

Q. The thirty or so of you in the special prison were you all in single cells?

A. All of us. This is the particular characteristic of the section that it is single cells, a cell for each person and you all have the same conditions.

Q. Mandela is now an 'Á'Group prisoner. What does this mean in terms of letters and visits?

A. Well, he is allowed three outgoing and three incoming letters a month. He is allowed two visits of two people at a time for half an hour per visit per month. According to regulations 'A'group prisoners should be allowed 'contact' visits, but political prisoners are not allowed these. Also, 'A' group prisoners should be allowed access to newspapers and radio broadcasts, which again they are not allowed.

Q. What work has Mandela done on the island? What is he doing now?

A. When Nelson was sentenced in 1962 he was kept in Pretoria Central jail in solitary confinement. He was then shifted to Robben Island in 1963 he stayed two weeks on Robben Island without work, confined to his cell. Suddenly he was taken back to Pretoria into solitary and then brought to trial in the Rivonia case. He was sentenced in June 1964, taken with his comrades to Robben Island, kept in a zinc section (a temporary section) in total isolation and solitary confinement and then brought to the present single cells which were specially built for the Rivonia men. There they were first kept in total isolation.

They were then put to breaking stones in the yard with a four-pound hammer, crushing them to little pieces. This is where I joined them and we did that job until February 1965 when we were taken to the lime quarry, which meant digging limestone with a pick and shovel, cutting it and loading it on to trucks. This work was our main form of activity right until 1973-74. It was interspersed with very short bouts of other work - at one time building a road to the airport of Robben Island and at other times repairing the surface of the hardground road. In 1973-74 we were taken for the first time to the sea where we collected seaweed with our bare hands. This was alternate work, we sometimes did seaweed work, sometimes the lime work. The lime work was one the authorities had promised the Red Cross they would stop and despite their promises they only stopped it somewhere around 1975. The latest report I have is that since I left the island at the beginning of November 1976 the comrades in the single cells have not been out to work at all and have therefore spent virtually a year and a half in total inactivity. This is at a time when their studies have been curtailed, which means that most of those in the single cells are not studying. They are therefore confined once more, as we were when we were breaking stones, to the little quadrangle which is slightly larger than a tennis court and they therefore have no chance of even seeing a blade of grass except when they go out to receive visits.

Q. Tell us about this quadrangle?

A. It's supposed to be an exercise yard and in about 1975 they allowed us to construct a volleyball court in it. We constructed it ourselves and adjusted it into a sort of tennis court - but with 30 prisoners you must appreciate you can't all play tennis and not all of them are fit enough to play tennis. In fact, I have one comrade who says that at present they are not working and it is completely monotonous, he says weekends have lost their meaning; every day is just the same. And of course, we have repeatedly demanded creative work: pottery, carpentry, basket-making, where you work at your own speed and you do something creative and can see what you are producing. But the authorities have been adamant in refusing this kind of work.

Q. What is a routine day for Mandela on the island? Could you give a brief summary of a day for the single cell prisoners?

A. I'll give a typical day of the last two years of my prison life, that is between 1974 and 1976.

You are woken up at different times in winter or summer, earlier in summer, later in winter. Summer at five, winter about six. When you are woken up you go out through the corridor into a section where there are communal baths and toilets. You are allowed about half an hour for everyone to wash and to clean their sanitary pails. There are about four sinks where all 30 may wash and shave. It is mandatory that you shave, as well as clean your sanitary pail. If you want to have a bath you must have it within that half an hour.

Then you collect your food. The food is brought in drums into the section, left at the gate where it is collected and we then dish it out ourselves, organising ourselves into teams voluntarily to do this work. You have your breakfast and within an hour from opening the doors you are supposed to fall in, unless of course the warders are late. You then go out to work. There were times in the early years when we were allowed the luxury of walking to our workplace, which enabled us to see something of the island, but then they began to move us by truck to prevent us from coming across any other prisoners. You get to work and you go down to work, say clearing seaweed, and you go on doing this until lunchbreak, which is an hour's break. The food is brought in drums, we dish it out and we sit down on the ground - open air, no tables - for eating utensils we are provided with a spoon and a steel plate. You knock off work at any time between half past three and four, the timing being determined by the fact that you must be back in the prison and given about half an hour for all the prisoners to have a bath and the food to be dished out and cleared by the prisoners. Then you are locked up by half past four or quarter to five so that the warders can sign off by five and the next shift of warders can come on. And from five if you are not allowed study privilege you are allowed to be up and about in your cell until eight o'clock when you are supposed to be in bed. Those who are allowed to study at the level of matriculation (which is roughly the equivalent of ordinary level GCE) are allowed until ten o'clock at night to study; those who are allowed university status could go on until eleven. When you are supposed to go to sleep the lights remain on and you are meant to be in bed, not even reading. If a warder finds you reading after those hours he can have you charged and punished for it. In the early 1970s they introduced a canned music service. This music was played from lock-up or from about six to eight pm. Neither at Christmas, New Year any other occasion are you allowed to sing or whistle, either individually communally. That is the typical day.

