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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
Conducted by Howard Barrell,
London, March 3 1990
[Discussion about smoking]
OK, Wolfie, you understand the basis of the interview. Anything which you feel you can't answer, please just say so. From my point of view, I'd also like to ask you: Given that this is a serious study, please not to be mechanical about what you can and cannot say. I rely on your judgment.
Now the period I want to concentrate on is the early 1960s. Can you start off by telling me what positions you held, or what organisations you were a member of in the early 1960s - that is from 1960 through to 1965?
In the 1960s, actually I was banned from many organisations, from as early on as 1952, so that I didn't belong, actually to COD [Congress of Democrats] or any of the - I was banned from trade unions and so on. But in fact I considered myself to be a member of the Congress Alliance, you know that is the alliance that was in effect at that time. I was a member of the Communist Party [SACP], the secret party, to which I had belonged from the time it was revived. And I think I must have been one of the first in Cape Town to have been asked to join it. I say that now. I wouldn't have said it possibly a month ago. So I had that adherence of course. But, as I say, I was very heavily banned, you know, and I have all my banning notices here which I can even show you, perhaps. So that, you could say that I was a banned person and therefore not really, could consider myself to be a member of any of the particular organisations which were around at the time. But, you know, like many others who were active, we did a lot of work behind the scenes of course. And these banning orders, however, draconian they were, did not stop many of us from keeping on behind the scenes. But we were very closely watched, all the time. I always knew who my shadow was, particularly in Cape Town, when I was there. And you know, worked under those circumstances, but we worked very effectively. And, you know, you are talking about 1960. I am thinking of even long before that - during the decade before that. So that, when such campaigns as the Defiance Campaign and the Congress of the People and all that took place, many of us were even on the committees and we used to meet in secret with those who were unbanned as well as those who were banned. So I can say that, in many respects, I could say that I was probably even more active in the 1960s as well, as I had been before banning. Well, in the 1960s - I suppose you are talking about the time we are thinking in terms of the Sharpeville-.
Yes, I was going to come to that. At the time of the emergency, where were you. Do you remember that night?
Oh, very much.
Will you tell me about that night and-?
About the emergency. Well, that night, as I remember it, I was with Kathrada, in his flat in what we called Fittas [Fordsburg].
Yes. And there was a great necessity to get a first hand picture of what took place at Sharpeville. We knew - I can't remember his name unfortunately - an Indian shopkeeper. And I had my car. I forget who came with me - somebody came with me. And we were asked to go just onto the outskirts of Sharpeville, after the massacre took place to speak with this fellow. I think they had got in touch with him by phone and said we were coming. And we met with him. But, on the way, I remember - you know I am an ex-soldier and I fought throughout the Second World War - the atmosphere was exactly like that around there. It was dark, and we met on the field outside this fellow's store. And then we got the information from him that the police had just opened fire wildly - the story that has been repeated time and again by others. And I forget all the details. But he sort of more or less corroborated what we had already heard on the news and so on. And that it was a terrible slaughter there. But at the same time, the funny thing about it is that we had already - that is the Congress Alliance - had already decided that we were going to have the 30th or the 31st of March as a day for pass burning. And you know, these PAC knew it and they pre-empted it with this thing. And that made us very angry of course. But, at the same time, naturally, we were very sympathetic towards the people that suffered, you know, because many of them came there in all innocence. They were so fed up with passes, as you know, and wanted to get rid of [them] and of course they came there quite peacefully, according to this chap I spoke to, and it was totally unexpected, this order to open fire. He said that the colonel in charge, a special branch colonel in charge, I forget who it was, he was the fellow who gave the order because people seemed to, you know, were pushed from the back and came towards that fence there or something. And then all of a sudden the order was given to open fire and, as everyone knows, most of the people who were fired on were shot in the back, you know, fleeing from the scene.
Now, at the time, Wolfie, you were banned?
I was banned, ja.
Were you banned to Cape Town or Johannesburg?
You mean confined.
I'd been banned when I think I was in Cape Town. I got these orders all over the show.
So, at the time were you banned to Johannesburg?
Not banned to. I was living in Johannesburg.
So there was no restriction on the area in which you could live?
Not at that time. I got a later ban which confined me to the white areas of Johannesburg. The funny thing is that it was so easy for me to break that ban and go to all the way to Cape Town, the details of which, if you wanted, I could give you. But it shows you, what I found all along, was that, for instance, in Langa, years before, you were allowed to go in quite easily, then they put fences up when the Nats came in. And everybody said: Oh, you'll never be able to go there. And I said: Unless it's electrified, I'll go. And you see it's one thing to say you can't go by putting up fences, but if you can pull two fences apart and crawl through, as we did and as I did,then you can do it. And in the same way, I went down to Cape Town just about two weeks after receiving that banning order confining me to the white areas. So, ja, I might have even had this banning on me at that time. I'd had many banning orders and just, wherever possible, took no notice of it or broke it quite easily by doing the very simple thing of ignoring it.
So, did you and Kathrada go together to Sharpeville?
I don't think Kathrada was with me. I'm not sure whether it was Kathrada who came with me or not. I think it must have been one of the younger Indian Congress [SAIC] comrades who came along.
When you got there - you had heard over the news about the massacre - you had this more or less eyewitness account of what had happened. What did you feel at that time in terms of the struggle?
In terms of the struggle. Well, I didn't feel that this was going to stop the struggle from going on. As a matter of fact, it was very tense around there. It was spooky. One sort of felt that, at any time, one of these Casspirs - well I don't know if they were Casspirs -.
Saracens, which were patrolling around and so on might easily come and find us, this car in this field, and open fire on us or arrest us or anything like that. So that tension was there. But I felt very angry and so did whoever was with me. I know we were absolutely-. And so did this man, the shopkeeper. And very determined that we were going to have a very successful campaign ourselves against the passes and so on. I don't know if that's what you-.
Do you remember at all, at that time, feeling this was a turning point, at that moment?
Oh, yes, a sort of watershed.
Can you explain what your state of mind was at the time?
Well, I tell you, my state of mind at the time was this, that - you know, and I say this without afterthought, you know - I had been very active selling newspapers and everything like that, and I had found that, at times, the young people who bought the paper from us, from us said: Look, you carry on with this, but what we want are guns, because we are fed up with this crowd, you know, the government, the boere, as they called them. And that persisted for quite a while, you know, that sort of feeling. So that, when I saw and heard about this, and knowing what war is like, I thought: No, this has gone too far; this one has gone too far; and we will have to get together and really talk turkey about whether the passive resistance part, the Gandhian philosophy, was one still to pursue. Because time and again, you know, when Luthuli had written to the government and been insulted and told to go to the Native Affairs Department who looks after that, but not Malan and whoever was Prime Minister at the time. And all sort of things, you know, like that. And, yes, I felt, I really did feel that this was a watershed, that a whole new thinking process would have to go into what our policy should be.
Up until that time, had you yourself ever thought seriously, or held discussion with comrades where the idea of armed struggle had been put forward - before this violence at Sharpeville?
