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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Kasrils, Ronnie [Third Interview]


Conducted by Howard Barrell,

Johannesburg, October 28 1990

OK, what I'd like to start off with is this period in the early 1970s, the time of the "Aventura" episode; one thing that was called "Operation Chelsea" and there was another operation which was similar - and I don't know whether they were just two versions of the same thing, in other words the attempt to return people to South Africa in the early 1970s. But can you tell me in the early 1970s of your attempts to return people?

Ja, where did you get the name Chelsea from?

From one of the documents I was allowed to see in Lusaka in June-July last year...

Which, I think, was the Aventura - I am sure it was. so you are talking about attempts to return people?

Ja. OK in 1974, we have the coup in Portugal. But let's concentrate on the period before that.

Well, when you ask about the return of people, I don't know what you have in mind. Are you talking about combatants - MK guerillas who had come out or, plus the kind of Jeremy Cronin...?

The political, propaganda - if we can deal with them separately.

Ja. Well, let's talk about the preparation of underground political activists. I reached England late in 1965. Joe Slovo was there, Jack Hodgson and Dadoo - principal people at this stage and for the next decade and a half...

This is in London?

In London, ja. Of course, Robert Resha was there, Tennyson Makiwane must have come round about late 1960s as well from East Africa. But it was very much a period of regrouping, 1965-66, when comrades in London are, to quite a great degree, cut off form home and from Tanzania. It's the period of Bram Fischer, is arrest in 1966, his capture...

1965, November...

Was it as early as that, November?

It's the same day that Rhodesian UDI was declared - November 11.

Oh, right. For the first few months that I was in London, Slovo interviewed me, saw Hodgson, Dadoo, and it was very much a period of marking time. We were trying to sort out what our roles would be and how to utilise our position in London. By mid-1966, or even earlier actually, we were formed into a committee dealing with the home front from London.

Was this a [SA communist] party committee, or an ANC committee?

Initially a party committee...

What was it called? Can you tell me?

No name, just a committee, and we also handled ANC work. But it was set up initially on [SA communist] party initiative.

Who headed it?

Dadoo is the chair and Slovo is the secretary. And it's just myself and Hodgson. So our role was related to propaganda, getting propaganda into the country, and also looking for people who could work with us. By the time Chief Lutuli died...

Which is 1967...

1967, hey, that's Luthuli's death. And the Wankie Campaign?

Starts 1967, 67...

1967, July, August. And Lutuli died in July, hey?

I think so, something like that.

OK, that wasn't our first material. So, in 1966, I had found some people who took leaflets into the country for us. They happened to be South Africans who were out on holiday. There was one South African, a sister of a contact of mine who was going back after a holiday - actually wasn't political at all, but sympathetic because of the brother. She was the first person. And she agreed after I spoke to her to take a suitcase full of leaflets which she posted for us. We gave her the mailing list. I think we must have typed up the addresses on labels to minimise her effort. I still know her, just a sympathiser, never actually go involved, but was quite prepared to do it, had the guts. We had started producing material, which we were posting from London and I happened to come across the fact that she was leaving. And I said: Listen, I've got someone to take it in; all we have to do is organise the camouflage. So Jack Hodgson and I sat down to making the, designing this - and it was mainly him, he was very good at this kind of thing. And we had to work quite quickly before we hit on the best way of basically making a false bottom in the suitcase. And we devised a way, made out of fibre glass, making a mould in the suitcase and then papering it over. When you opened it up, it made a cracking sound like a pistol going off [Laughter]. So this was it. I remember by 1967, with the death of Lutuli, his funeral and the Wankie Campaign, by then we were doing ANC work. I think that first leaflet, ja, it was on the [SA communist] party, that's right.

Do you remember what it was called?

Ja,.now I remember, it was an anniversary of the party. So, if it was 1966, we are talking about the what anniversary of the party would that be? The 45th anniversary.

Ja, I think you're right, something like that...

It was the 45th anniversary of the [SA communist] party, a pamphlet which we produced. And you know it featured Bram Fischer, amongst others. He was on trial. That was the first leaflet; it was a good leaflet. Quite a few of us contributed to it. I think there were at least about four different items - four-page leaflet, pamphlet, 45 years of the party. With the opening of the Wankie Campaign and the death of Lutuli, I mean I wanted to make a bigger impact with our propaganda. By then we were sending a lot of scruff in. Maybe every three, four months, we were posting African Communists in. We had roped in other comrades into subcommittees, propaganda committee and so on, under this head committee of Dadoo, Slovo. And we now in 1967 decided to really send back a lot of, to do a big job. And by then I was at the London School of Economics, so I had a lot of student contacts, very good people, among them young communists in the YCL - actually not from the LSE, there weren't any. The LSE was mainly Trotskyists - people who would be regarded that way, belonged to the Socialist Society, International Socialists. There were Americans, anti-Vietnam war [people]. And I went down quite well with this wide-ranging grouping of people; had good friends. And we sent out about half a dozen different people, who went in with our false bottomed suitcases. And by then it wasn't simply a question of posting leaflets, but we were doing more active propaganda. With Jack, who was the technical chief - we had a small technical committee, we were devising ways of actively distributing propaganda. And he had developed a timing device which was a little timer which is the type used on a key ring for your car when you've parked it in a meter - it had quite a powerful spring on it which was released when the time was up. And he affixed a razor to this. We used that in conjunction with, say, a package of leaflets tied up above the street on top of a building. And you could set it for five minutes for anything up to an hour or so and, when the spring was released, the blade would come around and it would cut some nylon or string holding the pamphlets, which would then drop into the street. And this could work in conjunction with a slogan painted on a length of material as a banner which would then unfurl. And, in fact, the leaflets could be wrapped in that. So you would just hang this above street level, and the blade would cut the string which had held the banner up in a scroll, like wrapped up, and this would unfurl, releasing the leaflets. So, we sent in half a dozen people, some to Durban, some to Johannesburg to try this out. Alex Moumbaris was one of the people concerned, right. I had got to know him through the Young Communist League in Britain.

Is this still 1967,66...?

