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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

27 Aug 2004 : Maharaj, Zarina

POM. I want to pick up where Mac said he's back off to South Africa. This would be late December, beginning of 1990. He's now been with the kids basically since the previous August.

ZM. Yes he landed in London that year on 21 July, on my niece's birthday.

POM. We covered that. We got as far as he took the kids to Lusaka.

ZM. Oh yes, then he went to Lusaka, he disposed of a whole lot of stuff there.

POM. Did he go to Lusaka more than once?

ZM. That time when he took the kids, he only went that time, he only went once. And then he came back when I was – then I moved in with a brother of mine who was living in Brighton and he came back to London having sorted out a whole lot of stuff with the kids. He came back to Brighton with the kids in - I imagine it was October.

POM. So he arranged for everything to be moved from Lusaka to London?

ZM. Basically he packed up and brought the stuff that we needed in London, books especially. I don't know what I had there, crockery, stuff like that, blankets, that type of thing, clothing. He got it all shipped back to me, pots and pans and things.

POM. Then you went to stay with your brother?

ZM. I had a brother staying at that point in Brighton and I moved in with my brother and then when Mac and the kids came they moved in with me at my brother's until the university gave me a flatlet on campus and then we all moved into my own flat on campus, the four of us.

POM. Then because of the school situation you moved from there.

ZM. Yes. Then I had this amazing flatlet, amazing in the sense that on campus you had all the facilities; you had the launderette and the shops as well as the library and you had your lectures literally a five minute walk away, etc., and it was very secure and it would have been great living there and it was very cheap as well but the kids were put in a school which was very racist and Milou started being called names and stuff there and I had this really, really tough decision to make; do I actually hang in for a year and let them suffer this humiliation or do I just give my much coveted flat up and move closer to a better school? I opted for the latter. I found a place called 38 Gordon Road, around the corner from what was regarded as a very, very good government school. I actually moved on the assumption that the school would be taking Milou and Joey, that she would be going into Grade 2, which is the second year of primary school, and he'd be going into Standard 2, which is the fourth year of primary school. It's only on that basis that I actually moved to Gordon Road so close to the school. Then the buggers reneged on their promise and said there was no place for Milou, only for Joey.

POM. Oh my!

ZM. Yes. So, I mean I totally freaked out. By then Mac had returned to SA. By the time school started again after the Christmas holidays sometime in January, about January 20th or whatever, Mac had already left for home.

POM. So he had left for home before you moved into Gordon Road?

ZM. No he helped me move into Gordon Road. We moved at the end of November, early December.

POM. That was a rental?

ZM. No, no, we worked out the difference between renting and paying a bond and because I was still employed by the UN I consulted them and they advised that even though they would help with the rent on a temporary basis they couldn't do it for more than two months and then I would have to bear the rent. I think I then had actually resigned but they hadn't accepted my resignation. Yes.

POM. Yes, they were still hoping you'd come back.

ZM. They were hoping I'd come back.

POM. Did they provide you with the house in Lusaka?

ZM. Yes, a very smart house. I had full diplomatic status. I had a diplomatic passport, diplomatic number plates and a diplomatic home and all that. People drive around with blue number plates with CD in front, I don't know if that applies in all countries but certainly in Lusaka if you were a diplomat that's the number plates you had, CD, blue number plates which I got. So they provided me with a very good house, security guards and all that. So they paid the rent for that house, the UN was paying the rent. So when I came to London they paid for this flat for the four of us while I was being treated for my eye and broken body. They still hadn't accepted my resignation and then when I told them seriously that I'm going to varsity, back to university and I'm actually going to live in Brighton, they said, "Listen, just to try and coax you to come back we will even help you with your rental only for two months. You must come back in January and start your job back here in Lusaka." Then I worked out that I wouldn't be able to afford the rent if the UN didn't pay it in Brighton.

. At that point I had been working for all these guys, the British High Commission, Overseas Development, I was being paid big, big, big bucks. I had nothing to spend it on so I had acquired a couple of houses. I had bought a house in Lusaka, I had my London flat and I decided to buy the Gordon Road house which I did. I bought that little Gordon Road house. So that's where we lived.

POM. When Mac left how did the children take to adjusting to being in the UK now?

ZM. Very badly. As soon as he left they went into a depression, especially Milou, who had always felt, it turned out later, who had always felt totally abandoned by Mac. When Mac left he felt that Mac didn't really care for him and he never actually articulated it but he subsequently told us that that was the biggest blow in his life because he was very, very attached to Mac before Mac left and when Mac left again it was like such a blow. Then on top of it all Milou isn't accepted into the school and, like a fool, I didn't dig my heels in. Instead of pulling Joey out and putting them in another school I decide I want to take on the Sussex County Council, I'm going to fight them to the end. So I keep Milou out of school for six months. I fight them in court and apparently I'm the second person in the history of Sussex who won the case against the County Council.