You know, I think that discussions took place with many people, amongst ourselves, both communists and non-communists, that how long is it going to be possible to pursue this sort of passive resistance type of thing. In the Indian Congress [SAIC], I think it was strongest, the passive resistance part. I don't think Kathrada himself was keen on anything but passive resistance. But my feeling had been for quite a few years - and many of my friends as well - that things were coming to a head. You know this fellow there - King Kong, they called him King Kong, I knew him as Marshall, he was a boxer - and I remember this very distinctly, I was selling possibly New Age outside a hostel up near Jeppe there. I had seen Marshall, King Kong, and I said to him, if you give me a picture of yourself - he wanted me, he thought every white could take him and manage him overseas - and he told me he had knocked down Johnny Ralph who was a big boxer at the time - he was the one who had done it - it was published. And I said, I can't do that, I am just selling New Age; I believe in helping the working class, and so on. So, I said, give me picture and I'll put it in, into our paper, and I did. Now, these youngsters - I'm giving you an instance of what took place - these youngsters were coming from a place called Mai-Mai, a beerhall, and they had had a few drinks. And they were feeling freer and able to talk. But this particular day, there was another chap with me, at the other side of the gate, and we were selling it to them as they came in or went out. Well, these chaps had probably had too much to drink, and I could hear some of them - some of them even said it in English - This white goat here, we must kill him. And they started surrounding me. And it was a very very bad position. I had been in something similar once before in a bus incident in Soweto. And it looked really ugly. Fortunately, for me, Marshall came out at the time, saw what was happening, put his arm round me - I had already had his picture in the paper, so he was a great chum of mine - and he stopped them. But what were they saying, all these fellows? First of all: The whites - me. So, although they knew I was there, and although they knew that I was a friend of theirs, having had these drinks and being frustrated - you could see it, they were frustrated, they were fed up, they were young, they were confined to this hostel of theirs with all its regulations and so on, and no women, very big thing with them, these young people, why can't they have a decent sort of life - and they were saying death to me and to us. And they had been saying it before. But now they said it even more so: Agh, this freedom here with a newspaper. We want guns, we want to go and sort it out with the government.
Can you put a year to this incident with Marshall?
It must have been in the 1950s.
I think early 1950s as a matter of fact. I'm talking about a thing that had been already spoken about by these non-political, hostellised Africans. And it was always bubbling up, but just keep below the surface most of the time. But the agitation was there, the frustration was there. That increased throughout the 1950s. And when this came about, specially the campaigns and so on - because I think that the 1950s was the most militant, and most historical and most vibrant period, decade in the whole - well apart from 1976, you know, and 1984-1985, in the whole of the history of the movement - and you know the Defiance Campaign, especially in Johannesburg, made the young Africans much prouder, much more dignified in a way. They had had enough of white kicking them off pavements. And they weren't going to put up with it. And it increased as our campaigns increased. You remember the bus boycotts, COP [Congress of the People], and so on.
Wolfie, Sharpeville takes place and a few days later the state declares a state of emergency and outlaws the ANC and PAC. Were you picked up at that point by the state?
Aah, well, now. Well, this is very interesting. I was living in a flat. You mean my own particular?
Your own particular [story].
I was living in a flat, and I got a call from-. You mean just as the emergency was declared?
I got a call from Bram Fischer. And Bram said: Listen, Wolfie, I've just had a call from an anonymous chap who spoke to me in Afrikaans, and he said: Bram, they are going to raid all over South Africa within the next two hours or so, you better duck it, duck. And Bram said to him: Well, who is speaking? And he said: Nee, wat, don't worry about who is speaking; Bram, I am telling you, it is going to happen. Now, we knew that something was afoot, because there was a fellow, who was an Indian chap, I think by the name of Dinat, who had been in and out of jail. And he always got himself a soft job to look after the office. And he'd sent out a message to say that he was looking, cleaning up offices, the cells were being cleaned and cleared at Marshall Square [Johannesburg], and that he had seen a long list of names - and I can remember to this day that one of the names he mentioned was Harold Wolpe's name on that list, amongst others - and it came out to the Indian Congress [SAIC]. So we already knew that something was on the go. Well, what I did, I immediately phoned somebody in Cape Town, and I phoned Durban - I think I phoned Durban - but I know I phoned several places to warn them, because that's what Bram said we should do, warn as many people as possible. And then I went out of the flat straight away. I think I went to my brother's place, but I am not sure, but I think so. And then, you know, how I came to, I then linked up with Harmel. I must have found out from his wife that he had gone to - I am not sure whether it was a surgery or whatever place it was that he had gone to - but I went there and linked up with him. And then we went to a house owned by some fellow - I don't think he would want it - and there we had Bennie Turok, Harmel, Kotane, later on Dr Dadoo. So those five.
Was Ruth First there as well?
No, Ruth First had disappeared. And this then became the headquarters of the people who weren't taken into custody.
Can I just check up on one or two other names? Was Moses Kotane there?
Was Hlapane there?
No, he wasn't in this house, but he was not picked up, and we had very many meetings with Hlapane later on.
So, did he visit the house, Hlapane?
I'm not sure that Hlapane actually visited that house, because we kept that house very very quiet. I can't swear for everyone that came there or not, but I was the liaison between the people who were there and those who hadn't been picked up. But we all knew that we were being sought for. So, straight away we grew beards and I wore - I even got a fellow to make false high heels for me, because, you know, my size would give me away. But then it became ridiculous because I stumbled a few times with them, and so on. Anyhow, we were very effective there, you know. And I must tell you that, more often than not, I didn't go to that place because I would have meetings all over with various people who weren't picked up. And then to go back there - we didn't want to have too much movement around that house. It was in a white area.
Can you tell me which white area it was in?
It was in Observatory.
Observatory in Johannesburg?
Observatory in Johannesburg. And so, what was the result? I quickly got in touch with a lot of friends, and I said: Look, I may land up sleeping in your garden - if you leave your garage open, the door open, I could go there. But I had a sleeping bag and I slept in that quite often on the Observatory golf course. Because I didn't want to be sleeping in a car. There were a lot of patrols. And, you know, anyone seen sleeping, either they think he's drunk, or why's he here at the early hours of the morning. So I didn't. I parked the car, walked down to the golf course, slept under a bush there. And I knew it well, you see, I knew the golf course. And in other people's backyards, and so on. Very often, they didn't even know I was there. But I was taking messages from Kotane, from Dadoo, arranging meetings for them, taking them to the meetings and so on. So I was very very busy.
What kind of people were these meetings with? Can I just go back?
This seems to have been very much a Communist Party [SACP] group then, situated in this house?
Well, yes, but Dadoo was the president of the SAIC. Kotane was general secretary of the Party, but very very well respected in the ANC, you know. What's his name? Turok was the secretary of the COD. Now, I don't know whether he was a Party man or not. And Harmel - well, Harmel, he was a Party man.
So who were these meetings with, with ANC or other Party people?
Oh, not only Party people.
I am trying to understand what the linkages were?
The linkages were with Ruth, you know Ruth Mompati. We called her the chocolate woman, because Moses insisted that, when we met her, we must buy her some chocolates. With Hlapane. With all the Indian Congress [SAIC] chaps who were out - there were several, Dasoo, Reg, several of them were out.
Raj, Raj, I think he was out. You know, he got 10 years. And several others who I just can't remember. But there were many who came up disguised from Durban and from Cape Town, whom I took to the place, many of whom I didn't recognise in their disguises. So we kept in touch with the local people who weren't there. We had meetings in the car, in my car - we would drive right out Benoni way, past Jan Smuts, right round to Springs, with Ruth Mompati, with Hlapane and various others who I can't just remember now, who weren't Party [SACP] people. They were Congress people. But we also, in that period, in 1960, we even had meetings, conferences.
I'm coming to that in a moment. Can we stay with the house for a while.
What was the function of these meetings? To try to sustain something?
Yes, to keep the organisations alive, to give a lead as to what they should do. There was quite a lot. Mary Turok hadn't been picked up, so I got hold of her, Albie - no Albie was in Cape Town. But we got in touch through a doctor who is now in Chicago, to go down, just to pick Albie up. We sent somebody to Lesotho to pick Joe Matthews.
Was it Lesotho or was it Botswana?
I think it was Botswana. I've got a feeling it was Lesotho.
I've been told Lesotho.
I think it was Lesotho.
He was initially there, he went to Botswana later.
