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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

24 Aug 1998: Maharaj, Mac

POM. Let me begin with - I know you were a friend of Patti Waldmeir's.

MM. Is that past tense?

POM. No, are. Already he's catching me out!

MM. Well I'm wary of what you're going to drive at me.

POM. She said - I'll read a couple of statements first and then you can put them in context and run with the question. She said : -

. "By the mid 1980s the MK had hardly scratched the surface of the Afrikaner monolith. In the decade following the Soweto uprising the MK carried out over 400 attacks in South Africa but most were minor. None threatened the authority of the state and the price paid by the guerrillas was high. Roughly two were killed or captured for every three attacks. In the late 1980s according to one MK commander the casualty rate for guerrillas entering from Zimbabwe was 100% within 48 hours."

. Then there was a remark that Alfred Nzo made in a memorandum to the National Executive where he said : -

. "We must admit (this is in January 1990) that we do not have the capacity within our country to intensify the armed struggle in any meaningful way."

. Waldmeir also talks about the struggle in the ANC itself between what she calls the diplomats and the strugglers, those who wanted to put the emphasis on continued armed struggle and those who wanted to pursue things by diplomacy. She quotes you :-

. "There is a psychological barrier in the white population after which terrorist acts will not provoke a closing of the ranks but rather a questioning of the grounds of white power."

. Now, a number of questions. I want to tie this into Operation Vula. Since the suggestion is that the (and this doesn't come from her) armed struggle was more mythological in its effect or symbolic in its effect than real in hitting targets consistently across the country, surely that point, that psychological barrier was never reached for whites? Number one. Number two, in view of the fact that the armed struggle itself was not an effective but, again, a symbolic weapon, why would the struggle be going on between the strugglers and the diplomats as to the way forward? And three, Operation Vula, could you put that in some context as to when it began and how it was revived or continued in the late 1980s, 1990 when you were arrested and Mandela's wrath that this operation was being carried on which suggests that he did not know at the time that it was taking place.

MM. Mandela's wrath?

POM. That his wrath, she has the incident, she said: -

. "Vula had never flourished and by July 1990 when Pretoria uncovered the operation and arrested Maharaj and other Vula leaders it existed more powerfully in Maharaj's mind than in fact. Mandela was furious not at De Klerk but at his own people. The ANC could not afford to create the impression that it had a secret agenda to overthrow the state. The incident highlighted divisions within the ANC that would bedevil negotiations for years to come between those who wanted to talk and fight and those who saw the two as mutually exclusive. The two groups, the strugglers and the diplomats, had already been battling for control of the ANC for years. The ANC had only publicly committed itself to negotiations a scant six months before Mandela was released from jail."

. Take the whole lot and put it in - that's the mosaic.

MM. All right, let's try and do it as quickly as possible. No, I think that Patti erected a paradigm and she may have derived that paradigm from all sorts of views. I wouldn't question that. But the legitimacy of the paradigm is contradicted by, I think, the facts. I certainly am not aware of a strand that would be called a 'strugglers versus diplomats'. Why do I say that? I think the period that she refers to about the casualties, all these things have got to be periodised, the period of the highest casualties was the late seventies, 1978/79/80. It was a time when cadres were entering the country, were being intercepted within short distances of the border and being wiped out. Now that led to a strong review, and if Patti had located it she would have searched for the records or resolutions of the Revolutionary Council at which all strands, including the diplomatic strands, were present. The Revolutionary Council had not only Tambo as the chairperson but Nzo as Secretary General, it also had Comrade Thabo Mbeki who was heading International Affairs. So it was a body devoted to the home front where all the key players that can be described as strugglers and diplomats were present. And in 1981 a review of the problems of escalating the struggle took place at a Revolutionary Council extended meeting where people from the frontline states, the neighbouring countries, manning the structures of the ANC were present. That analysis led us to a resolution called 'the formation of area political committees' inside the country and that resolution required a better co-ordination between the political and the military structures directed to the main front. It is also the period, 1980 - 1981, where the four pillars of struggle were articulated. Now that was Oliver Tambo's January 8th statement. It is the direct precursor to the formation of the United Democratic Front in the country and the strategy is located in the 1978 visit to Vietnam led by President Tambo. That 1978 visit culminated in a policy document work-shopped very carefully. The core members were Oliver Tambo, Slovo, Thabo Mbeki, Joe Gqabi, and I was consulted. A decision was taken to set up that process at the 1979 end of year NEC Revolutionary Council meeting held in Luanda.