POM. Was Milou at home during that six months?

ZM. Yes, going spare, going totally berserk.

POM. Because you were going to classes, right?

ZM. I was going to classes.

POM. So who would look after Milou? Was he now old enough to stay on his own?

ZM. Yes, he was about by then six or something. Yes, I would go and come but he still felt very, very isolated because Joey was at school all day and even when I was at home I was so preoccupied with Mac's case and with the court case against Sussex County Council that actually I forgot he was in the house.

POM. You say you were preoccupied with Mac's case? That was after he got arrested?

ZM. No, no, sorry. I was so preoccupied with the court case at that time. It was only when Mac was arrested that the other thing happened. But anyway Milou effectively stayed out of school till about July or something, six months, and people were trying to persuade me not to be so stubborn and to put him in a different school. In fact the Sussex people, the County Council visited me on a Friday night to come and virtually warn me that I was breaking the law by not allowing my child to attend school and they could really get me into serious trouble. And I said, "Well, yes, you just do that." They threatened to go to the media and stuff about this if I didn't send Milou to another school and I said, "Go to hell, you told me you were going to take him into this school. That's why I gave up my flat on campus, that's why I've committed myself financially like this. I was virtually living for free on campus and now I've taken on all this. So you can do what you like but I'm not putting him into another school. You've got to find him a place in this school as you promised you would." "Let's strike a deal", they said. One of the reasons I didn't want Milou and Joey split is I said imagine if I had to choose between the children, I can't be at both schools at eight o'clock in the morning at the same. I'm a single parent with two children at two different ends of Brighton so I've got to choose to take one of them. Now if I take the girl the boy will feel neglected and if I take the boy the girl will feel neglected. So they said, "OK, what if we paid for a taxi at the Council's expense to come to your house every morning and pick your child up and take him to school." I said, "That doesn't solve the problem. He wants his mother taking him to school."

. Be that as it may I won the case and they had to take Milou in but it was silly of me actually. I should actually have pulled Joey out and put them both in another school. I was just so angry that I had bought the place to go to that school, whereas I could have got a place nearer to another school if I had known in advance this was going to happen. So I felt really cheated by them and Milou paid the price actually. I got him a computer because he was a whiz at computers and within six months he became – he did so much on his computer and he read so much but he also sat on the windowsill often daydreaming about his father coming to see him and in one of those reveries he fell off the window sill and landed on his head from the second floor.

POM. Wow! What? He fell down two floors?

ZM. Yes, he landed on his head.

POM. Oh my God!

ZM. And the kids never told me till much later because they thought I would be angry that he had done that. So I only found out that he fell on his head when we were here in SA. Of course the doctors in examining his condition were very interested in that because they say even a physical blow to the head can cause all kinds of problems.

POM. When Mac was at home for the period, or close to being home in London and then in Brighton and with you until December, what were you guys doing? What was he doing? Here he'd been the man inside SA and now he's sitting in Brighton doing - ?

ZM. He was meeting a lot of people. He was in meetings and he was in touch with OR and them by phone and stuff but the main thing is I started my Masters and he virtually took over looking after the kids. He took them shopping for shoes and things, I remember all that very well, because I had to submit – my Masters was not by exam, it was by dissertation. You had to do X amount of essays to qualify and he helped me by taking the kids off my hands. But that was only from about mid-October when the term started to about end of November when the term ended. That only lasted for about six weeks and then Christmas was approaching and friends invited us to Bournemouth and we went to Bournemouth to spend Christmas there.

POM. Is that where Steve Naidoo was living?

ZM. Yes. We socialised a lot. We went to Christmas parties, that's where I first met Jay Naidoo who was a big trade unionist. It's at one of those Christmas parties that I met Jay Naidoo, at one of those parties that people marvelled at my condition after my serious, serious accident.

POM. Are these parties in London and places like that?

ZM. In London mainly. There was Aziz Pahad and people like that, ANC people, who had no inkling where Mac had been, who had no inkling that he was about to return to SA.

POM. Now was he playing the part that he was out on illness and going back to - ?

ZM. Going back to Moscow to continue his treatment.

POM. So he couldn't look too good all the time, could he?

ZM. No he couldn't. The lessons continued.

POM. How did you feel about him going back?

ZM. At first I was a bit upset because physically I wasn't up to looking after the kids. I had just lost the use of my left arm and shoulder and I had lost the sight in my right eye and Lusaka was very difficult to live in because there were great food shortages and I had to go and queue to buy food. Supposing I queued for three hours to buy eggs, say I wanted to make a cake one day, I would queue for three hours for eggs and I would queue for two hours for sugar and finally I wouldn't get the last ingredients to make the cake having queued all day and I just couldn't face that again on my own.