Yes. And the fellow that I sent there - because I was the one who organised that, and this was the remarkable thing, man, that I would just say to some fellow: I want you to go down to Cape Town, like this doctor, and off he went and contacted Albie there. I said to [???] who lives here, and who is a Britisher, but who was in South Africa, you go and pick up Joe and he picked him up. And so on.
Which Joe is this, now?
Joe Matthews - and brought him all the way in. And then we had to hide him. So I was doing all that - I also helped some people to get out of the country, hid them, you know, in places, and got them out of the country. I took Dadoo on the first leg of his country, to meet his brother, who then took him to the border. And various others - Masemola - is that his name? He's in Lusaka now. He dressed up as a priest and so on. So we hid them and-. The whole idea was that things should not crumble, that people should feel that the leadership was still around and they were getting directives. For instance, the type of directive that we are talking about - and this wasn't done just by Party [SACP] people, and there was an objection from one of the Indian Congress [SAIC] blokes then he realised what it was, although we didn't fool him about it. But the Party [SACP] announced its existence in 1960. We had to take leaflets and put them into the factories and all over the show. And you can imagine how dicey this was. And when this fellow opened it - he was told it was a very secret thing, but before it happened, we couldn't tell him or others exactly what it was. So even the Party people weren't told. But the Party [SACP] and the Indian Congress [SAIC] were very much in alliance and great friends, so there was no real hostility anywhere - except from this chap who, when he saw what it was, said he should have been told. He is now one of the leading people in the whole movement here, and I think he would blush if I were to-. I won't mention his name. So we maintained that. You see, you must get this straight: it wasn't only a leadership of Johannesburg, but for the whole of South Africa. So a lot of work was done.
So it was a leadership of the Congress Movement?
Yes, the Congress Movement, yes that was accepted.
Now, at that time, a number of leaders of the Party [SACP] were detained, and I understand that a number of people were coopted onto the Central Committee. Did you find yourself in that position? Were you taken into the leadership, or had you already been there?
Well, down in Cape Town years before I was on the district committee of the Party [SACP] for quite a while. When I cam up there, I was then coopted onto what we called a District Committee. And Hlapane was on that one. and we used to meet at a house - not our hiding place, another house - where a fellow - I don't think he would want his name mentioned - but he got 15 years in jail, white chap. But, yes, we had meetings all the time, and I was coopted then.
Onto the district committee, yes.
Now, at the time that this house is providing sanctuary to the leadership, what is your role? You said Liaison - is this a kind of liaison/security?
It was sort of everything. A lot of things rolled into one. For instance, for a day or so, I hid Rusty [Bernstein] in a secure place. Others had been taken in. Rusty hadn't; he'd got away. And then he got impatient. He thought: Ugh, I'm not going to be - and the particular woman who put us up, a young woman, she had a boyfriend, and she said: Now, you can't stay very much longer because my boyfriend is coming. And Rusty, I think that made him a little impatient. And I warned him. I said: Don't be silly man, if you go back to work or whatever, you will be picked up. And of course, sure enough he was. But you were asking whether-.
My role was to meet up with the leadership, to talk, discuss everything, bring back reports to them from the people whom I had seen and then go out with reports to the different sectors, COD [Congress of Democrats], Indian Congress [SAIC]. With the African [National] Congress, I was always with Moses, and we moved about in the car, and it was Hlapane, it was Ruth Mompati. It was several - you know I just can't remember who else now, who were involved.
Where were Mandela, Sisulu, Tambo at that point?
They were picked up, they were all picked up. Not Tambo, not Tambo. No, I think Tambo wasn't picked up. He had gone away from Johannesburg just before this happened. But I think Tambo wasn't because Tambo went out of the country.
But that's later, isn't it, 1962?
No he must have been picked up. Are you sure he went out in 1962. No, it's 1960. He - and you know who went with him, this fellow who wrote all these books, who lives along the river. But you know, of course, Moses Kotane, and others, Harmel, took them around. I wasn't the only one. But I was the one who was most consistently with them, the liaison.
Now, at this time, there must have been discussion on strategy, tactics, what was now appropriate, this turning point had been reached. What was the form of these conversations?
God, now you are asking me. I think, I think - you mean during that 1960 period?
While you were sitting in this house.
I think the main thing was to keep everything intact, and to mount as many demos as possible - I remember the COD [Congress of Democrats] got out leaflets, and had a printer. And the Indian Congress [SAIC] fellows had a secret run-off thing, duplicating machine down in Fittas [Fordsburg]. I think it was in a basement. And we got out a lot of leaflets. And what they did, they walked from door to door at night, pushing them into letterboxes. So the idea was to keep things moving and to keep things alive. And to show, as much as possible, that the Congress Alliance was still alive and kicking. I can't remember the policy discussions that took place, other than for this type of thing, to keep-. But I am sure that they did take place. But I think our main task then was to keep people as active as possible, to keep the whole organisation together, and doing it by giving people activities to perform, like this thing of putting out leaflets, going door to door. I think they even may have had house meetings and things like that - I am not quite sure. I don't want to say something that I am not [sure of] or I have forgotten. I am sure there are many things I have forgotten.
Are you aware of Harmel preparing any position papers, etc-.
During this period, which perhaps indicated a new direction which he thought was then necessary?
Yes. Well, I'll tell you what I can remember: he was a very untidy fellow. And I remember. It's good that you said this. Because I can remember that there were, there was a lot of writing going on by Harmel and by Bennie Turok and Moses [Kotane]. They were all occupied in doing that, yes. But you know that I can't tell you what they were, just now. You would probably be able to remind me in fact what they were.
Well, I want to ask you a question. Do you remember at the time - or have you heard subsequently - but I am more interested in your memory of the time - Harmel preparing a document saying: comrades it's now time for us to move for the preparation of an armed force?
Well, look here, to be quite honest, I don't think that I can say that I remember that, you know.
You can't remember that?
No. But what I think I can remember is that I think that we were very often discussing that sort of thing. And you know, not so much in committee as outside of committee, driving around, discussing amongst ourselves. Now whether those chaps who were there in the house got together and started putting it all together I can't remember now. And you know, whenever anyone, even when I came, whenever anyone came, things just disappeared, just in case it was somebody who was on the lookout. But I wouldn't be surprised. I think that all, everyone had - as I say, at that period, that I think was the watershed for this new way of thinking. And certainly, even those who perhaps hadn't done what Harmel had done, you know put it into writing, were thinking really much about it all. Wherever we went, whenever I met Dasoo and all these people, we were talking about these things.
From the different congresses?
Absolutely, yes. They were shocked and aghast at what - and then we didn't know, we thought maybe they'll keep them there for years. We weren't to know that it was going to be five and a half months, or whatever it was. No, but I am sorry, I can't help you there. You would have to get it - you already have got it from somebody else.
Well, I am trying to check something out.
[End of Side A]
You see, to answer that, I was so busy, moving around, keeping things going. I'm telling you half the things I have forgotten. But I'll tell you another thing there that happened as a result of this 1960 thing, and it's relevant to Nelson Mandela there. You see, when it all ended - we can come back to the thing you want to ask me. When it all ended I thought to myself there are going to be many many more of these emergencies cropping up in the future. I felt at times very miserably cold sleeping out in gardens and on that Observatory golf course and places like that. And I'll tell you it can be cold in Johannesburg. And I thought never again. That I won't do. I'm going to get a place now - I had to leave that place that I was in. I'll get a place now that I will treat as though the emergency is still on until the next one comes, you see. And I learnt a lot of tricks during that emergency because sometimes, when I thought I was being followed, I would go down a one-way street in the wrong direction, just to see if the chap would pass me or not; never went up to top floor of a building, or never went to the floor - I didn't press the button which indicated which floor I was going to. I walked past the Special Branch in Eloff Street [Johannesburg] once. Of course, I had to go and see a lawyer - sent by the people. And the chap knew me better than I know you, and I brushed past him and he didn't even recognise me. But it was shock. But what I was telling you. You know, I must have looked at about 12 flats after it [the emergency] was lifted, and I found this one somewhere in part of Yeoville, on the border of Yeoville and the other suburb.