Ja, started working with him in 1967. Very committed activist type. And these guys came in, didn't know each other - sometimes we had worked them in pairs, if they had a friend they could trust and so on. We would give them a bit of training in Britain. And very strong briefing, a lot of preparation in fact. The preparation for this, if we were sending six people off with this instruction and work, I mean something like three, four weeks before one was working with them, training with them, carrying out rehearsals indoors, and so on. And of course, giving them instructions about the city, where to go and how to behave, what legend to use if they had problems at customs on their entering, usually along the lines of not knowing, just carrying this for somebody else who was going to come and pick it up. And that worked quite well. I remember we got a bit of publicity. Everything worked correctly. In fact, I think the one that got publicity was Alex Moumbaris'. He hung his up at a garage in Durban, Pine Street, there are parking garages, and he went up and left his package there. And there was a report in one of the Sunday papers about this. ANC flag and, on the end of the banner, the colours at least, with a slogan like "ANC Lives" or "Forward to Freedom". There was one humorous anecdotes out of this. One of the guys - he happened to be an American, and you know how open these guys tend to be - I had given him a long briefing about how to behave and not to draw attention to himself. And he comes back and he's telling me quite nonchalantly about the story in the hotel he was staying in. And he was saying: Hell, you know, it's really crazy out there, the attitude of whites. He said: You know I was in this hotel, sort of fairly cheap - we weren't sending them to five star Holiday Inns - and the bathroom was in the passage, and he went to the bathroom and he was running this bath and went back to his room, and he forgot, so the bath overran. And they came running to his room, looking for the person responsible. Anyway, he felt terrible about this, and he said what he did was rolled up his trousers and got down on his hands and knees with the couple of Africans who were mopping up. [Laughter]. He wasn't supposed to draw attention to himself, and he said he got on very well with these guys. But he said: You know, the way the whites looked at me, and the manager! They thought I was nuts. [Laughter]. While he was there, Chief Lutuli died, and he also went to Lutuli's funeral. [Laughter] When I heard that I nearly platzed, to use a Yiddish expression. There were quite funny things that happened to these guys. By 1970, we were really perfecting these propaganda operations...

From abroad still?

From abroad, ja. And we now had developed from this technique that I described to you the leaflet bomb. Now the leaflet bomb was also using a timing device of the type described except, instead of the razor blades, what we did was we used this particular timing device with a contact system, wiring system, electric, so that it would ignite an explosive powder. And this explosive charge worked with a very simple design devised by Jack Hodgson which was a small aluminium piping, hollow affixed to a wooden base, with the hollowed out part taking almost like a rocket projectile, which was a small wooden platform and a peg that fitted in; the powder was within the hollow tube; and the hole was within the bottom of this tube with the wiring going through and an electric element which, of course, lit up and ignited the powder within. On the wooden platform were placed the leaflets, and the whole thing could be placed simply within a large tin, litre sized tin, or simply in a shopping bag. When the powder ignited, this pamphlet was launched with the leaflets on top of it and it would be thrown about 30metres into the air with a tremendous explosion, and the leaflets would simply flutter down. Very spectacular. And very, very simple, this device. Very quick to put together, which could be done in your room at home. And you would take it to the bus station, railway station, any site like that where there are crowds of people, have it in your shopping bag, and you would simply leave it near a rubbish bin or so and just connect the wiring, two wires which you would connect, having set the clock for, let's say, 10 minutes or 20 minutes or so. These were all smuggled in. Some aspects of this our teams of people could actually make themselves if necessary, which could cut down on the apparatus that had to be smuggled in. We smuggled in with the leaflets - we'd train the comrades in London, in Britain, in the use of this, again for several weeks, and recruit young activists, left wing activists, who were always kind of very enthusiastic and keen for this kind of thing. And, of course, we would have to really brief them about where to place this. They'd be going out to the different cities, and we wanted to synchronise it so that everything would take place at one go. And that was quite a feat. You can imagine: we were beginning to plan this from London. And we were aiming for, let's say, December 16 - it was a day I think we did this on - or January 8, June 26. I think in 1970-71-72, we made a very big impact in South Africa with those things.

And would those have been done by people from abroad?

They initially were done by people from abroad. And we are talking here about a propaganda effort which covered every main town - well, certainly, Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London, with about, say, half a dozen going off in each city at the same time, all done from England, and with people who did not know each other. But, of course, except they worked in pairs. And in Johannesburg, I think we might have set off about a dozen because we had sent more than one team to Johannesburg. One team could do about four of these, moving around and starting off with a longer delay - giving themselves, say, 30 minutes, and then coming down to about 10 minutes. So it would go off simultaneously. And these were with guys who hadn't really worked in underground before or done this kind of thing, so we handpicked them, developed them, trained them, and it worked perfectly. There was never one casualty in relation to this. And if you look back at the impact of this, it was tremendous in that period, 1970-72. It made the front pages of every single newspaper with photographs right through the country. And I can remember, one was left near the Rand Daily Mail and the police were called there, and it went off as the policeman was bending over it. So we had this bonus of this guy having a blackened uniform, [Laughter] and, you know, partly blackened face. The thing about it was that it was actually photographed when it happened. And, when we did it the exact same day a year later, we had the bonus of them flashing back in the Press to this same thing last year; so it made an enormous impact.

So, when do you start working with people resident in the country?

Well, we are looking for people already in that period, 1967 onwards. And we had our first - I just want to move over -

[break in tape]


Our first recruit was in 1967, 1966, we began training the first people. And Tony Holiday was one of them. He wasn't involved in the leaflet bombs. He was coming out already with written material. And of course we would send him written material to reproduce. He wasn't a guy who was very adept at this kind of activity, so he wasn't involved in it. But we already had some comrades who had received training in Britain and were carrying out propaganda work here. We already by I think late 1966 had some units in place. We didn't involve them in the leaflet bomb campaigns...

[SA communist] Party units are we talking about?

These are people doing work for the party, and ANC, but been recruited for the party.

What kind of work were they doing if they weren't doing pamphlet work?

Oh, no, they were producing propaganda material and posting it. It was basically receiving draft material from us, producing it and posting it, or leaving it at sensitive places, places where there would be activists, a university, and so on. They would also of course - the kind of work they would be doing was sending reports on the situation. You could say some intelligence work of that kind. So, they were there, but the first leaflet bomb activities were actually through these internationalists from abroad, who helped us to make this impact in the way I have mentioned. And let me just add, by 1970, we had devised an additional propaganda gadget and that was a street broadcasting unit which was basically buying a small tape-recorder - not a recorder, a player, they used to make them in those days, very cheap - and we would have a speech on a tape. Robert Resha was the guy who we recorded in the early days. And this was again a very clever development of our technical unit abroad. They developed a very small amplifier, given the new electronics that was coming in, and a very clever time-delay mechanism. The whole thing could be housed within a small little box with a loudspeaker, the kind that you would have in a car's radio. And it would be housed in a very small box and left, again, at a kind of a key market type place, a shop, busy area. So, this was making a big impact as well. I remember in about 1970 or so, when we first used it in conjunction with the leaflet bombs, there was this wonderful report in Cape Town, an eyewitness report, it happened to be an ex-policeman from Rhodesia, who said he was driving around near the station and he suddenly saw this crowd of very excited blacks, and he stopped to see what was going on, and he said someone was addressing them and he couldn't see who, and it was this broadcaster which was left in a box, chained to the railings, again of a car park overlooking the station. And he said: I've seen excited blacks in my time in Rhodesia, but nothing as excited as this crowd. And, by the time the police came and cut this thing free with wire-cutters, you know, a half an hour had gone by. So it was making that kind of impact. I remember, one of the teams, they go down to Durban, they are young communists, working class guys, kind of very meticulous, and they wanted to get everything ready the night before in their hotel room. And they got everything ready. All that was left was simply that they would go and set the leaflet bombs in terms of the time and wires - we had some insulating material over them so they couldn't touch, and these guys had used that, set everything up with the insulating wire around the final naked contact, so that it was a dangerous thing to do, but they were being smart just to have everything done - and they go to sleep [Laughter] and while they are sleeping this insulating material came loose, so suddenly there's this incredible bang in their hotel room. I mean you can imagine the bloody noise because these things made a hell of a bloody noise. And bang! At 2am in the morning. I mean, these guys, they jumped out of their skins, and they woke up with such a shock. And they put the lights on and the whole room was covered in leaflets; they were stuck to the ceiling and the walls [Laughter], and they thought that all hell would break loose, and they said there was not a sound in the hotel followed the blast; no door opened, nothing. They said it was really weird, nothing; nobody ever came to check. But it said it took them some time to peel the leaflets [off the walls and ceiling]. You know the heat must have got them to stick. God, that was very funny.

