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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
19 May 2004: Pillay, Ivan
POM. What I'm trying to do is to get a clear picture of how communications went into and came out of Lusaka. I've talked to Janet and to Tim Jenkin and I thought I would get the picture from you too so I can visualise it in my head. So could you tell me first, where during the Vula period, where was the Vula computer kept or was there one computer?
IP. No, no, there were a number. We worked on the principle that although the head office was in Lusaka it was generally known that the ANC head office was in Lusaka and our expectation was that all communication to and from Lusaka would be monitored, if not directly by the SA government of that time, also by the CIA or MI6 and so on. So we worked from that assumption. So we then said what we need to do is to bounce the communication around. We had a station in London run by Tim. We would bounce from Lusaka to London, so in other words we would send a message to London. London would send it to SA on the basis that there would be so much of commercial traffic between SA and London it will be easier for the communication to go through unnoticed.
POM. OK, I've got that. What I'm talking about is in Lusaka, you had a computer in Lusaka. Did you keep the computer?
IP. I had a safe house which was run by three Dutch persons.
POM. They were?
IP. They were brought to Lusaka for that purpose. A couple and the other was a single female.
POM. Was that Lucia who works for Gerald Kraak at Atlantic Philanthropies? That's where she works.
IP. Yes. Lucia.
POM. And the Dutch couple were? Are they in SA or back in Holland?
IP. No, when we left them we left them in Zambia. I actually lost contact with them. I've tried so many times to get hold of them but I couldn't. Ineke and Links(?). The guy was British, they were married and she was Dutch.
POM. Did you have them trained on the system in London?
IP. In London, yes.
POM. By Tim.
POM. And then you recruited them and brought them to Zambia and they lived in this house. Now were they isolated? Did anybody else know they were there or did they live and work out of the house?
IP. They were not declared as ANC sympathisers or ANC members and we didn't meet with them publicly. We tried to keep it very quiet. The guy got a job, as did his wife, at one of the colleges. I think she did training in computers and he did some work on art, he ran some art classes or something, so they had some work and that provided a sort of cover. They were really not declared. We ran the thing in such a way that if they need food we would be the ones that ran around and got the food from the ANC and so on.
POM. Now, did Zarina play any part in this?
IP. I think in the early period in working out, I would say actually in the research and development phase she and Tim played a very important part. As you know she's very knowledgeable.
POM. About computers, yes.
IP. We did quite a bit of experimenting with a device, if I remember now, made by Tedelex which was a sort of mini-computer that you would fit onto a normal telephone mouthpiece, it was made to fit in. The problem with it at that early stage it had encryption facility but limited. So this was something that we tried, it worked but it was limited. You also couldn't send pages and pages of stuff.
POM. But she wasn't at the end of receiving, there to receive messages when they came in from London and to unencrypt them and to hand them over to you? She wasn't involved in that end of it?
IP. No, no. She didn't actually run the system. She helped –
POM. In the development of it.
POM. Let's go backwards first. When a message arrived from Tim, let's say it flashed on the screen or whatever, a beep went off, now that would be in an encrypted form, right?
POM. And Lucia or one of the other two, Links, would unencrypt it and they would take that message to you?
POM. Now would that be in plain text at that point?
IP. Yes it would be in plain text at that point unless I was already there and then on some occasions, especially in the beginning, I would de-encrypt it myself. It was also complicated, there was a stage now, you know time is a bit of a problem, but there was a time when we would actually receive the message on tape, encrypted but on tape, audio tape from the telephone on an answering machine, and then feed it into the computer system and decipher it there. So we would go, because we didn't have telephones in any case because you also wanted it to come through an ordinary telephone, so you'd go to somebody also a sympathiser, usually a … (using a term we used in Mozambique, meaning an expatriate) who would be willing to let us use their phone. But that's what we would do. We'd then take it over there and decipher it. Then they would bring it over to me in most cases in plain text.
POM. And then you would give the message to? Some of the messages you could deal with yourself and some would be, let's say there would be messages for OR and for JS, just those two, right? Now you would then take it to let's say OR and hand deliver it to him?
POM. Would anybody else in his office be privy to the contents of that message?
IP. No, he handled it directly.
POM. So Thabo would not have it?
IP. Absolutely not.
POM. I want to narrow it down. Let's say he looks at it and he has a response. He writes the response?
IP. You know I gave you that, I sent you those notes, I don't know if you got it.
POM. They're in Johannesburg.
IP. The sample that I have there is actually in his handwriting. So it would differ. If it's a straight answer, there's a straight answer, but if it's more about analysing a situation and explaining a situation then he would write it out in handwriting. We would then type it up for him. But usually what would happen is that he would write it up and if JS was around we would ask JS for JS's comment and then sometimes, as you would see in the notes that I sent, he would ask me for comment. As a leader he was quite remarkable.