It had a place, a garage, a place for parking the car just next to where the steps came up. You just had to cross over the passage and you were into the flat. I went to an estate agent and an attorney to swear that this was my name - I didn't give my name, I gave another name, and I swore to it and signed under that name. So that, when they put it up outside I thought, no, they are going to have their special branch foot-slogging from various places to find out if we are missing, to find us. And I am not going to allow my name to be up there. And in any case, when your name's up, your friends and everybody starts coming. And that's what I did. I treated that place, for those 18 months or so inbetween the two incidents as though it was still the emergency, so that I was quite sure - and I knew all the tricks that I had learned and I applied them. Anyone watching me must have thought I was crackers. But, when the time came, and I saw this couple saying go and phone the police because I had arranged a meeting there, that's when I was able to where that photograph was taken. So we learned a lot of lessons. But you wanted to come back to something.
I wanted to come back to when you are in the house during the emergency. Is that when the decision is taken for the Party [SACP] to emerge now, the reconstituted Party to emerge for the first time?
Well, I think that that's right. I think that that is where-. But obviously, many other people had participated in the decision as well. We had meetings during that period. We had a conference.
The conference, I think, is a bit later. I don't want to get to it. It is later, isn't it?
I think so, yes.
Do you remember what the arguments for and against the Party [SACP] emerging at that time?
I don't know.
Was there any debate about it? About whether it was advisable? Some people saying it was not advisable?
I can't say that, no.
In these discussions on armed struggle that you say were taking place all the time amongst people, more often than not when you were driving around in the car, it strikes me that, if you are going to make that kind of change in strategy, there are two things you are really saying. One is that you are trying to work out if this is necessary for you to take this particular path. But also is it possible, feasible to take this particular path. Can you remember how these particular discussions went? What the broad feelings were among the people that you were speaking to on whether or not it was necessary and what the different viewpoints were on whether or not it was actually possible to conduct an armed struggle?
Well, you mean during the emergency?
Well, I think that the great majority of people were in favour of taking up arms. I think the Indian Congress [SAIC] people were the ones who weren't altogether in favour of it. And I am sure that Luthuli was happy about it; well, I don't think he was in favour of it. But I think he was neutral. And when it actually happened, he accepted it, but with reservations. But my own memory of that time was that most of the people, even some of the younger people in the Indian Congress [SAIC] were for taking up arms against the government. Of course, the difficulty was where you were going to get the arms.
That's my next point: what were people saying about whether it was possible or not?
Whether it was possible. Well, the funny thing is that a lot of people at that time - I remember and I have never been able to understand why it had never been taken up in a bigger way afterwards - they were saying: Look, arms are all over the show; there are arms in this country; there are arms in the schools, cadets; there are arms in the shops. This was already being said at that time, and I agreed with it myself - I know I did. But I think the great majority to whom I spoke - whether it was in committees or just person to person - at that time, I felt that they agreed that we had to move away from this passive resistance thing and go ahead. But I can't remember the details unfortunately. And it is very sort of all over the show. You can see how my memory is-.
Wolfie, this is very helpful to me because you are situating yourself in that time.
I am trying to.
[Because I don't want people re-writing history with the benefit of hindsight].
My view is that the majority of people to whom I spoke - whether it was on committees or not - were in favour of changing, whatever happens that we had to change this passive resistance sort of attitude. But that we would have to convince the great majority of people that that was necessary, and especially of our own movement, especially when the people came out, they had to participate. But I think that there was strong talk about it, ja.
Was Maulvi Cachalia one of the people who you knew to be opposed to it?
As I remember, yes.
Can you remember, apart from Maulvi Cachalia, Luthuli, can you remember other people-?
Who were against it?
I think even Yusuf was against it, Yusuf Cachalia. Yusuf Dadoo - well, Yusuf Dadoo I am not so sure was against it. But I think the great majority of the Indian Congress [SAIC] people, even the younger people to some extent, were in a bit of a flap about this because they had this whole history of passive resistance. You'll remember in 1948 and onwards, you know. And it went against-. And they were very much steeped in Gandhi's philosophy. Even if they were militant, they were passive resisters. And you remember the big passive resistance campaigns that took place in the 1950s and late 1940s - do you remember them?
So, they had this tradition. So I think they were the ones that were not completely happy about it. But otherwise, as far as I remember - I'd say Maulvi, I'd even say Yusuf Cachalia, I don't know about Dadoo. Kathrada was against it, or he had mixed feelings about it. Being a disciplined fellow, he would follow what the majority said, and I think that applied to Dadoo as well, of course. But there wasn't any particular group that said: No, we are not going to accept - people of the Maulvi Cachalia and that type. I think Kathy, Kathrada might have said that he didn't like it, that he had his doubts about it, that it would take a lot of convincing of people brought up in the passive resistance movement, and that was militant enough, to now swing over to actual arms in hand. It wasn't an easy concept for them to swallow, you know - not for anyone for that matter.
Do you remember Kotane raising any questions or major reservations about resort to armed struggle either on moral but more probably on tactical or strategic criteria?
No, I don't remember. I don't remember. I don't know.
Right, can we go to after the emergency-?
But I want to tell you one thing that you somehow are passing over - that we actually had a conference during that 1960 period when people were in jail. We brought them from all over. And the first day - you know, I was the owner at one time of brickworks, with my brother. My Dad died when I was in Italy fighting. And he left it to my brother and I. And one of the big ones was there. My brother had given it up by now. He had some illness, and he didn't want to continue with it. It was very valuable property and he has got a hell of a lot out of it by selling it subsequently. But it was there. I had gone down to Cape Town, now I am back in Johannesburg, and they needed a place to bring everyone together. There was tall grass and some trees over there - it still belonged to us, you see. And my share of which I gave to my brother when I left at the time. So, the first day was in that brickworks.
Where was the brickworks precisely?
It was between Primrose, Kempton Park and Edenvale - in that triangle.
When you say a brickworks, was it a brickworks?
A brickworks. But now it wasn't any more a brickworks. It had been a brickworks when I was there. But now my brother had given it up, and it wasn't - but the property belonged to him. And that's where the first day was on that thing.
Now what month of 1960 was that?
God. Now what month would it be? Some, perhaps July or August, June?
Is this not after the emergency?
No, this was during the emergency.
This was definitely during the emergency?
The conference, that conference took place during the emergency.
Because there was one reference - this is in fact what I was going towards - I know there was a congress - do we make any distinction between a conference and congress?
Well, you know, when I say conference, it was a meeting of all the people who hadn't been taken out. I can tell you where - we can find out which month it was, because I think Carneson had come up, Joe Matthews had come up, Billy Nair - you know Billy Nair, you've heard of Billy Nair?
I know of him, but I don't know him.
Well Billy had come up and we said to Billy when they were going back - so it was that time, I'm sure unless my memory is so -.
This was definitely during the emergency?
It was definitely during the emergency.
And do we call it a conference or do we call it a congress?
It's hard to say. I would say a conference, because a congress-.
A conference of the South African Communist Party [SACP]?
Not only Communist Party [SACP]. I'm a little bit worried about that. But it was Joe Matthews, Nair - it may have been a party conference, it could have been, could have been. But I wouldn't swear to it.
But were there two major meetings that year. You see, the reference that I have seen is to December 1960 when there was a Party [SACP] congress.
