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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

07 Mar 2002: Maharaj, Mac

POM. Between May 1995 and October 1995 Tim Jenkins wrote a series of articles for Mayibuye which he calls The Story of the Secret Underground Communications Network of Operation Vula. I'd like to go through different comments he made about the state of the underground communication system and how it worked and his conclusions. He say: -

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

MM. I think that's too simplistic an introduction. Yes there were problems. If you look at just the military type of operations I think we would be able to access statistics of the increasing number of operations, that's number one, over the years post 1976.

POM. Where would those be available?

MM. I don't know if Howard Barrell recorded them in his doctoral thesis but I've referred Caryl to look at his material. But they would also be accessible through a chap like Rashid Aboobaker who used to be in Special Operations. His real first name is not Rashid, it's Ismail. He's now working for the Reserve Bank.

POM. Ismail is the second name?

MM. Ismail Aboobaker. He was in the Special Operations Unit that was set up with OR's permission by Joe Slovo and that's the team, the unit that carried out Voortrekkerhoogte, Sasol, Koeberg. I know that they used to keep statistics of the number of operations but I am saying it's very clear to me if I think back that the number of operations were increasing. This was a problem we were seized with at the Revolutionary Council.

. As against that another important statistic is the number of casualties. Our number of casualties were at a very high level in the late seventies and slowly we began to reduce the casualties. Sadly, if you look at the political scene and the interaction of the mass and the underground struggle you will see that at the overt level mass struggle starting with the strikes of 1973, 1976 –

POM. The Durban strikes?

MM. The Durban strikes, the Frelimo rally in 1975, Soweto uprising, the Release Mandela campaign, the Anti-Republic campaign of 1981 where there was a convergence of a lot of underground political activity and underground military activity. Then if you look at post-1981, you look at the Release Mandela campaign taken up by Percy Qoboza of The World, it became a hugely popular campaign. (Qoboza- he was editor of The World at that time and The World was subsequently banned.)

POM. Where is he now?

MM. He's dead. His daughter I think is secretary to Khetso Gordhan at the Rand Merchant Bank. But if you look at that, if you look at the anti South African Indian Council Campaign in 1981/82, you look at the emergence of the UDF in 1984, you look at the transformation and emergence of COSATU in 1985, so you would see an increasing activity, underground political, overt political, military type of action. The problem that we were examining from as far back as 1981 was that having escalated the level of activity what was preventing it from becoming solidly rooted, we were necessarily keeping the underground political section separate from the overt mass section, the underground military section separate from the other two, our intelligence structures separate from the other three. The co-ordination was in Lusaka at the level of the Revolutionary Council. The separation was for security reasons so that a casualty on one section or one unit did not ripple through the organisation at all. We wouldn't end up like you ended up after Rivonia.

. Now things were isolated. We needed as a solution to begin to have that co-ordination nearer home hoping to end up, that that co-ordination would take place even at home at some point. So we began to put up political/military committees in Swaziland, in Maputo, in Botswana so that nearer the front there was that co-ordination. That was what we called the Senior Organs that we created.

POM. Those Organs would then report to the Revolutionary Council?

MM. In Lusaka, yes. The second thing that we isolated as a problem was that now that the struggle was escalating the conditions were arising where senior leadership ought to be located inside the country, not just in Swaziland, etc. Because we said that the clandestine methods of communication were too slow to enable that feedback to take place and assess, so as far back as 1981 after the Republic Campaign we decided to set up area political committees inside the country, sending in senior people. But every year that we took stock of the results of that we found that (a) the most senior people we were sending in were people settled in Swaziland/Maputo and they were not from the National Executive, they were not from the Revolutionary Council, and that one we began to argue that we were afraid that a senior person sent in and getting arrested would be a demoralising thing for the public and our own forces.

. So these were some of the problems that we were isolating which is the basis on which Vula evolved. Tim's opening statement is too simple when he says there was very little to show for the years of struggle.

POM. He said: "Only hundreds of activists in the enemies' jails and we lost tons of precious weaponry."

MM. I think that's again an exaggeration. It's writing a series of articles with a simplistic introduction as if to say there was a huge problem and therefore there was a unique solution.

POM. Then he says: "There was no real ANC presence inside the country and the ANC could not legitimately claim to be the leading force behind the mass struggles taking place."

MM. Again it's a statement being made from Tim who was stationed in London, who had been in prison and who had escaped from prison. Yes, he had escaped. Having got out of the prison, who helped him and his colleagues to get out of the country? Surely they didn't do it on their own. They were assisted by cadres in the country some of whom subsequently got arrested for assisting them in their escape. What does that indicate? It indicates a presence. But I would argue differently from the detail. What we were facing was that you would create 100 units of three to four people located inside the country in the political section. They would be active, arrests would take place, the number of units comes down to 80. You rebuild, you're continuing to create more units. Six months later you've got 100 units and looking at that you're saying we're not making progress. Why? Because the number of units operational are 100. What you're not seeing is 20 were arrested, 20 units were arrested, detained, tortured, some in prison, and a new 20 were created. So you're not seeing that ebb and flow and sometimes the number of units would increase to 130.

. But we were saying what's impeding us from stabilising that situation and moving it to a much higher level? It was well for units, say an underground political unit, to be distributing X thousand leaflets, carrying out 20 leaflet forms per six months. That's fine but are you grappling with the serious strategic and tactical questions that we need now to bring those forces to act, to synchronise their activities. It's one thing to have 100 units each carrying out their action at their own time in their own conditions and their own security. But how do you, whilst keeping them secure from enemy arrest, how do you ensure that they all act in the same period so as to lift the level? How do you ensure that what the underground says in it's leaflet links to what the mass organisations are doing at mass mobilisation? How do you ensure that the military sections strike against targets which will enhance support for what the mass organisation is doing and what the underground is doing? This was the key problem.