POM. Which process?

MM. The Vietnam visit, 1978, led to that report being tabled before the National Executive at its meeting in Luanda in December/January 1979 I think, or it could be December 1978, it could be 1978, a combined meeting of the National Executive and the Revolutionary Council. They decided that a committee would work top speed at re-looking at our strategy and tactics. As I say, the key members that I can recall were Tambo, Slovo, Thabo and the late Joe Gqabi. I, I think in that book, it's called the Green Book, it is on Internet, and it said in the opening pages that I was consulted. It met continuously in Mozambique, in Maputo. Now I am saying that document is crucial because it became the policy document, not the structural document, of the ANC, because the National Executive of the ANC met, and by the way at that time neither people like Slovo nor myself, who in Patti's paradigm are the strugglers (versus the diplomats), the National Executive was exclusively African at that stage. It met in Dar Es Salaam to receive the Green Book. It approved of the tactics and strategy of the Green Book but not the structure.

. Now that is what gives weight to the four pillars of struggle and the requirement that the four pillars, which are articulated by Tambo, are firstly mass struggle inside the country, underpinned by a political underground, underpinned by an armed struggle and supported by the international campaign to isolate and bring sanctions, and the need for these four pillars to begin to work as a cohesive entity. Now that's the policy position that was adopted. Now this Green Book, it's presence has been a mystery, a mystery in the public mind, because when the National Executive adopted it, it did not want it to be known to the enemy. So there is a constant reference to the Green Book but nobody could produce a copy because it was an embargoed set of copies. Members of the National Executive and the Revolutionary Council had this book. Post-1990 there has been a search because it was all signed copies and kept very safely. So when people talked about it and they asked where is it, nobody could show it because it was under strict embargo from the National Executive but it is now on Internet so it's freely available and it has only become freely available post-1994. So I am saying if you look at the Green Book and the strategy in tactics part, forget the structure. There is no evidence that around 1980/81 there is any such paradigm of strugglers versus diplomats. Secondly now, as I said, the casualties that we are talking about are very high.

POM. Casualties of the MK?

MM. Of the MK and underground activists because we used to smuggle all political activists concentrating on political underground and mass mobilisation as well as armed cadres. You had to come through the same route, you had to smuggle through, you were illegal. It's your function was different. Now 1981, I am referring to this earlier political committee document, a resolution of the RC, arises from the results of the 1981 anti-Republic campaign in SA. The South African regime had handed us what I have always called 'something on a plate'. It decided to celebrate the anniversary of South Africa as a Republic over a whole month. I think it was May 1981. So it was not a one-off celebration. Having decided that it's going to be a month long celebration inside the country in small centres and big centres, it gave us the chance to make a political and military push. But guided by the Green Book already and the need to bring these two formations to act in sync, it gave us the opportunity to mount armed activity side by side with political and mass activity and give a sense that the two were coming together. Now if you read the newspapers of 1981 you will see a sudden swing in the media inside the country. Every grenade that exploded, every bomb that exploded preceding May 1981 began to be perceived as part of a co-ordinated action, even where they were not co-ordinated. We came out of the 1981 anti-Republic campaign with an upsurge in the 'Release Mandela' campaign inside the country, an upsurge in how to pull together all the diverse, fragmented structures of civil struggle from ratepayers' associations to sporting bodies.

. Because there was this sense that every armed activity is inciting political activity, every mass political activity is a spur to armed activity, the question became: how do we reduce the casualties and how do we provide adequate leadership both through the military and political formations operating inside the country? That then culminated in the decision of the Revolutionary Council - and now it has come back to me, September 1981. There we were guided by, we called it the Area Political Committee, whereas the discussions in the RC were to set up a co-ordinated structure at local level inside the country of military and political, the political underground and the military. But during that debate at the military level there was a particular set of operations that have moved beyond the hit and run actions that were taking place. Units before that used to be sent into the country, carry out a particular set of sabotage and retreat, never locating themselves in the terrain.

