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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Maharaj, Mac [Fourth Interview]


Conducted by Howard Barrell,

Johannesburg, February 3 1991.

I'd like to jump around if I may...


I'd like to start with the strategy and tactics commission at Kabwe. I'm interested to know what the procedure was. Was there a draft presented to the commission at Kabwe? What was the procedure there?

A draft was prepared by a subcommittee, and that draft was circulated to the branches - I don't know how effectively, but it was certainly the draft on the basis of which Kabwe strategy commission looked at the matter. And, because of the debate around the draft and dissatisfaction with the draft really, it became necessary for conference to agree that that would have to be reworked in light of the discussions and taking more into account current developments so that the NEC was empowered then to prepare that.

How long did the strategy and tactics commission at Kabwe actually sit?

I think that those were, the two major commissions were the internal and the strategy. I never attended the strategy commission because I was rapporteur for the internal. But, if I remember, the debates in each of those commissions lasted at least two days...

I was told that - OK, the debate in the commission lasted two days, and then how long was set aside for the conference itself to deal with the reports of those commissions?

The reports of both commissions were presented - the internal and the strategy - were presented one after the other for conference to look at it together. I can't be sure how much time, but I don't think it could have been two hours for both, or two-and-a-half hours at the outside. What you must bear in mind is that these were the two largest commissions. I don't know how many attended and participated in the strategy, but I think the average attendance at the internal was 70 to 100 per session. Strategy may have attracted a slightly smaller stable group. And I think we must bear in mind that JS was rapporteur for that.

For the strategy and tactics commission?

For the strategy, so that, as rapporteur - he's a competent rapporteur - he would have presented matters in such a way that it would have taken in the breadth of discussion. So, two hours, two-and-a-half hours for 256 people may look a short time. But, because of the effectiveness of the way the rapporteur would have presented his report, it became possible to say that conference had dealt with that reasonably adequately.

Now, can we go to the contents of the draft document presented to the commission on strategy and tactics. Did you see this?

Ja, I had seen it.

What was its drift, and what were the areas of dispute or dissatisfaction?

I was in the [United] States, because I remember I was a day late.

In Canada were you?

No, in the United States - I had gone for a Ford Foundation meeting, and I had some other tasks in Europe. So I was a day late, I think, and my memories of that document are vague precisely because I think, even at that stage, it wasn't a document that caught your attention:n: highly general document that dealt with the classes and strata, the class and the national factor, the question of black unity, but it never got to grips - it followed more of less the Morogoro document - but it didn't get to grips with our conduct of the armed struggle, its integration into a concept of people's war, which had already become a matter in a certain sense of lopsided debate, because the paper prepared in the RC days preceding Kabwe on preparing for people's war, again relying on memory, was, if I remember, heavily militaristic.

That's my recollection.

And the result was that - and there was dissatisfaction with its militaristic leanings...

You are talking now about...?

The people's war [document], not because the concept was wrong, but because it left the unfolding of the strategy primarily to the military arena, and left participation of the people in the concept of people's war highly sloganised. So that debate preceded Kabwe, and the Kabwe draft just skimmed over all these problems. Secondly, Kabwe was taking place in 1985, and it was in the middle of the 1984 uprisings. And it is the 1984 - previously people had now and again thrown around words like insurrection - but it [the] 1984 period that really opens up the question both of insurrection and, in my view, precedes, but already in it has incipient, the question of possible negotiations. Now nobody, I think, was prepared to address the question of negotiations at Kabwe. But any serious strategy document would have had to grapple with that problem, too. Because, even if you put forward a thesis for insurrection, you would have to grapple with the problem of how it culminates. So, I think for all these reasons that document was vague, it escaped the problems; it didn't deal with insurrection; it didn't deal with people's war adequately, except at the sloganised level; there was dissatisfaction with it, but I think that conference's contributions and dissatisfactions with the document really boiled down to cadres saying: The leadership is not prosecuting the armed struggle adequately. I think that was the flaw in the debate. Otherwise, the other side of it would be interesting contributions but mainly theoretical, derived from other experiences and not being sufficiently related to South Africa. And that was two sides of the problem in that debate.

Can you remember the other experiences that were looked at?

Vietnam, Cuba, Soviet Union, I think would be the main ones standing at the back of people's minds, but mainly they would be relying on Marxist-Leninist writings.

Was Nicaragua referred to, do you remember?

Nicaragua would be referred to - JS [Slovo] had already begun to refer to Iran, I think - but I am not sure, I am not aware of anybody who had seriously studied Nicaragua. Different people had read one or two books, but no serious study had been made of Nicaragua.

Who had sat on that drafting committee for the initial draft that went to the strategy and tactics commission at Kabwe?

I think it was headed by Thabo [Mbeki] - Thabo, Peter Mayibuye - I don't remember who else. But mainly it would be Thabo. And the trouble with Thabo there - of the record - is that Thabo just writes up things at the last minute. I think Nhlanhla was involved.

Right, so the conference then, during this two-hour session, when it's considering together the reports of the internal and the strategy and tactics commissions, it then decides, does it - and I'm asking the question - to set up a special committee to revise the draft that originally went before the strategy and tactics commission? Is that correct?

To rewrite it.

Does that come as a recommendation from the commission - that conference should take this decision - or does conference decide on its own?

I think it was a recommendation from the commission. But it was re-enforced by the fact that the two reports were taken together and that, independently from the internal, came the view that the matter was so interrelated and inadequately dealt with that these were two aspects of the same problem that needed to be taken. And, secondly, the issue became a little bit - it also became necessary to rewrite because the internal commission report also dealt with the question of the structure; and there was unhappiness with the question of the structures.

What, the structures that had been suggested by the internal commission...?

That had existed before.

Right. Because of the parallelism...?

Parallelism, compartmentalisation, etc. And I think there was another commission sitting, chaired by Nhlanhla - or Nhlanhla was involved in it - that also was unhappy with the structures that existed, because they were inadequate for fulfilling the strategy and tactics of people's war.