. So when he says there were these little things going on, the key question was, how do you implant a leadership not just from the external but a leadership made up of people from the external combining with the leadership on the ground?

POM. In a sense his point is saying, because I talked to Vuso Tshabalala and Tootsie Memela, both talked about the influence that they came under was Black Consciousness, the influence, that the Black Consciousness was there in the country, a presence, and that the ANC kind of was something they had heard about. So what he's saying is that there would have been many activists but he wouldn't say that the ANC itself is the legitimate organ of the struggle, that there are others who have a claim and perhaps even would claim they had an equal claim to legitimacy.

MM. That is a different question. The legitimacy question I'm addressing, there was no real ANC presence and therefore it follows -

POM. The ANC could not legitimately claim to be the leading force.

MM. I am saying there was an ANC presence. When he used the word 'real' presence, what does he mean in his mind? What would satisfy him to say there was a real presence? I am saying what I would regard as that, that a leadership responding on the ground to the tactical issue and feeding into the strategic issues. Now the legitimacy question is against a larger question. When Totsie and Vuso speak, are they speaking about the period when they came into political activity or are they talking about the whole period of their political activity?

POM. When they came in.

MM. When they came in. They would be talking about when they came in in 1975/76. Undoubtedly 1975 if you look at the ANC activities they were all leaflet bombs. There was no real military activity. The escalation of the ANC activities is in the post-Soweto wake. Right? And it is in the wake of that that the Totsies and the Vusos joined the ANC. What made them join the ANC if it was not perceived as legitimate? What made them join was the strategic issue that is in Mandela's essay in Reflections in Prison. Black Consciousness, you've done a fantastic job but now you have been banned in 1977, how are you going to cope with that challenge? He ends up that essay on Black Consciousness, 'Whither Black Consciousness?' He says it's going to be your capacity to meet that challenge of having been made illegal that's going to determine how successful you're going to be. Can you answer that question? How did the Black Consciousness Movement respond to that challenge? I think history will show it failed and I think history will show that the ANC succeeded in responding to that challenge. Yes, we can give reasons embedded in the fact that the ANC had gone through all the pain, suffered all the setbacks from 1964 onwards and had learnt some lessons.

. But to answer the question, post-1977 October with the banning of the BC, which period are we talking about the legitimacy? Now look at Tim's introduction. He's speaking about the mid-eighties, isn't he?

POM. Yes.

MM. Now by the mid-eighties look at the scene. Where is the BC as an organisation in the country? What has happened by the mid-eighties is that the UDF has emerged. We're still with the question how effectively it was providing leadership but the UDF has emerged. By 1985 COSATU has emerged. They for obvious reasons cannot say we are primarily sympathetic to the ANC but the debate took the form, are you BC or are you Chartists? That was the debate of the mid-eighties at home and in the UDF that debate had to take place until the UDF said, "We support the demands of the Freedom Charter." That was a coded debate going on: where are you aligned strategically?

. So mid-eighties the UDF has now emerged as a force. COSATU has emerged as a force. There are some spectacular military actions and there is an increase of low-level military sabotage activity. There is an increasing presence of the ANC through its underground political, but the problem remains. It is uncoordinated. If the UDF calls for a particular form of national mass action, ideally the military units should be attacking targets that fit in with that campaign. Ideally the underground political section in its interaction, because its members of the underground are members of the overt organisation, should be driving all the opinions of the UDF to support that position of the UDF. Its leaflets should be speaking a language that flows from that campaign and taking it further.

. Let's say by mention of legitimacy that he can retreat and say 'I was mentioning legitimacy inside the country', but legitimacy from the point of view of leading a national liberation struggle is not only defined by what you're doing inside, it's also defined by what you're doing outside. So when the BC people left the country whether conscious BC or just inspirationally driven by the BC, who did they find outside? They found two boys – ANC and PAC. Where did the most go to? They went to the ANC and to uMkhonto weSizwe. That was their response to legitimacy.

. Third dimension outside, who was raising this issue internationally so that that fourth tier of struggle was being pushed? Unquestionably by mid 1984 it was the ANC, unquestionably. From the UN to British and the world anti-apartheid movement, to Sweden and even by 1984 into the United States. That meeting you talk about when Thabo and I met De Lange from the Broederbond, where did it take place? In New York. Under what guise? Under a conference called by the Ford Foundation where it called people from home, from the UDF, from the unions, from the civics and including Pieter de Lange. Who was invited then by Ford to come and speak also at the conference, at the seminar? The ANC. Was the PAC there? No. Was the BC there? No. Why? Because even in the eyes of the people organising that conference the ANC was seen as the legitimate voice.

POM. This was a conference in ?

MM. 1984/85.

POM. Called by the Ford Foundation?

MM. Ford Foundation.

POM. Who was the man, can you remember who was the organiser?

MM. I forget his name at the moment. I've been trying to recall, but Nelson Rockefeller's granddaughter Peggy was involved in the Ford Foundation. It was not the only seminar and many people from home had got a message to say come out to this conference. That's now not from Ford but from us, from our underground. Come out to this conference, it will provide a cover for us to meet and we would be there. So often some of these things were held not at the initiative of Ford, it was by us individual interaction with people in the Ford Foundation saying call such a meeting, invite so-and-so, not telling them that that also provides us the cover to meet. We could do that.

. How did the UDF meet Oliver Tambo and an ANC delegation in Stockholm? The UDF was invited by the Swedish government, the Labour Party of Sweden. They provided the venue and the logistics. Officially the UDF came out to meet and solicit support and aid for itself invited by the Swedish Labour Party. Unofficially what happened was that it provided the cover for a meeting led by the ANC president with the UDF leadership. Why were the people responding? Would the people from home take those risks to come out in order to meet somebody who they didn't regard as legitimate?

