About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, 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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

24 Aug 1992: Ngakane, Shadrack

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POM     Shadrack, as I said maybe you could just start with the story of your life from where you were born, your parents, brothers and sisters, where you went to school, when you first became aware of the system of apartheid and when you became aware not just that it was there but that there was something wrong about it and how your life began to develop, what's happened to you and the other members of your family whether they are still here, whatever.

SN     In fact let me start with this simple question of how I came into being and where I was schooled and whatsoever. I started at the lower primary in Springs, it was called KwaThema Combined.

POM     Where is Springs?

SN     Springs is in KwaThema in the East Rand. When I had to proceed and I went to the higher primary school, in the same school because it was divided into two sections, I did my primary school and my senior primary at the very same school. I started schooling in 1969. I had a lot of difficulties at home first because my Mom was not employed. She started working in 1974. She immigrated from Transkei to come and join her husband who was a miner.

POM     So your father was working in the mines?

SN     Yes.

POM     And she was in the Transkei. Were you born in the Transkei? Where were you actually born?

SN     I was born in the Transkei so I had to come down, come and join my father. As I said my schooling, KwaThema Combined, were the early ages of my education. I wasn't aware of apartheid as such but I was aware of the legal conditions by then because I would wake up early in the morning, go to school, just have one slice of bread for breakfast, go to school and come back at about 12, even then I would have just maybe a light lunch, then start working in the house, all sorts of things. It took me some time to be that much aware of the situation and the social conditions; I wasn't that much aware of it but I saw that there was something wrong. Why are we living like this? What's happening? Then I took some time to grasp exactly what the situation was, the political, the economic situation, the social formation in our country. It was due to my father that I got to know some of the things because my father was once a member of SACTU.

POM     SACTU is?

SN     The trade union which COSATU is at the present day. It was called SACTU in the early days, South African Congress of Trade Unions. So my father didn't say much to me about things which affected them as workers and so on but he used to tell me just a few things, that this is the situation that prevails in our country but he didn't go into detail. So I had to find out why there is such a situation a country where other people are being kept underprivileged and whatsoever.

POM     What sort of hours would he work in the mines? What mines was he working in?

SN     The gold mines. In fact he was in two mines. The coal mines first, then later on the gold mines, before Gold Industries in the East Rand. So as I grew up I went to high school.

POM     Your family, other children?

SN     Oh there were seven in the family, three boys, four girls.

POM     Where did you fall?

SN     The second in the family. The first is a girl.

POM     So you're the eldest boy.

SN     I'm the oldest boy in the family. When I was in high school, because I started high school, I was doing Standard 7

POM     What year would that be when you started high school?

SN     That was 1980 when I started high school and I was doing Standard 7. That's when I met people who could inspire me politically and give me the exact political direction on what's happening in our country because when I started in the high school we used to break into small formations because, you may recall, by then everything was still being suppressed, organisations were banned. We never knew anything about the ANC then because everything was suppressed, totally suppressed and the labour movement in SA and the Communist Party, if you were found talking about communists and the Communist Party you were in hell. I was recruited into a cell which looked into ways and means of trying to mobilise amongst the students first and foremost and then at a later stage

POM     Was this affiliated with any organisation or was it just a group of people?

SN     It was an underground cell of the ANC but I happened to know that eight months after I was recruited into that cell, after I was tested that I can work with that cell, because I was detained maybe three, four times.

POM     In that eight months?

SN     In that eight month period.

POM     Would the police pick you up at your house or how would they - ?

SN     Yes. You know what used to happen, Padraig, they didn't go to school, they used to raid at about three to four o'clock in the morning, that's what they usually did. So I happened to be a victim in those circumstances because they would find me sleeping at home, wake me up in the early hours, then go to the police station, torture and beat me.

POM     How would they torture you?

SN     Oh it was very bad, Padraig, very bad. What used to happen was that when you are being tortured they made you strip all your clothes, tie you into a chair, then they would use electric shocks and all sorts of methods of torturing, which you know about. I grew up under such conditions which were very difficult because I was still too young then to understand why do they do this. But due to the fact that I committed myself and my life to the politics in SA which I had a bit of knowledge of before joining this formation, which is a cell, within the cell I had to develop further. That's when I got to know most of the things, what's happening and why the ANC, the SACP, what are the objectives of these organisations.

POM     Can I just go back? You were detained about four times in eight months?

SN     Yes.

POM     Would they tell you what you were being detained for?

SN     No. You are not asked.

POM     You would just be taken? What kind of information? What information?

SN     What happened, in 1979 the student organisation was formed in SA called COSAS, which still exists today, but it was banned maybe two or three times. So we used to operate under the wing of COSAS by then as students but that was a cover-up for our activities. We operated under this wing of COSAS but knowing our objective that it doesn't end there. The main purpose of engaging in this front as students is to mobilise the broader community not just only the students, but it was the only formation which was active then because if you look COSATU was not there when COSAS was formed. It was not there, there were only two trade unions which were legal in SA then and even in the working class formations there was not much activity by them so we had to start from the school premises and then we would go out and search in the other fields. It happened that way.