Right. Now what commission or committee was Nhlanhla chairing? Is this something at the conference, or outside the conference?

It was at conference. I think it was a commission on structures.

Separate from the internal?

Ja, separate from the internal; separate from the strategy...

And tactics.

I'm not so sure that he was chairing it.

But he was involved.

Ja, I can recall him...

Now can I ask - my understanding of the structures that are decided upon at Kabwe by the structural commission and the structures that are suggested by the internal commission on internal work - both have far-reaching implications for strategy - I mean they come forward with the idea that at least there must be some level of co-ordination, if not integration, of structures, and with suggestions for the formation of RPMCs, bringing together the military and political committees in the forward areas, and also for the formation of APMCs inside the country. Now, do you agree that they did have these implications for strategy, and how would you characterise the assumptions in the structures that are suggested by the internal commission and the structural commission?

Somehow I remember Nhlanhla being very angry at the internal commission report and coming to me and saying so. Because the internal commission report came down very heavily against concepts of "coordination", etc, of the two arms of prosecuting the internal struggle and it insisted on an integrated structure. Nhlanhla was very angry because, as I seem to recall, he felt that the way the matter was presented was too sharp, that he was involved with a commission that had its own solution to this problem based on his experience of being in the RC [PMC??]. Conference merely endorsed that and called it the politico-military council.

Endorsed what? Nhlanhla's view?

No, endorsed the integrated, but endorsed Nhlanhla's proposal for a politico-military council. It did not elaborate the different levels going down. That was supposed to be a job of the PMC together with the NEC. It was again a mechanical application without sitting to examine the problem - that we simply went and said RPMCs, APMCs; and then, once more, the boxes grew up, imposed by people's different theoretical conceptions rather than imposed and growing from the ground. So that became the problem structurally. But, at conference, if I am right, conference merely endorsed completely the idea of an integrated leadership, approved of a Politico-Military Council, I think it named, or I am not so sure if the NEC named, them politico-military councils - I think the NEC named them politico-military councils.

When you say "named" politico-military council - you mean it decided who would serve on it...?

Who would serve on it.

Who would serve on it: that was left as a decision of the NEC?

The NEC.

Now, the PMC, just to confirm, had been set up in 1983.


Right. OK, at this point then, can you deal with, give me an explanation of the conflicting concepts at the conference between the different commissions: what was meant by integration, what was meant by coordination in operational structures?

Conflicts are very difficult to pin down on that issue. Because, it's not as if there was opposition to a unified strategy and a unified structure. The problem was that you have to allow for specialisation. And how do you have a unified structure with specialisation? When there is specialisation at the military level and there is specialisation in the political organisation also? The background to this sort of debate goes back to the RC days, which sort to coordinate, unify, set up senior organs, etc. But, if you look at it - I remember one debate, a certain comrade saying that propaganda was a political job, but there existed an independent propaganda and information department. So they thought: Take a person from propaganda, second him to the RC. But, where in the RC? If he sat independently as just a member of the RC, how do you bring it in line with the politics of the problem? So then you say: Put him in the political committee, or whatever the political structure is called [IRD]. But there, too, he is sitting there coming from DIP where DIP does not sit down and consider home, so he comes without a mandate...

Because it's under the office of the president?

Because it's under the office of the president. And it does not look at problems of internal propaganda. And when it does come up with the idea of internal propaganda, it doesn't consult. And the person who's doing the job is not really involved with home front work. Then you had the hand grenade squads: the military says that's purely a military job. But that's like, almost like armed propaganda. Where does it fall? How do you recruit for the military? Through which arm? And the feeling that the military had entered the field force and, therefore, and had tried to skim everything off for itself and, now, when it's in a dead-end would say: It's a political task to provide the recruits. But you know the problem - you recruit a person from home, or even 10 people who are inside the country, the whole question of servicing and maintaining them is not a mechanical thing: you just don't transfer mechanically. So, military seemed to work on the basis: Just hand them over. And then you would find they are not attended to. Political, if it did cultivate people, didn't attend. Political was always under pressure in recruiting people from home who wanted action. Now, these were some of the debates going on. Then, when the senior organs came up, they were really coordination. The problem was: there was an argument saying: You need a leadership that is integrated, that does not sit and look at problems from the point of view of a particular department that it comes from, and yet has specialisation. Now that does not necessarily follow at every level, [that] you have to have the same kind of structure; because how do you have your line of command running? And I think this is where people were stuck. But the debate never became a consistent debate. And the reason for that is that to me there are two sides to it. The one is the strategy and tactics, and what structures you need to implement that as a leadership body. Then, what specialisations you want according to what the ground was producing. Instead, we veered - we took what structure is needed theoretically and we duplicated it, and we found we were manning it with the same people. And it made no difference just to take a person and say that he's the secretary, he's the chairperson...

When you say the same people, you mean the same people who had been in previous structures which had been characterised by parallelism?

Ja, same people. And they had never received an adequate briefing of what is their new task, how should they examine problems. If you look at the Ibbie trial [Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim], you'll find Ibbie was involved in bookkeeping and he was involved in landmine squads. Now he was supposed to be secretary of the RPMC [in] Swaziland; and then you'll find he was busy servicing somebody who's going to plant landmines. That's not the issue that a secretary should be grappling with. But then it's not his fault; it's not Swaziland's fault. Headquarters, now with those mandates from conference, never sorted it out. But that's the way the debates were going. Comrades would jump up and say: We want an integrated [structure]. I've had discussions with Gebuza [Siphiwe Nyanda] in the country - same problem. It's only here that he began to wake up to the problems that we had to face.

Now, what would your formulation of ideal integration in that period - 1985, 1986 - have been?