There was a Party congress in December? But [by] December the emergency was already finished.
Sure. Now this is what I am trying to work out.
Oh, no, this definitely took place then.
OK, let's just make a distinction. There is a congress in December - you agree with that?
That's possible, yes.
You say it's possible. Or do you remember it?
I don't remember the congress in December. But I do remember this was during the emergency. And I remember why I say it, now just listen to this, because we said to Billy [Nair] - he was madly in love with a women down in Durban - and we said: Billy, don't visit that woman of yours when you go back. And of course Billy did, and he was caught. And he was put into jail, you see. Now that was during that emergency.
Right. So the first day [of the conference] is held at this brickworks. Do you remember where the second day was held?
No, then it was shifted and I wasn't - as I remember it I wasn't there. Or was I? God man, I don't know.
Can you remember if perhaps that second day was moved to a house - near Zoo Lake?
Yes, it may have been even Ruth [First's] father's place.
A place near Zoo Lake?
Yes, I think so. I think so. You know, I think so. I know it went to another place. You know who would definitely be able to place it there, where it went to - have you spoken to Bennie?
No, I'll be getting to him.
I think he might be able to tell you.
No, I haven't spoken to him yet.
And Fred Carneson?
Fred Carneson I haven't spoken to.
They may be able to tell you, because Fred had come up.
From Cape Town?
Now, the first day is at your old brickworks, then it moves-.
God, my brother better not see that in print. He doesn't know that it ever happened you know. Because bigger things than that happened there.
What was discussed at this conference we are talking about now?
Let me tell you. Even there, I was more in the security side of things, you know. So that I wasn't there - I wasn't in the conference. I was seeing to the security side of things. Not that I was a security man, per se, but that was my job with the people in hiding and it remained my job throughout that period. So as I remember it, I was there just for the beginning of that. And when they moved away, to this day I am not sure whether I was at that one, or at that congress you are talking about. But it was at that brickworks.
Can you remember now, the one at the brickworks, how many people were attending, in round figures?
It could have been about 15 to 20. I am not sure, but I think it could have been.
And can you remember how many days it lasted for?
Well, I think that could have lasted for - when it moved away - it could have lasted for about three days or two days , two or three days, I think.
And your recollection is that it was not a Party [SACP] congress per se?
I am not so sure. It's very difficult. I can't remember. But certainly, what I can say is that the majority of people who came to it were Party [SACP] or seemed to be Party people - certainly on the left, anyhow.
Now, can you put a month to it?
When that took place? When did the emergency start?
I think it's March 30, isn't it?
That's right, March 30. March-April-May, that one could have been May or June, I would say. It's so hard. You know what happens to your mind. It telescopes, you know, and you just - it's so hard to pull out of that sort of concept.
Now, can you remember when Rusty Bernstein was picked up in the course of the emergency? How early in the course of the emergency was it?
So Rusty Bernstein could not have been there?
I don't think so, no. I am sure he wasn't.
Do you remember discussion of the armed struggle issue at this conference that you are talking about?
Now, we have got a confusion between two meetings, which may be the same meeting, or maybe different meetings. And I just want to put something to you. What I want to put to you is this: that, I understand that, at this time, in 1960, either at this meeting in May or June - although it seems unlikely - or later in the year after the emergency is lifted - perhaps December - there is a Party [SACP] party congress, which is held in Johannesburg. And at that congress - I believe it was Rusty Bernstein - reads a resolution on armed struggle. Now, can you recall anything like that?
No, well, I can tell you one thing. That it couldn't have been at that one [the brickworks conference].
Because Rusty wasn't there?
Because Rusty wasn't there. And also because they wouldn't have taken that sort of resolution with people in jail, you know. After all, the main leadership, or the vast majority of the leadership, were in jail. It's only those five or so who weren't. So I can't see that they would have taken such a drastic decision. On the other hand, of course, it is quite likely that there was some liaison even between us outside and the chaps in jail. You know, as we have always managed somehow or other. But, no, I would definitely say that that must have been the congress in December.
Now, having said that, can you at all, remember any such congress, actual Party [SACP] congress later in that year - 1960?
I just can't you know. I'm sorry, I can't.
OK, I don't want to spend any more time on this. Maybe we can return to it at a later stage. I'd be very interested now to jump forward to the period about one year later, after the semi-failure of the three-day stayaway over the declaration of the Republic-.
Oh, that, yes.
And I want to ask you: At the time of that Republic Day stayaway, at that time, were you aware of any decisions having been taken either by the Party [SACP] to which you belonged or the ANC, or any part of the Congress Alliance, in favour of armed struggle?
Mmm-mm [No]. You mean, in fact can I remember it?
I can't, no.
Not at that stage?
OK, then when do you start looking after Mandela?
When I started looking after him was when - after the Pietermaritzburg Convention, and he said that he was going underground and so on. And then he disappeared. But, in the meantime, we were organising - you see every Congress leadership - Duma [Nokwe], Walter [Sisulu], JB Marks - every one who was there was banned in one way or another. So we had to organise underground, and we had to be very careful. There were several of us who were involved in the actual organisation of places for the leadership - specially the ANC leadership - to get together. It spread from the townships to Vrededorp to Ferreiratown to the white areas. And I was very much involved with the Indian Congress [SAIC] as well, on a Party [SACP] basis, as well as on other [bases]. So I had to organise various places for them. And I was telling you that I organised this particular place - this is when he was already underground. We had heard that he was travelling all over South Africa. And people had come - there must have been about eight or 10 of them - who had come into this flat at this particular time. They had plenty of meetings before that. But this particular time Nelson was already underground, and the fellow who brought him from the township to the meeting had gone away and he was going to come at about 11 o'clock to pick him up. I had, I told you, got this flat which I looked after, my flat that he's photographed in there, I told you how I had got it and kept it intact. So, it was on a slant, the building was on a slant, so they came round the back, went up the steps, along a passage, past about three or four other flats to the end flat, and there were lights at each flat entrance, sort of shining on the passage. This old couple - and I know the kitchens were overlooking this - they must have seen the shadows, I take it, going past. And I was sort of ushering each one as they came along - they had to come by themselves of course, they couldn't be seen together in any case - so I was sort of herding them in one by one - they came at different times. But, if I remember it correctly, it was Walter [Sisulu] who was going in the last there. And then I saw two old people, a woman and a man, grey-haired I remember, very old people - from a flat just here, sort of near to where the steps led up - and they looked along the thing and I think it was Walter, I couldn't swear to it, but I have a feeling it was him, had just gone in. All the others were there now. And I heard the old man saying: Go and phone, go and phone. So I took it for granted, you know that it's the police. So I dashed out to the front, over a little wall in a little garden, and there were French windows. And I knocked at their door - they had already started - and said to them: You have to scatter; I've just heard the old man telling his wife who saw one of you coming in. They themselves couldn't be together, so you can imagine. So they said: What about Nelson? The chaps only coming at 11 o'clock for him. And I said: Well, I've got a flat that I have kept and I quickly told them. One or two of them knew about this flat. And they must have thought I was crazy at the time, doing all that when there was no need for it. And they said: Oh, you take him. So quickly, I took him to this flat, which wasn't very far away from where this meeting was, and settled him there. And I said: Well, what do you think? So he said: No, this is fine. You sure, you know, he asked me. And I told him the whole story. And the funniest thing is now I had to provide - I forget who was going to tell this chap who was supposed to come for him [Mandela]. You know, I am very intrigued to know what happened to him. So I had a bed there. There was a recess for a bed, partly in this bachelor flat. And I had only a campaign stretcher. So, this is a big man - he's over six foot, big and healthy and strong. And me, small chap. And I said to him: Now, I'll go on the stretcher when we go to sleep, and you will get into the bed. So he said: Oh, no. And it was his sensitivity - you know he's a very nice fellow, and very aware, you know, of putting people out and so on. He said: No, no, I'll sleep on the stretcher. I think he even made an excuse that it was longer. And I must be on the bed. Well, the argument took place and of course, I mean after all he was the commander in chief. So I wasn't going to argue too much about that one. And we had a chat, we had tea, and I told him exactly where we were. And I think he said: Oh, it must be near a friend of mine. Was it the fellow who was blind or was it his wife who was blind. Anyhow, a friend of his worked on some other organisation with, I think, Winnie Mandela. And they were white people living in Berea. Later on, he contacted them. So anyhow, then in the morning - we went to sleep - in the morning, I heard this stretcher creaking, he told me that - do you want to know this detail?