. I must be very honest with you, I wasn't getting much support from guys like Joe Slovo because – you see it was very convenient to accept Mac's supplies while he was away. The ANC didn't really pay people but they gave them food supplies, each person got two kilograms of red meat, two kilograms of potatoes, some tins of tuna and there were some things you just couldn't get in Lusaka which you got through ANC supplies because these things came from Moscow. So when Mac was away I continued to accept his supply and Joe thought that that was unacceptable and immoral; I was taking the food out of some other cadre's mouth when I was earning these big bucks. He really, really thought, and he even said to me once, Ruth never did that, Ruth First his wife. I thought to myself, Ruth didn't have two young children living in a place like Lusaka. She had a university job but she didn't have young kids with her at that point. But I subsequently learnt from comrades, in fact within the last fortnight, that it was untrue that she never accepted supplies. He just used that as an excuse because he had other reasons to resent me.

. On the one side he used to think that I was the most privileged person in the world for earning big bucks and all that, and on the other side would insist that they continued to use the house that the UN had given me as a safe house from which to carry out all these Vula things. My study was the centre of the Vula communications system in Lusaka, that's where all the communications came, into my computer in my study. They didn't even have to buy a computer, they used my computer, they used my study, they used my telephones, they used my house. In fact after my serious accident when I seriously considered giving up work – I had previously considered it but after the accident I became really convinced that my best place at that stage was with the children and because I knew the communication system so well I volunteered to do full time work for Joe on the Vula communications system and he actually said his reason for not taking me is, "We need your safe house, we need this house. You must never give up this job. We're never going to get this type of cover anywhere."

POM. Didn't they move it out of there after you came back from Harare?

ZM. Oh yes they moved it but that's after my accident, after Mac sold up.

POM. Oh yes, he was saying – this is before. Yes.

ZM. Long before the accident. It went on for months. Even at one stage considering – the comrades here at home were saying that Mac must try and get the kids and me into the country, into SA to try and live underground.

POM. Who was saying that?

ZM. One of the comrades was telling Mac. I think it was Billy Nair. Mac broached the subject apparently with JS, he thought it was too much of a security risk to do that.

. I'll just have you know that as soon as I touched Lusaka when I first ever, ever got there, I went straight to see the Treasurer General of the ANC to say although I was qualified to take on a university job I actually was volunteering my full time services to the ANC and that I would be happy to accept the ANC salary of 14 kwacha a month but that on that salary clearly we wouldn't, the two of us would need to be given accommodation by the ANC. Tom Nkobi's answer was, "We need the money that we have for the struggle at home. The more partners who work the better for the organisation. If you take on a paid job it's better for us than if you volunteer your services full time because if you volunteer your services full time we have to give you a house, we have to pay the petrol in your car, we have to give you a car, we have to buy your children clothes, etc., but if one of you works you take the burden off the organisation." I never went back to volunteer my full time services but I was very disappointed. One of the reasons I'd actually gone to Mozambique from London was that I felt that is where the action really lay and once I'd finished my contract in Mozambique I wouldn't renew it. I'd do my two years just to get a foot into Mozambique and then I would do some work for the struggle full time. That's what drove me to go to Mozambique. Then I met Mac and I joined him in Lusaka and this was the TG's response.

. Anyway, the same type of response I got from Joe Slovo, "You keep this house, you support us, you support Vula. We're going to put comrades up in this place coming from all over the world and so on and so forth. We need this accommodation, we need this house." So it was as if the contribution to the struggle that I was making on the one hand was recommended by these guys but on the other hand it wasn't something that I was given any real credit for.

POM. They wanted to use your position but at the same time they resented you having the position.

ZM. Exactly.

POM. So to go back to London now. Mac's gone again. Did you have any feeling at this time, you have done your term in SA, is there anybody else in the NEC who is prepared to go back, why does it have to be you, the only one?

ZM. No I would say, "Who else is there?" And he would say – somehow Chris Hani did volunteer but I don't remember the details of why that didn't materialise. But you know what kept me going was that I sincerely believed in putting my money where my mouth is. It's all very well to say you really believe in liberation and in the struggle for liberation but given that I had two children, I couldn't actually myself be a full time activist, this was the closest I could be to supporting the struggle very, very fully, just through supporting Mac in the struggle. I think actually there were two things in my life then, two incidents that actually got me to the point where I supported Mac so wholeheartedly and one was the Hector Petersen photo in 1976, of that man carrying Hector Petersen who was shot in the 1976 uprising by the police. The second was a documentary I saw while I was living in Lusaka about the children in the homelands, the so-called Bantustans, who were dying of kwashiorkor and other diseases of malnutrition. I thought, what does one do to change this? It's all very well to tut-tut and say oh my God, isn't it terrible, isn't it terrible, but how do you actually do something and feel you're doing something. So when this thing cropped up with Vula it was the right thing to do, it was the absolutely right thing to do.