I hadn't followed it through at that stage what happens on the ground as you go down, but I certainly was of the view that we were sitting on these bodies, which were supposed to be overall strategising and supervisory a) remote from not only inside the country from the forward areas, because the only people who were really travelling to the forward areas were Cass, myself,

Ronnie [Kasrils] maybe?

Ronnie was at that time not even in the PMC, but he was confined to Mozambique, Swaziland.

What period are we talking about then?

Senior organ, PMC days. Before Kabwe.

Oh, I see.

And, post-Kabwe, when we set up, I think it's post-Kabwe that we set up MHQ, hey?

No, MHQ gets set up in 1983...

1983, but. Ja. And when Ronnie is made MI, you've got another parallel structure.

What, to Nat [ANC's Department of Security and Intelligence]? Parallel to Nat?

Parallel to Nat, parallel to military, parallel to this thing and, as you can see, what happened to Ronnie's structure, it went into Broederstroom. Right?


That's again, because you are sitting in the leadership body in military headquarters; it is a creation that is, in a certain sense, artificial; but, because it is a seven-person military headquarters charged with the task of carrying out armed activity, when they then discuss certain plans, they look at who to do it and they have nobody to do it, so they say: Right, Ronnie [Kasrils]? So Ronnie says: I'd like to do it. Finished - he's forgotten his MI work; he's now busy with that.

When does he send the Broederstroom chaps in?

They got arrested in 1986-87...

Somebody's sending me the trial. I don't have the...

1986-87. But his preparations, clearly, have started 1985. So I am saying: What I was clear [on] conceptually was that you needed a body at the top on a day-to-day hands on way strategising; this body should not draw or be composed in such a way that people were in command of certain sectors; it should be looking at the overall prosecution of the struggle; it should have direct supervisory capacity over every structure concerned with home. This is what we tried to do in Vula.

Ja, now in the choice of the people to man this --let's call it - revolutionary centre, this top organ, what would have been the criteria which you would advance for the selection of the individuals on that body?

I would have reduced it to a body of about seven people. My selection would be that they are totally under their movements-- their work is totally under the direction of that body. There's no other structure that commands them and moves them about. And, if they are required for any other tasks, it must be by permission of this body and by agreement. I would have insisted that their task is home front and that therefore they also have to be composed of people not only from the point of view of ability but their readiness to move all the time to the forward areas in a planned way, and considering moving themselves as a collective forward. And I would have insisted that they should be sending in people, not only to the forward areas, but in. And that was a second complication arising structurally - that you had these neighbouring areas - people gravitated and worked according to convenience from home with whatever forward area. The question which also came up was: Do you divide the country into regions? Let's take Zimbabwe: if you divided it and said: northern Transvaal, and you set up a subcommittee; it was more convenient at times to have people coming to Swaziland, others coming to Mozambique, others coming to Zimbabwe, others coming out in Botswana, and some coming to Lesotho. Now, you could not locate that committee: it would spend it's time too much flying about; and this was a practical problem. Until you moved inside the country, you could not resolve this problem. Therefore, when I say you look at the people in the RC and the PMC, they were not people moving to the forward areas. And if they moved to the forward areas, the majority of the people who did move, their large proportion just jetted in and out. So that was not enough to give them a feel.

How many people sat on the PMC? What was the size of the PMC?

I think the PMC, when it was first named, became something like a 20-person body.

And at the time Vula is set up, is it still at about 20? Or is it larger, smaller?

It was becoming larger...

Larger all the time. Now I asked - my initial question was what criteria would you use...

And the PMC ran into a second problem by the time Vula is coming in - a secretariat is created which is composed not only of the secretary of the PMC but is now composed of others who are not in the PMC.

Serving on the secretariat?

On the secretariat. And the secretariat begins to think that it is the decision-making body.

I see. When is the secretariat established?

Under Jele. It's post-Kabwe.

Post Kabwe.

Under Jele. He takes on Peter Mayibuye, Jane Ngubane and, by the time we were in the country [on Operation Vula], he took on Andrew Mkhize [aka Welile Nhlapo] - all these guys, guys who were now beginning to become in fact flops in the forward areas.

Is Andrew Mkhize the same chap as Welile Nhlapo?

Welile Nhlapo, ja.

When does Jele take over as secretary of the PMC? He takes over from Nhlanhla doesn't he?

He takes over from Nhlanhla after Nhlanhla is appointed to the provisional intelligence and security organ.

Which is what? 1986? Isn't it, when there's that big shake-up in...

1986, ja.

That's in Nat, hey?


And can I just check with you the official name of Nat is National Intelligence and Security, or is it National Security and Intelligence?

Oh, I don't know. We just called it Nat.

Right. Now the criteria you were suggesting for this seven-person body: I presume these criteria would have very little, or nothing, to do with the racial composition of, or the race of these particular individuals? What you would be looking for would primarily be your most advanced political, strategic animals? Would that be correct? How would you see the criteria for their choice in relation to national, ethnic, tribal sensitivities?

Those factors could all - first of all, it would naturally happen, in the very composition of the ANC, that, yes, you may have one, two Indians, whites; but I don't think that was the body where you accommodate all these national, ethnic factors. Those accommodations should be made lower down the line, because I think that was the trap of the PMC and the RC: you therefore needed a coloured; you never articulated that you needed a coloured, and so therefore you had to put Reg September, whereas everybody knew he had no competence for it. So, that's not the point at which I would do it. And, secondly, doing it in terms of merit and competence would not make it dominated by non-Africans. It would naturally have a predominant African composition. So, I think that's a non-starter...

Not a factor. Right. I asked the question because of a conversation I had last night with somebody. Now, if we go to the committee that is appointed by the Kabwe conference to re-look at strategy and tactics and the production of a new document, my understanding is that the only regular people attending - regularly attending the work of this committee - up until certainly the period in which you seriously become involved in Vula is Jordan as chairperson, Slovo. Makana, yourself [Maharaj]. And that these four people are the essence of this committee. There might occasionally be the odd other person but these are the only four who regularly attend meetings. I presume we are looking at the period 1985-86, perhaps into 1987.