He told me that he was an amateur boxer, very keen on boxing and he kept very fit. So he would sort of jog around Soweto, Orlando at about four or five o'clock in the morning. anyhow, this creaking goes on, and I look up, and I see he's sitting on the end of his stretcher and he's putting on longjohns, vest, then he took out this tracksuit, then his shoes. So I thought: Christ, does this fellow think that he's going to go running about Berea? So I said to him: No, no, you can't do that, you know. He said: Why not? I said: You can't go running around this place, man. I mean, they see an African running around here in a white area. He says: But I'm not going to run around outside of this place. I'm going to run here. And it was just above a garage, so it was on the ground floor. So I said: That's fine. I was watching the - I almost wanted to go and take the key out of the door, you know. So I went to sleep again. I just lay down and sort of dozed off. Then I found him - it must have been about at least half and hour after this - running on the spot. He kept that up for two hours. Not one hour. Two hours. You know, frog-jumping, exercising, like the Canadian exercises. This is after running on the spot. So I thought: Hell man, this is something different. So I said to him: Do you do this every day? He said: Yes. And he said: You know what, from tomorrow, you are going to start! [Laughter] I did start! The next day I started. And I think after about 10 minutes I was out like a light. But we were all fit. But that I had never done, the running on the spot thing. By the time we left, of course, I had done a full hour, and that stood me in good stead when I went into solitary confinement because you don't know what to do with yourself most of the time. And that's what I was doing.
When do you go into solitary confinement?
I think I must have been one of the first in the whole of the [country] - certainly the first in Johannesburg.
When was that?
In May of 1963.
Can we go back to this occasion when you end up taking over as kind of Mandela's minder. What date is that?
It must have been early in 1962.
Early in 1962. This is while he's-?
While he's underground. And everybody-.
And while he's running MK?
Yes, and running MK. So already, the 16th December 1961 had come and gone. So, ja, it was, it must have been early 1962.
So he wasn't living at Rivonia with any constancy?
Not with any constancy as far as I know. As far as I know, he wasn't, no.
So how long did you look after him for then?
Well, I think on and off. Because even when he went to the other place - to this doctor's place - I was sort of in contact with him. God, it's difficult, you know. I think he must have been with me in this place for about six weeks. So it wasn't a very long period. But during that period you get to know a person, living with him. And of course, we were organising. I was taking him out. He was dressed up as a chauffeur. And if I remember correctly, he had two different sort of coats. And then he went over to another place. But I don't know if you want to know the details of what happened when he was, when I was looking after him.
I would very much like to hear.
Well, you know, about the second of third day - you know, I would go to work, you know New Age, I was working for New Age, as a manager of a mail-order that we had and then as a reporter - and then I would double back whenever necessary, whenever he wanted me. Then I would take him - we would arrange meetings, to meet the Indian Congress [SAIC], to meet Winnie, to meet various other people. So, all in all, it was like a military operation whenever he moved out. And I had to be very careful. So about the third day he was there - and I had been to the newspaper genuinely, I was just leaving to go there and I think I was going to come back. And I looked through - I had one of these spy glasses in the door - and I saw through it the man who cleaned, the African who cleaned the flats. And you know in every flat, every white man's flat, the Africans clean the flat up to table height, I think. So I said to Nelson: Has that chap been in here? So he said No. So I said: Oh, Christ, no, that is no good because -.
He said: He has been in here?
No, he said, no he hasn't been in. But he said: What chap? He didn't know about this, you see. So I said: That chap, he cleans my flat, he cleans all these flats; if we don't let him in or he can't get in - I forget what arrangement it was - but if he doesn't come in, he's going to tell his boss that he's not cleaning, that something's wrong there in that flat, so we had better call him in. Now, we had a plan. The plan was - that we discussed the first night - that his [Mandela's] name was David, Nelson's name was David, that he was a student whom the government wouldn't allow to go on to further studies, that he was waiting for the call to go overseas and that's why he was hiding in this place, and I am just a nice Good Samaritan, you know, who's looking after him. And we said, Now we will put that into operation, call him in. He went and looked and said: He's a Zulu; you call him in. So I called the chap in, and what he said to me: You go and make tea and cake, you know, and come and sit at the table with us - it was a table next to the window with a curtain, that he used to work at - I must ell you something about that just now. And he called this fellow in - and then he said you come and sit down here with us. And I said: Christ, that fellow, he thinks I am a baas - although I had already started nurturing him because I always did that with the chaps who looked after places. So he knew that I was a different type of white but not, still not completely OK. So Nelson said: Leave it to me. Man, I'm telling you, before I even brought the tea in, I heard them laughing away and jabbering away. And I came and sat there, and I could see this guy was very uncomfortable. But Nelson must have said something to him in Zulu or Xhosa, you know, and that settled him.
What, this Mhlungu is OK?
Yes, this Mhlungu is OK. So, then he got this fellow to do a lot of running around for him - to go and buy him this piece of paper, whatever he needed. Several weeks afterwards - but it shows you the ability of this chap [Mandela] to befriend. Several weeks afterwards, he wanted to see him about something, and he was living in the flats in the sky, top of our building, and I knew his room - as I say I had already, I wanted him to know I was a different type of chap - so I knew where he was - I went to the top there and it was early evening, and the light was on in his room, small room, you know there were about six of them there, or four of them, and it was just enough for a bed and for a little shelf. And when I came to his room, spread out on the bed was - I don't know which magazine it was, I would very much like to find out which one it was - but anyway, the top letters were dark and big and it said: Black Pimpernel still at large. And then it had pictures of him on this side and pictures of him on that side. Now, Christ, when he's dressed up as a chauffeur he can be disguised, but when he's sitting there doing his work - and how he worked there, hey - there was no doubt that this was Mandela - the one they were looking for-.
Can I just stop at this point.