Q. Are you allowed to talk to each other when you are in your cells, in the evening or at any other time?

A. When we got there we were told this is solitary confinement, which meant we were not allowed to talk to each other at all, even when we were in our cells. In the cells there were windows overlooking the corridor and cells on either side of the corridor, and it is possible to whisper to your neighbour. But that was illegal and we were punished. Of course they justified this on the grounds that we were in solitary confinement. One of our lines of attack was that they had no right to put us in solitary confinement. The first sign of caving in from the authorities was to say we were no longer in solitary confinement but in 'isolation'. And then we challenged and said that isolation conditions don't permit them to stop us from talking, and secondly that these conditions did not conform to isolation, and thirdly we were not supposed to be under isolation. Eventually as a result of defying these orders we reached a tacit understanding where a prisoner may talk to his fellow prisoners from his cell up to eight pm. Then of course when the music came it became impossible to talk. In any case those studying don't want to hear others shouting and talking to each other.

We were therefore now allowed to talk at work. The name 'isolation' for the section has been dropped by the authorities and they now refer to it as 'single cells'.

Q. When are the prisoners in the cells allowed into the courtyard?

A. Now that they are not working their life will be the way it was on some days (when I was in prison) when, for lack of warders or some other reason, you didn't go out to work even though it wasn't a public holiday. You'd be let out later say by eight o'clock in the morning, you'd be left in the confines of that quadrangle until eleven or eleven thirty; given your lunch; locked up in your individual cells; let out between two and two thirty and again allowed access to the quadrangle; and then again by three thirty your food would come in and by four o'clock you'd have your food and by four thirty at the latest you'd be locked up again.

Q. Is any day for example Sunday different?

A. On Saturdays and Sundays you are locked up for longer periods. You are opened up later and closed earlier. At lunchbreaks on the weekends and public holidays you do not have access to your fellow prisoners; you are locked up in your individual cells. Otherwise the days are the same. But, I run away from the description of monotony because in a certain sense it is true the days are monotonous but in another sense, everyday is also a different day for a prisoner because of the fact that you able to talk with each other and develop friendships, you develop comradeship and find that you have new things to talk about. You also re-live some old things over and over again.

Q. What library facilities are available to Mandela, what magazines and what writing facilities?

A. Writing facilities: you are only allowed a certain amount of paper according to how many letters you are allowed to write. Other writing facilities may be available if you are a student. In fact recently a life prisoner has permanently loss his privilege to study because the authorities say he abused his study privileges by making notes of his life.

Library facilities: there were reputedly library facilities in the prison in the sense that that they had books donated by, amongst others, Foyles, when Foyles closed down its Cape Town branch in 1964. But these books were not available to Mandela and the comrades in the single cells. Eventually as a result of demands they gave us about 250 books. Over the years we fought for the right to change these books periodically so that in the single cells one cell has now been set aside as a storage area for library books. These books are obtained from the main library in the prison maybe once a year. There are a limited number. The Prisons Department claims in its publications that there are over five thousand items in the library but we've not seen anything like that. The maximum we've seen our section is about 250 books. I think I've read every book in that section.

The quality of the books is a major problem. They are subject to censorship and the result is that you have the peculiar situation where, though they say they would like to censor books which deal with sex and crime, these are in fact the books that are available on a wide scale. But serious books, ones that we interested in - history, economics, the geography of the world, social questions, social developments - these are very scarce. Good novels are very scarce. I remember the year I was leaving, the Red Cross donated money for the purchase of books. The authorities didn't tell us this. They claimed that they were buying them for us. They gave our section 30 new books, 25 of which were by Daphne Du Maurier.

Q. What about magazines?

A. By about 1974-75 they allowed us to subscribe at our own expense to certain magazines. At present they allow you the Afrikaans weekly Huisgenoot (a family weekly), subject to censorship and it's pretty badly cut by the censors. You are allowed the Farmers' Weekly, which is also cut, and the Readers' Digest, subject to censorship. You are allowed a soccer magazine from South Africa, which is cut very badly because of so-called 'mixed' sport developing. You are allowed a British soccer magazine I think called Soccer, also subject to censorship. Even the South African government publications such as Panorama and Bantu are censored.

Q. What recreation is available?

A. As I said, we had a volleyball-cum-tennis court. We eventually got indoor sport too in the form of table tennis, and the rest are sedentary games, cards, draughts, chess. We have demanded soccer but they refuse to allow us to play with other prisoners as it means taking us out of the yard. They did, however, introduce cinema, subject to censorship, once a month for us in our section.

Q. A recent Prisons Department brochure spoke of South Africa being blessed with a 'temperate climate'. Winters of course can be very cold in South Africa. Is adequate provision made for prisoners to keep warm in winter on the island?

A. The island has got terrible extremes of climate. It can be blistering hot in summer, and even more punishing in the lime quarry. The reflection from the lime catches the sunlight and throws it back onto you and it can be extremely sharp and scorching. In winter it can become bitterly cold, raining or drizzling most of the time, with gusty winds. Even worse is the fact that our cells, the single cells, are bitterly cold. There is no heating whatsoever. In the communal cells, if sixty are packed into a cell meant for twenty, communal body warmth, at least changes the temperature of the place. But in a single cell, you are in that space alone and your body warmth can't do anything to change the temperature of the room. On the contrary, all that happens is that the room temperature effects your body temperature, and you get very cold. Blankets: we started off by only be allowed two blankets, then we demanded more and we were given slim increases. One by one till today blankets are adequate, a minimum of five. All bedding in the form of bed sheets, pillows, bedspreads, pajamas, are not provided for black political prisoners.