That committee was appointed by the NEC. And I think in the dynamics of the ANC, already the Kabwe conference had shown up a problem - that's looking at it in hindsight, but looking at it at that time - to have Pallo [Jordan] as, funny term in our movement, "convenor" - Pallo was convenor...

Not chairperson?

Not chairperson.


And a convenor has very little powers. And even if he had been chairperson, the people that he was dealing with he could not command, he could not command.

In other words, he could not command them to come to a meeting?

To come to a meeting, to have some say over their timetables, to pull them together as a team. And he didn't have the capacity, he doesn't have the capacity to present a draft, which the chairperson would have had to do. And the problem is that the people who could really have been effective as the chair were a) not willing because they found the issues very big to grapple with - I think JS [Slovo] himself had lost interest after the Kabwe conference; I think Thabo [Mbeki] was not prepared to serve effectively on it; and even if Thabo had chaired it, had the position to pull it together, if he exercised himself, but he was not willing. And, by appointing Pallo, I think it was a certainty that it wouldn't work.

Because he was a relatively junior member of the NEC, relatively young, not a powerful individual, or what?

No experience of home.

No experience of home, ja.

No experience of home.

Why do you say that JS [Slovo] had lost interest?

JS [Slovo] had run into trouble over his draft of people's war, Preparing for People's War, and JS's running from one issue to another at different moments had begun to catch up with him within those structures in the sense that he would never show a continuity in the development of his thought, but would always claim credit

Would always...?

Want to claim credit that he is doing the innovative thinking, and people were very conscious that, if he tried to examine the problems of the movement and the way forward, often he contributed to the problems, even though his theoretical writings appeared to be the other way. So I think that he had been running into problems, and I think that this is about the time that he is becoming general secretary of the [SA communist] party.

He takes it up formally, I think, is 1986, hey?

Mabhida is already ineffective. And so I think that JS ran into problems there.

So does the appointment of somebody of Pallo's [Jordan] inexperience and relative lack of seniority indicate a certain lack of seriousness in the movement about resolving this issue of strategy and tactics? Can we say that?

Ja, I think there was a strand of thinking that preparing a strategy and tactics document at this stage was becoming unimportant relative to the problems that were cropping up. I think already hardly had Kabwe finished the debate on insurrection is beginning to open up; it hadn't been debated adequately at conference, but the lessons of the 1984 uprisings were beginning to come through. And then you have a person like Nhlanhla who would dismiss everything - you don't know what view he's holding, but he would oppose any view that came. I recall him opposing insurrection vigorously, as presented by JS. But you never knew whether he was opposing insurrection or whether he had a different conception of insurrection. Because 1984-1985, 1986 had, to me, produced the phenomenon that you now not only looked at the uprising but you looked at the composition of the police force and the army. And there had already taken place a distinct change in the composition of the police force and the army. And the one, long-standing issue that made insurrection not feasible in South Africa whenever you debated it theoretically - although the 1962 [SA communist party] programme does mention insurrection - but the issue was always dismissed when you began to discuss it with any level of seriousness, because the classics always referred to the role of the armed forces. And, when you looked at 1984, 1985, 1986, you began to see the effect of the change in the army, and people were able to - and JS [Slovo] didn't grab that point. But in discussions these issues began to come to the fore. Previously we talked about - in the RC, when we talked about doing things about organising the armed forces, the blacks in the armed forces and propaganda against the whites in the armed forces, nothing really happened. In fact the only leaflet that was produced - serious - was one from outside; but it was when I got in the country [during Operation Vula] that we began to produce and set up a special structure for mobilising the armed forces.

Why is there no regular military participation [in the strategy and tactics committee]? JS [Slovo], OK, continues as chief of staff of MK up until 1986 when he formally leaves to become general secretary of the [SA communist] party. So, in the early period, up until JS makes that move, there is at least some military participation. But I understand that, once JS becomes general secretary of the party, we don't get somebody from the military meetings of this committee. Why is there this apparent lack of interest or lack of participation by the military in this committee?

Because the military, MHQ, inherited a massive problem from Special Operations, from the fact that really effective military work was done from Mozambique when JS [Slovo] was based in Mozambique. That's a straight reality. And, when JS and them are turfed out of Mozambique [after the Nkomati Accord], that's it from JS's side. And the loss of Barney [Molokoane], the loss of Obadi [Mokgabudi] - key people through whom JS could work - and the most senior person then in operations then being Rashid, who already from the very beginnings of special operations always had a problem at the level of commanding forces, then the question of who should be head of Special Operations now? To appoint Victor [??] was to appoint a person who had no strategic conception.

Who is Victor? I don't know Victor.

Victor worked with Rashid. He was involved with the Pretoria car bomb, with Voortrekkerhoogte, etc. But he was an operator. But, to make him commander, [he was a] non-starter.

We don't have a real name, or full name for Victor?

I don't know his real name. I only know him as Victor. Barney [Molokoane] had already been...


Very good, but not commander material, not commander material. Not commander material for Special Operations. The strength of Special Operations [was] it had a direct, daily intervention and control by JS [Slovo]. And, once JS begins to pull away from that - now MHQ inherited a problem from that legacy because of the relative to other things [the] spectacular results of Special Ops.

Of Special Ops.

In the meantime, every other scheme, when handed to anybody else, like, say, JM [Modise] never had a consistent follow-up. And when JS gets to Lusaka, although he's excited about being in Lusaka for a while, but I don't think he stops to look at why he is becoming non-productive. And he's becoming non-productive because he's gone far away from his lines of command. You cannot intervene on a day-to-day basis, unblock and get people moving. And JS, I think, thought that he could rely on the people that were there, but he didn't realise that it was because he was in Maputo and he was pushing and that they were working from one front. Special Operations with Rashid and Victor is already thinking of doing ordinary day-to-day small operations, because they are now thinking of building up small units of their own.