. Again, guided by the Vietnam experience a Transvaal urban military machinery had carried out a series of operations under the name of G2, code name G2, where they located cadres inside the country and the success of those operations with units located in the urban area, surviving successfully and hitting was something that we did not want to sacrifice by putting it into a co-ordinated structures where its presence and identity would be known to a committee of people. In fact the G2 operations which had Siphiwe Nyanda leading it, had reached a point where regional commanders from Maputo and Swaziland were now at a planning stage of entering to settle in the country on a semi-permanent basis. This operation was rooted in the success in living in mine shafts and building subterranean hideouts in the terrain and surviving their operating from those places and storing weaponry in those places. So we didn't want to sacrifice that. We said if we put it in an area of political/military machinery it would mean that the Transvaal urban political urban machinery leadership would be aware of this unit and would also have a hand in co-ordinating its activities. We said no, this is an experiment that we need to leave as tightly secret as possible so that the enemy does not hear about it.

POM. Was there also the consideration that if other structures knew about it, it would increase the possibility of informants?

MM. Part of it was informants. 1981, you're reminding me that from the G12 unit one of the regional commanders who had entered the country and was living in the terrain was now beginning to emerge and circulate in the Johannesburg area and in that circulation he would live in ordinary homes. He got in touch with somebody who we found was on the political, supposed to be on the political records. And there when we checked the political records this civilian cadre in SA revealed to the MK commander that he was simultaneously doing political work. The reports were confined to the military structure but I, as secretary of the political section, saw those reports and I did a quick check and my check said, this is not a legitimate member of the political structures. This is more likely an enemy agent because all the material that he was referring to of a propaganda nature coming from the political section, which he had in his hands and was showing to this MK commander was not stuff that was reaching him from our underground. Well our first interest was keep the two structures separate, is the G2 unit now interacting with people who are suspect? In fact this particular civilian member ended up by making a confession to the MK commander on the grounds that he was an enemy agent, but he had not sold out the MK commander. Typical black, oppressed person who gets sucked into the police system and is working for them and then his heart is split, comes into contact with an MK commander with whom he interacts until the MK commander gets him to do things, he starts doing them and he sees his role as extricating himself from the enemy network and doing something for the struggle. But in the meantime he's trying to manage this himself with the pressure of his handler and the pressure of the MK commander. That showed the need to keep it separate but in a controlled way creating the links.

. However, to shorten this story, as at September 1981 G2 was still thriving, had carried out attacks such as the rocket attack on Booysens Police Station, and our hopes were that more people from the regional command structure would go into the country and settle down in a very controlled way and survive successfully and we would extend the lessons of its survival to other areas. So I am saying that the Area Political Committee resolution contained in it the need for senior members, and its wording was senior members, including members of the National Executive, to go into the country so that the calibre of the leadership provided would be higher than what we were providing until now for forces on the ground. We realised the long lines of communication, we realised now that this was the way to beat the interception because if you were located on the terrain giving leadership, even though the military and political structures should be kept separate for security reasons, there would be a maturity of leadership on both sides. That resolution was taken as a precursor to building up our capacity on the ground at a combined military political level.

. So I am saying, Padraig, that was up to 1981. That resolution in fact said we would at a similar meeting in one year's time review the success or failure of that approach. That is when we replaced the front line, the forward area structures, and set up regional political/military councils to pull them together. And the pulling together of the diplomatic side would take place in the RC in Lusaka and the National Executive. OK, that's 1981, the success of the anti-Republic campaign where mass struggle is reviving and in a co-ordinated way, success of G2, the lessons of the interceptions now put us in a new phase and it leads to the four pillars, a statement, and it leads next year to the need in the January 8th statement, not calling it the United Democratic Front but calling for the need for a united front for mass action. That call of 1982 culminates in the formation of the UDF in 1983.

. Now, this was a principle task of the ANC, so still you can't talk about any evidence and a paradigm of strugglers versus the diplomats. The next thing that happens is that the Vaal Triangle erupts in 1984. The Vaal Triangle eruption was not something unexpected but what was surprising was the endurance of that uprising and the vigour with which the enemy came down and still the uprising continued. It posed serious detail issues of our struggle. We did not have sufficient forces on the ground, sufficient leadership material on the ground to channel that energy. So it revived the debate, what happened to our Area Political Committee strategy? Have we managed to send in senior people and if not why not? The Vaal Triangle uprisings held promise and had potential danger signals for the movement, promise that the situation was getting ripe where the masses were ready to respond to our calls, dangers that if you were not present on the scene to provide leadership it could break up into fragmented actions of spontaneous revolt.