. I am saying those opening statements are too wide. I am not defending it to the point we're saying that the ANC was now the legitimate organisation, I think it was still partly contested terrain. I'm not defending myself by saying that we were carrying out enormous activity but I am saying that the introduction has so far failed to isolate what – I think the introduction is done graphically to say communications was the problem.

POM. He says: "Underground work up to that point had been largely in hit and run operations. Cadres were trained outside the country, briefed, equipped and sent inside on missions. They carried out their tasks and if not captured by the enemy returned to a sanctuary in one of the frontline states. A number of groups had tried to engage in more prolonged activity but the attrition rate was extremely high."

MM. That is a statement that is legitimate with regard to the military activity, not with regard to political.

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

MM. Now that statement is made purely in military terms from the point of view of military units and it seems to conflate political underground units and military units into one bag. Military units necessarily had to be made up of people who had left the country, gone out legally or illegally, had trained and come back. Underground political did not have to depend substantially on a person coming out illegally and training outside because you did not need to have the skills for the use of arms. So that statement of hit and run and the armed propaganda is focusing on the military side. If you read the report, The Four Pillars of Struggle, I think that's 1982, the four pillars were defined as the masses in action, that's overt mass activity, the underground political activity, the armed activity and the international sanctions activity. Those were the four pillars. Now three of those pillars their roots had to be at home, mass struggle, underground political, armed struggle. You had to be rooted at home and I would agree that we were not sufficiently rooted.

POM. That's in terms of the armed struggle?

MM. Yes, and even the political, even the underground political, were not well co-ordinated. We couldn't just send in, even Vuyo, with all his record you couldn't send him and expect that if sent a mail courier, he's hiding in Durban and he sends a courier to Jay Naidoo, General Secretary ofCOSATU to say, 'I am an underground ANC cadre infiltrating into the country, I need to meet you', do you think Jay Naidoo would respond?He would say, 'What risk am I taking? Is this an enemy agent trapping me?'

. But when I got in did I have those problems? Never because they knew that I was in the National Executive and the risks they would raise but with my courier would go a message to say, 'I will secure your meeting me. This is how you must come to see me and I will secure how you get away from that meeting.' But the essential point is you needed leadership people in the country known to those people. If we said to Jay Naidoo, now my first meeting with Jay Naidoo was in Harare, it was a meeting between Joe Slovo, myself and him, Jay Naidoo who was Secretary of COSATU. We said there is a conference being organised by, I think, the ILO who will invite you but please don't send somebody else, you come yourself. He comes. A courier to the conference venue, 'Jay Naidoo, can you find a way to discretely come to the following venue. Joe Slovo and Mac Maharaj want to meet you quietly outside of the public eye.' He turns up and we have a political discussion. What would happen if he said, and I'm not deriding anybody, what would happen if the message went to Jay Naidoo to say, 'Totsie Memela wants to see you'? If he came what would be the nature of the discussion, where in the course of the discussion Totsie says, 'You know Jay I think we should be looking towards moving towards from small strikes to a national strike.' He'd say to Totsie, 'You take a hike. I'm taking the risk, you don't know the conditions at all.' But if a Joe Slovo sat down there and we tossed around and discussed the strategies he wouldn't say to Joe Slovo, go to hell. And Joe Slovo wouldn't put such a wild proposal.

. I understand why Tim has written the article the way he's written it. Those are opinions that he has put in a very stark form in order to reach a singular justification of the critical nature of the communications network. But that's not what Vula was about. If we could have developed that laptop and sent it in to any junior would that have solved the problem? No it wouldn't solve the problem because the question was responding to the strategy and tactics developed outside, linking it and feeding into the strategies being developed inside the country and giving a feedback to the head office with an assessment how HO should re-look at its strategy and tactics. Now pre-eminently to me that's a function of high level leadership.

. So the technical communications that Tim is writing about were crucial to the speed with which we did it and to creating this flow between outside and inside leadership but the technical still needed the right people to be used. And what I mean by right people, people who would be perceived and known to be leaders in the ANC outside, leaders in the military, leaders in the political section, otherwise you could not engage to give that feedback nor would outside rely on the assessment because it would be receiving conflicting assessments.

POM. "Those sent into the country were the ANC", again he's talking the mid-eighties, "the ANC soldiers. The Generals remained at base. The soldiers had their orders so could not become autonomous agents, could not plan their own actions. If they had been able to do that they would have been made Generals. In any case their logistical supplies came from outside the country and because it was so difficult to get anything in, the scope of their operations was extremely limited. This was the crux of the problem. A rudderless army with no place to hide with no contact with its leaders and with extremely fragile lines of supply. This meant that actions were limited to solitary operations. There was no way this could develop into a sustained onslaught against the enemy. Only the number of actions could increase but because there were no Generals on the spot these could never be co-ordinated to achieve any strategic objective."

MM. He's understood the problem but he's still talking in pure military terms. The Generals and the soldiers. Yes. Yes and no. Yes if you are using Generals as leadership people and soldiers as not just an armed combatant because I think that an Elijah ..., president of COSATU, was as much a combatant as a person who came in with an AK or a limpet mine. I think that Archie Gumede as the president of the UDF was as much a combatant and a General. Your problem was that those Generals located in the leadership of the ANC and the Revolutionary Council, Tim is saying none of them were in the country.

POM. "The number of armed incidents increased, so did the number of casualties. It is difficult to understand how it took the leadership so long to begin thinking about changing tactics but for ten years after the Soweto uprising this was the pattern of things. It was only after the Kabwe conference in 1985 that many came to acknowledge that there was something seriously wrong and that there had to be a serious radical change in tactics."

MM. Yes, I think Kabwe was the watershed but it was preceded by the Vietnam delegation, the Green Book. It was preceded by the 1981 decision to set up Area Political Committees inside the country. It was preceded by the setting up of the Senior Organs in the frontline states and it was preceded by an effort to begin to send higher level cadres into the country.