So, by say 1972, how many units have you got - [SA communist] party units of any kind - inside the country?

Well, by about 1971-72, that's the period Ahmed Timol was captured and then killed. I think that from England we might have from that point trained about a dozen comrades separately.

And these were comrades who were then situated inside the country?

Either students or people travelling or holidaying abroad, and coming back and working, recruiting others, forming cells, and basically carrying out propaganda activity. So, you could have somebody like Ahmed Timol who was an activist, who knew many people in the community and developed a whole network. In the Timol network, there could have been 25 comrades in a cell system...


Oh, ja. And the amazing thing about Ahmed Timol was that not one person was given away by him.

Shit. So he went to his death without giving away anybody?.

That's right. And he was arrested with a woman called Amina Desai. There has just been an interview with her in the paper recently. I don't know if you saw it. I think the New Nation, maybe two weeks ago, you should check it...

Does she talk about this period?

I think so. You know, I actually didn't read the article. I lost it. And they arrested her because the connection was very close. I think when he was arrested, he was driving her car. And was using a room in her house. They found material and they could prove that she had been helping him there. So, you could have somebody like Ahmed Timol who developed a total, brilliant network, and that was based here in...

Did that unit survive him?

Yes, oh yes, sure.

So we are talking about a network that went from the early 1970s, and do some members still exist...?

Timol must have come back here in about 1970.

And are there personalities from that - is it possible in the new circumstances to mention any of those people?

No, I can't. No. But it is something that, hopefully, we can look into.

Because that is very important. Because then there is a continuity, a strand of continuity which I need to get some understanding of.

Ja. I think this is something that we can try and follow through with JS. Jack [Hodgson] and JS [Slovo] had handled Timol; I didn't; I didn't know him. I think he must have come back here in about, maybe the late 1969 even.

And apart from Timol and Holiday is there anyone else from this particular period - up until about 1972, 73, 74 - who you can mention to me as having been active in one or more of these [SA communist] party units? Raymond Suttner starts operating in, I think it's about 1973-74 isn't it?

About 1973, I think. He was arrested in 1975. He starts operating about 1973, ja.

And are there any others?

No, I can't help with that.

Now, how is the party then operating inside the country? Is it - do you have isolated units all communicating with London? Or do you have the beginning of any sort of internal leadership structure, or any kind of internal coordination of things?

No, not internal coordination as such. There were party units, remnants from the past and from Bram Fischer - Cape Town - Ray Alexander, some units they had set up which they had contact with from Zambia. So, whenever people talk about this period and just talk about people like Suttner, the old lady throws a spasm and says: What about the units in Cape Town?

So, some units in Cape Town did continue to operate?

Yes, you see, you would even find here [Johannesburg], there were [SA communist] party comrades who didn't give up the ghost, and carried out some activity.

Right, so you had this [SA communist] party committee in London, which was in touch with various units inside the country. You had Ray Alexander and perhaps one or two others in Zambia in touch with party units. Was there any other line of communication of a party type in this period, from any other centre?

I think, not that I know of.

So one is looking at communications into the country on behalf of the [SA communist] party in this period from London and Lusaka?

Yes. Chris Hani by the way comes in to the country in, what is it?, 1974?

Yes, I think it's 1974.

Oh, yes.

And spends about six months in the country...

And then is working from Lesotho. So that's a bit later.

Does he come in as ANC and [SA communist] party?

Yes, definitely. Do you think we could organise another drink?

I'm sure we can. Do you want me to go and get one?

No, we will both walk down there.

is that convenient for you?


[End of Side A]

You said that, in the period to about 1972, you had trained about 12 individuals who were involved in various kinds of party activities inside the country, also bolstering the ANC. If we go to 1974, has this number increased?

Yes. I think...

Don't get an erection and say that it's increased. [Comment about woman walking past]

[Laughter] From 1974, actually earlier, we are dealing with the likes of Raymond Suttner, David, Sue Rabkin, Jeremy Cronin...

By 1974 already?

Alex Moumbaris a bit earlier of course. But you are interested in actual South Africans.

I'm interested to know what the actual complement was of resident [SA communist] party units at that time, or ANC units.

There's Steve Lee and...


Tim Jenkin. Well, these are people who are known because they were arrested.

Are there others?

Ja. I can't say as successful as these comrades. We did have people who were trained and then worked for some time, but then found it too onerous. There were a few females, for instance, who actually got married and whose husbands weren't particularly political and who dropped out as a result. We had a few African comrades, quite a number of Indian comrades - professionals - who received training and were set up as units and became too heavily involved in their professional work to really function very well. And, in some cases, the African comrades who got to high kind of positions in civil administration...

Oh really?

Mmm. And I can remember that, the ones that we can name, there were at least two, three times as many...

That had been trained?

Ja, ja, sure, and simply dropped out. So at any one stage in that period, we were communicating from London in terms of invisible ink, secret forms of communication - that kind of system - with as many as a dozen units in the country.

This is in 1974 we are talking about?

Ja, I would say by about 1974-75. And we would have at least 25 different trained individuals on our books who we were in contact with, not all given the tasks which I have referred to - some given intelligence tasks.

So this is very basic rebuilding work?


So, how at that time are you phrasing your objective? What's the objective at that time?

Well, the objective was to set up a network throughout the country of [SA communist] party cells, of a propaganda type, some for recruitment purposes as well - like the Timol [unit], which was a network on its own, which would be in a position to bring out propaganda material, reproduce material sent them from the party and ANC, and, at the same time, some of them which had the capability to actually write, produce, material for the ANC or party, depending on, you know.