. I can't locate the exact year but I would suspect that if you look at the January 8th statement it would be the statement of 1985 that called for 'make apartheid unworkable, render the country ungovernable'. That was not an RC statement, that was a statement of the National Executive in the name of Oliver Tambo and if I am right, that statement would have been issued before Kabwe in 1985 and I am saying that leadership did not have at that stage a Slovo or a Mac Maharaj in it. I am saying any paradigm that Patti Waldmeir has of the strugglers versus the diplomats is not manifest in 'render the country ungovernable'. 'Render the country ungovernable' has a deep rooted lesson from the Vietnamese struggle. The Vietnamese under Ho Chi Minh while waging the armed struggle came to a point where they realised that the colonial forces and the colonial collaborators had on the ground an administrative structure and it was necessary in the Vietnamese struggle to remove that administrative structure, to break the line of the ruling force to be able to govern and give space for your own structures to come into place. 1984 had raised the same problem for us in the country and ungovernability meant you had grass-rooted structures called 'people's organs', rudimentary people's organs, organs of power.

. Now let's take the Patti paradigm a little further. Vula is emerging from the APC experience and after Kabwe - and the Kabwe conference is the controversial conference if we look back now on whether it authorised hitting soft targets or not.

POM. How do you spell that?

MM. Kabwe. That's the 1985 conference which opened and elected a National Executive which enabled Joe Slovos, Mac Maharajs to be part of the National Executive. But at that conference the question was, and has been, whether it authorised hitting soft targets. There's a famous interview of Oliver Tambo after the resolution was taken in briefing the press and he was asked, "Are you now mandating your forces to hit civilian targets?" And he answers that, "No", but he says, "We are reaching a point, Matola has taken place, Maseru has taken place", and he says, "We are reaching a point in the struggle where the rules of the game are being set by the apartheid regime and it's inevitable that people will die in the crossfire." There is a demand at the Kabwe conference to escalate the struggle in the country, a very powerful demand, and in saying you are being too finicky as a leadership in the selection of your targets and when you do select the targets you are hamstringing your operatives when you say no civilian casualties. That's the Kabwe conference.

. Now immediately after Kabwe the Revolutionary Council is replaced by Kabwe with a body called the Political/Military Council, PMC, to conduct the struggle at home. The need for the shift from the RC to PMC, what was it? The same people were serving in it, it was this need for integrating and co-ordinating the political/military aspects of the struggle. That's the real reason why the PMC replaces the RC and in order to further escalate the struggle at home. The new leadership, NEC then, emanating from Kabwe, then goes through an assessment of how to escalate the struggle at home. The same people I say, Tambo, Nzo, Thabo Mbeki, Joe Nhlanhla at the NEC level now including the non-Africans like the Slovos and the PMC meeting as a PMC are examining this problem. It is the NEC in my view in 1986, I say 1986 because it took me at least two years to put all the infrastructure into place, says, debates the question that we need to send in senior leadership into the country and the debate takes place: are the conditions there to locate them safely? Can we afford to lose such senior people? At the first meeting of the NEC discussing this matter in 1986, it ends up correctly saying identification of the problem, we need to raise the level of the calibre of our political/military leadership inside the country, we need to send in senior people, that is what is holding us up. But are the conditions right?

. And at one of those meetings Oliver Tambo says, "If you are saying that I must send in members of the National Executive I must warn you people in this room, it means any one of you sitting around this table can be ordered by me to go home." I recall even suggesting that it should be volunteers and Tambo says, "No. If this is the answer to the problem it cannot be that in this leadership it's based on volunteers volunteering to go home because it's risky but you all must be available." But because of the seriousness of the decision we postponed the item to the next meeting. Again that meeting took place in 1986 and that is where the debate is once more how to escalate what are the problems, what's holding back the struggle at home? And I recall during the tea break, we had ended up nowhere in the same discussion and I am asking myself, what is holding us up? So I go to the late Chris Hani, I say, "Chris, the problem is simple. This is a 30-odd person National Executive. How to take this decision is really the problem, how to implement it." So he says, "What are you saying?" "I am saying", I said, "Let's adopt it, move a resolution empowering the President to be in charge of that area of the work and not to disclose details before us." He says, "I think you are right." So the two of us walk over to Jacob Zuma, because we're all drinking tea outside in the yard, and I put the problem and between the three of us we say, well that will be a hell of a burden on OR but maybe you are right, that is why the debates end up inconclusively and we don't want a resolution which can reach the enemy. That's the key problem because if you're sending National Executive members, risky operation, a casualty there is a set-back for the struggle. But I say it's also an inspiration when the masses hear that people from the National Executive are coming in and out of the country.