[End of Side B]
So, anyhow, why I am saying this is because a lot of other things happened. But this happened. So I thought, Christ, now this is the end of it. So we better put into operation the alternative place which I had already arranged with this doctor. But I thought I had better take him down. I took him down, he [Mandela] spoke to him. When he left, I said to Nelson: You had better pack everything up now and we better move to the next place. And he said: Why? So I told him. There's no question about it that this is David, Nelson Mandela, you know - no question about it. He said: Don't worry; don't let us move yet; this is a very good place; because we had been around quite a lot by then and he was happy in it. And then there were other people who also knew about it - Ruth, for instance, and Joe [Slovo], Walter [Sisulu], a lot of people came and met him there. Not a lot. But at least a dozen different people had been brought - always a hell of an exercise, of course. But one or two of them came even when I wasn't there - they came themselves to see him. So, anyhow, he said: This fellow will never give me away; never will he give me away. And he stayed. And, of course, the chap didn't give him away. And it just shows you, you know, when he went to the doctor's place - there was a woman there - she was from Alexandra township, ANC woman, working as a domestic, the same story, David, student, this and that. And they stayed in the servants' quarters at the back. But, during the day, he used this doctor's study, you know, and had the run of the house. But, whenever anyone came, he was the gardener. He would go to the bottom of the big garden and do all sorts of things with the spade. But he got this woman to go around. She went around all over to ANC units and so on, delivering messages. And I said to him: Does she know that you are Nelson. He says: You know, it's a funny thing, I think she knows I am, but she calls me David, and she knows that I know that she knows [Laughter]. But she still calls me David. And she never, ever called him anything but David. And as far as she was concerned, that was it. So, you know, someone made the famous remark that, if you are in with the people, it's like a fish in the sea, amongst the people. And that's how this man was. Because, afterwards, when we were doing things for MK, and that's when we used the brickworks once more
Ja, brickworks, that same brickworks, to go and test things, he [Mandela] came along, I and several others - Jack Hodgson - to test. And he [Mandela] insisted on coming to the first one to go. And I suggested that place. I think my brother was on holiday at the time. But it wasn't any more a brickworks, as I told you. But, the advantage of doing it there was that there were these big holes to get out the clay for the machines to make the bricks. And I remember very distinctly that there was a law that you had to make it in shelves like this - some gold law, or something - that all land in the Transvaal or Johannesburg came under this particular law. And then you had to go down, and so there were like steps coming up. And also there were also several other brickworks round and about. So you were allowed to use dynamite to loosen the soil, the clay. So it wasn't an unusual thing to have explosions, to hear explosions. Anyhow, we took this contraption. Christ, it was a tin, like a paraffin tin. The time thing - and this is what Jack Hodgson invented - was the inside - you see the inside of this biro - somehow Jack had contrived to bend it by heating it or something like that. That was the timing device. And on top was something that looked like these pencil sharpeners, the plastic ones. And you put the nitro-glycerine in that -. Hell, are you going to publish this even now? I think this part you shouldn't.
Let's leave it out. The technical side.
All right, leave out the technical side, and even perhaps - well I don't know.
It would be very useful for me to know the technical side, merely because it situates things at that time. But if you think-.
No, no, it's not the technical side. I'm just wondering if we should mention the whole thing.
Well, can I just ask you some questions. When would this test have taken place?
Before the 17th of December . So it was in 1961.
So this is at a time when you are not looking after Mandela?
When did the National Convention take place?
The Pietermaritzburg one?
Yes. Aah, yes, he went underground before 1962. He was arrested in 1962.
I think he was already underground. He was underground. Yes, that's pretty definite. Yes, that took place.
You were looking after Mandela before-?
Before 1962. Yes, Christ, yes man. That's in 1961, isn't it?
That's right. Because, you see even before, even before-.
The All-In convention takes place before the three-day stayaway [May 1961], as I understand it.
Yes, yes, the three-day stayaway is on the 28th, 29th and 30th of May. The 31st of May 1961 was when they declared it a Republic wasn't it.
Yes. So, in other words, our dates about 1962 as when you are looking after him [Mandela] are wrong?
Yes, yes, it's 1961. It's 1961. You see how, how-.
Hell man, that's bad. It was 1961, it was 1961, there is no doubt about it. It was 1961, definitely 1961.
Looking after Mandela?
What dates? Can you remember?
Well that must have been after May, so a few months, or a month or two after this happened. So it was between May, certainly we can say it was between the end of May and 16th of December . So it must have been round about - it could have been anywhere - August, September, I don't know what, you know.
And did you find yourself looking after him at any point after the December 16 1961 commencement of armed struggle?
Yes, yes, I think so. Now, just let's see. Because he came there before that happened, you see before that happened. We had already cut wires and things before the 16th of December . Jack Hodgson and I and a few others had tested it to see whether, you know, you could cut the telephone wires and everything else. Ja, so, it's 1961. There's no question about that. It's just a matter of when it was.
And in 1962, did you find yourself looking after him?
No, well now, he then went out of the country, so I wonder what period that was. That was in 1962. He went out of the country. That was when he had left me. He had gone to this doctor's place. He may have even gone somewhere else after that. Then we heard, of course, that he had gone out of the country. He came back. And one day somebody called me and said that I had to go to a place in Cyrildene [Johannesburg], that there was somebody who wanted to see me. And I went up there to this fellow, Cyril Jones' house, and there was Nelson on his return from his trip overseas. And he was very excited, and he told me that very day that one thing that he had learned from all the leaders that he had met - I think he had met Kaunda, he met Haille Sellassie, at the Pan African - and also visited Ben Bella, been to London of course - and he told me in all his travels, the thing that stood out starkly was the fact that we weren't putting the image of the Africans enough in the forefront of our struggle, and that some of the leaders that he met were a bit unhappy about that. They felt that the alliance sort of thing wasn't strong enough, I suppose nationalist enough to inspire them, and that it might have an effect also on the people in South Africa, our people, you know, and that they felt that that had to be done much more than it had been up to then. I remember him saying this, and he was - and then he was saying - I think he then told us that he had to go and make a report to Chief Luthuli who had been - he was banned to Groutville, that's right. I was on a committee with Kathrada and a few others, you know, several other people, who were then definitely looking after and discussing - we were both security and intelligence. For instance, we had somebody take various pictures of The Greys, which was the headquarters of the Special Branch at the time, we had contacted some watchmen who were looking after a parking place downstairs and said: Look, you must let us know where these Special Branch, which cars they get into, and so on. So we did that as well as looking after the security of our own people. Like a counter-intelligence part. And actually, Bram Fischer was the head of that. But he didn't come to every meeting. But, anyhow-.
Under which structure did that fall?
Oh, it was like a Congress thing.
Was it one of the committees set up under the Rivonia leadership?
Rivonia leadership. Under the Congress leadership, you know. It had been in existence for quite a while. And anyhow, so we didn't like the idea that he should go down, and risk all that. We said so to him. He said he had to go down. He'd given his word to Luthuli and he was going down. Anyhow, he went down by car with Cecil Williams. Now, I can only assume - I am not sure - of course, Cecil was such a great friend of Jack Hodgson, who was on our committee, that he may have - and Cecil was known as a playwright and actor and director of stage plays, so he was a safe person, we all thought. Anyhow, they went down, and then, when they came to - and they went to a meeting, I think of an MK unit, I am not sure, but I suspect it must have been, in Durban. And then, as they were coming up, there is that waterfall in, what is it?
Howick Falls, that's where they were arrested. Now I was working at New Age, as I told you. And I remember the night before, God, we had worked right through - we worked you know for nearly 24 hours a day in those days - and I was tired and I came to the office. And then, a call came through that Nelson [Mandela] had been arrested. I don't know what time of the day it was. Anyhow, then somebody had to go and tell Winnie that he had been arrested. And we were all banned. I couldn't go and see anyone like that - you know more than two people, or only one person. So I arranged with a woman Esther Mchali [?spelling], who worked for us to walk about 50 yards in front of me. Meanwhile, somebody would phone from a private box to tell Winnie to come downstairs. You know, she worked in a building about three blocks away from me. She was a, she was a -.