What proportion of the propaganda material, at this stage, would you say was being written outside? We are talking about 1974. And what proportion would have been written inside?

I would say about a quarter would be written inside. We were coming out with a lot of stuff, and sending a lot of the material in to these groups as well - comic books like the "Story of Simon and Jane", little Marxist, Lenin or Engels classics which were reproduced in miniature form with fake covers, you know, "Bird Life of South Africa", this kind of thing. And these were being distributed around; they were making an impact, you know, there was reference to them in the press. I would say, you know, we would be coming out with at least half a dozen leaflets and pamphlets in the year on key issues, anniversary issues and the like, stickers; there was quite a bit of this kind of propaganda coming across. And the units inside would produce some simple leaflets themselves.

Now, this was quite a sort of down time in the early 1970s...

Very, very downbeat.

What were the instructions to these units of people who were coming in, as far as attempting to form or participate in, say...

Mass activity? No, we told them to keep out of that.

You did?

Ja. Which might have been a mistake, in retrospect. And I have had a bit of discussion with Ray Simons about this, who always felt that Raymond Suttner had been wasted, that he should have been playing more of a role in terms of study groups, whereas we would tell a guy like Raymond he should have a low profile on the campus lead the academic life and so on, in terms of the movement, in order that he would be able more safely to organise a propaganda unit and bring out the material and, ja, be an underground worker. All of them were given instructions to recruit people but simply into a cell for propaganda purposes; or, if they were an individual who had a lot of contact with progressives in the community, like Timol, there we would encourage them to develop that kind of network. But the white comrades, we instructed them to keep this kind of low profile. In fact, you know, have a false legend and absolutely dedicate themselves to underground work.

Now, are you aware that the Simons' line out of Lusaka was any different? I mean were they encouraging people to involve themselves in [mass work]/

I think in terms of their particular immediate people - also connected to the university [of Cape Town] and so on - I think that they were basically saying: Play a role in spreading ideas. I don't know how successful they were. You know, I am not wanting to give the impression that they were actually, you know, doing any more than a bit of individualistic work, in fact.

Now, to what extent was this London committee involved in actual attempts at some kind of, establishing some kind of military presence inside the country? We are talking in the period from 1970 to 1974?

No, it was really this propaganda work.



So how then does Moumbaris and the whole Aventura thing fit in?

Well, now, Moumbaris is a different cup of tea, in fact. He's one of my team - just to be a bit personal - a guy who I developed and who was working with me from 1967. I had a number of people like that who could come in as couriers into the country, or for reconnaissance, intelligence purposes, were propagandists. So I actually built up a group of people who I could rely on and utilise at the drop of a hat. By 1971-72, through the RC, the Chelsea project is developing...

Which is Aventura?

Which is the preparation of guerillas to be landed on the South African coast, and I am given the task from the London end, to do the reconnaissance work inside the country, organise the reception, the landing points and so on. So, I use a team of people, of whom Moumbaris is one...

Hosey is another?

No, Hosey I utilise to come in afterwards to help Justice Mpanza. No, in a sense, Hosey is that kind of person. He had come in for propaganda work as well. Yes, so he is part of that group of internationalists. Well, Moumbaris was my kind of anchor man; you know, a really key person I would use, and who was working full-time with me, in fact. I mean he might be in South Africa for half the year...


Ja. Coming and going. Operating out of London, his mother's living in Paris, and he soon gets married to a French woman, about 1972. So Moumbaris is in the country, heading one reconnaissance group; another group exists; and I had given them the task of reconnoitring the whole coast from Cape Town to Khosi Bay on the Mozambican border; filming the whole coast, photographing it, making maps, doing all the necessary information gathering, which entailed, which was to help us choose the actual landing site. And, in other words, which was the safest, the best - we had to check on the currents, and so on. It took a lot of resources, money and time, of course; he did an excellent job. So, we came to a selection of the landing site. We chose a couple of places to have an alternative, both on the Transkei coast, and we then, having selected the landing sites--. In that period, the Aventura group were being trained, this Chelsea group, and Moumbaris and the other group they came into the country and they were waiting, had a communication link with London, and I was waiting for the signal from Tambo, Slovo, Mabhida - they were in charge of the project from Somalia - which was to indicate to me when the ship was leaving, and when it would reach the landing area.

So the landing area was on the Transkei coast?

Ja. And we had these teams waiting in South Africa.

Which teams would these have been? What would have been the make-up of these teams?

In both cases, they were two teams of three each. Who subsequently would have had to work together because they would have to cover the reserve landing point as well in case, at the last minute, we had to shift. So we had to have three at each landing point with vehicles, equipment, spades and everything - to receive the guys, bury, cache weaponry and transport them out of the area.

And what were these reception groups comprised of? People from abroad, or people from inside the country?

These were people from abroad who were used. We didn't want to mix the comrades and risk the ones who were in here. This was work which was highly dangerous and could very easily have led to arrests, so we didn't want to jeopardise the units we had here. Then [I] received the message that the whole think was off. I remember having to cable Moumbaris that mother had died, which was the actual cable, which meant the whole thing was aborted and they had to come out. You know what happened to Aventura?


Very disappointing. So, following on that, we still had these trained guerillas, and we decided to put them into the country overland. Which was in fact much cheaper and easier than doing it from sea.

How many came in?

I think 20.

And when was this?

Within three months. You know all these preparations taking over a year, suddenly we were going to reroute them. Slovo came to London. Moumbaris and others had returned. And he [Slovo] said: Listen, how soon do you think we can get them through; they need to meet up with the comrades in Botswana, Swaziland, and we want people who could quickly go in and out of the country, check the routes, and the best places to pick people up after they had jumped the fence. So, we used two different comrades for that, two teams...

Again from abroad?

Actually who were going to be part of that landing operation. And I think some illness occurred to the one guy so, in the end, Moumbaris handled everybody, and I think, you know, he took in people three times through Swaziland and three times through Botswana. Something like that. Comrades were travelling in twos and threes. So it was something like, you know, 15 or 20.

And how many of those were captured?

I think about six.

What happened to the others?

The others came in and functioned. We were in touch with them for some time.

What do you mean by "some time"? Can you give me some indication?

I can remember this going on for several years, and maybe in the end they were turned, given over to Chris Hani, from Lesotho.

So, in fact, at that time you did manage to - it's perfectly correct then your statement, it's not just propaganda, in that Dawn Anniversary Edition that only a few were caught, and that some managed to operate for some time?

Oh, sure.

What kind of work did they do?

Well, we imagined they would come in with weaponry and set up guerilla units. But they weren't able to do that. They did much the same kind of work as the other comrades I've referred to: set themselves up, began to recruit people; came out with propaganda; and tried to organise some structures around them, which then linked up with the Lesotho structures.