. So the three of us then walk over to Tambo and say, "Comrade President, we think we see where the problem is and we want to propose that you should be in charge of this operation." He says, "OK chaps, when we resume the meeting after tea break will you re-raise the matter? Although we have just concluded that agenda item I will re-open it." So we walk in, we reassemble and Chris Hani stands up and proposes that there should be this type of operation sending in leadership people, including the National Executive, but that the operation would be in sole charge of Oliver Tambo and the meeting says, and supported by Slovo, because it's a hell of a big job and a sensitive operation, the resolution deletes the words 'National Executive' etc., and simply gives Oliver Tambo a blank cheque. Tambo then says, "Are you people aware of the powers that you are giving me?" We say, "Yes, we're giving you these powers because of the highly secret nature of this operation." He says, "I want the meeting to be very clear, I don't want anybody to come to me and say that you gave the President powers which you did not understand." I recall him saying, pointing to people in the room, "You, it means I can send you and you have no reason to refuse my orders and I can put restrictions where you are not to tell a single other member what you are doing." So we agreed. That is what leads to Operation Vula, 1986. But immediately after that meeting Tambo and Slovo come to my house.

POM. So is the operation called at that point - ?

MM. No name yet, no name. But they come that night to my house and they say, "Mac, we want you to put the concept on paper. You work at this concept and you put it down on a piece of paper for just the two of us." I said, "OK, I will work on that." I prepare a two page report for them and they come and meet me at my home and we go through this report, the concept. We debate it and I am asked to refine it based on the discussion. We finish, and I say there that one of the keys to this type of move is our inadequacy at communications. Our communications are relying on couriers, reports hand-written, even if it's enciphered, taking a long time to reach your neighbouring countries and the response taking a long time and this is causing untold problems, and I say if you look at the Zimbabwe experience, while using couriers looks good, the enemy in Zimbabwe turned the couriers around. It captured them, quickly got them to talk and sent them back as if everything was working fine, and I said that's the vulnerability of couriers. They said to me, "How are you going to work it?" I said, "Well my wife is a computer specialist, she is an Assistant Designer, she's worked for Xerox." I said, "Do you authorise me to look into this problem?" They said, "Fine." A point arose, a little after I consulted my wife, we actually bought a computer at my personal expense and installed it at my home because she was working for the British as a Technical Officer in Zambia.

POM. The British Consulate?

MM. British government, Technical Co-operation Officer in Zambian education, computerising the Zambian education system. So we bought those days, there were no lap tops and desk tops, we bought an imported machine from Mexico or Britain so that there was no track of it, brought it to my home and started working on it. However, a problem arose, we needed money. So I said to OR, "We need money." He says, "I'm not going to try it." So Slovo, OR and myself say, "What's the problem?" He says, "I can't go to the Treasurer General, I've got authority but the Treasurer General will see and may well ask me why do I want this lump sum." And he says, "I would be signalling to him that I am making progress in this type of operation and I would have to divulge and I don't want to divulge." I then went to Britain, part of my trips, and personally raised a hundred thousand with Oliver's agreement who I was going to approach for money and that that money would be transferred to us but I said, "You're putting me in a very dangerous field."

POM. Was this $100 000?

MM. Rand, at that time. But I said, "It means you are authorising me to collect money and tomorrow somebody will accuse me of collecting money for myself." So I told this individual donor in Britain, "I will get OR to write a letter saying to you that he has received the 100 apples", and the donor said, "I don't want that on record." So I went to OR and said I had raised R100,000. That became the money that we started on Vula, buying the equipment and I then linked up with comrades in London, Tim Jenkin, and consulted others. I checked what was the military communications system and rejected it, it was radio, the Soviet system which had already been known on the market and Broederstroom was being led by the military and it was using this radio system which needed huge equipment in Angola, in Zambia, and putting up aerial masts here and then transmitting in bursts and worrying about interception and coding.

. I am just going through this, Padraig, because I want you to locate it time-wise. I am saying the paradigm that Patti has set up does not see a process taking place.

. End of 1986/1987 OR and JS have selected me to go in. They have also informed me as we are refining the concept in document form how it will work, have selected certain other people also to go in. That is when I say, "Hold on chaps, I am getting to know too much. You have said I am going home. Now you have to carve a geographical area that I am going to. You have said somebody else is going home. You have to carve that person's geographical area and I must not know who is going in." I am now phasing myself out, playing ill from my work as secretary of the political underground, because I know too much, I know names, I know identities at home and I have got to wipe that out of my mind, but I must not know who is going in a similar operation as Vula. You will link us up based on the progress reports. Then I will know that Padraig is in Western Cape, link up with Padraig but only when your reports say that these structures are stable and can afford to link up.