Clothing: this used to be made out of khaki and sail cloth, with one thin jersey given to you on 25 April and taken away on 25 September irrespective of whether it was going to be hot or cold in the intervening period. You were given short pants, with Indians and Coloureds allowed long pants in Winter, but these things have changed, they've given us a warmer type of cloth for our jackets, they've given us long trousers which they now allow us to wear at any time of the year, African, Asian and Coloured. The jersey remains one still given to you on 25 April and taken away again on 25 September and is inadequate for single cells.

Rain capes: The gave us no rain capes for work until recently and in any case, it is just a rubberized sleeveless mackintosh to enable Black workers to continue working with a pick and shovel in the rain. It provides no warmth at all.

The authorities surprised us somewhat around 1972-73 by calling us one day and issueing each man two pairs of trunks and two vests. Then a few weeks later the Red Cross arrived. Those vests were left with us and were replaced for about one year but from 1974 we couldn't get replacements for the vests.

One point: In your cell you weren't allowed to take a blanket and wrap it around you when you sat and read and studied to have the warmth of a blanket. We had to fight that and got permission in the end. It is now allowed, but it depends on the whims of the commanding officer, who changes at least every two years. When a new commanding officer comes back you start the battle all over again, because he says the rules say that all blankets must be folded throughout the day.

Q. What about gathering seaweed in the cold water?

A. You gather it on the seashore when the tide is out but you have to go into the water a bit. We of course refused, we said they must properly equip us with the necessary clothing. In the end they provided gumboots for use at work, otherwise you work with your bare hands. We protested in fact in 1976 just before I left because in the winter [June-July] there was a crisis which we thought was only related to the work conditions but of course this coincided with the start of the Soweto uprising. We came back from work accused by the warders of not working properly. It was a bitterly cold day and we came back filthy from the seaweed, which dirties your body and clothes, so we rushed into the shower and switched the taps on. They were cold; there was no hot water. We were then taken out to work on days when the weather made it impossible to work because it was too cold. It was already drizzling and we refused to go out to work. We tried to negotiate the matter by going to the authorities, they refused to come and we reached a critical point. We did not want to act spontaneously - we wanted the opportunity to try and consult among ourselves but the prisoners were so incensed that a number advocated that we should spontaneously refuse. But of course to refuse in that fashion lays you open to a charge on which you can be found technically guilty and punished.

We had, you see, to find formulas as prisoners where we only refused to do a thing that was against one's dignity and therefore justified the type of action where one is prepared to take on an open confrontation. But otherwise we say: we are prepared to go to work but they must fulfil these conditions the regulations require them to fulfil; we are not refusing. So we had to look for that type of formula. In this instance, we were compelled to lead a deputation to the prison authorities, long discussions took place and we were forced out to work. We ended up by refusing on particular days: our cold water was put off, the music was cut off, we were locked up in our cells. But within a month we'd won that battle - because we virtually forced access to the Commanding Officer and charged that he was doing this deliberately. At which point the authorities responsible said: no, it's a sheer accident, it's not deliberate that the water is cut off, the warder that took you to work acted wrongly but you should have obeyed him and gone out, then come and seen me afterwards.

Q. Could you say how the treatment of Mandela and other single cell men has changed over the years, and what has caused the changes?

A. Mandela's treatment I should emphasise is exactly the same as the other prisoners in single cells. So if I describe the general conditions they also apply to Mandela. And things have changed. In the early years we had not only psychological forms of pressure but also open brutality. Now in this sense we in the single cells were better off than prisoners in the main sections. A number of us were assaulted and beaten up but it was not as common a phenomenon as it in the main sections, where assaults were communal in character, what the prison staff called a 'carry on', when they used not just batons but even pick handles. In our section we believe in the early years, in so far as open brutality was concerned, there was restraint because in that section we had people of international status and the world was watching what was happening to them. The attention of the world was focused on comrades like Mandela and the Rivonia trialists. So this did, I think, restrain the authorities. Nonetheless, individual assaults were carried on where you'd be beaten up alone so that nobody else would be witness to that; you'd be taken to a cell or office and beaten up. Nelson himself was never beaten but faced violent situations. The last mass assault in our section took place if I remember correctly on 21 March 1971, when twenty eight of us were beaten up in our individual cells at about ten at night by a group of something like thirty warders. This was the time when the Namibian comrades were also beaten up. Since then the assaults have died down but psychological pressures have increased.

The reason this treatment fluctuated - and I believe that assaults, even on a mass scale are likely to return at any time, and indeed that did return to this section after I came out in 1976 - is because we are actually political hostages. One of the best ways of knowing what was happening outside was through our treatment. When SWAPO took to the armed struggle and the first attacks took place in Namibia, we found our conditions changing and we realized something was happening in the country. A few weeks later we smuggled in the news that SWAPO had begun its armed operations. Similarly when the attack took place by the ANC-ZAPU combined forces in Rhodesia we knew that something had happened through our rougher treatment, although, it took us sometime to work find out exactly what it was. Interestingly, open brutality was no used in 1976 with the uprisings that will go down as Soweto and post-Soweto, but the pressure was intense. And there was a desperate effort by the authorities to cut us off from whatever sources we used for smuggling news. There was a drive to try and work out how we were smuggling and to sever those links. And for a period, there was a month or two of total isolation from the news because the authorities, not I think by knowing exactly how we were smuggling news, in the general tightening up, disrupted our illegal methods of getting news.