POM. Kabwe was in a way a catalyst.

MM. Kabwe was not the catalyst. Kabwe was the capping of that process and formalising that, yes, to move forward we need to change dramatically. Kabwe then underlined that change.

. The Kabwe conference brought in cadres from the camps, cadres from the frontline and some people from inside the country and it canvassed views in the country in the underground which were fed into the conference to arrive at a decision around what is holding back the struggle, there is a great need to escalate the struggle. One of the needs, so that we are not just attending to this in a lop-sided militaristic way, was to change the institution of the Revolutionary Council and replace it with a body called the Political Military Council. Notice the change, it is now emphasising that there is a direct and critical relationship between the political forms of struggle, both overt and underground, and the military forms of struggle. This council was then called the PMC. Many of the people who were in the Revolutionary Council were not put into the PMC. So if you looked at personalities you'd say, what change? But if you look at just the name change, the name change implied a strategic choice which said our struggle is not just an armed struggle. The Vietnam Report, the Green Book, that was one of the conclusions reached by the delegation that went to Vietnam.

POM. "Everyone agreed that the underground was ineffectual because there were no proper underground structures that were structures and there were no structures because there were no leadership figures based in the country. Armed propaganda could not turn into a people's war because the groundwork had not been laid for rooting the liberation army among the people."

MM. I think that's a fair enough statement. Well written style, punchy, but I think it's a fair point.

POM. "Bringing leaders into the country however was only part of the solution. Even if leaders had been sent in the resources for carrying out the armed struggle would still have to come from outside the country."

MM. Notice how he slips back to 'armed struggle'. It would have been to carry out the political/military struggle.

POM. "And how would the leaders have co-ordinated their actions and issued their orders to the soldiers in the field?"

MM. Fair enough. Issued their orders, their orders and guidance to both the political, military and mass organisations and his guidance for mass organisations.

POM. "The problem was not so much a political one about who was where and doing what, but a practical one about an almost complete lack of decent communications."

MM. Fair enough. Decent communications, I agree with him. Whereas I've earlier said you can have the best communications techniques but if you didn't have the right people in the country they were pointless. In the same way you can have the right people in the country and if you didn't have effective communications, that would be good.

POM. "It is astonishing that so few were able to see this as communications is the most important weapon in any conflict situation. Good communications means effective conduct of a struggle. Bad communications means ineffective conduct or defeat. Poor communications had determined the shape of our struggle because our fighters and cadres could not communicate with their leaders and between themselves, that the underground never developed and people's war never became a reality."

MM. Struggles have taken place with more rudimentary forms of communications and have succeeded. There were no electronic communications systems in Vietnam, there were none in Cuba.

POM. Or in Kenya.

MM. OK. But failure in Kenya was not necessarily communications. I understand the point he's making. In Zimbabwe using the old techniques of communications developed in the Vietnam and in other guerrilla struggles, an actual combatant would be taken in with a communication and he would meet the forces, the commanders in the different areas, and come back with their reply, physically moving in. What did the Selous Scouts do? Those techniques have been successful in Vietnam but the Selous Scouts and the … and it's there in one of the books on Zimbabwe. Youth come in, they capture you. Within 24 hours they tortured, intimidated, broke you. They sent you back with a response. They relied on the fact that when you returned to Maputo you would not disclose that you had now cracked and were working for the enemy. And ZAPU head office would respond to that message because it's supposed to be coming from the Field Commander who is saying, 'I am ready to receive 30 combatants around this and this week and they should come in through this route.' Thirty cadres come in, wiped out.

. Yes, that was part of the terrain of warfare in guerrilla struggles where the authorities in power would try to capture your courier and turn him round. That's what happened to (Sean) John Hosey in the Moumbaris trial. (John Hosey the British youth communist.) A group of cadres had come into the country, they had been helped to settle in the country by Moumbaris.

POM. That's in Rhodesia?

MM. No here in SA. 1971/72/73. A group of ANC MK cadres came in. They settled, they were helped, collected a courier by Moumbaris, the Frenchman. So he collected them with rented cars from the borders. He transported them within the country. One of them got caught. Some of them got arrested. During the interrogation the police said to one of them, "How do you maintain contact with outside?" He says, "No, I was told if I sent a message, the following cryptic message, they will send in a courier or somebody to me." So, "OK, send the message. When they respond we can …"So under that torture he sends the message as he was told and he requests that a courier meet him at a certain spot in Stanger, in a public venue. The movement says this has come from a cadre who has just infiltrated the country, they get hold of John Hosey, or Sean Hosey a young British communist with fairly clean – (break in recording)

POM. You were saying Sean Hosey?

MM. Comes into the country with the money and whatever responses. He goes to this place in Stanger, the contact venue, taking all the precautions he's been taught and what does he walk into? Into the arms of the Security Branch. Whatever communication he had brought in any concealed places are opened up. Whatever communication he brought to give verbally he's tortured and made to talk. Given the modern techniques of communications that were being developed in the electronic age it became possible to find a far more secure rapid means of communication so I agree with him about the importance of communication. I don't agree with him that we had no effective means of communication. We had them but they were from the old structures not taking into account the advances in the electronic age.

POM. He makes a statement:

. "It is hard to explain why our leadership failed to grasp the importance of good communications especially as they were trying to lead the struggle by remote control. Perhaps it was that they were too used to seeing all the problems and solutions to problems in political terms that they were unable to see that the problem was to a large extent a technical one. Perhaps they had a fear of technical things, a suspicion of things they did not fully understand."