. That is the point at which I now become definitely ill, but a problem arises. We were heading for the Arusha conference for the international community to mobilise the anti-apartheid movement outside the country into a stronger force and we decided to hold a conference in Arusha in Tanzania. That was to step up now that fourth pillar. I am at a meeting of the National Executive in Lusaka. I am now on the verge of having cracked the communications problem. We have selected my deputy as Gebhuza and we are now in active preparation on my side when the National Executive meets and two items appear on the agenda which turn out in my mind. This would be late 1986, early 1987, I think late 1986 because we can check when the Arusha conference was, I think it's December. The first issue that crops up is a message that OR tables from home to say that Winnie Mandela met Kobie Coetsee on a flight to Cape Town and he invited her to sit with him and chatted with her. And the message says, "The regime is prepared to release the Rivonia leadership provided there can be a face-saving clause for the regime, how they effect that release." It led to the resolution on, yes - no to bogus negotiations, yes to real negotiations, genuine negotiations. But we discussed the issue and we said we have got to probe this thing. How serious is the regime, from various angles in its own substantive right but also as a clue as to how the regime is analysing its own position in relation to the struggle that the four pillars are mounting? And we actually say to OR after we adopt the resolution, we say, "Call the regime's bluff. Tell the intermediaries who are bringing these messages that we are prepared to send in a clandestine delegation into the country provided that they are allowed to meet the Rivonia leadership and the various detainees around the country." There were about 30,000 detainees at that time in the country. We said such a delegation would sound out. Other overtures were coming from an American chap, I can't remember his name, and I met him, Thabo met him, Tony Mongalo met him. The regime is prepared to allow one or two of you to come, it could allow Thabo to come and visit his father in prison clandestinely so that we begin to explore this question. That's the first resolution.

. The second is the Arusha report in preparation and it's just months to go. And the reports indicate the preparation is inadequate, it's going to be a disaster. The meeting says emergency steps are needed to get that conference going properly. It's a critical anti-apartheid conference of all forces around the world. Agreed. Chris Hani stands up and says, "What we do is we take Mac and second him to take charge of the Arusha conference." How do I tell him I'm the verge of going home? So I say, "But chaps I am sick." And Chris says, "To hell with you talking about sick, this is a crisis, you go." The meeting just shouts me down and says, "Forget about his objections." I am looking at Slovo and I'm looking at OR chairing, to rescue me. Nobody wants to rescue me because the mood is - Mac is the one. The tea break takes place. I go to OR and say, "Chief, have you put the other thing in your mind? Have you taken into account where the preparation is standing and the logic of those preparations are that I can't just switch off and switch on." He says, "Jesus! We will have to find a way to re-open it." When we resume OR says, "Comrades, I forgot one thing, Comrade Mac has kept me briefed about his personal circumstances particularly with regards to his illness. We are simply waiting for a bed to become available in one of the socialist countries", because we had a quota of beds in the hospitals in the Soviet Union, in GDR and Cuba. And he says, "And you could not send a person when the quota is full. He says we are just waiting for a bed to be empty and available and the moment it's available Mac's condition is such he has got to go. So I am sorry, I did not tell you all, I put Mac in an awkward situation. He has confidentially kept me fully briefed on his health and I simply want to tell you that it is absolutely urgent and imperative that as soon as the bed becomes available that he goes off. So the Arusha decision we need to revisit. We can't send Mac there." And the meeting then decides to send Francis Mele to support James Stuart in organising the Arusha.

. Now I am telling you this whole story to again show you that that paradigm is not operating the way Patti sees it. And I am already aware of overtures coming from the apartheid regime which indicate the possibility of negotiation. But those are very, very vague signals coming and we have agreed to engage the enemy but we need to set up a mechanism that will engage the enemy face to face so that we can assess how real is its thinking. This is the time when we learned that the National Intelligence Service under Niel Barnard is putting together a scenario for a twin-track strategy, the possibility of negotiation and weaken the ANC and split it. That's the background under which I come home in Operation Vula. And I am fully briefed by OR when I am in the country. I am the one that gets the draft Harare Declaration, draft, with an outline of the urgency and saying consult, I think it was about ten people at home, urgently, I want a feedback by Saturday morning of what the views are around this draft document and this is the thinking, this is the strategy. I sent it to Madiba in prison and Madiba knows I am in the country. Now if Madiba knows that I am in the country and I am communicating with him, when I get arrested why would he get furious? This is somebody else reading into Madiba's mind, telling Patti that Madiba is furious. So much so that when I pick up trouble, when I return it is with Madiba's decision -

POM. Madiba is now out of prison?