As I say, therefore, we are political hostages; our treatment fluctuates. However, we believe that our conditions still embody the basic aims of prison authorities: whatever techniques are used are designed for one purpose to demoralise us both as human beings and as freedom fighters. How do we then account for changes? To the extent that improvements take place, the approach of the regime is that, where it is forced to give in and grant an improvement, it will then undo it by tightening up in some other way.

Improvements have taken place firstly because of the political prisoners themselves. We've acted individually and collectively, and in our actions men like Nelson have played a leading role in bringing us together and leading us into these battles, acting as our spokesman. We have waged hunger strikes, we have waged go-slows. We have petitioned, filed written complaints and verbal complaints. We've even gone on deputations to see people like the Minister of Justice Jimmy Kruger.

Then there has been the campaign outside outside the country, and inside the country, but outside prison. The campaign has centred mainly around the question of releasing political prisoners, but it has an adjunct: the treatment of political prisoners. I've only become fully aware of the magnitude and extent of this campaign since my release, but we were aware of it and could see evidence of it. Then there were the visits by the Red Cross and prominent people coming to the island in order to meet Nelson. These have been the main forces, but I also believe that our treatment has been related to the general development of the struggle in southern Africa.

Q. How did international pressure over prisoners' conditions help improve conditions on the island?

A. I think to answer this question I have to widen it and show you what I understand by conditions. I have indicated that there have been changes even in our diet and clothing, even in the times that we work, and in the conditions under which we work. These are physical things in which we can see changes. But I think that international opinion and pressure has played another and very important part which is not easy to measure, and that is that it has helped to maintain morale and spirit because man can adapt to the worst of conditions if he feels is not alone, if he feels he has support in what he is doing and that why he is there is for a just cause and a cause that will triumph. And I feel that international pressure has helped to keep up our morale. It has not been the only factor keeping up morale but in this sense too it has altered our relationship to our physical conditions to the extent that our spirit is better; even conditions which were the same have now changed. You are no longer as oppressed by those conditions, so in this double sense international pressure has played, I believe, an important part. It has not managed to make any significant or fundamental changes but it has always managed to make us survive our imprisonment to the point where even those who are serving life and were told that they will never walk out alive remain convinced that they are in prison not in a lost cause, and they will walk out alive.

Q. Some well-publicised visits by journalists to the island have taken place since the mid-1960s. What is the attitude of Mandela and the other prisoners to these visits?

A. Only one publicised visit took place, that is, of the 22-25 journalists in April 1977. There have been visits by other journalists, one a Mr Newman, I think, who visited the island in 1964 and an Australian journalist by the name of MacNichol. We met him and I'm interested because I later read his reports (we asked for a copy but never got it), but he certainly saw the prison through different eyes to our eyes. Now the publicised visit was in April 1977. I was already out - you know I filed complaints with the Press Council line by line challenging the reports of the press, because of their inaccuracies and distortions.

Our attitude has changed over the time. Our experiences with Newman, who saw Nelson and Walter [Sisulu], and with MacNichol, who saw several people selected by us including Nelson, and the news that filtered back as to how they had distorted and reported differently from the way they'd discussed matters with us, convinced us that comrades like Mandela who are leading figures cannot allow themselves to be put into a situation where without warning they are simply called by the Prisons Department, and told this is so-and-so and then confronted by an interview and a discussion. This is because statements are made and they are taken as statements by the leadership and the movement in prison. Our attitude has been that we are not afraid of interviews but we must be given advance warning and the reporters who come must themselves negotiate with the prison authorities so that despite their ban on news what may they publish as a result of their visit and interview must be made available for us to check what they have written, because we have no right of reply. The ordinary citizen can write a letter or call a press conference to challenge a statement attributed to him we can't, and yet our statements are taken as authoritatively reflecting our position on the political developments of the country. So our position now is (at the time I left in November 1976) that we would still welcome that we would still welcome the press on the basis that we must be told honestly by the prison authorities with some warming who is coming and from which paper and be properly introduced. We must have the right to determine which of us will speak to them so that we appoint the people to speak in our name. Not the Prisons Department calling Nelson then an hour or two later calling some other prisoner whom the prison authorities have tried to persuade to say something that is favourable.

Q. Were you able to make contact with other prisoners in the non-single cell section of the prison?

A. Well, I'll answer you in this way. In trials taking place in South Africa today it is alleged we are in touch with each other despite the fact that we are isolated between one section and another. You can draw your own conclusions from that. During my time there were three separate sections and we were separated from the other two sections by a 30 ft wall, and the prison authorities do everything so that you don't get a chance to get a glimpse of each other. However, hunger strikes have repeatedly taken place in all sections. A strike will start in one section in the morning and by lunchtime at the latest the evening all three sections will be on hunger strike. I think the authorities know, and we have not hidden the fact that we do not accept their isolation, that we will make efforts to communicate with our comrades from one section to another. The only problem is how we do it. We have not hidden the fact that we do it, but we do not say who does it and how it is done. In fact, as far back as 1967 we put forward from the single cells the demand that we want the isolation to end and that we should be all be housed together.