. So I never in that sense questioned anybody else's motives or why were they not doing things. The fact of the matter is that we had put our money where our mouths were and we were lucky to be given that opportunity and I don't know if other people were actually selected. I heard recently it was not a question of people volunteering, which I had always thought, it was the people being selected to go and that Oliver Tambo actually selected Mac although Mac had been wanting to go back for a long time and he persuaded Oliver and Joe about this project, he convinced them. I don't know that he ever selected and why he didn't select people like Thabo and all of these people. The fact of the matter is they know that Mac was selected and that he was brave enough to do it and committed enough to do it and yet they still feel somehow diminished by his actions and instead of hailing him as a hero for what he did they have actually turned on him. That is something that I might have to interview you about. I want to get to the bottom of what drives these people to be so resentful when they actually knew, well a handful of them knew.

POM. When did you begin to sense that resentfulness for the first time?

ZM. Let me think hard now. I guess it's only after we returned to SA because I didn't actually ever see him in London. I know when Madiba came to London after his release and the welcoming parties that were given for him I was not invited to although they thought Mac was dying in Moscow. Already then I was off the radar screen. In fact there was quite hostility to the fact that when I learnt that Madiba had a message for me and that he wanted me to identify myself, because he didn't know who I was, I actually forced my way to the stage to tell him who I was so that he would know, he would be able to get that disk to me. People really, really resented the fact that I actually spoke to Madiba.

POM. It was Essop Pahad, right? He tried to stop you.

ZM. Block me. Yes. There already had crept in a real resentment towards Mac through Thabo but I think that that had to do with Mac – Mac was in many meetings in London, I've got photos of Mac in meetings with Chris Bull and Thabo and them.

POM. Chris who? Chris Bull is who now?

ZM. I don't know, some big shot in Britain. I've got pictures of Mac and Thabo as young men, they still look very young, just shortly after Mac's release from prison. I think by then already Thabo was beginning to sense a threat from Mac. Mac upstaged him in all these meetings, Mac was just a little bit too brilliant and a little bit too unapologetic as an Indian, because it was already floating around was that the trouble with Mac is that he talks as if he's an African, he has no sense of apologetic-ness about him. There was this element even in Lusaka, if you were non-white, if you were classified as Indian or coloured they would somehow, because you had had some privileges relative to the African majority, you had to feel a bit guilty somehow and you had to pander a bit and you had to know your place in the hierarchy and Mac didn't know his place. That was his biggest crime.

POM. Now I think you're putting your finger on it in a far more identifiable and real way. He didn't know his place.

ZM. He didn't know his place. In fact, let me tell you, that when he was Secretary of the Revolutionary Council in Lusaka his boss –

POM. John Motsabi?

ZM. - actually said the trouble with Mac is when you close your eyes and you listen to this man speak, you think you are speaking to an African. He is not apologetic enough.

POM. When they said, "You think you're speaking to an African", what did he mean by that?

ZM. That Mac had such confidence in who he is, in his place in the struggle, he has no sense that he must play second fiddle to anybody just because he is Indian rather than African. You must remember that the type of Indians who characterised the type of relationship between Africans and Indians in the struggle was the fawning type. There was nobody in my mind who was Indian who would stand up to an African and say, "I've got nothing to be apologetic about. I've got bugger all to be apologetic about." I was also very cheeky at that level. It didn't help. But I myself was quite – well they called it arrogant. It's just that who the hell are you buggers to tell us to toe some line, that we owe you, you don't put food on my table. That was my attitude. You don't put food on my table so don't think you can mess us around. Thank God we had that independence it turned out. Thank God I was earning a salary. But it came to haunt us as you can see.

POM. So Mac –

ZM. He didn't know his place. That's what it is actually. He didn't know how to take a back seat.

POM. He comes to London from Robben Island and he shines at all these things, it looks as though an Indian is a top man in the struggle not an African!

ZM. Right and it didn't help that the media were now comparing him with Thabo and saying they're the two top strategists in the ANC. Then of course Thabo had not been to Robben Island, Thabo had not been through what Mac had been through.

. Yes, so Mac was a real threat whereas the type of Indian he wanted around him was exactly what he got, Essop and Aziz.

POM. Yes, interesting, very interesting.

ZM. That's my analysis.

POM. It says a lot.

ZM. Yes I think so. I've always felt that way. If Mac had been a bit more submissive, a bit more apologetic, a bit less brilliant and less clear about the way he was heading and what he wanted, and if he were less committed even, it would have been to his advantage. Look at this, Padraig, to support my thesis that it's because he didn't know his place, he caught it like this, further evidence that I can produce for this thesis: he is voted one of the top six ministers in the entire world for his contribution to the development of infrastructure in SA as Minister of Transport. He is lauded in a world magazine, I don't know what the magazine is called, with his picture and everything. He's recognised globally and internationally as an icon in terms of infrastructural development. His own country doesn't recognise him.