MM. Out of prison. First of all when Madiba comes out - first, while he's in prison I'm communicating with him. He knows I am here, he gets the draft Harare Declaration from me, he responds to it, I send the feedback to OR, I have set up the link between Madiba and OR and it's coming through me. Secondly, Madiba gets released. I meet Madiba in the underground, clandestinely, because I am still illegally here. There is no indemnity and amnesty yet. On May 20th my name appears in the Sunday Times saying I have got indemnity. I am in Durban at a clandestine conference. I rush to Johannesburg, I meet Madiba and he says, "Now Mac, you and Ronnie go out of the country, illegally, and return legally before 16 June. There is going to be a special National Executive meeting. But Gebhuza, don't leave the country. Just you, Ronnie and Mac, leave the country. The rest stay here." Is this a man who is angry, saying, what are you doing? I am now released and we are going for negotiations and your operation is a danger to the negotiations? Bullshit. I leave the country, Ronnie leaves the country and we return on 15 June legally.

. By this time Madiba is making also trips abroad. The NEC meets on 16, 17 June, meeting for the first time in the country as the NEC of the ANC. Madiba goes out, I am working at two places now. I am at Sauer Street, and I am in this underground structure. And where am I getting the money from? No longer delivered by Lusaka, it's delivered here at home. On whose instructions? On Mandela's instructions, given to me in hard cash, not in bank accounts because I can't pay the underground in cheques. I recall going once to the Treasurer General and picking up a postal bag, you know these postal bags made out of canvas and plastic, this high. I remember picking it up because I said I want the money in R10 and R20 notes, I don't want it in R50 notes. I can't give my underground cadres money in R50 notes, and the bag was this full.

. Anyway, after that comes the next problem. Madiba's birthday is 18 July. I pick up on 16 July, no on 12 July Gebhuza and company are arrested in Durban and I get a radio message to say Gebhuza is picked up, it was a Thursday. I go to Walter Sisulu, I say, "The structures that I am working with, some of them have been arrested. There is danger coming. My intelligence tells me that this danger is real." Walter says, "Madiba is arriving on the 18th, the day of his birthday, from India and Malaysia. You had better be at the airport and we will find an opportunity to pull him aside so that you brief him." At the airport there's a rush of people, it's his birthday. Walter manages to tell him that you've got to see Mac because I say I must not act too close to Madiba. Madiba says," 'Come home to Soweto." And I go home to Soweto, this birthday party is just breaking open and Madiba sees me in the kitchen and he says, "We will find a chance. Just stick around at this party." Half past ten his bodyguards come and tell me the old man is exhausted, will I be there at seven o'clock in the morning. Seven in the morning I get to him, I brief him. He picks up the phone and he calls for De Klerk. He tells De Klerk, "I've got to meet you", and they arrange a meeting for the same day to discuss the arrests in Durban and he's going to tell them, "Watch out, we don't deny we have underground forces in the country and this that you are touching here, if you wrongly handle it, will be trouble." He reports back to me.

. By 22 July I realise I am under 24 hour surveillance. So I am slipping my surveyors and I go to Madiba. "Madiba, a problem." He says, "What's the problem now?" I said, "Three members of the National Executive are due for detention and I am one of them. I don't know who the other two are but I speculate it's Slovo and Ronnie Kasrils, arising from the detentions. What do we do?" He asked me for a report, I give him a report and he says, "Now what are you saying?" I am saying, "The position we should take is that I should remain active at Sauer Street in the open ANC office. I am taking all the precautions around the country but if they touch me I must make sure that they arrest me in the public limelight. That would be the best signal to any forces that I am not reaching to take cover."And he says, "Good strategy." That's how I get detained on 25 July.

. I am saying the paradigm is too simplistic, it's got inaccuracies in detail but when related to the conditions as they are revolving in the country and outside it's not just taking it as a process. I can go into other details when I was in the USA in 1986, the US government sending an emissary to me to say, "Respond correctly, don't you people be too hard line, the South African regime is softening."