MM. Again I understand the point, I sympathise with the point, I think it has a validity but I don't think that you can accuse the leadership of being wary of technical things. For example, we were now using radio controlled detonation devices, a highly technical job. If a car bomb was detonated with a remote detonator by radio control, it was high technology. We were using it. Yes, I think that the communication was not perceived as a central problem but what he doesn't know, because he's located in London, what he doesn't know is that different sections of our movement and different leaders were consulting the Soviets, the Germans, the Cubans, the Czechs to find newer and newer techniques of communication but our mind was fixed on radio. Yet at the same time in Lusaka in 1982 we brought in a computer purchased in Mexico and shipped via Canada and Britain. It wasn't one of these small things, it was one of these very big ones, and we brought a technician who had been in computers at Rolls Royce who was one of our members and built a special building where he slept and ate and drank and worked on that computer.

POM. This is in Lusaka?

MM. This is in Lusaka. Very few people knew about it. Then later on Ronnie becomes, by 1985, Military Intelligence. Ronnie recruits a unit and brings in computers but now the computer advances are moving so rapidly that you didn't need to buy what we had bought in Mexico. I remember the make, it was the Ohio Computers from the US, but we didn't want anybody to see that we owned it. Oliver Tambo had given us the money and we were saying we want to experiment, both data storage, data retrieval, etc. So we were experimenting. Maybe Tim didn't know about that but very few people knew that this was the sort of things we were doing.

POM. You bought in 1982 or 1985 and he wasn't aware of it?

MM. But the same thing was happening at radio technology. The military headquarters sent in the Broederstroom Group of Raymond de Lange and his group, they were arrested at Broederstroom in 1986. They had been sent in with radio communication technology, 1985/86, and it had an encryption device which was provided by the Soviets but it involved laying down a mast on an open terrain and that mast had to be about 20 metres long before you could transmit. It also involved hand encryption and then punching it in and then transmitting it in a radio burst.It involved a mobile transmission, transmitter and receiver in Angola. With that burst of radio a message would come through and then it required painstaking hand deciphering, listening to the signals and deciphering. That's hours of work to send one page.

. When I am getting ready for Vula I investigate everything because of my position. I go to Ronnie Kasrils, I say, "I know you don't want to divulge your techniques. I have checked with the Soviets, you are using the following technique. Tell me, how does it work?" And he's of course cock-a-hoop because at the moment his unit is settled and communicating. That is costing thousands and thousands of rand and when he describes it, I said to him, "The encryption method", I see the burst of the transmission at the encryption and decryption and when he explains that I said, "Thank you very much", I don't tell him why. I go to the Soviets, I just say, "That technique is useless for me. I want a rapid encryption decryption, not just at transmission."

. Only the Soviet General in Angola who knows me and he realises that Mac is on to something we can't pin down, it's not coming through the regular structures, he meets me, takes me to his flat. "What are you looking for?" Because I've been to Moscow obviously he's got reports that Mac is up to something, he's not telling us what he wants but he's wanting something. He says, "Mac", and he knows me to be also in the Politburo of the party, "I'll give you a tip, satellite communications." I say, "Hold on Ivanov, encryption, decryption, how's it done?" So we discuss and he provides a mechanical way of encryption. I say, "Good, if it's not mechanical what happens when you intercept that communication? Does it follow a pattern that decrypters can sit down and decrypt?" And we toss this around. I say, "Ivanov, you're giving me techniques that are already caught, that the Americans know. They've captured your systems.""No, no, no, this one is very secure." I said, "Where will this be received via satellite?" So he says, "Soviet Union.""Who will decrypt?" He says, "My people." So, very nice, thank you, I'll be going. I say I don't want my contact or my communications to be seen by people I don't know. I don't care whether they're in the Soviet Union.

. That is why I say now, and it started off, Tim is wrong there, it started off – Ronnie was doing his data, using computers for data storage and retrieval, the military intelligence, and he was using radio communications for his units in the country.

POM. He was in London?

MM. In Lusaka, no he was in Lusaka at a secret house. But my wife had trained and worked as a computer specialist and I was constantly discussing it with her and she says to me, "You can use a computer for encryption and decryption." I said, "But problem, the technique of intercept is to look at patterns to decrypt and with computer technology I can feed in what would take the British headquarters in the second world war months of mathematicians and a bank of them working at it to decrypt. With a computer even random encryption can be broken within hours depending on the power of the computer you have." But I say I like the idea.

. Then I learn of two comrades in London, Ronnie Press and Tim Jenkin. The one thing I know about Tim Jenkin, helluva inventive. The thing I know about Ronnie Press, although trained as a chemical engineer, also very inventive. And I go to London, I say, "Guys, how far are you guys up on computers?" And they start tossing ideas. I said, "Great! How much do you want to do the research?" And I discuss the encryption, decryption, transmission of data. And I say, "Let me study this, stretch out your ideas." They stretch it out. I go to Lusaka and I sit down with Zarina. "Zarina, what do you think of these ideas? You're a computer specialist, tell me, you're a mathematician", and we discuss. She throws in her ideas, I say," 'OK, how do I arrange everything? I'm going to call Tim Jenkin in London and I want you and Tim Jenkins to meet and have a discussion around these technical problems." Tim comes, meets her and I pull Tim aside and say, "Now, how did the discussion go?" "Yes, good ideas." "Good, go back to London. Carry on with your research. What are the resources you want? I don't want you to report to anybody. This is outside of that loop." That is how the Jenkins unit came up to developed the system that we used and when I came into the country the system was still not yet perfected.

. My first communication was over an ordinary telephone line, unencrypted, and we had to buy a portable telephone because we had sent in couriers to test, to go into hotel rooms and plug onto the hotel telephone plugs, can you then transmit? Is it detectable? How fast can they detect it? How quickly are they able to intercept when they pick up that there is something fishy passing over the lines? How can they intercept computer reading? How can they? Can they monitor with mobile vehicles and pinpoint the transmission point? In pursuance of that sending in a Dutch woman we bought a portable telephone. In those days that big.