Now, if one were to characterise the strategic perspective in terms of which those guys were moved into the country, how would you describe it?

I would describe it in terms of building up an infrastructure, a kind of political base...

Justice Mpanza and those people?


But you said you had this vision of them coming in with weaponry and beginning a guerilla war?

The idea that they would initially organise people, and then teach them, train them for combat, and then launch some operations. But, in actual fact, what happened was that, apart from the ones arrested, the others didn't develop combat structures. Basically, their experience, I suppose, was such that they just found themselves trying to build basic political structures.

Now, when Chris Hani is moved in in 1974, what's his role then? What's his task?

To set up underground structures. Like, by the way, the person we mustn't forget from this period as well was James April, who we also prepared from outside, and sent back on false documents. He came into the country by air from Italy or somewhere like that.

And when was he - he was arrested at the airport wasn't he?

No, he was inside for several months, maybe, three, four months. And basically betrayed himself by loose talk - confided in people, ja. But his task was to again set up a basic underground structure. But I think these comrades - in retrospect, I think - we were aiming too high, seeing in them the possibility to do perhaps what Timol had done, and set up a real infrastructure. Although I think that was probably correct that we should try, but comrades obviously found that difficult.


The white comrades, we had [confined] them to simply setting - you know, once they could organise the basic propaganda unit, that was it and that should just be as active as possible.

So, apart from Hani and April - who come in in what, 1973, 1974...


Were there other people sent in in this similar kind of way? I mean, I understand from documents that I saw that there were a variety of attempts to send people into the rural areas, to situate themselves in rural areas and set up basic structures...?

Ja, sure, I mean there were - Lusaka, Zambia, Tanzania were doing things. I am confining myself a little to Britain. So, from Africa there were attempts. The most notable was that of Flag Boshielo, who was the commissar of Umkhonto - had been an organiser for the [SA communist] party, a man who had recruited John Nkadimeng into the party; he was a guy of tremendous stature; a brilliant organiser, very committed guy; very honest man, Flag. And, well, he was from the Northern Transvaal, Pedi background, had been to party school with Ruth Mompati and Alfred Kgokong; I met him in Tanzania in 1965; he was then a man of about 50 or so. So, Flag was organising for the party in 1950, that period, and afterwards was very prominent in the Johannesburg area; used to sell New Age, and used to organise on that basis with New Age; John Nkadimeng has got wonderful stories about him. Very kind of simple guy from maybe Sekhukuniland, I think; you know, had come to Pretoria and Johannesburg as a so-called garden boy and developed...

So tell me about him, what...?

He was coming back in 1970-71, I think, about 1971. He was a key guy at Morogoro, at the conference, enjoyed tremendous popularity there; wasn't really a leader before then; had been inside the country, but wasn't really recognised outside until the Morogoro conference. And he came back in about 1970-71, with a guy called Castro, and a couple of other comrades; they were betrayed in an ambush across near Livingstone, Caprivi - they were coming and trying to cross in that corner. And their guide turned out to be some informer...

Oh really?


They were ambushed by the South Africans?

Ja, just led into a hail of bullets. There were stories which persisted about Flag being in prison here, that his mind had gone, he's lost his memory; but I didn't believe that because I didn't think it was in the interests of the South Africans to put a guy like that just in custody and not admit it. So, I think he was just gunned down; died in that ambush.

And, on the pre-1974 - say from about 1970-74, from Morogoro to 1974 - what criticisms would you make of the strategic perspective which was informing the ANC? What criticisms would you make of these attempts to return a presence?

Ja, I think that we were too carried away with the idea of guerilla warfare. Our propaganda shows that, and the leaflets, the people, "the guerillas are coming", you know "we are at war"; "make their paths easy and that of the enemy hard"; "give them information, food and refuge, help them". I mean that was romantic stuff. In the reality of the situation, we should have been sending in political organisers with the instruction of coming in to make contact with the people and organise underground units. Now, from what I've been telling you, I've been giving you examples of this. But that wasn't the main stream.

What was the main stream?

The main stream didn't take place [Hello, hello - said to passing child]. But the concept was to organise the guerillas to come in to Zimbabwe and fight our way home and into the country; to land people on the coast with their weapons. You know, we should have been sending our people in and finding the very capable ones - and we had them - with the very simple instruction of making contact, organising amongst people basic underground structures, and then a good communication line outside. Now, we had to - we were doing that in a way from London because from London we couldn't deal with the military side of the work. And some of this worked actually very well, if you consider what we did with propaganda and the kind of comrades we were basically confined [to]; you know, basically white comrades, how they developed. If out of Africa, from the African base, we had been doing that with scores of comrades, OK, the casualty rate's always been high in this country for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the police here have been pretty much on their toes - I'd say, pretty sharp - but we would have had a lot more Suttners and Cronins amongst the African comrades. We should have done much more to link up with ex-Robben Islanders - the John Nkadimeng kind, Joe Gqabi kind - and service them, provide them with the resources, so as to give them the possibility to have created stronger structures on the ground. But we tended to leave them to their own devices. We were very hard-hit by Rivonia. And the idea that, well people who had been to prison who were known couldn't possibly build the underground - but in fact those comrades, you know, from 1975 on, showed that there was that capacity, that potential. So, I think that we could have put more effort into that and strategised more clearly along those lines. That was lacking.

Now, if one looks at the ANC and the [SA communist] party, why were these mistakes made?

Because we were too cut off from the situation here. We were distant, we were remote, world events were inclined to make one feel very optimistic - these were the heady days of the successes of guerilla war in Vietnam, had been in Cuba, in Latin America...

In Algeria...

Algeria, Mozambique, Angola, and we just felt, you know, in terms of deterministic theory, that, you know, it was bound to happen with us, and we must just plug away, and the way was guerilla warfare. So I think there was definitely a militarist deviation. But the reason why - you know it sounds easy, here, now, back home to be critical in retrospect - we lacked the contact with the country. And, you know when you don't have that contact, the idea that you can work in this manner that I have described, you know, doesn't sound that appealing, and it sounds very long term; whereas, you know, events were taking place with such rapidity that one felt disinclined to a strategy in relation to South Africa which would require five, ten years of basic infrastructural work. So, one was looking for that magic formula of the guerilla in the bush.

Do you think there is a sense in which the ANC has always been in too much of a hurry?

Ja. I think the short-cut approach.

How do we explain this?

Maybe because of the belief that the consciousness of the vanguard pertains to the mass in general. I think recent events are shaking us a bit in relation to this. But, up until these events, where we have suddenly seen that it's not quite like that, I think we always felt that we had the people; there was this militancy; and all that was needed was a little bit of a spark to light a prairie fire. So, you know, if you believe in that, you are looking for the programme of action; you are looking for the strike, in the guerilla actions, the guerilla strike, rather than this long term approach to building the base.