POM. Yes. In Ireland we've a phrase for that, we have a phrase for that kind of behaviour; it's called the 'begrudger' and they are people who begrudge other people, they're called a begrudger.

ZM. Oh God! Absolute begrudging people. You know that everybody else has been given honorary doctorates and he was approached to be given one by the University of Durban Westville, suddenly it was withdrawn when people got wind of it.

POM. When did this happen?

ZM. About three, four years ago. After his retirement from government. A German friend of ours came to see us when this Bulelani thing was at its full height a year ago and he said, "Mac, the Germans are shocked, they're telling me that you have done better than even the German Minister of Transport in terms of this infrastructural stuff which the World Bank and all were using you as a model." And he said, "How come your people haven't even recognised this?" Mac is probably the only minister who's never been given an honorary doctorate. He's never been honoured in any way. It has to do with the fact that he was too big for his boots in their language. But they cannot take away –

POM. What he did.

ZM. - what he did. They cannot take it away. You know what Einstein said, small minds – there's a great saying by Einstein which I've forgotten but it really, really applies in Mac's case. But the very sad part about it is that the children in all those years in exile felt that one day when they came home and they get their Dad back, for them it was enough reward that their father was regarded as a hero of the struggle and then what happens is that Bulelani Ngcuka stuff and the fuss and the children are told their father is the most corrupt man in SA. And having lived through the nightmare of not having him around when they were kids but feeling, well, at least he's the father of the nation in a way; we may have lost him to the nation but at least he is somebody, to be told your father is the most corrupt man in SA at school and things, it's made them both so ill.

POM. How did you guys handle that? Suddenly you have all this.

ZM. I don't know. We just basically, we have always led very quiet lives but we became extra quiet. In a way I'm biding my time because I know deep down that this is just a phase and the truth will prevail and Mac will come out of it and will reclaim a place in the struggle and in the movement. Yes.

POM. The place is – history will show its security. I just hope he lives long enough to see it in his own lifetime.

ZM. I hope so. But it has been extremely painful, extremely tragic, for me anyway.

POM. Of course.

ZM. And I never ever tried to show it to the children or him that I am absolutely livid, livid that they could do this to him and to us.

POM. Did people rally around you? Who rallied around you when all of this stuff came down?

ZM. The Ngcuka stuff?

POM. Yes.

ZM. Oh a lot of people, not high political profile people but people who know Mac as a person. I was thinking if I have a birthday party who will I invite, and really –

POM. When is that?

ZM. November 16th. I was thinking, let's suppose I decide to have a party, I'm not sure I want to have a party this year, the people who are genuine, who I could invite to this party who I know to be people that supported us through all this, and you know the fact of the matter is I made a list of sixty people. So it's not as if the whole world turned against us but none of them are ministers or high up in government or anything like that. These are just people who are friends, not that we see that much of them. We're very reclusive both of us, unfortunately. Both of us are very reclusive and we prefer to spend an evening indoors reading than going out to a party or something, so we haven't maintained as much contact as w e should have with these very loyal people but if push comes to shove there are people.

POM. Now Mac got arrested and he had come to see you –

ZM. … and then to settle me in Sussex, then he went to Lusaka, came back to Sussex. Then he left in January, then he came back to London in about May.

POM. 16 May.

ZM. Basically he had to exit, grow his beard again to look like he used to look. Then he came to Brighton, I think it was just for a day and then he had to fly back into the country as if he'd never been here, as if he was coming back from having been sick in Moscow. So he came back on 16 May and he sent for us at the end of July and we were about to board a flight when a telephone call came through saying Mac's been arrested.

POM. So you mount a campaign in London.

ZM. Yes, then with Vella and Patsy Pillay, the Anti-Apartheid Movement in general, we went on a campaign. Neil Kinnock and Glenys Kinnock joined in some of those campaigns I think and then I went to the UN, I went to speak at the UN Committee on Human Rights and told them the whole story. They were scandalised, quite a lot was published about Mac's case then based on what I had told them. The UN intervened with the SA government to release Mac. I've got copies of all that correspondence. Then the Anti-Apartheid Movement asked me if I would be prepared to go on a European tour to Holland, Belgium and Germany to speak to the politicians and public and media there and tell them the story and try and persuade them to intervene, which was very successful. I went on that tour. I left the children with my friends in Sussex. I had made friends there. I went on this tour of Europe, a very successful tour. I was on television, radio, in newspapers non-stop.

POM. Did you feel at that time that you were getting support from the ANC?

ZM. No, no, I wasn't. I was getting masses of support from the AA.

POM. From the Anti-Apartheid Movement. But the ANC in London didn't - ?