Who is commanding Special Ops now? Victor?

I think it was Rashid, but I think he came to the debate. Then you have Ronnie [Kasrils] - now he's MI - and Ronnie seems to feel there's a space created for him to produce results. Then you have Chris [Hani] who is, as commissar, preoccupied with the problems in the camps, but is touching everything and just leaving it. And nobody has yet seen whether that is a characteristic which has grown up in his style of work. It should have been seen if we looked at the effectiveness of Lesotho in all the years that he was there; but we didn't see it. And by the time JS [Slovo] leaves, Chris [Hani] is deputy commander, and then you have this major blunder where Chris persuades OR [Tambo] that he should make Chris the Chief of Staff but simultaneously carry the post of deputy head [of MK].

Instead of having the commissar as deputy head?

Ja. The conception of the commissar as deputy head of MK was a conception borne out of the special role of the commissar. It was fine when Chris was commissar but, when he shifted...

[brief interruption of interview by third party]

So I am saying that here was, looking back, a fundamental flaw which unearthed the paucity of competent people at headquarters. Once you shifted the deputy commandship to move to chief of staff, you demonstrated that you were moving it with the person.


What could Chris do more as chief of staff than he could do as deputy head? Say this: he had failed to create a commissariat. Had he created a commissariat, or gone along that road, he would have been able to delegate authority, he would have been able to give more attention to this task. So it demonstrates the paucity at that level. And, for the leadership to agree to that position, demonstrated that it now had - either it was a backhanded recognition that military headquarters' creation was a premature creation or that to prosecute the struggle from a headquarters in Lusaka was not feasible any more. One of the two things was involved in that decision.

Can you hold on one second?

[End of Side A]

Carry on.

So, I think the question why there were no people from the military was an unimportant question. Because again it would have made the strategy commission representative rather than a competent body...


Rather one should ask the question, I think rather you should ask the question by taking a name such as Chris - to say: Why wasn't he in the commission [committee] ab initio? Or you want to take Ronnie [Kasrils]: Why wasn't he there? But you see the strategy commission was not conceived - it was not appointed as if it will be a place where real, vigorous debate will take place.

What was it appointed as then?

It was treated by the NEC that, agh, it's just a little thing to write together: You've got the draft presented to Kabwe; you've got the debates; you've got the commission report; finished and klaar, you've got no problem; just sit down and write.

Why this attitude?

Because, it may be a harsh statement to make and I would perhaps be hard-put to prove it, but I think that the story of the movement has been that the most seminal documents have been produced by one, two, three individuals sitting down and then putting it to a collective. And, invariably because of the sheer competence of those documents and the people who drafted [them], where it was not a question of just fighting ability, slowly people thought that it's pie, it's just a technical job. They didn't stop to realise that the strategy commission would have to engage in very, very serious debate and study. To give an example: when MK was formed, I know that Madiba [Mandela] was reading just about everything. I remember I was in London...

[Interview interrupted briefly by phone call]

When Madiba was, when I was in London, coming back from my training, there was a massive request: All books on counter-insurgency in Malaya; all books on Burma; Che Guevara's work; Mao Tse Tung's work; what happened in the Cameroons. And, when I cam in, when I landed in prison, I found that Madiba had been studying all of them. Right? Now there wasn't anybody in Lusaka like that any more. Why? I think the years had taken [their] own toll. Because you don't study the thing unless you think that you are responsible. And it's not a question of whether you are commander of MK, or deputy commander or chief of operations, but you would expect that people who are put into the body with the over-all head would be seriously studying. And you had people like Nhlanhla - I mean, Nhlanhla was, if you look back, I think he was imposed on the RC, PMC, with no experience of home front; and [he was] a person who thought he knew everything. And so he had his own disability. So I think here are some of the factors that explain why that strategy committee was a non-starter.

So then you don't every report until, I understand, just before Sisulu is released, which is in 1989?

No, a report is, I think, filed by Pallo at one stage. He said the strategy committee is not meeting; it's not done any work; it just can't get going. And the NEC merely exhorts the body to meet and do its damn job, and that's it.

So there is no demand that a senior individual from the military attend that committee as a creative and innovative voice once JS is, becomes [SA communist] party secretary?

Strictly speaking, Howard, who ought to be the fly-wheel of that commission [committee]? Not military, not political; it should have been the secretary of the PMC.

Who at that point is Jele?


Does he attend this committee?

No. And he wouldn't want to.

Why do you suggest he wouldn't want to?

Because he's not a person to stick his head out and say: Right, here's my standpoint; here's my position.

And this would be a personal characteristic of his?

Ja, a personal characteristic.

You mentioned, before we went on tape...

Take his experience. I'm digressing. He's been in Mozambique. But, once he returned from the Mozambique campaign, he vanishes. He's no more on the home front.

He goes to Prague, doesn't he?

He goes to Prague. He goes to - what's it - the World Peace Council. And deputy head of International Department. And then returns to Lusaka. But that was the nearest he got to home. And you would say: Perhaps one of the most promising cadres. But I think he just lost heart of any more being a competent in Mozambique.

Now, before we went on tape, you mentioned security and an unwillingness to perhaps make available a document on strategy and tactics in this period, post-1985, was one factor in the committee not reporting before 1989. Can you just explain? Did I understand you correctly?

Ja. I would sum it up this way. You already had the UDF grow up at home. Now, a number of us are on record in putting the question of the relationship with the UDF in such a way that it made the Delmas trialists fairly impregnable to prosecution. If you had to move for insurrection you needed to have overt mass organs, but in such a way that they occupied a legal space that did not make them vulnerable. To put forward an insurrectionary perspective the way many comrades were doing it was, in my mind, counter-productive.

Because why? Because it made available this kind of perspective?