One of the things I would like to bounce off you [is] that, if one goes back to the 1974,75,76 period - OK, which is when my study period begins - and you look at the demands that are made on the Gwala-Zuma command unit in Natal, and also on some elements around Gqabi - I'm thinking of Esther Maleka and a guy called David Pule Thate - in about 1974-75-early 1976 period, the demand is...


Recruits for outside. Now what is your response to that?

Well, we have always been making terrible mistakes, putting those demands on people inside in the belief that what was simply needed was to create trained people for combat. And, you know, it's a funny thing; it's not just the dictate of outside; the comrades inside have been absolutely inclined to fall into the same trap and, in a very militant way, to feel: Look, this is what's needed; just go out and get your military training and come back in here and fight these guys, kill them. And people like Gwala have been very militant in relation to that. So, I think you've put your finger on the nub of the thing there. It's a very important indication of the feelings, the impatience with the situation; that the moment there were people you could recruit here, instead of developing them into an underground base, send them out for training; and, in such is the tyranny of the geography of the region, that the moment these guys were out they were actually lost to the struggle inside, either because it was so difficult to get them back or the moment they were out the repressive machinery was so up to date with such movements that they knew and they had them covered by the time they were coming back home.

Well, this comes through very clearly in my interview with [General Herman] Stadler. Very, very clearly: "We knew who had left".

They were very well organised from that point of view.

You know that, for the last few years, they have had a full-time section from about 1983, just concerned with building up profiles of people, people's brothers, sisters, whatever, who are out. Because, without fail, they said, these guys would make contact with...

Their families. Mmm.


Let's just get out of the sun. Do you want to just switch this off?

[End of Side B]

OK, what I'd like to know is when you go to Maputo?

March 1980.

And when does the Maputo senior organ, RC, really situate itself in Maputo?

From March 1980. I think Tambo came down, maybe it's in April, and addresses the senior organ in terms of our work.

But the RC itself - I mean Slovo himself has moved in a long time before that, hasn't he?

Slovo's been based there and he's working with the military. I'll tell you something interesting. That, when Tambo addressed the senior organ, he outlined some of the problems that we had been faced with previously in terms of the structural difficulties - comrades not being able to work with each other, particularly the military and political underground, and how we needed to find a way of overcoming this problem which, he said, had been raised as a problem time and again, the fact that we were operating like virtually two different organisations and that the trip to Vietnam had showed that what was essential was that we find a way of building the integrated forces, and of building our base at home; and that, unless we had that underground base, it was not going to be possible to really develop the armed struggle; and he really said it was up to us, we should develop this for our situation and not be hidebound by the past; he really encouraged us. We then, after that as a senior organ, proceeded to have numerous meetings in which Zuma and myself were very vociferous about developing an integrated structure. And the comrades who were on that senior organ had, apart from us, been very involved in the military - Lennox [Lagu] for instance...

This is Lennox Lagu?

Ja. Bob Tati, Paul Dikeledi, Peter Boroko - had all been in these military machineries. Zuma had as well, but had been very critical of the way the command, central command [Central Operational Headquarters] had functioned. And we came forward with our proposals, and our friend JS [Slovo] was very against the proposals.

What were the proposals?

I think it was basically doing away with the military structures and having one. And he said: Well, OK, it's fine, we can put up our proposal; but the RC would decide, you know; our proposals must go to the RC. And I can remember my feeling of bitter disappointment when he came back with the RC briefings, and they didn't accept those proposals.

When did that RC response come?

It must have been quite soon. I think this happened quite quickly without a month.

So, what year are we talking about?

1980. We are talking about April, May. And, when he came back I was very angry, and I really argued with the points he was making. And I tended to go a bit over the top and accused him of ignoring a majority view, that Tambo had said we should come up with something which we felt was open, that learned from the past. And I said I thought it was very unfair that he had been party to our discussion but it obviously hadn't meant a thing to him. And we actually fell out rather badly, so much so that it was reported to the RC, and Cassius [Make] [and] Mac [Maharaj] came down to try and straighten things out because of the way that we had argued with their decision, which was to continue having these separate structures. And Mac [Maharaj] was very antagonistic to me because I was opposing his whole method of working with the political.

Wasn't Mac in the political at that stage?

Ja, he was, sure, he had been in charge of the underground. And they came down and there was very bad feeling. Cassius [Make] was OK. He tended to sympathise with us, but JS [Slovo] and Mac [Maharaj] were on the warpath. And they really went for me, and I was accused of all sorts of things, including something which Mac took up very strongly, saying that I found that the political structures and the work under them was chaotic...

That you had said that?

Ja, and I did, that's what I said [Laughter]. And he took this up as though I was out of order to say that. And I said: Well, I'm sorry; I find that this underground that you have created, certainly from here and the way the comrades are working, leaves much to be desired; not impressed with the way these structures are operating.

Wouldn't Mac though have supported your general strategic line?

Well, he didn't. And I would say it was an example of a kind of pettiness and, you know, personality problem which one came up against at times, which definitely was a thing which bogged the ANC down. And I think - you know what I am referring to here is exile politics. So that, if you want to ask why we couldn't come to an agreement to what would seem so rational, it was very much because of people's positions and their departments and their empire-building, and therefore, if you wanted to argue for a change which was really fundamentally different, you actually, it was interpreted as being critical of individuals. And this is the case to this day. And this is what has to be overcome.

So, then how did the senior organ in Maputo operate? What was the military line of command and the political line of command?

We then worked according to the way that you know. We maintained the military machineries and the political. So, what happened was that, although the senior organ became an integrated political-military body, under it, we maintained two very separate structures, military and political, instead of what Zuma and I had argued for at the beginning which was to say: Let's just do away with this; let's just build a bloody single underground.

So let's just try - I'd like to explore what kind of underground you wanted then. We are talking about senior organ days 1980-81...

We would have argued for a single machinery for Natal and Transvaal. We could have probably gone along with having one for rural and one for urban, but to have a single machinery - not a military and not a political - and that machinery, then, would have developed an underground at home with all the contacts that they had, built a-- let's say the underground committee for Durban and, under that, they would have had propaganda units, combat units and the like...

The various specialisations, in other words?

Ja. So we weren't saying doing away with specialisation and have a unit that's total multi-purpose, for everything, but we were arguing against perpetuating the division in the forward area which was what then created the different structures at home, the one political structure, the other military, which was duplicating work.

Well then, can we...

And it was as simple as that.

Can we ask the obvious question then: Mac [Maharaj] as I understand it had elaborated this APC concept - or IRD had elaborated this APC concept - which I understand to have recommended exactly what you were recommending. So then what...?