POM. Was this the KLM - ?

MM. She was the storage person. She had to come and collect it. We picked up an advert for such a portable computer being sold in SA in the newspaper, in the classified column. We got a London person to buy it by an account that could not be traced. We had sent the Dutch stewardess to collect the computer and then put it in a storage place and having put it in a storage she then on one her trips had to go and retrieve it and deliver it to me. It was one of those huge portable telephones in those days. There were no cell phones at that time but within months we developed the acoustic coupler to link with any public telephone. We had developed now the encryption on a computer not based on just random numbers but based on the one side of the books and the other part would get wiped out. We developed that encryption which took seconds to type your message and pressed a button, it was encrypted and the part used for encryption was wiped out. London would be sitting with a counterpart of that.

. The system being used is that if I use this book as my encryption I found references for the U in the code, I reduced it to page number, line number, position number. So three digits told you how to find that U. But that U you didn't have to open a book physically. In the old days you had to open the book physically and count to page 25, count the lines, five, six, seven and count the letters right up to that, it may be 15. Now the old principle was we changed the book every three months, but if you intercepted the communications over three months and punched it into a computer you had a chance of detecting it because the U was not always described as 25 line six position 25. You would take a U from here and there and different places so different bunches represented a U by going to that … We installed the book on a disk and as soon as it enciphered the computer wiped out that disk.I cannot decipher my own.

. So message one comes through, it knows use pad A on the disk to access and decipher. The moment you decipher it wipes it out.Now you can't with all those disks decipher that message, it's gone, and I have changed the book with the next one. So you were changing the pad with every message. And there is no 100% foolproof method when it comes to decryption. What you did was you made it very, very difficult but given time and given a batch of communications with modern computer technology you always worked on the basis that with enough processing power on your computer, even if it took you a year, you probably could crack it. Now on computers – we did it like a simple document, it's there in the back. I can still pull it out in the machine language. So the process of completely deleting in modern computers is not just with the delete button.

. So Tim and Ronnie became the core researchers for this technique and setting up the links abroad and my wife, unknown to them, was the one in Lusaka, because I wanted these minds not just to interact but having interacted I did not want what was emerging to be sitting all over the place. The receiving station did not know how the system (worked) but was to disperse where the signals were being sent and because the lines from SA, telephone lines, worked very well with the developed world. We could have phoned to Lusaka but we said the traffic of telephones to Lusaka is too low, so let's pick countries where there's heavy traffic, where we've got good supporters and let those be the receiving points and then re-transmit from London to Lusaka.

POM. So it would go from - ?

MM. From wherever I am in the country I would send either to London or Holland. Whoever picked it up would send it encrypted still to Tim, Tim would decrypt it and re-encrypt it so that nobody can see that the pattern is the same message and send it to Lusaka. That's how it worked.

. Now if you read there, as far as my memory goes, he does not mention my wife at all.

POM. He doesn't, no. That struck me as kind of odd.

MM. No, because he didn't know, he didn't know what was happening. It's not out of malice or mischief. So I made Tim feel, Tim and Ronnie, feel that they were the heart.

POM. This is Ronnie Press?

MM. Ronnie Press. But I never used to meet Ronnie Press even. I used to meet Tim alone. Now that's not a devious mind on my part, that's a fundamental rule of clandestine work.

POM. So when he says that:

. "When this was put to the comrades that they were unable to see the problem was largely a technical problem, the comrades were involved in underground work, they all confirmed the lack of proper communications was the main hindrance to their work. They felt cut off and their activities could never develop into anything meaningful. The absence of proper communications meant there was a lack of political leadership."

. That was his own experience, talking about himself. "… underground operative in the mid-seventies confirms this. Contact was so infrequent and irregular that most of the time we felt we were operating in a vacuum. There's no doubt that our poor communications contributed to our arrest as was the case for countless others."

. He goes through … speaking of Ronnie Press.

MM. Who met Ronnie Press?

POM. He said in the early eighties he met Ronnie Press – "and a few others in the UK as part of the ANC Technical Committee body tasked to provide technical assistance to the armed struggle."

MM. Now doesn't that conflict with what he is saying earlier about technical, the leadership not - ? It's the leadership that set up that technical committee. It's the leadership that provided the resources for that technical committee. It's earlier put too simplistically.

. At which point now? Ronnie and them?

POM. Yes, "In 1984 when … "

MM. 1984, right, we began to work with modems, modern technology was coming in. This is which Ronnie now? Kasrils?

POM. This is Ronnie Press. " … were low enough I lashed out and bought my first computer. It was quite a pathetic machine by today's standards but it gave me the opportunity to learn how to write elementary computer programmes."

MM. And the encryption.

POM. "Then one day Ronnie arrived with the modems."

MM. Right. Now that's Ronnie Press. Then Ronnie gets to Zambia.

POM. He said, "We managed to set up a link between London and Bristol where Ronnie lived."

MM. On one of our regular trips Ronnie took the computer and modem to see if he could communicate with Lusaka. Fine.

POM. "We continued to improve our communications but without appropriate application it did not progress very far. … appeared to be loyal, bridging the gap between ourselves and leaders inside the country."

MM. OK. Then … in 1984.

POM. "We received a request as members of the Technical Committee to find a way for activists to contact each other safely in an urban environment. Ronnie had been seeking a paging device that could be used between users of …""In 1987 I was called down to Lusaka to train a group of activists in the use of some specialised radio equipment."

MM. Now that was for Ronnie Kasrils and Joe Slovo.

POM. "While there I was approached by Mac Maharaj, now Minister of Transport. He had heard that we had been experimenting with computers and various methods of secret communications."