POM. Very inclusive.
IP. So it would sort of spin between the three of us. But honestly when it came to the strategic input it is JS and OR that made strategic input.
POM. Now you take that text and you take it back to the house and they encrypt it?
POM. And they send it back to Tim and Tim decrypts it, re-encrypts it and sends it on to SA.
IP. That's right.
POM. OK. Then the original text, is that destroyed?
IP. Most times yes.
POM. Now, I want to now understand about the correspondence that might have been between Mandela and OR. From your memory how many times, if you received a message from Mandela – let's begin the other way round, if you were sending a message to him would OR write out the message as you described? You would take it to the house as you described and it would be sent as you described, picked up by Mac on the other end?
IP. That's right.
POM. Now would these usually be short messages or would they go to some length, or might they go to some length, or did they vary?
IP. Look I think they varied because the one thing is that the messages had to be physically in the end smuggled to Madiba, so therefore they could not be very big messages. I think generally in terms of strategic perspective there was no great difference between OR and Madiba and that always makes it easier if you are on the same strategic wavelength, there is less explaining to be done with things. It is when, of course, you are communicating with somebody you're not quite sure where they are that you need to put people into the picture and then come down to what actually needs to be said. In all on my side I would guess that whilst he was still in prison I don't think it could be more than half a dozen but I'm not sure.
POM. Now among those would have been two, and these are the two I'm interested in, it would have been the memorandum he wrote to PW Botha, sorry that's coming to him. Would it be your understanding then that the message that was picked up by Mac, that at that point you had no idea what happened to the message other than it got to Mandela or did you assume that the messages were going in through Ismail Ayob?
IP. Either I knew that, either that it was explained, maybe not exactly the name, but you must remember in between I had one physical contact with Mac when he came to Moscow. I met him in Moscow and then I met him a little bit later in Lusaka before he went back in. So I can't remember where it is but I had a pretty good idea.
POM. Sorry, a pretty good idea that?
IP. Of how the stuff got in.
POM. How were you assuming it got in, or what was your understanding of how it got in?
IP. My understanding is that there was a file which the lawyer carried.
POM. And he put it – was there a false cover in the file?
POM. OK. And he would just hand that to Mandela and leave it there.
POM. Do you have a memory of receiving his amendments to the Harare Declaration and the letter?
IP. No, I can't remember. I am sure it would have come through but at this stage I can't remember.
POM. You met with Mac in Moscow. Now in one of our interviews, I think, you spoke a little when you said you were in Moscow with Mac when Mandela was released?
POM. Do you have a clear memory of that? Because you said Joe Slovo walked in.
IP. Yes, we were listening to the radio.
POM. Because he doesn't have himself there.
POM. Mac doesn't have himself there. Mac has himself in some hideout some place.
IP. Yes, in Moscow.
POM. But I have him in Moscow in July or August 1989 when he met with OR and with Joe Slovo and then he went from there to London and he arrived in London after OR had a stroke. He visited him and visited Zarina who was then in hospital and then went to Lusaka for the meeting of the NEC where the Mandela memorandum was tabled. Now I have him there in August of 1989.
IP. OK. You know I would usually bow to his better memory than mine, but my very –
POM. Well he didn't say that you were in Moscow in August of 1989, he just doesn't have himself in Moscow on 11 February 1990, but you do.
IP. Yes. Have you checked with him?
POM. I'll go back and check with him, but you have no doubt that you were there and he was there and Slovo was there and Slovo walked in and said, "Jesus Christ, guess what, they've just released Mandela."
POM. That's not the image you forget where you were kind of day.
IP. No, no, no. Definitely Moscow.
POM. Now that would have been a time – was he at that point – this would have been after the interim leadership of the ANC was announced. Had he talked at that point about that he was quitting?
IP. No, no, no. The quitting came in – oh yes, yes, but it came later. You see they actually went back into the country after the ANC was unbanned so it must have been some time in February, later in February that he went back inside. I'm trying to think.
POM. Think it over, you needn't tell me right now.
IP. I remember meeting, I must be confused now, there were three women who also came from inside the country who came for training. They were there at the same time.
POM. Would that be Claudia?
POM. Was Claudia one of the three?
IP. Yes. I could check with Claudia and Selina was the other one.
POM. Selina, OK.
IP. I could check with them when that period is. That will be a useful way to re-check it.
POM. OK. Would that set that he was in Moscow when they were?
POM. And your memory is, at the moment your memory is that it's about 11 February.
IP. Yes and I met them soon after. He took me to meet them.