But don't you see? What Zuma and I argued for, under the senior organ, to have one structure in the forward area, not two. Mac was going along with that structure...

Wanting two?

Ja, he was accepting it. But I think he was being very personal because Zuma and I were taking a particular position.

What, and Mac couldn't tolerate...

Well, quite frankly, I'm being very frank with you here, I would say that...

It didn't come from him, therefore...

I think that - precisely, Howard. I'm saying that.

Well, I've heard this criticism of Mac in many quarters.

And I think we hit on that and I really - there was very bad feeling between JS [Slovo] and myself. JS couldn't accept that there should be that one machinery. He couldn't believe it, that it could work; he said you needed to have that military command line; and therefore there should be the military machineries under us. Now, we didn't want to have a separate political and a separate military in Maputo, and we didn't want to have the same one in Swaziland. We would have kept our structure there as a senior organ, and then had a senior organ under us in Swaziland. In fact - I am remembering now - we were even arguing that it should even be elevated to a senior organ in Swaziland, and they didn't like that because that undermined the authority of Maputo. I've just remembered that as one of the other needle points.

Can I then...?

You see, I'll tell you something. I was very fresh. I didn't have any of the problems of Lusaka and the departments because I'd been, you know, in England, and then I was political commissar in Angola. And I remember JS [Slovo] saying to me initially: You know, you've got a fresh way of looking at things. But I believe that he was also very much caught up in the, this petty power struggle.

Let me just ask a question, if you don't mind at this point? Do you want to go on.

No, no, it's all right.

My understanding of the APC concept, which was elaborated at about this time, was that building...

No, it wasn't around this time. It was elaborated round about 1983...

Oh, not before then?

No, I'm talking about April 1980. Maybe it's elaborated late, into 1981; it could even have been 1982.

But, now, my understanding is that APC concept involves the establishment of precisely the kind of leadership that you are talking about, with on a regional basis, with various specialisations operating under this APC or political leadership. Now, what I can't understand is how Mac might see being able to build such a single line of command in a particular area or region of the country if you are being serviced externally by two lines of command.

Well, once with the APC, the argument then was that there should be an integrated command in the forward area dealing with those APCs.

So, when did Mac and others changed their minds? You seem to be implying that at some point they changed their minds and concluded that there should be a single line of command.

Ja, that APC idea is coming from about 1981. So, I think maybe he's wanting to come with the concepts. But I'm just trying to - you see, it wasn't as straightforward as the one Zuma and I argued for in April 1980 which just was have the one command and, OK, - under that APC there was still the military and political organ - we didn't even want that. We just wanted one leadership organ. So, it didn't go as far as, for the ANC, very radical argument we were putting in April 1980 after Tambo had addressed us. It was still this APC out of the regional PMCs [RPMCs], as you know, it was still to have a political and a military sub-organ. We weren't even arguing for that. And you know, in retrospect, I think ours was the simplest and the most direct approach. And you see it then prevented any form of separateness. The moment you had the separate military and the separate political, which persisted under the Mac approach, you ran into physical problems.

Now, my understand is that, if you go to 1983, one of the major reasons why you then have this reversion to this two lines, right down through the ANC, that one of the reasons for that is that by 1983, the military are saying: Look, there's not been enough progress, or any progress, on this APC thing, the construction of APCs inside the country; we can't be constrained any more by the failure of the political to build these domestic area or regional political leaderships, or APC's; therefore, we must have these two separate lines of command; and we, the military, are therefore just going to get on with the job. Is that correct? Is that not one of the major arguments for this reversion in 1983, with the setting up of the PMC, for these two separate lines of command?

Ja, I think that's the argument. But I think, in a sense, it's also an excuse. I think that the military, JM [Modise], never wanted to go along with it. He simply wanted to have his authority...

This is JM [Modise]?

unchecked. Ja. Line of command and control. And JS [Slovo] went along with that line of argument.

One can see a certain consistency in JM and, to some extent, JS's [Slovo] viewpoint - although JS was one of the people arguing for some level of integration out of that 1979 visit to Vietnam. But certainly in the case of Mac [Maharaj], it becomes very difficult to see, to trace a kind of consistency in what the man is saying.

You mean in terms of what I have just said?


Well, I would put that down to a personal quirk which the guy is subject to. I think basically he felt that we were taking over, stepping into his territory.

You might steal his thunder sort of thing?

Well stepping into his territory and command of structures he had build up, and this was what was motivating him.

So how then did the senior organ operate in terms of its political and military lines of command? Can you just clarify.

So we had our political committee and military committee under the senior organ in Maputo, and our sub-units in Swaziland were the political machineries for Natal and Transvaal; we had two sets, rural and urban; and the military had the same. So you know, you actually had eight machineries in Swaziland - can you imagine? - because of this.

And what would have been the line of communication to units in the political?

So, from the political committee we communicated with those sub-units, the political machineries; and the military communicated with theirs.

And, after 1985, after Kabwe, when you have the RPMCs, it's exactly the same - you have a political committee, you have a military committee, and each is then communicating...?

We set up a regional PMC [RPMC] after Kabwe, so that...

And how does that differ from...?

We are supposed to communicate from - we didn't have senior organs then - so it was from the PMC now to the regional PMC [RPMC].

So how is that different from the senior organ?

Well, because we didn't have a regional committee in Swaziland. We communicated with our sub-units. And, now, after Kabwe, we set up a regional PMC [RPMC] for the area...

In Swaziland?


OK, but now...

Botswana and so on.

But didn't you have senior organs in all areas. I thought there was a senior organ in Botswana as well after...

No, not a senior organ.

Oh, I understood there were senior organs in all areas.

Oh, sorry, did we call them senior organs?

I think you did.

Not in Swaziland.

Not in Swaziland. Swaziland was under Maputo, I know that...

Was under Maputo, ja.

But in Botswana...

Oh, yes, there was a senior organ, ja; that's right.

And then subsequently in Zimbabwe, there was a...


Well, Zimbabwe is a bit of a complicated case. But in Lesotho, there was...

A senior organ, ja. Sure. Mmm.

So then how did the functioning of the senior organs - in terms of lines of command and control - differ from...?

Oh, sorry, I had forgotten, you know, that there was - I was thinking of them being like Maputo-Swaziland. Ja.

So how...?

So, no, the senior organ was supposed to operate like the RPMCs.

So there is no real difference in vision, the way they should operate?

No, no. It's rather the same thing, sure.

Now, was there a secretary of the senior organ, in the same way that there was a secretary of the RPMC?

Yes, oh sure.

Now, was there any ideal rule laid down about how the secretary should be - in the case of the senior organ how the secretary should be in charge of communicating with all different specialised organs into the country.

No. No, that would be done through those sub-units. So the secretary would just communicate with the sub-units.