MM. Now, that's where I'm locating it. I am already preparing for Vula. I am working on communications with Zarina, trying to solve the communication problem and I'm clear what are the key problems beyond transmission. Ronnie Kasrils and Joe Slovo, Joe Slovo it was special operations, Ronnie Kasrils through military intelligence, and Jackie Selebi (the wife of Joe Modise) is head of communications. She's working with radio communications and her radio communications are from the camps to Zambia. I'm aware of all this and I hear that Tim Jenkins is in town and they are working on computers. I have now dismissed the Ronnie Kasrils idea. I've dismissed in mind the Jackie Selebi … I'm convinced that the solution is in computers so I meet Tim Jenkins.

POM. "Mac visited me in London and explained that the ANC was planning to send leading figures into the country. This could not take place until a suitable communication system was in place."

MM. In Lusaka I don't discuss, I just hear from him, I question him. I don't link him with Zarina. I go back and I say, "Now, what do you think of these ideas?" I assess it and then I go to London. He's the right chap. I've now cleared with the people to whom the Technical Committee is reporting, Joe Slovo. Having cleared with him I want to engage with Tim Jenkins and Ronnie Press, I will not engage with Ronnie directly but I will engage with Tim but I want an assurance that whatever they do with me they will not communicate to anybody else in the organisation. So I go to London and I tell him, "We are planning to send leadership, this is a very sensitive question. I will resource you to experiment but I have the authorisation to tell you, you are not to divulge this to others. You are not even to record in the Technical Committee that I have seen you." That's how they come in and I ride into the progress that they have made in their experimentation.

POM. "By chance a friend gave me an acoustic coupler that he was about to throw out. I doubted whether the encryption programme could work with the acoustic modem (and a) tape recorder.This I took to a public telephone booth and played it back to my answering machine. Then I played the answering message back to me into the modem and the computer deciphered it successfully."

MM. Now the key to the acoustic coupler was that it now brought in the capacity, you did not have to rely on a direct telephone line linked to your modem. It now enabled you to put it to encrypt the message on a tape recorder and take the tape recorder with this acoustic copy and couple it …you dial the number, connect it to the acoustic coupler here, dial the number and as soon as it rang on the other side you press your tape recorder to play and it sent that out. That made it impossible now to prevent external noise getting in, but it made it possible – think of it, I'm in the country when they developed the acoustic coupler. I look at this thing, I say, "Why must I go into a hotel room? I'll go to a public call box right there in the open." These public call boxes have just got a phone on the wall, just a little divider and it's all open. I said that looks very innocent, nobody clandestine is expected. You would think that a clandestine person is hiding in some hole. So I'll be able to transmit from Durban beachfront, public telephones in Johannesburg, at the Post Office, at any time as long as I could put the tape recorder in my pocket, have my finger on the button, take out this coupler, do like I'm talking and just fit it on and press the button. Anybody standing behind me thinks I'm in a conversation. That's how it happened.

. Alright, now what questions have you got? The technical parts you can read easily and see whether they develop your understanding of how it worked.

POM. "At this time I was introduced to Conny Braam, head of the Dutch Anti-Apartheid Movement." Now is that the same Conny Braam that wrote a book on Vula?

MM. Yes. She doesn't understand Vula at all. Her book is completely off – it is from her understanding.

POM. I was going to go and get the book, get a translation.

MM. I've got it in Dutch. I've looked through it. She doesn't know but she tries to explain the history and everything. She doesn't know the facts.

POM. " …most exciting to find out that radio telephones had just been installed in SA. The radio telephone would be so useful that it would be essential to get one. There was one in the country who was going to get the phone and it was going to cost about R16,000. There was no-one in the country who could get a phone that was going to cost around R16,000. Fortunately Conny had managed to find a second KLM hostess who was working on the Amsterdam/Johannesburg route. She was willing to do just about anything for us."

MM. She wasn't. She was willing to certain safe things. She was not prepared to move arms. She only later on was prepared to move arms after interacting with me in the country.

POM. How was she vetted?

MM. At Schipol Airport in those years the crew never went through a screening.

POM. At Schipol? That's where?

MM. Amsterdam Airport. So as the crew they were not subjected to a screening search there and when they landed in Jo'burg they were not subjected to a screening search also.

POM. So this is this apartheid government with all its magnificent security apparatus and agents all over the place simply allow people – crew from aeroplanes to walk in and walk out?

MM. Go now, go to Jo'burg Airport, they do work through a screening now but they go through a special door, they don't go through the normal passport control. That crew, they just come in and they pass through rapidly, their passports, no problems, no hassles, just a rapid transit. But in those days at Schipol they were not even subjected to a screening search, nor were they subjected to a screening search in Jo'burg. We forget technology, we assume today's technology was present in those days.

POM. So she would take in:"I went to Amsterdam to find out if she was willing to go on a special shopping trip for us to get the phone. It was a honour to be asked, pleased that she would be doing more exciting things than pure courier work. I had to convince the telephone supplier in Johannesburg that I was a British businessman who needed the telephone for my business and that a friend would be passing through Johannesburg to make the purchase for me"'

MM. That's right. That's the portable one. And as he describes it now more correctly it was based on radio communication.

POM. "On Vula and in London we made this link and began to make the first preparations to start with Vula. Among those who were in this group was Mac Maharaj. Vula starts in the early months of 1988 and Maharaj and Gebhuza were ready themselves to be infiltrated into the country in the first group of Vula operatives. So tight had the security around these preparations been that no-one doubted that they were about Mac and Gebhuza." That was when you were going on your 'illness'.

. "They had been well prepared with a range of professional disguises and false documents. A route had been worked out and prepared to reach SA from Zambia."

MM. Now that part, again he will become weak. He's right, the two had been prepared with a range of professional disguises. That he would know, the Dutch part because it was through Conny Braam's contacts in the theatre world so Tim would know the disguise part. False documents he would assume because the false documents were not prepared by London or Holland. Those were done with Moscow. What else? A contorted route.