Yes a welfare officer, social services. And I arranged with Mchali, this woman, to give me signs, as to whether the Special Branch were outside - you know, we always knew where they were and how they looked and the cars - and she gave me an all-clear, and she walked on, and I popped into this place and there was Winnie coming towards me, not like the story they gave in the film they made here [UK] - stupid - I was very cross about that because they could've asked me because after all I'm here and it was made here. But she [Winnie Mandela] just saw my face, I think, and she said: Is it Nelson? And I said: Yes, he's been arrested, and he's going to appear I think the next morning, or whatever, but I knew the time, at the Magistrate's Court, and you had better know. I think I was about to cry more than she was. She was very strong about it. And of course, I don't know what words we had, but we were both pretty glum and downhearted, dispirited. And then I went back to the office. And then, of course, what took place the next day, in court, that was a remarkable thing. You know, I would sit in the court there - of course, I was writing for New Age, and somehow they arranged that I sit in a nice comfortable position. And I was only too pleased because I would looking straight at the dock, and the court was full, and people were all around - not everyone could get into the court - but the police and all were armed. And then I saw Winnie [Mandela] coming to a policeman and saying: Can you take this? And she had a little suitcase, as I remember it - unless I am dreaming - and said can you take it down. I suppose they thought he's going to smarten up to appear before the beak. So, now I am waiting. And I thought: when he comes up, the first one he will look at will be towards where the magistrate is sitting which is over there and I am on the side here. So, I'll sort of greet him. And then, hell, I remember how tense it was. And then they said: Call him in. The Magistrate came in, you see, and sat there and in walked this fellow, and he was in - he had a skin across his chest here, he had beads all over, you know, on his arms, and I believe on his feet. But he was in African regalia, and what he did, he walked up - and it must have been planned by him - and he just looked straight at the magistrate. And the magistrate and everyone got such a shock when they saw this - of course, he was known to be a very well-dressed, extremely well-dressed man before. And that's what we all thought was going to happen. And everyone was shocked. And you know that magistrate couldn't speak for a minute or so! [Laughter]. He couldn't even nod - you know they usually nod. That was really interesting, man. It was a tremendous-. Then they shifted it to, they shifted the court to Pretoria - I think to the Old Synagogue there, the same thing, you know. But we had huge demonstrations outside, terrific demonstrations.
Now this is Mandela's first trial?
First trial, yes.
For sabotage, etc.
It wasn't sabotage, in fact, it was for leaving the country illegally and calling for the strike.
Yes, that's right.
It had nothing to do with sabotage per se?
Yes. Nothing to do with Rivonia. But then that was when that picture was taken in by a lawyer, after Eli Weinberg had taken it and given it to me. And that's when he [Mandela] wrote all that on it. Because I had been sending him messages that came from all over the show for him.
Now, Wolfie, were you in MK structures at that time?
Can you tell me within which structures of MK you were? You have mentioned that you were involved in this intelligence and security organ, independent of-.
Yes, that's independent of it, ja. I was in the MK structure. I was like an area commander, well mainly of an Indian group. I had always been with the Indian comrades. And I was the head of that particular section. And then I liaised with the high command - not me - I liaised with the liaison chap of the high command. And as a matter of fact, before it all happened, they came around and asked for recommendations to the high command from chaps like me and Jack Hodgson. We were ex-soldiers - we knew more about these things, you know, bombs and things, than anyone else probably at the time. And, as I told you, we cut wires and things like that. So, yes, I was in charge of that and, of course, with our particular group, on the first night, there were three - we were responsible for three of the explosions that took place.
In the Johannesburg area?
In the Johannesburg area, ja.
Can you remember which explosions those were?
Oh, yes, I can remember it well. But I am just wondering about all this being in print.
OK, then let's leave that side of it.
I can tell you which places they were, yes. Well, it was a post office up there in Ferreirastown, Vrededorp; and a magistrate's court and a pass office - all in that area, you know.
And were any members of your group jailed subsequently?
Subsequently. Yes, they were jailed subsequently, but not for those things - for something else. Because we had several groups.
Under an area commander you had several groups?
Several groups under us, yes. And they didn't know me. Because only one from each of the groups came onto our regional command.
So was your - when you say you were an area commander, is that the way you described yourself?
Well, a regional commander.
What was your region, then? Was it a geographical region?
Well, it was practically everything out of the townships?
In the whole country?
No, in the Transvaal. Because one of the groups was sent to Pretoria, just as a diversion, so that they could imagine, you know, think, that's a Pretoria set-up. But it wasn't. It was just-. Then afterwards, things did happen in Pretoria. And I think things did happen in the townships around Pretoria, already. But in Pretoria, where they were building new houses for Indians - Nana Sita - and it was the house that was supposed to be for Nana Sita, who was a prominent, top Indian Congress [SAIC] man - that house was the target.
Why should it have been the target?
Well, he hadn't moved into it yet. And because we were against group areas and people had been moved, or being threatened to be moved out of one area to go to that particular part where they had built these sort of little blocks - and we wanted to show our objection to that side of things. There's another one who didn't want that [Sita]. But he was a very disciplined person. Once it started, he wasn't going to be against it. But I want to tell you - you see I have told you about these things. But I want to tell you a very interesting story about, that gave me the willies, you know. Because, Jack [Hodgson] was the one who, Jack was wonderful, Jack Hodgson, absolutely amazing fellow that one. He organised all these things. And the factory was actually - you know he was in charge of what we called the factory, and so on.
This was a bomb factory?
Yes, and that's where - people came from the townships and all over, and that's where we had to collect our material and go back. Anyhow, fortunately for our particular group who did these three - I showed them how to hit in a window by putting tape, you know, scotch tape on it and so on - then we tested it, and it was leaking. So, my God, Ramotse and a chap - the first casualty, this fellow got killed -.
He blew himself up?
Yes, climbing through the fence. You know, he had already put the thing in, and he shouldn't have. And the gate wasn't open, so he forgot, and he was sort of going with it through the fence, and then he blew himself up. Now, I was reporting for New Age at this time. So I am going to - and Ramotse was caught, his coat, his jacket was on fire, and they caught him. Now he was going to come up [for trial]. And another fellow, Raj Vadejaar [???spelling] - they raided all over the show, as you can well imagine, and they caught him with a gun that he was not supposed to have had and some gunpowder in a tube that he shouldn't have left around. so they were in jail. And I am coming now to report Ramotse. Now, you know, usually, they never made space for me. They knew I was New Age, and what they considered - it was a Congress paper - but they called it a communist paper. So, all of a sudden, this Special Branch, who was in charge of this case, the Ramotse case, saw me coming, and he said: Oh, Mr Kodesh, come and sit here. And the Afrikaans chaps, who were hostile towards us, moved out of the way and I sat there next to this Special Branch chap. And there were all the exhibits [laughter]. You know, on the table in front of the dock. And he said to me: Ja, very interesting. He says: You see that piece there with the tag on it there, and he pointed, that's the post office, you know, up there in Vrededorp and Ferreiratown; and this is from the Magistrate's court, and these over here - there were a lot of pieces - this is from the pass office, and this is from here and this is from here. So he pointed this all out to me. So I said: Oh, well. So he was telling me about all this. I took out my notebook and I started writing. And he said to me: You know, these fellows think they are clever, they use gloves, but you know we can catch them; our scientists are working how you can even tell the fingerprints inside the glove [laughter]. So I sort of giggled. But I wrote it down. then he produces a big envelope. He said: You know, I showed these pictures to Vadejaar [?spelling] who is in jail. Vadejaar was let out shortly afterwards, but it was a trick of theirs. And he pulls out the pictures of the fellow who got killed - one arm, his hand blown right off, his cuts, his intestines were hanging out. He said I showed this to Vadejaar in jail, and I don't think he liked it; this is what happens to terrorists, he says to me, and so on. And I am writing all this down and thinking: Now, Christ! [laughter] It was a hell of an experience. Hell of an experience. So, but I want to tell you that Vadejaar - he was charged, initially, for being in possession of an unlicensed gun and a test tube [of gunpowder]. Then, all of a sudden - then it was adjourned. Then the case was restarted, and he was charged on a very minor thing - I think just having an unlicensed gun, and he was fined and he was let off. But I think that gave them the idea that there is something going on there. Because afterwards they even infiltrated an Indian chap into that particular group, unit. And that's how they were caught.
[End of interview]