Q. What studying has Mandela been able to do on the island? What barriers are there to study?

A. Nelson was fortunate, when he was sentenced in 1962, the flight of prisoners into prisons had not yet commenced. The prosecutor agreed even before he was sentenced that he would be allowed to continue with his studies, and he was registered to do the London LL.B., although he had never finished that because it was never possible for him to get his prescribed material. (The British law exams require you to be acquainted with current developments in British law and have gone further by the late 1960s and early 1970s, I think, requiring acquaintanceship with European Common Market law.) Nelson has never been able to get his books on time. Those exams that he has passed his intermediate prelims, he passed on the basis of outdated material. In any case, the LLB is regarded as a post grad. course and law was cut out by 1968-69 together with most graduate subjects. Nelson was told after representations that he would be allowed a short specified period within which he should complete the course, but as it happened he didn't complete and then he was told he would not be allowed to. By 1976 if I remember our discussions correctly he was planning he was planning to do the Bachelor of Commerce degree - not because of any special interest in the field but because of the need to have some intellectual stimulus. Side by side with this of course he went to prison as a person who couldn't speak, read or write Afrikaans. He took up Afrikaans in prison and did the Taalbond exam, which is the Standard Six then did the matriculation and went onto university level.

Q. Is all this studying purely by correspondence, even, for example, learning Afrikaans?

A. Completely - he never gets tutoring on pronunciation. We help ourselves at work. I only learned Afrikaans to read the smuggled Afrikaans papers and I wanted to understand what the warder was saying.

Q. What effect do you think the imposed ban on studying for university and higher education courses will have on prisoners?

A. The ban on post-grad. studies imposed in 1968 was bad enough but it only affected a small number. It affected me, for example, I couldn't go onto to post graduate studies so I had to go on and accumulate something like 40 to 45 subjects at undergraduate level. But the present ban on all university studies in an extremely vicious ban: a) it affects a large number; b) it tells every prisoner when he takes advantage of the opportunity to study and to educate himself that the limit is matriculation - and even within matriculation they have prohibited certain subjects, such as history. So by this act they have deprived all political prisoners of the main source of intellectual stimulation outside of their conversations with each other. They have closed the doors to all stimulating literature and books and they have left virtually only the library books, the bulk of which are merely the sort of thing that people read to while away the time while sitting on a plane or sitting on a train.

Q. As there are only a limited number of subjects available at matriculation level, prisoners will presumably soon run out of subjects that they are able to study?

A. In fact, there are two problems there. If I know the mentality of the prison administration, if someone in my position asks for permission to take a matriculation subject the answer will be: ' No, you have matriculated already.'

But let us suppose we go on fighting as prisoners and that they allow someone to do book-keeping, say, because he hasn't done it. The matriculation subjects available depend first of all on the colleges through which you may study by correspondence, and the Prisons Department has indirectly cast a slur on many correspondence colleges in South Africa. Now these colleges offer about twelve subjects at most, and in languages perhaps Tswana, Xhosa, Zulu, Afrikaans, English, French, German but we are not allowed to do all these. We are only allowed English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa. Other languages, even African languages, like Tswana, are not allowed - the argument being they haven't got censors to censor that material. Then there is a prohibition on all law subjects so something like commercial law at matriculation is not allowed. Then you have a subject like shorthand and typing: not allowed; and history: not allowed; so you are confined to maths, biology, geography, physical science, you can't do physics, chemistry or geology because they are practical and need laboratory work. So I would say at most, speaking off the cuff, you have a selection of something like ten subjects at matriculation level you'd polish them off even if a prisoner took it one a year.

The argument of the Prisons Department in curtailing our studies is that this has been abused by the prisoners. The abuses are not spelt out. But it is clear what they are aiming for - they want to remove studies altogether to stop, as Kruger has indicated, prisoners having access to stationery and writing material. If you are doing matriculation you still have writing material, so the objective of the Prisons Department is the total removal of studies, which they are doing in stages, so as to lessen the shock and to prevent effective opposition being mobilised.

Q. What is the truth behind the recent announcement that political prisoners are now to be allowed to listen to news broadcasts from the South African Broadcasting Corporation?

A. Well, these won't be 'live'. In fact they will play canned broadcasts over the prison internal broadcasting system, but they will only relay news items that they want the prisoners to hear. They will cut out all they don't want prisoners to hear. The whole arrangement is actually a package deal to try to take the steam out of protests over their action to remove study privileges from political prisoners.


Q. What personal impressions do you have of Mandela?

A. Well firstly, as a personality, Nelson is a very friendly and warm person to meet, but one also feels that he maintains a distance. To get to know him really well takes time - in my own case it took a lot of time before we became intimate friends. When I did get to know him well I realized that initially I hadn't really known him after all; his initial friendliness makes one think one knows him.

Secondly, he has obviously cultivated a deliberate policy of concealing his anger. In his political line in the early years he gave vent to the anger he felt. In prison he has got his anger almost totally under control. That control has come about through a deliberate effort by Mandela, for political reasons as well as personal.