. So just to conclude, Patti then while speaking in many respects nicely about me, on this episode does put a spin on it which says that she just doesn't know and she can't trust what I am saying. That's the implication of what she is saying. The only thing that flows from it for me is then she trusts the other sources of information but she quotes me, she doesn't quote the other sources of information and that's my problem.

POM. But there was no ... about this and I get the conclusion out of what they say is that this propaganda, if you will, that there was this deep struggle within the ANC between so-called insurrectionists and so-called diplomats and those who wanted to fight on and those who wanted to negotiate, is more mythological than real.

MM. That is a real aspect that opened up. The real aspect that opened up was at the Nazrec conference in 1990, December. I had been detained now, come out of detention, but I don't go to the Nazrec conference. The reason is that I had informed the NEC at its meeting in June when I came into the country legally, that I would be retiring from politics in six months time. I gave them six months. I suppose my colleagues didn't take it seriously. So when I am detained and I come out the story is that I am unhappy about my detention, but I have told them before I am even detained, I have told Mandela in March when he comes out of prison that, "Madiba I am thinking of retiring from politics, active politics. I will still be with you guys but I am thinking of retiring for other reasons." The ANC issued official statements in support of Vula but some comrades went and put the story that I was unhappy about my treatment in detention. But I am telling you that my detention, we accepted, between Madiba and myself - I could have taken cover as Ronnie did, as Janet Love did, and I as the head of that unit would have been able to survive and even get out of the country at the drop of a hat. I didn't do that. But the tensions that arise, arise post that period. They arise because we have decided that here is the negotiating process, these are the comrades that must go into it and we set up a negotiating commission of the ANC linked to all the provinces of the ANC which would be strategising and advising the leadership.

. And when I returned to politics in July 1991 I am assigned to that structure with Slovo and others. So there we are in CODESA and I am made the Administrative Secretary of the CODESA process and the alternate delegate to Cyril. Comrades left out of that process, particularly around the party structures, begin to debate in the African Communist and with things like the murders going on and massacres going on and Boipatong, a group begin to write on the need to push, using that space to wage an insurrectionist programme, the Leipzig option. That debate was not in the ANC structures, it was in the African Communist. I know, I went before Bisho, sent by the leadership of the ANC, particularly by Madiba, to say - go down there to the Ciskei. I am worried about the programmes being developed. And I challenged the comrades at an all night meeting. Are the conditions there for you to overthrow Gqozo? Have you got the army of the Ciskei on your side? And they give reports, and I say, "Your reports are extremely vulnerable because you are saying you know one Lieutenant." And I came back and I said to Madiba, "I am involved in the negotiations, it would be sapping my energy to try and hold those comrades to line. You have other people do that. I need my total energy in the negotiations process." So I walk away from what was building up in the Ciskei.

. Be that as it may, there is an element in Bisho where that thinking that culminated in the Leipzig option was being developed by some comrades. That tension has nothing to do between Slovo or myself who would be described as strugglers in Vula versus the diplomats. It's a different line of debate taking place. But also we set up the special defence units mandated by the NEC in the face of that violence. I am out of that, I have retired. In that six months of December 1990 to July 1991 other comrades are put in charge to pick up those structures that were there in Vula and all, to take them towards the SDUs, self defence units. That is why you hear in the submission to the TRC that special self defence unit mechanisms were set up to supply them with arms, to give them training to forces on the ground who would relate and be under the political control of the civic bodies. Whether things went wrong or right, another problem, but that move relied on taking the underground cadre, some of them, into that direction, including some individuals who were in Operation Vula at high levels. I was not involved in that but I am saying that the debates of that sort, SDUs, self-protection, waging the mass struggle in the face of the violence, continuing with the negotiations, mobilising in the world and a group of comrades saying, no the best way forward is the Leipzig option, negotiations won't work. That's a different type of debate and that debate I wasn't part of. My job was to make the negotiations succeed.

POM. That's the longest answer I've ever gotten to the first question I've asked!

MM. That leaves us no time, but it's because Patti has gone - Patti's is a very interesting book but those paradigms to try and read is a false paradigm.

POM. I know my time is up. Would it be possible before I go that we could have another session so I can ask my second question?

MM. You'll end up writing the same as Patti. You will say this chap is so bloody convincing when he talks to us personally that we don't know what to say. We'll look at it. How long are you here for?

POM. I will be here until at least the middle of September, hopefully until the end.

MM. OK, just leave word where Ben can contact you.


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.