ZM. It appears that they didn't really know that Vula had been happening so they just disclaimed it, they just said it can't be an ANC operation, we don't know about it, it must be a maverick operation. So I didn't get much support at that level and I just continued to do my own thing. I wrote for the newspapers, I applied to Channel 4 TV, there's a slot just before the 7.30 news, I forget the name of the slot but it's something like 'Speak your Mind', and I got onto that slot and got a lot of feedback. I spoke to the British public about Mac, so I wasn't sitting there pining in a corner, I was actually very active.

POM. How did the kids take this? Here they thought they were on their way home again.

ZM. I think that really was the beginning of Milou's breakdown. It had started long before that but it was just too much for a boy of six, seven. You know when you promise to take a child to a circus or a movie and they get so excited and then for some reason you can't go, they are so devastated. Well, multiply that by a million times, they had been trying to work out what their Dad looked like, they were arguing with each other, they couldn't remember his face, they hadn't seen him for so long and they were like, "Oh I'd love to know what he looks like" and "We'll be home by the weekend." I remember I bought a pair of shoes for my trip and everything and then I got this call the night that I was packing my shoes away for this trip. Yes it was devastating stuff, completely devastating. We had sold up the house, no not sold the house, sold all the furniture, sold the car, everything, and there we were sitting in an empty house ready to leave for the airport next evening. It was an absolute shock.

POM. So that lasted all the way until December when Mac was released on bail.

ZM. I put the kids back in school. I had taken them out permanently, they could easily have lost their places because I wasn't very popular at the school.

POM. A slight understatement.

ZM. Milou had just bloody got into school. I'm lucky they took the kids back.

POM. Where did you guys stay now? Were you back with your brother again?

ZM. No, we went to Bournemouth, thank God, Steve and Beverley came to fetch us from Brighton when they heard the news, they just didn't even consult us, they just came in their car, packed us into the car and took us away, which was very nice, and looked after the kids while I – I was basically, I was incapable of looking after my kids at that point, I was shocked, devastated. They filled in but Joey and Milou were devastated, they were devastated. They kept saying, "When are we going home, when are we going home?"

. Then we went home in December and he was under house arrest, no, banning orders. Couldn't leave the magisterial district of Johannesburg. We couldn't attend weddings of my cousins and his nephew because we couldn't leave the magisterial district of Johannesburg. So what else?

POM. Then he quits, he quits the ANC for six months.

ZM. First of all he left the Communist Party in July, he was still in the ANC, very much in the ANC. He only finally quit the ANC when he quit government I think.

POM. I didn't mean quit in the sense that – he didn't get involved in the period of negotiations between December and –

ZM. No, he was very much out of the loop between December and the time when –

POM. July, in Durban.

ZM. Yes. In July he was put back on some list.

POM. On the NEC.

ZM. Although he didn't get very high on that list, I think he came 17th or something, when his name was mentioned the crowd went crazy, stamping their feet, screaming, "Vula, Vula, Vula, Vula", and that didn't make Thabo very happy. His popularity was at an all time high but not within the ANC structures so much. Then after that he got into the NEC but he did not make it onto the NWC. He was pipped to the post by Zola Skweyiya who came 50th and Mac came 51st and you needed to be in the top fifty to be in the NWC. That was a sign that the rot had really set in because that was the beginning of, in fact, Mac's demise in the ANC. It actually began with the Communist Party in July on the grounds that certain issues needed to be resolved, the details of which I'm not familiar with but personalities like Harry Gwala were involved and all that.

. I just got involved in my Master's thesis to take my mind off, I didn't want to be thinking about all this, so I just decided to write a Master's thesis and did a lot of research and didn't really think about all this because it would have been too much for me to cope with. When you've given your entire life to something and then you see all this happening, either you crack up or you ignore it.

POM. To get out of the house of Yeoville –

ZM. I was in Yeoville, I would take the kids to school by eight in the morning, come back and do my work.

POM. Then you had to move quickly out of the house in Yeoville.

ZM. Oh that's another saga. What happened is that people from The Citizen newspaper came one day and they were photographing the house and the number plates of the cars and it was about the time when Mac was going to a very high profile conference. Well he was at a conference one weekend when we suddenly heard footsteps outside the house, somebody jumped over the wall as if they were looking around the house and then I got death threats on the phone, "We know your husband's away. We're coming for you." That was on a Saturday and then on a Monday The Citizen newspaper pitches up there taking pictures of our cars and our house. I phoned Mac to tell him that they were there and some strange things started happening. In the newspaper they started saying a guy called Cunha, some Mozambican was involved in some plot to overthrow somebody or other and Mac was involved in the plot and Cunha actually described the inside of our house as if he had been to a meeting there with Mac.

POM. Cunha?