His warmth comes out in his real sense of concern for his comrades in prison. In an unobtrusive way he finds out if anybody has problems and he tries to spend time with them if they do. Although he is completely committed to the ANC his approach to all prisoners is always warm.

When something is worrying him, he does not come out with it easily. Both his eldest son and his mother died while I was in prison with him both deaths were severe blows to him. He was very close to his son. When he returned from hearing the news he just stayed in his cell and just kept out of the way. However, Walter Sisulu noticed that he was quiet and went to his cell and asked him what was wrong. Nelson then confided in him, and Walter stayed with him a long time, talking to him. By the next morning, Nelson was his usual self.

In relation to his person problems, Mandela never complains to other prisoners. However, when taking complaints to prison authorities concerning his personal problems and the problems of other prisoners he shows tremendous persistence and stubbornness.

In this manner he is kind, gentle and warm, but he has steeled and hardened himself. When he acts he wants to act in a cool and analytical way, and then follows through his decision with tremendous perseverance.

Q. How do you assess the morale of Mandela and the other prisoners in the special section, and on the island generally?

A. In many ways, like all of us, Nelson has been changing over the years. I think that the basic change in Nelson is that he has been living through prison his anger and hatred of the system has been increasing but the manifestations of the anger has become less visible to a person. They are more subdued, more tempered. They've become more cold and analytical in focusing on the evils of the system. His morale has been such that he has been one of the men that has inspired all that came into contact with him. He isn't the only one, there are many who have played this role. In truth, all of us in our own small way have helped each other, but Nelson has been outstanding. He has had the confidence of all prisoners whatever their political pursuasion and has been accepted by all as a spokesman of the whole prisoner community. He has often sought and guided us in campaigns we've waged so that even though we were fighting on losing ground, that is ground controlled by the enemy, the campaigns we waged would at least bring us some benefit.

His confidence in the future has been growing. I do not recall a time when he showed any despondence or gave us any clue that he might be thinking in the back of his mind that he would never live through prison. He has always shown this belief in private or public, and I believe I can say this knowing him intimately, not even when Winnie was in jail, detained, or when news came out of her torture or whatever demoralizing actions were taken by the enemy, has Nelson flagged. His spirit has been growing, and I think the reasons for this high morale amongst us are very deeply related to our conditions. First of all, I believe the enemy's treatment is counter productive, it's a dead loser. You never fail to be reminded in prison that you are not there just as a prisoner but as a Black man, and that alone tells you the only way to survive, even if you haven't thought it out, is to fight back.

It's a very important element in our morale that we are able to find ways to fight back: we feel we have something to do, we have a programme in prison, we want to put our demands. Our central issues are a) release, unconditionally; b) interim treatment should be that of political prisoners; c) remove all racial discrimination. Now that on its own is a limited programme which we know we cannot win altogether, since it is dependent on the wider struggle, but it has given us something to fight for. The fact that we come to prison as political fighters and are kept together gives us this opportunity to act as a collective.

The next element has been the recognition that our freedom won't come from our negotiation with the enemy. The enemy could only afford to release us from a position of strength, and any semblance of strength that it may have had, say between 1965 and 1969 when it could claim, as it kept on claiming, that South Africa was calm and peaceful although this had been achieved at the cost of a terrible campaign of intimidation and terror has now been lost. Today every day brings the regime more and more against the wall. So that any such act will be perceived as an act of weakness, and it is clear that our release won't come from them and we see that it is related directly to the struggle outside. There our morale and spirit is helped by the fact even with all the repression and intimidation, our operations have continued to survive underground. The struggle has carried on despite the blunders and the casualties. The jail doors have been drawing in more and more people, testifying to the presence of the organisation, to the fact that it continues to live, continues to fight. Then the mood of our people: the evidence from around about the 1970s of a mounting mass of campaigns from our people, a rising tide of anger culminating in the explosions of Soweto and post-Soweto, all these have shown us that the conditions are there for our victory.

Q. How is Mandela regarded by the other prisoners on the island?

A. Well, first of all Nelson Mandela is accepted and recognized by the Congress and its allied bodies as one of its leading members. His image in prison is that of the first commander-in-chief of Umkhonto we Sizwe. He therefore is seen as symbolising the new phase our struggle a phase where we have turned our backs on the view that non-violent struggle will bring us victory. He therefore symbolises that spirit, that aspiration, and he symbolizes the recognition that to talk of change by violence is not enough, that violence has got to be organized and that campaign of violence has got to be rooted in the masses. This is the image that Nelson has. In prison of course his stature has grown, just as it has internationally. As I said, in the campaigns in prison, his guidance and leadership and advice have made him accepted by all political movements in prison as a spokesman of the prisoners. This was true too of the 'younger generation' of prisoners, those who began to come in from the so-called 'black consciousness' groups from 1973 and the young people imprisoned after Soweto. What was interesting was that after all these years of imprisonment, with all the organisations driven underground and all these young men and women growing up under Bantu education, educated by the enemy as he desires, exposed only to the propaganda of the enemy, with no knowledge of the history of our struggle and only surreptitious information given in darkness, none the less their first connection was Nelson Mandela, this was the first thing they'd ask you about. This is indicated that his name was even by that generation accepted as a leader in the country. Of course this has interesting implications, because the enemy has tried to show that what happened in Soweto and post-Soweto was exclusively the work of some new crop, 'historically unrelated', with no roots. But their very questions and interest and acceptance of Nelson show that there is an organic connection. Furthermore, no black group which claims to be standing for the rights of the black man and for the ending of national oppression, however much they may differ even on tactics and theory and strategy, fails to mention Nelson Mandela when it talks of a future South Africa. Thus not only does the ANC recognize him as a leader, but he is accepted as a national leader in the country as a whole by all the people whatever their colour, and no future plans can afford to exclude him from their calculations.