Because it not only made available the perspective; it made the enemy look at the structures that would be doing it, that would be needed. And therefore it made the structures vulnerable. The more correct way, in my view, was that you had to grapple with the problem of how to transfer the leadership to home. Then you could talk about it. If you had a leadership at the underground located in the country you could talk. Because then, whatever the battering the mass organisations took, you had present here, hidden from the enemy, personnel who were interacting with these forces, who were prepared, even when they were detected, to have created the conditions where they could continue to survive and provide leadership. Insurrection cannot be led from far.

Now, were you arguing this on the committee? You yourself?

Yes, it converged in a number of discussions. But I don't think we had enough, any real formal sessions on this question. But it converged - for instance, the discussions that we were having on APCs, why did they fail, what's the thing needed next? - it converged with the discussion and decision [for Vula]. People say 1987 now; I think it was 1986 which led to Vula.

I want to come to that. But can we just stay with this committee for a short while longer?


Did you have any support for this view when it came up on this committee about the need to transfer leadership inside the country? Can you remember individuals on this committee supporting you?

Theoretically, it was always supported.



But, ja. But what, by the way?

Looking back, there was a group of people who said, Yes, but who maintained in other places a position that you had to first create the conditions.

I see: The conditions weren't ripe.

And then I think you had others who were now already shifting. By 1987, were shifting away altogether from the conception that the primary pillar had to be action.

Sorry, action on what? Putting a leadership inside?

Both a leadership inside and the form of action the people should take. They had begun to perceive the possibility of negotiations.

Would you care to name some people who you think...?

I think the key person in that is Thabo [Mbeki]; he's the key person.

And others?

Madiba had already taken his shots in prison - independently but in a different way. And I think that Mafue really opened up for the external [mission] the question of possible deals and negotiations.

Mafue is the meeting with Relly?

Relly. I think you remember: I met you after that in Harare.


Somehow, I always span a sort of middle position on these questions. I don't dismiss negotiations.

Now, can we talk about the genesis of Vula? How does the genesis arise in this - and I know you have been thinking about it since, what, shortly after the time you come out, 1978 through to 1980, 1981. And I want to come back - perhaps it's my last question, we can give us some time at the end as to why you may or may not have thought that something like Vula was indeed a possibility in 1980-1981. But I want to stick now with this 1985-86 period. What is the genesis of Vula?

There's always the running criticism that the reason why military struggle cannot advance beyond a certain level is that there is no viable political underground, and that it is not producing the goods. That always led to the circular argument of where do you move. In the meantime in the country, eruptions are taking place. And, even after 1976, JS [Slovo] is talking about the next eruption. And the January 8 statements always work on the basis of the next eruption. But, when 1984 takes place, again we are not ready, and we haven't done anything practical. JS had come from the military side with the question of, had been pushing the line that we must locate handgrenades, etc etc, in caches, large caches, so that when the moment arrived you would be able to distribute it. He hadn't been addressing the question of the structure and the infrastructure needed, and the fact that the caches were not placed led to blocking our minds to seeing the problem. But the structure problem - the infrastructure, the placing in of leadership people - is something that some of us had been pursuing all the time.

Who besides yourself? Who seriously, apart from yourself...?

It would be a number of comrades who began to grow up in the internal, certainly persons like Ivan [Pillay]; people in the forward areas were following that thinking.


But after Kabwe, what happens is that the NEC is instructed to meet once every two months, I think. And it does begin to meet. And it is agreed that, in the spirit of Kabwe and in terms of its decisions, the NEC has got to address the internal developments; it must the leadership. I think three or four meetings take place where, when we discuss internal, the same presentation is made, both by the internal political and by military. The gist of that presentation is: No real progress. And it becomes a boring thing to have that item because all that happens is that, after you show that there is no real progress - whatever the reports that are presented, the discussion shows nothing really dramatic, no qualitative change. The discussion becomes: Well, you'd better pull up your socks, and something's got to be done; by the next meeting there must be progress. Finish. No real suggestion is coming forward on how to move forward. Same debate. I'm worried. I'm saying: We've got to move into the situation; we can't command and control from far. Nobody opposes it, but nothing happens. Others [are] saying that the political is not making advances, and the political response is: You are poaching, etc, etc; and different lines of communication and no real integration; it's really just coordination. And others coming [to] one meeting to say: Great progress made in Botswana - there's an RPMC set up and blah, blah, blah; finish. And Swaziland coming, saying: We've got Butterfly project; we've got this project; big promises, but nothing. So I think by the third or fourth meeting, it's where this thing crops up...

What are wee looking at now?


Oh, 1986.

That's why I say 1986. I think Kabwe takes place in, when is it?

June-July 1985.

June-July 1985 - I think that, four, five [meetings of the NEC]. It's 1986, before mid-1986. Because the uprisings are petering out. The report is presented again; there is a discussion; the discussion is closed. There's a tea break, and I go up to Chris [Hani] and [Jacob] Zuma. And I think up to JS [Slovo] first, and I said: Look, JS, you know that I think the problem here is that - and everyone is saying that this is the usual thing - you know the problem here is this: we are not making headway because this is a sensitive task. And JS says: Ja, ja, ja. I say: No, I am thinking differently. OK, he's not very impressed. I go to Chris [Hani], I go to Zuma: Ja, ja, you've got a point. I say: It needs a formula to handle this problem. So the three of us discuss it. And, when we see that we are in agreement that we should have a small committee made up of the president and probably JS [Slovo] to take charge of this, that, amongst the three of us, we say: Let's go and see OR [Tambo]. So we go to see OR.

This is who now - you, Chris...

And Zuma. We go to see OR [Tambo] during the same break. We say: This is the problem. And OR listens to us and he says: Well, put the proposal to the meeting; let's see what the meeting says. So, when we resume, Chris turns up and makes the proposal. OR [Tambo], JS [Slovo]. Zuma stands up and supports it. And it is a measure of the NEC that no discussion took place. The meeting just said: Right, agreed. OR [Tambo] then interrupts the meeting and says: No, you are taking a very serious decision here; it means everybody in this room.