And they would then communicate with their units in the field?

Ja. And usually, the case was that, if the secretary was more political type of person, he would communicate with the political sub-units in the forward area; and if the chairman was more of a military guy, he would handle the military units, structures.

Did the same really apply when you came to the RPMCs after 1985?

Ja, sure.

In practice that's how it worked?

Yes, ja.

But wasn't the ideal supposed to be that it was secretary of the PMC to secretary of RPMC to secretary of the APMC inside the country?

Ja, well we didn't have any APMCs to speak of.

Although doesn't the Cape - the Cape experience [reference to Jenny Schreiner et al] - doesn't that constitute an APMC of a kind?

Well, the RPMCs, you know, they differed from area to area. And they had different sub-units. So, in Botswana, they would have a sub-unit dealing with the Cape. OK, and that unit would deal with the APMC in the Cape. I think you would tend to find that, if it was a bit more military orientated, you would have an MK guy in touch. But I don't think we could make very much of this as a pattern - it differed very much from area to area.

Now, you say: We never really had APMCs. And I gather that we never really had APCs - although didn't Chris Hani from Lesotho have some success in setting up leaderships in, perhaps, the Eastern Cape, Transkei, sort of area which were coordinating various specialisations? This is what I am told.

Probably, I don't know very much about that. But I think they were setting up unified organs. Although very little combat activities emanated from that.

Very few combat activities?


Now I would like to continue on discussions of personalities. Now, I know this is problematic. But one has to find some way of understanding what seems to have been an extraordinarily mechanical kind of approach from somebody like Joe Modise. Is it a quirk of personality that this man seemingly - and this is very much the impression people get - this mean seemingly understands only the mechanical application of armed force either as armed propaganda, as bombs going off, as shots being fired - with seemingly very little understanding of the need for continual hands-on political command and control. Is that an incorrect impression?

Well, you know, I think that he would feel that we weren't really able to show results any other way. It's one defence of him. But, I think another point is that, you know, he just - I didn't think he's alone in this - that there was this very mechanical attitude amongst a hell of a lot of people outside, who just didn't see the import of what we would call the development of the political underground, and who only considered that carrying out some operations was proof that something was happening. And I think this is something that most people outside came to look at things that way.

Who amongst the other senior people would you include in this category?

Well, I think all of them to one degree or another were affected by that, were limited by that.

And the military side - OK, you at one stage were head of MI - but on the military side were there other people arguing positions similar to your own?

I think a guy like Rashid; Chris [Hani] now and again. I mean Chris was open to this. But I think that one has to take into account the context of that situation outside, of the way the NEC operated, the PMC operated, our lives abroad as exiles, the remoteness from the situation. But you even see it inside this country here, where people's only reaction to, say, police or vigilante violence is to say: Where are the guns and why are we not shooting? Now, if you can have that way of discerning things here, then it's going to be accentuated even more for every kilometre you are across the border.

Now, why has the South African revolution been affected by this quasi-military deviation?

Because of the viciousness of the regime; the one-sidedness of the violence; I think people as a result of that have always regarded the gun as the magic weapon: "If we had the gun, we would show them!". And now what's happening, I think we are suddenly being forced to rethink that because we can see that, when blacks have the gun, there can actually be more mayhem and murder on the side, carried out by counter-revolution.

So then can we deal with one last question, then I think you'll probably want to go. When we come to late 1987 and Operation Vula is decided upon, this must come as an extraordinary victory to somebody like you. I mean it might come very late in the day - and the historical process seems to show it comes perhaps too late in the day - but it must have seemed like an extraordinary victory to you: At last, a decision is taken. Is this correct?

Ja, absolutely. It should have been 10 years earlier.

Right. Now then, what has happened to change the balance of power in the ANC?

It's not the balance of power.

OK, it's not the balance of power, but then what has happened to change people's minds - people who have been opposing this integrated approach, or this development of internal political leadership coordinating various specialities?

Well, I don't know. I mean Tambo, Slovo - they are more or less the key to taking that decision. So the question is: Why do they take that decision then, rather than much earlier.

What would you say was the answer to that?

I haven't a person like JS [Slovo]. Because I long had stated - from the 1960s in London - was that what was needed was that senior people should come in. And I was never given a convincing reason as to why we didn't do that with more conviction and effort earlier. OK, Chris went in, but he was then quite junior. And he soon came into Lesotho. But certainly post-1976, we should have decided on key people. But I think they, at that point, were so taken up with the infusion of very talented young people, that they probably thought these guys would do it.

What period are we talking about? This is after 1976?

Post-1976. So there is then that reliance on the Gebuza [Siphiwe Nyanda] generation, and working in the way we came to work. And then, by the mid-1980s, the realisation that: Well, they haven't pulled it off. So we have to look again at Mac's generation.

But that's not just sending in people from top level. It seems to me actually conceding to your argument - that, by 1987, they are conceding to your argument, that actually what we have to have is underground leadership of a political nature leading and deploying all different specialisations of a military and political kind?

Ja, sure.

Now what has made them change their point of view?

I don't know.

I mean, had they come round to your way of thinking by 1987?

Well, I don't think that Slovo would see it that way. [Laughter}

Not? How would he see it?

Well, I don't know. You should ask him. I'd like to see what he would say to that. It would be interesting.

Because it does seem that, in 1987, you have won the argument. I mean it may be 10 years too late, but you have won the argument?

Ja. Ja. Well maybe it's the fact that a guy like Slovo is seeing that relying on this old method is just not getting us anywhere, is just not getting the breakthrough, and now we need something like this. I suppose that's obviously the reason.

Because, OK, my understanding is that it was you and Zuma - if we go back to 1980-81, arguing this hands-on political leadership. But you also have other very bright people like David Rabkin arguing the same kind of position, don't you?


So, now, these are people with whom Slovo has worked for many many years and around whom to some extent we've seen his reputation as developed and been built - how does he - I am trying to understand the dynamics of the man, how he sticks to these old opinions when key lieutenants with whom he has worked and with whom he is working the field are telling him that he is mistaken. I am trying to understand. I don't have a way of really formulating the question. But I am trying to understand how it is that he somehow ignores people who are putting cogent positions, well-argued, and who do have operational experience.

Well, I think that JS [Slovo] depends very much on the position that he is occupying. And what one should continue is the fact that he's no longer chief of staff; he's not in that strategic position in MK; and he's now actually doing political work. And he now, therefore, suddenly starts realising, or seeing, the efficacy of this argument. So, I think one could argue that it's subjective, that question.

In other words, he no longer has the obligations of...

Of the military argument. That's right. That's exactly what people who are critical of - who applaud JS [Slovo] and see in him an outstanding individual and leader, but I think this particular problem has been there.

I would like to end it there.


[End of Interview]

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.