ZM. C U N H A. I don't remember all the details but Mac had to prove to the guy who was asked to investigate whether this was true, Goldstone, he's now a big judge, Mac had to prove that in fact Cunha had the description of the house wrong by bringing the judge to the Yeoville house and saying, "Look, people have been in the house. If he'd been in the house he wouldn't have got it so wrong." So there was a plot already then to discredit Mac and that would have been in 1990/91, saying that Cunha and Mac were going to overthrow somebody together in the South African political system or something. Then of course there was this threat and there was a hit list which was picked up, oh no, no. Then for some reason we decided we had to move quickly, we were not safe there. So we moved to Observatory, literally two blocks down the road, but at least the ANC put security there. The house was being watched very frequently.

POM. Did the ANC put security on the house?

ZM. Yes, and also put security stuff, burglar stuff and all that. Then I remember I was writing my thesis on 10 April 1993 when Chris Hani was assassinated and we subsequently learnt that the hit list of the people to be killed included Mac. There was Chris Hani on the list, Mac's name was actually above Chris Hani's name on that list. Had we not moved out of Yeoville I think they might well have come for Mac.

POM. How did this affect the children again?

ZM. Oh very badly.

POM. They were just settling in and suddenly they've got all this turmoil and threats.

ZM. It was just horrendous stuff. One evening, this house in Observatory was like in a valley, so it was low, and across the road there was a house which was on the hill so it could overlook us and the veranda of the house across the road was high and Milou used to go play there with his friend, James. They were both about ten years old then. One night Milou was playing on James' veranda which had a clear view of our gate and our house and it was very dark and Milou spotted some cars parked outside our house with occupants in it but with the lights off, but because Milou is a very, very observant kid he noticed people in the cars but the lights were off but there were no cell phones or anything where he could call his Dad or anything to say this is happening. As Mac's car pulled up to enter our gate Milou screamed, "Dad! Don't go home." And Mac's car sped away. I think that had Milou not screamed the warning, because those days the gates opened very slowly, by the time he was able to drive in he would have been killed.

. These are things that I was going to keep to myself to put in my book but I think it's fine that it goes in anybody's book because I'm talking about the impact on the family of all this. These events, you must separate the events from the impact on the family. I honestly believe that if Milou had not been playing on the veranda that night there was going to be an assassination attempt, definitely.

. Then after Chris was killed the security wanted me out of my house.

POM. After which?

ZM. After Chris Hani was assassinated the ANC security rang me and said I've got to vacate the house because the kids were now with Mac's family in Durban so that I could write my thesis and they didn't think it was safe for me to be alone there so they wanted me to vacate and I said, "Bugger off man, I've got a thesis to finish." I couldn't basically go and write my thesis anywhere else so I stayed in the house.

POM. There's always this question, other people have said to me that Mac could never serve in a cabinet with Thabo.

ZM. That he could never or would never?

POM. Could never serve in a cabinet with Thabo, the two of them could never get on if Thabo was President. He couldn't serve under Thabo.

ZM. Not really, I think that's not true. I think had Thabo reached out to Mac, Mac is so committed to this country that individuals and people matter less than the cause. You know when Saki Makizoma attacked Mac so badly when Mac was Minister of Transport and Saki was head of Transnet -

POM. Saki attacked him?

ZM. Very viciously in the media for something or other which I don't recall. Mac got no support from his cabinet colleagues and he began to feel that people actually welcomed the attack by Saki. When Mac realised what was the point of sitting in Cape Town all on his own when we were here and he wasn't getting any support from his cabinet colleagues anyway, had he got support he probably would have stayed on. In fact when he decided that he had to leave and he asked to see Thabo, Thabo gave him five minutes and didn't even try to persuade him not to leave. He just said, "OK, fine. Walk with me to the car." He didn't even sit Mac down for a chat. He just said it's fine and they walked to the car and that's how Mac's resignation from cabinet was accepted. A five minute walk to the car, not even, "Maybe we should go out next week, let's have a drink together, let's talk."

POM. "I need you, the country needs you."

ZM. Nothing like that. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

POM. You and Zanele have always gotten on so there's this contradiction.

ZM. Yes it's strange, she's always had time for me. When I had my first accident in Lusaka she was there, when I had a major operation here she came to hospital. She always wanted to know if I would be willing to do X, Y and Z. But on the other hand to balance it she, whether it was his influence or not, she always said to me, "Apply for this job, apply for that job, apply for that job", and then I would apply and I would be rejected and she would be sometimes sitting on the adjudicating panel.

POM. You would be rejected for a job, with your qualifications?

ZM. Yes. She had a lot to do with it so I don't understand. It's not as if I didn't try to serve this country. I paid a very heavy price for being Mac's wife. I paid a very, very heavy price. It's not enough that they were persecuting Mac, they had to get at me too. She would say, "Apply for such and such a job, we need you there", and I would apply and they would say, "Sorry, you're not skilled enough to hold the interview." No, seriously. But that will come out in my book.

POM. Amazing.