Q. How much does Mandela know of what is happening in South Africa and in the world as a whole?

A. My comrades, myself and others who have come out of prison have indicated we were very aware of things happening outside. But now that I've been out of prison for a year and a half I've become increasingly aware of how uninformed we were. But I think that it is fair and correct to say that comrades like Mandela and others in prison are pretty well in touch with the basic lines of development inside the country. We have been obliged by the forced inactivity of prison life to sit back and look at the whole scene. In prison one is pulled out from the rush of everyday activity where one only sees one corner of one's world, the corner and sphere in which one is active. This opportunity therefore has given us the chance to see the general direction. There are times when we do not know the detailed manoeuvres of the enemy or of the struggling forces, but I think on basic issues we have managed successfully to see the general direct developments and changes. So I think all in all, despite the news censorship we have kept abreast. Sometimes in certain respects we have done this better than our colleagues abroad, especially those who are concerned with some specific aspects of work in the underground, but I cannot claim that we know more than our comrades outside. We've recognised this from prison too, they have not only the same general perspective that we have but have more of the flesh on the bones. We prisoners may know that it is in its bone and marrow form, but I think the comrades outside have it in a fuller form.

Q. Has Mandela changed in any of his major political attitudes over the years, for example, does he still think that international sanctions against the apartheid regime are so vital?

A. When Nelson spoke of sanctions in the 1962 speech at the Addis Ababa conference he called for total sanctions, but he emphasized that even total sanctions will not bring the regime down, that the real struggle is inside the country. Now the perspective within which he sees the role of international sanctions is very clearly understood by him, as we have switched over from non-violent forms of struggle to the armed struggle we have been able publicly to articulate our position more clearly and forthrightly. Nelson clearly grasps this point. He does not see sanctions or any other form of struggle even inside the country as being a form of struggle that has to be seen in isolation.

Nelson's view as he put it to me in conversation is that the armed struggle is central to our liberation, but that sanctions will play a very important subsidiary role by helping to alter the tactical balance of forces involved in the struggle, by depriving the regime of the underpinning that international trade and investment give it.

Nelson's views, in so far as conditions have allowed, have been developing and changing: changing in a sense that even his understanding has been deepening and I think that in this process the fact that he has been put together with all those comrades, given the opportunity to exchange ideas, has also led to his benefiting from it.

There have, for example, been questions of the tactics of the struggle. Now we in prison, Nelson included, have felt that it is not our role to determine the tactics, that these are matters to be determined on the basis of actual concrete conditions obtaining at any given time, and that given the dearth of information and the fact that our smuggled information is derived from enemy sources, it is quite inappropriate for us to work out tactics. Nelson has been absolutely clear on this point. Nelson's position, and the position of the comrades in the ANC, and in the prison, has been unqualified support for the leadership of the ANC, be it inside the country or outside; we see no distinction between the ANC and its allies on that basis. We give them complete support, but this support is not just an act of faith, we try always to recognize and develop the basis of our support. So when an item of news you'll be concerned whether the right tactics are being employed, and this is particularly so for those who came from the heat of the battle: people like Nelson who sat in the inner most councils of the movement in determining strategy and tactics. The punishing thing about prison life is that you're outside that area; you now have to accept that you are now in that sense on the sidelines, you have to trust your comrades. But the fact that you can trust them is because you know those comrades and, in the case of someone like Nelson, who helped to develop those who are now at the helm. When it comes to the manoeuvres of the government, there have been a large number of rumours which I have become aware of since I came out of prison reports in the press, statements by some of the Bantustans puppets like Matanzima that he was going to demand the release of Nelson Mandela and all Xhosas. The strongest of these, one of the most pernicious and persistent rumours, has been that Nelson has been approached by the Transkeian regime; that they will make representation to have him freed on the basis that he will come out and be given a job in the Transkei cabinet. The facts of the matter are that Nelson was never approached (at least up to November 1976) by the Transkeian regime no offer was made to him. The most that happened was that in December 1973 for the first time in the history of our imprisonment a cabinet minister visited the island and met us - that was Jimmy Kruger. We had discussions with him; we sent deputations to see him and make representations on our conditions. He saw Nelson, and the deputation from the single cells which I led. When we compared notes and reported back to our comrades one of the things that intrigued us was why Kruger had chosen to come, and as we examined the interviews it became clear. On the face of it he conducted the discussions in his typical fashion which seems to endear him to his white laager electorate - he came at us like a bulldog. But in working out his objectives we thought it possible that he had come there on a kite-flying mission to find out whether there was scope amongst us political prisoners and the leading people - without betraying his hand - that possibly the regime could find a negotiating base on the basis that separate development would be the accepted principle. He went back without gaining anything - our answers quite clearly proved that we cannot compromise on separate development.(

Kruger also tried to put us on the carpet on the armed struggle, and Nelson put him on the carpet instead when Kruger confessed that he was not aware of the history of our struggle and the efforts we had made through the ANC, even when we were driven underground and Nelson led the strike of 1961. We still entertained the possibility of a peaceful transformation through the strikes and the letters written to the Prime Minister. So the interview ended with Nelson saying to Kruger, "I think you'd better go back to the Prime Minister's files and see the letters written by the ANC": letters written by Nelson himself, letters written by Chief Lutuli, letters written by various presidents of the ANC at different times and during different campaigns. But the purpose of this visit seemed to be a possibility that Kruger came there to say - he said so bluntly at one point - if you are prepared to accept separate development I will be prepared to allow you to function politically within that thing even though you disagree with me.