Can you just formulate the gist of that decision?

The decision is that, in order to send in senior people from the NEC level into the country, a special committee, comprising the president [Tambo] and JS [Slovo] is appointed; their task is to take charge of this type of mission, whether on a short-term or long-term basis; it's a free hand; they are empowered to conduct this work without reporting to the NEC; they may choose the moment at which they wish to report progress; and they are given a blank cheque to conduct [reception??].

OK, thanks.

OR [Tambo] then says: Look, it means everybody in this room must be available; it means that you are giving us those powers. And intervene to say: Look this is a very sensitive task and I think it should be left to volunteers; nobody should feel pressured. And OR says: No; no way. But that's a side discussion; it doesn't become integral to the resolution. So that resolution is taken there.

So what is the decision then? For me this is not a side point because I can see it being an issue raised by people. What is the decision? Is it then that everybody must then be available on command, or is it volunteers?

The decision is that OR [Tambo] and JS [Slovo] have a blank cheque. They can command; they can choose to call volunteers. It is up to them.


And they would determine who, what, when, according to their assessment of the over-all position of the movement. So that's the genesis of Vula.

Thank you very much. Now, can we go back to 1980-81. I remember your saying in an earlier discussion - but we weren't able properly to explore it - why was it your view, as I understand it from a previous interview, that in 1980-81, it was indeed possible to have embarked upon some quasi-Vula type operation inside the country?

In my view, it would have been more than Vula at that stage. I think that there was still a certain freshness in the NEC - the same people were there - and in the RC. And a sense of excitement that, in the Anti-Republic campaign, although it was not planned that way, there was a convergence, an interlinking and a reinforcement of politico-military work. Each component was reinforcing the other, and a sense that the two had to move in an integrated way was running high. The Anti-Republic campaign had opened up the possibility that mass mobilisation was now not going to be something left to spontaneous forces; that it now required structural arrangements. And, I think again the Anti-Republic campaign lays the basis for the UDF. At the NEC level, the conception of united mass action for people's way has concretised. The enemy, by having - and I am extrapolating here - by having selected a month for the republic celebrations - never understood the situation. And it was proof that they never understood that when they decided to celebrate for a month, they are handing the movement a golden opportunity to build up towards a point. So it showed the enemy was completely under-estimating us. Therefore, to set about creating those structures at that time was the best moment in our history.

Do you think the potential existed inside the country for somebody like yourself to come in and enjoy the relative security that did you did, say, in the period when you did come in later, the late 1980s?

They existed even better.

Why would you say even better?

The popularity of the movement in the key sectors of the activists was now running high. They, too, sensed the convergence and interlinking of military and political action, and mass action, controlled by an overall revolutionary force. The enemy was not on guard. Cadres were coming in with impunity. Special Operations had not reached its heyday, which meant that comrades like JS [Slovo] still had a verve in them. And a core of the Obadis [Mokgabudi] etc, whom we lost, were there, coming up and available. In the camps, there was a sense of optimism. And Vula did not rely on an internal network for its survival: it brought in a certain infrastructure. Voortrekkerhoogte relied on it; Broederstroom in a certain sense relied on it: all these come after that event, after 1981. But already there had been an experience of bringing in that sort of internationalist to provide infrastructural support. The casualty had been the Moumbaris trial. But the enemy never realised also what a potential we had in the international forces to create that infrastructure that would not be detectable. And I think that the middle-level cadre outside was rearing to go, but rearing to go not yet in a negative; it was rearing to go in the sense that, if you grappled with the problems of integration, people's war, it would have been more responsive that to get locked into theoretical debates.

Now, you raise an intriguing point. You say that in 1980-81, well 1981, that the military and political are feeding into each other; there is this kind of groundswell feeling of: We must move towards integration; these two [military and political] are intrinsically and symbiotically linked. When does that come apart? When do we find that these two are actually, when is the end of this?

There is also a negative lesson in 1981 in the Anti-Republic campaign - that it is largely an accidental phenomenon that the two feed into each other. And that accidental phenomenon is by the regime handing it to us by having a month-long celebration. Then there is the role of the media. That, by announcing that we were going to lead an Anti-Republic campaign, even blasts and simple sabotage actions months before that, were beginning to be reported by journalists who were becoming favourably disposed to the struggle, and others who were favourably disposed, to reporting it as building up. Right? The result was that it encouraged people that way. There were a few people at the top who were encouraging this process. But the structures remained independent. Now, the negative lesson was that certain people then thought: Keep them independent; it will result in that. They didn't stop to say: What were the ingredients that contributed to the masses perceiving it [them] as relating to each other.

And what were those ingredients?

Media - vital - the fact that you could build-up; the fact that you got the Anti-Republic committees going, off the ground; they were encouraging in turn, by the way, the way the media reported; the way certain people in the leadership talked to them on the ground; and the result was that a whole set of dynamics were released which many, many people - I myself, I don't think that I saw it that clearly. It is after the Anti-Republic campaign, in analysing the lessons of it, that I see it. That, looking at it now, I say that there were these negative features. Because the assumption was left: We carry on as we are doing it - it will result.

It's 3.30. Do you want...?

OK, have you got any...?

I've got one last thing. How serious - Can we go the mutiny in 1983-84 in the camps in Angola? What is the effect of that mutiny? Can you briefly outline the causes of that mutiny, as you see them, and the effects on the capacity of the movement to move forward, its morale?

1983? Aren't you talking about the 1981.

No, 1983-84 in Angola.


You know the - there are several camps...

Ja, ja, that's the mutiny. But the precursor to the mutiny is 1981.

Which is that? The attempted sort of coup in Lusaka?


With Piper?

Piper and company.