ZM. Yes, it's not as if I took this role of being the mother/housewife or sitting around voluntarily. I just never got the space, they never gave me an inch. Mac was such a threat that I think I was equally seen by certain women as a threat and we're both a bit unapologetic. And we are different from the stereotypical 'Indians'.

POM. In the sense of?

ZM. Well we certainly don't pander to power, we are respectful but we believe we know who we are.

POM. You're secure in yourself.

ZM. That's it. And because we know who we are we don't have to have other people define who we are.

POM. You don't depend on position for identity.

ZM. Exactly, exactly. So they haven't been able to crush us. As one person said about me, "The problem with Zarina is she keeps popping up in the most unlikely places. Every time you think she's down she's back up." This is what somebody told Mac.

POM. Let me ask you, does Mac ever talk about how he feels about things?

ZM. Yes, he's very, very hurt. He does talk to us. It's very sad that it should have gone this way.

POM. I felt that after last Christmas I could hear, even when I was abroad I could hear when I talked to him, I could hear a real difference in his voice, it was so low.

ZM. The worst is that he felt Milou paid the ultimate price for the struggle. You know children of the struggle have been very neglected by definition … especially they were unlucky but I wasn't there the whole time, at least I was there some of the time, but I was so distracted myself that the children actually felt very unloved and Milou's way of coping with that sense of rejection was to turn to – he became a substance abuser but the psychiatrists are saying now that they believe he was bipolar even as a child and that his way of dealing with – and because of the nature of his upbringing and of his life he would have been prone to depression anyway and the way that he dealt with his depression was to take things that lifted him out of his depression but the side effects of those pills were to cause psychotic incidents so he became psychotic. But now that he's off the stuff and doing so well he's no longer psychotic but he's got a lot of baggage still to deal with, as all of us have here in this family, as most people in the struggle have. I think ours is of a particularly terrible nature when you talk about people who have borne the brunt of so much for the struggle, you don't regard it as a sacrifice, you chose that you wanted to do it. That's what you believe in, that's what your ideals were. But when it turns that your own comrades turn against you afterwards I think that's a particularly bitter pill to swallow. That is.

. So on the one hand while we say 'all children of the struggle' have the scars, I think the scars my children bear are not of the struggle, they were proud of their Dad, he was a hero; it's of what happened post democracy. Isn't that ironic?

POM. Oh I love the irony of it. That's the irony of it.

ZM. But please don't underestimate the pain. Don't underestimate the pain.

POM. Mac never talks about it. He's hard to draw out.

ZM. It's very unhealthy not to talk about it.

POM. I told him that, I keep telling him that. I tell him these things, he's got to talk about what he feels.

ZM. He doesn't really even talk to me that much about it because he's always looking for the positive. You know Mac's whole thing, focus on the future, focus on what we can do to make it better. Don't look back, don't look back, focus on the future, focus on the past now, how can we turn this to our advantage, blah, blah, blah. It's like that. He doesn't allow himself to feel the grief, to immerse himself in the grief, it's part of healing.

POM. That's right.

ZM. The reason I feel I'm healing is that I've allowed myself to grieve.

POM. If you don't do that it just stays in there.

ZM. You see the point is I don't think I'm bitter but I am grief stricken. Fortunately I don't think I'm bitter because in any case look what has happened to this country with clowns like these running it. It's nice not to be identified with that any more. You know what I'm saying?

POM. Oh yes. I mean the important thing, Zarina, is that you understand what you're going through and take the steps to understand that if you don't go through a process of grieving on something like this it kills you.

ZM. Yes it does.

POM. It will jam you up inside in such a way that it destroys you.

ZM. It's made me very, very vulnerable and a lot of people took advantage of the time when I was actually trying to cope with what was happening. You know there was a time we went to India in 1998 and I said to Mac, "Why should we come back to SA? Let's just stay in India. What is there for us in SA? The way we are being ostracised by our own comrades, what future is there for the kids? Let's just stay in India." And this has never happened to me. I could choose to live in any country at that point but now I wouldn't, I want to be here. That means I have got through it.

POM. Joey looks superb, talks superbly, is a confident young woman.

ZM. Oh she's amazing. Very sad though. Very sad about what's happened to her family. She's going to be the politician in this family, you mark my words. She's going to change things. She's going to pick up the baton from Mac. Just give her time.

POM. Tell her I'm going to be talking to her next.

ZM. Good. You must. She's a powerful little lady. I think what broke Mac was Milou's illness more than anything. It was the last straw that broke the camel's back. All the other stuff was horrendous but this was devastating. But the fact that he's getting better, we can't count our blessings enough and we are coming through this whole thing. You know they say if it doesn't break you it builds you. Well it hasn't broken us so it must be building us.

POM. That's a lovely point. Really it's a pleasure talking to you.

ZM. Thank you my dear.

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.