When he left some of us argued the matter - was he being honest and sincere? Many of us realised and argued that he was being insincere; some were inclined to say: look, grant him the benefit of the doubt. But of course his actions immediately after he left the island betrayed his position. He made a statement in parliament - from the protection of parliament against a prisoner who had no access to the court - with a statement saying Nelson Mandela was a card-carrying communist (which he has never been able to prove and they never even succeeded in having Nelson named as a communist), so we think that it was just a kite-flying exercise as we saw at the time. Our answers and Nelson's were unequivocal: that he will not be prepared to entertain any basis of discussion or negotiation with the regime if it meant that separate development remains: we could only talk on the basis that separate development must go.

Our approach that Nelson does not hold views to be acted upon by himself in a public capacity except if he is in consultation with the leadership of the ANC outside the prison, that means specifically with President General Oliver Tambo and the National Executive of the ANC. We have always maintained the position that if conditions should arise where, because we are hostages and the enemy tries to exploit us, whatever designs it has, our duty would be never to give an answer to the regime no matter how attractive the package offered, except to say: if the package justifies it on the surface then we must be allowed to consult the leadership of the ANC and put what has been put to us to them. In fact, my short answer is: "Go to the accredited leadership of the movement which is conducting the struggle."

Helen Suzman put the matter the other way to Nelson in 1969. We wrote a petition signed by 22 of us on behalf of all prisoners demanding our release the main signatory and draftsman was Nelson.*

Helen Suzman as a Progressive Party MP visited the island and he explained to her very cogently the demands we put to the then Minister (Pelzer). We had argued very cogently, using South African historical experience, how white political prisoners who had taken to arms had been sentenced for far shorter periods in prison and had been released before they had served as much as a third of their sentence; and we demanded the same. We had shown how Nazis like Robey Leibrandt in the service of Nazi Germany had been sentenced, had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment then, when the Nats came to power, were released for serving nothing more than four to five years. Having outlined those cases, showing that our treatment was discriminatory because it was the black man now in revolt, we demanded our release. Helen Suzman in a discussion with Nelson said, "The difference Nelson is, are you prepared to say that you'll abandon violence and the armed struggle? Because your struggle is ongoing true, the rebels of 1918 were released, the Robey Leibrandt's had been released, but their struggle had been defeated, now yours is ongoing it weakens your case and I cannot demand your release." Nelson's answer to this, made in 1969, and he stands by it to the present, is that we were never prepared to do that. Because this demand for our release is a politically motivated demand and he and all of us are prepared to sit on in prison. We will never put an impediment to the development of the armed struggle.

In short, I would say whether we look at the cosmetic changes, whether we look at the manouevres of the government, whether we look at the build up of pressures from certain Western countries who are trying to create a negotiating position with the regime in order to influence changes, Nelson's position has grown stronger and firmer. His position is centrally: a) that the changes will not come solely through the outside work and pressure, outside pressure is merely a subsidiary and adjunct to our main struggle; b) that no pressures which seek to bring about change in the heart of the regime will bring about changes initiated by the regime in the right direction: those are not possible in our situation; c) that the armed struggle will be central to our struggle.

He is completely opposed to collaboration with the regime and acceptance of bantustans or any of these manoeuvres which aim to divide our black people, whether they be Indian, Coloured or African. I would go further to say that Nelson made many statements in the past showing how he changed in the early 1950s from a position of narrow nationalism - almost appearing to carry racialistic undertones, vis-a-vis other population groups - and from a sectarian position in the sense of being anti-communist. But what is interesting in this development has been his analysing of the situation in the country. Today he analytically tries to see problems on the regime's side and on the side of the people. His approach to the regime's side is that we must look for the contradictions in there in order to see how we can widen them, so as to narrow the social base of the regime. But amongst the people his approach has been we must look for the unifying points, and therefore also the danger-points that the enemy may use to disunite us, and here he has consistently isolated anti-communism has gone further and tried relating it to its social basis. He has gone on to analyse the question of racialism and tribalism: and again in prison he has reflected on these issues he has again related them to the social and material basis which allows these divisive ideas to thrive. So he has become more conscious of the need to fight against these divisive positions, not just in theory but to fight them daily.

My own impression, having read his past writings before he went to prison, is that Nelson has deepened his outlook on these matters even though our information as prisoners is not up to date and does not enable us to feel intimately the pulse of what is happening in our country and the international community. But we are very clear and he is clear: that the way we analyse things in prison is in order to keep informed so that our loyalty to the struggle and to the ANC is not blind but is reasoned.

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.