The negative and positive features. For the first time, we become aware that the regime had been planning its infiltration pre-1976. Piper is pre-, his preparation...

His preparation? But he comes out in 1976...

He comes out in 1976. So it showed that the enemy had developed a strategy to deal with us even before, but it took advantage of 1976. It's not as if 1976 happened and then it happened. And Piper illustrated that they had long-range planning in this thing. Negative in that - well, also positive in that we smashed it quietly, without dissipating our energy to push the Anti-Republic campaign. And it was a serious threat. Negative [in] that at that moment, those who dug up and dealt with this attempt of the Pipers hit many innocent people too.

In 1981?

Ja. Used many methods that are unacceptable. But their very success in destroying it closed our minds to the excesses involved.

Are we talking about excesses from the security department?

Excesses not just from security department. Security department didn't smash it. It was the RC that smashed it; it was the RC that smashed it.

Was it good intelligence work on the part of the RC or elements feeding into the RC, or was it co-incidental?

It was accidental. Nobody dreamt that Piper was working for the enemy. Piper had finished Lenin School, had come to Lusaka, was in a group of six people being prepared by me for deployment inside the country and in the forward areas. They began to behave in different ways. Piper then was rejected; he was moved away from the house. He was also [SA communist] party. He was being sent to Angola, not for investigation but for a whole lot of loose conduct. And, when he is told to move to Angola, by giving him advance notice, he ups and runs.

Does he run to Botswana? Is that correct?

He runs to Botswana, with Oshkosh.

Oshkosh is who? Another...?

Was working at the airport, and who ran, without a passport, without authorisation - they were able to get tickets, they were able to get through Zimbabwe immigration. This alerts us at the RC that there is a bigger problem. Nat is ineffective at that time. The RC takes over. Joe Modise, Peter Dlamini, who was also in Nat, Boroko, others - Boroko was in Maputo. Infiltrators had been coming in and being caught. But capturing Oshkosh and Piper and bringing them back leads to Piper collapsing on the plane from Lusaka to Angola. And that - now I am busy with Anti-Republic - but when I come back to Lusaka, I am in the middle of a thing that's being smashed up, left, right and centre. And I, too, don't stop to look at the negative features, what's being done. Here is a threat; it's got to be smashed. That is the precursor to the mutiny in the sense that it made us insensitive to grievances that were real. Because naturally the success in smashing it meant that, when you have a mutiny, the first thing you have to look [for] is for the enemy agent. It is much later that you start looking at your excesses and the genuine grievances. That's not now wisdom of the enemy; that's normal psychology of the problem. And I would therefore say that the mutiny had genuine grievances. A sense of the cadres sitting in the camps, the 1976 generation sitting there and saying: When do we go? When do we go?


Home. A corruption going up in the command structures. And it is clear whether you talk about the TZs [Thami Zulu], whether you talk about the Obadis, or whether you talk about the Ndogozos - they all began to develop a certain level of corruption in Angola. Generation after generation. And living there it is understandable, that corruption. But they were developing it...

When we talk about corruption, what kind of corruption are we talking about?

Creating privileged positions for themselves at command level, vis a vis the membership, insensitivity to the membership...

Things like what: food, transport...

Food, transport, liquor, women, comforts - combined with the command structure then treating, and supported by RC people, the military people who are going to Angola and visiting it regularly - combined with them supporting the view that anybody who got up with grievances was a troublemaker, was possibly enemy. and therefore, these command structures based in the region began to become corrupt at that level, too. They would hide their excesses and their immoral practices on the grounds that the people were troublemakers, possibly enemy agents. And there was poisoning in the camps and all those - it all fuelled that attitude. But it created the regional command and this up-and-coming generation to become corrupt in its practice and insensitive, more insensitive to the grievances of the men.

And the effect of that mutiny? By the time one gets to Kabwe, the thing, the mutiny has been quelled. What is the effect on the movement's general morale, its efficacy, by the time it gets to Kabwe?

Positive and negative again. The very success of smashing the mutiny leads to a greater insensitivity to people coming up with grievances. Also, people with grievances now, instead of articulating grievances, some came to Kabwe in order to deal with individuals in the leadership, and therefore allowed others to close ranks in the interests of the struggle - even the young people. Negative also in the sense also that it was not Kabwe that alerted or made the movement sensitive to excesses in the security department. That had to come later. At the leadership level, a sensitivity that there is a genuineness - people want to move home, people want to fight, they want to engage with the enemy - but the failure to implement APCs etc leaves no real basis except pumping in people, and that is how campaigns like Zikomo and all developed with Ronnie [Kasrils] and them...

What is Zikomo?

It was an operation to pump in cadres into the country.

This is from Zimbabwe? The rural...?

Botswana, etc. Swaziland.

Oh, Zikomo. This is just after the Kabwe conference? This means "thank you" in one of the main Zambian languages...

I think so. I don't know what was the meaning of it. But I know that...

How would I spell Zikomo?

I think it's Z-I-K-O-M-O. But I think that Ronnie [Kasrils] and them were the main architects of that. JS [Slovo] was there. I remember my quarrel with Zikomo was that you are pumping in these cadres - what is their briefing? And the argument that they gave me is: No, Ronnie and company are briefing the cadres; therefore they are getting a proper political briefing. It then began to combine with a problem - I think in some people's mind - that you were then accommodating the grievance of the people by taking them home. But it had a negative result in that you were taking them home like canon fodder, to put it crudely. So the mutiny closed our, helped once more to keep minds shut to addressing, first of all becoming aware what the grievances were, that certain levels of grievances are addressable up to a point when they want drafts and they want games and they want this and they want tents and mosquito nets; but the other problem, of wanting to go home, never got addressed adequately because it raises the question of: Are you creating the structures to receive them? Right. And Zikomo illustrated that you were going to just pump in cadres and expect - it was back to the foci. It was back to foci.

Thanks a hell of a lot.

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.