POM. "An extremely contorted route had been worked out for the pair to reach SA from Zambia. Indeed they would depart from the Soviet Union where their appearances and identities would be radically altered."

MM. Correct. That he would have been told by Joe Slovo.

POM. "They would even leave a trail so that people could confirm that they had been in that country. From Moscow they would fly to a few European cities to fuzz the trail from where they could move on to East Africa and ultimately to Swaziland where they would be assisted to hop the border into SA."

MM. That partly he would again know but not intimately because we sent him to travel through various European airports to give us a report what's the set up at each airport.

POM. You sent Tim?

MM. We sent him and people through him. He would be in charge of sending people, take an ordinary British citizen, take a South African who's not connected with the movement and through Tim's contacts pay for him to go to Athens. When he comes back from Athens sit down and have a chat with him, ask him what were his experiences, what happened. In that way what we detected was that at Schipol Airport, Amsterdam, was the easiest place to arrive on a flight with one passport under one name, not go through immigration, change your identity, change your passport in the transit lounge, it was very busy airport, but also obtain a ticket under your new name for the next leg. So you arrive from Brussels as John Smith and without leaving the airport you change your name to Andrew Johnson and pull out a concealed passport, Andrew Johnson, and bought a ticket still inside the airport as Andrew Johnson. That was a very difficult exercise because you couldn't book through a travel agent a ticket that said – John Smith to Amsterdam, changes to Andrew Johnson. So you had to do the booking separately but I could walk over to the passenger counter provided I was first class ticket and the chap did not look at your passport to ask you on which flight did you arrive? Because if he asked you on which flight did you arrive, because remember you are inside the airport, so the trick was to buy a first class ticket and be dressed like –

POM. You would be treated with deference.

MM. Dressed like a real wealthy businessman and just walk over to the internal passenger counter and say, "I'm Andrew Johnson, my secretary has booked a ticket for me to collect here for Nairobi.""Yes sir, yes sir, I'll check on my computer. Can I see your passport?" Only sees page 1, looks at the photograph, looks at you.

POM. But there would nothing in his computer that you had booked the flight would there?

MM. There would be that a travel agent from, say, London booked the flight but the behaviour was different towards a first class passenger.

POM. They're even doing that now in the US where they have separate lines for people who are to be searched and –

MM. Sure. If I'm Al Qaeda –

POM. How do they think terrorists are going to travel? Economy class? They've already told them …they'd be walked through.

MM. So I arrive from Brussels as John Smith on an economy class, a ticket booked by a travel agent in Frankfort, I'm now inside Schipol, I take out my passport as Andrew Johnson, I go to the passenger service, to the first class passenger service, and say a booking was made by my secretary in London. They don't say, "Let's see your passport. Which flight? Which flight have you arrived on?" You're first class, they don't ask you all those funny questions.

POM. "As Mac and company would not have the computers on arrival in SA they were due to be smuggled in later. A date in the second week of August had been set up for Mac to meet Antoinette at KLM. She was going to hand over the radio telephones she had earlier acquired. Suddenly one day in the first week of August the pager began to bleep. Could this be the start of Vula or just a wrong number? Sure enough, the familiar voice of Mac played out on the voice mailbox. He wanted to clarify some of the fine details about the planned meeting with Antoinette but more than that it was a message to tell us that they were safely in the country. I quickly informed Lusaka of the good news. The meeting with Antoinette went successfully and Mac got his telephone."

MM. Right. We need to stop there.Sorry, I have to move on to another appointment.


MM. I just want you to be clear about one thing, Padraig, there is no – the chaps writing their stories, even Conny, they are not lying but they are writing from their little box and they then extrapolate and put their rationale in, so it makes sense to them. The preparations both for the entry and the communications were so intricate that I never allowed the information to sit in one box. The photograph of the passport on which I left Moscow, Joe Slovo and Shubin (Shubin was our Soviet contact), Joe Slovo when he saw the photograph he was there to say, before we left he was there for final briefing, and he says, "Is everything OK?" And Shubin was saying, "Here, here are their passports all ready." And when he looked at the passports, I remember Joe saying, "Shubin, can you put these photographs in the archives?" And I'm saying, "No, why?" Joe says, "For history, for history." And then I succumb, I say OK. There are supposed to be a safe archives maintained by the Soviet Communist Party for the SACP, don't know what happened to them. Those photographs were the appearance under which we left Moscow airport. The appearance that we adopted in Schipol was different.

POM. You had to do this changeover in the men's room?

MM. In the toilet, in the men's toilet, the men's washroom. And all your disguises, your false moustache, your false teeth, your false pass, your next passport, that passport would take you from Amsterdam to Swaziland. At Swaziland we destroyed those passports. Gone. One of the breaches of the underground was the cadre who wanted to keep it for history. Chris April who served 15 years got caught for that reason. He was told, he flew into Jo'burg airport in 1970, he was told once you're through Jo'burg airport destroy that passport. While he was training in the GDR he was given a watch. When he was leaving he was told to get rid of the watch. He hid it in his bags. When he jumped off at Jo'burg airport he kept his passport, settled down in Durban, accidentally gets arrested and is suspected. The police raid him. They search his room, up pops the passport. You're not that innocent person, look here, you flew into Jo'burg. You're detained. They search more, tell us your background. So he's trying to lie to them. In his property they find a watch, unusual, it's a German one. They check what German. No it's East Germany. Ah, where did you get this watch? Finished.

POM. Now with the passport that you came into Schipol on from Moscow, would you have destroyed that passport?

MM. At Schipol.

POM. So you just come in on one passport.

MM. Destroyed it and got rid of it.

POM. And then you destroyed a second passport.

MM. Yes. You had to have that discipline.

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.