POM     Where would you go to try and mobilise? Did you have to do this on a one-to-one basis?

SN     Yes, yes. In the COSAS formation I was given the task to organise the East Rand area. I had the underground cells under the student wing so I used to travel the whole East Rand, Tembisa, Vosloorus, Boksburg, Katlehong, which is in Germiston where there is Phola Park the squatter camp. That was my area of operation. So I used to travel as far as that demarcation. I used to work quite well with the comrades in those areas. We managed to mobilise as many people as possible in the student front. COSAS was the strongest formation. Then we had to look about, targeting other sectors like, for instance, the working class particularly. At that moment the working class was not active. There were people within the working class who were aware, politically aware of the conditions under which we were subjected but they couldn't do anything. So as a starting point we had to mobilise them into small groupings. I also used to conduct political classes with the workers.

POM     What would you cover in these political classes? What kind of subjects?

SN     They used to vary. For instance, when I dealt with students I never used to come up exactly as a champion of working class but I used to speak mainly of the activities of the students. But when I met workers, the workers which I used to meet with were people who were properly organised in a small cell and they knew exactly what's happening, exactly, but they needed to be motivated so that they can proceed and work. That's on the East Rand. Now there was one person by the name of Chris Dhlamini, I don't know whether you know him? Chris Dhlamini, the Vice President of COSATU? He was in my cell, Chris Dhlamini, we used to work together. When I was still at school he was a worker but we managed to mobilise as many workers as possible. Side by side the students struggled. We managed to form an alliance later on in the eighties, that was 1984 when everything started to submerge. We managed to forge links with the labour movement. Then it was only COSATU, the Federation of South African Workers. We managed to forge links, we called a stayaway in the Transvaal. What used to happen in that cell, I was operating in the East Rand, there were people who were operating in the West Rand and in the Northern Transvaal and other places in the Transvaal because the stayaway managed to be effective everywhere in the Transvaal by then and it was a two-day stayaway, November 5 and 6, 1984.  From those activities I gained confidence in myself that I can mobilise as many people as I can and I can work with good people who are popular in other formations, they worked with particular ones. Thus I was much more confident in myself.

     In 1983 when the UDF was formed, because COSAS happened to affiliate to the UDF, that was the United Democratic Front, it was formed in 1983. From 1982 onwards, because we now had many formations, we had people in labour, we had the student wing, then we had an organisation which was supposed to mobilise all the broader section of the community. That was the United Democratic Front because the composition of the UDF used to comprise of church people and all sorts, all people that you can find in SA. Thus we managed to work effectively under the UDF. We as COSAS were affiliated, thus there were other organisations which were affiliated to UDF including some trade union movements who affiliated to UDF. We managed to work effectively from that point onwards but in 1984 it happened that one finds himself under serious threat from the Boers. We said as a cell, together with Chris Dhlamini and Godamani(?) (there was another one called Godamani, he is now working in the Border region in the Eastern Cape). We used to stay together in one township, we worked together for a long time. At that time it happened that Godamani was detained in 1984, Chris Dhlamini was forced to go into hiding, so I was left with no choice because they were the people who advised me to leave the country because I was the most targeted person out of the whole cell. What happened is that during the very same year four of my comrades died, they died in another situation which involved the Boers themselves. What happened was that they sent somebody else to go and show them but that person happened to be an informer to the police, in fact he was a Special Constable but he pretended as if he's from outside and now he's come with a mission to come and train people inside the country which is what we were expecting from people who came out of the country. But those comrades died horribly because three of them, in fact they were in pieces, I can't explain how

POM     Blown to pieces?

SN     Yes they were blown to pieces. Two were having these grenades and they tried to put pull the pins because they wanted to blow up a sub-station in Springs but they happened to blow themselves up. The third one was holding a limpet mine. He tried to take out the fuse and put the limpet mine but it blew him up too. The other comrade, Comrade Ntswini, he was a student at University of Natal. He died horribly, he was the main person which I can say I still, even up to now, I still wish that whoever killed him must be brought to book even to this day and age. That is still my wish because he died in a brutal manner. He was shot, he had refused to get out of the kombi which they were put into, he refused. He was shot in the head and an explosive was put on his chest. They blew him into pieces too. Later in 1984 I was forced to leave the country.

POM     What age were you at that point?

SN     I was 24 when I left the country. I had to leave the country under other conditions. I still feel, even up to now, because what happened is that I was recalled from the UDF offices because they got information from outside that our cell has now been exposed, it can no longer operate because the Boers are about to corner the whole cell so it's better for me to go outside the country. I questioned that thing many times because the person who consulted me about that was Popo Molefe. In fact he was just giving advice, "You see now it's bad in the East Rand so what about you go outside and get some form of training then you can come back and operate as a full cadre." I said, "No, I'm working effectively inside the country."  Popo Molefe told me that, "You see nothing happened but at last the Boers will corner you, they will take you, they will put you in jail, you may spend as many years as possible in jail." When I tried to stick to what I thought, that I can't go out and whatsoever, but on advice from different people whom I used to work with, some of them were my friends, and they said, "Now you can see the position, it's unfavourable for you." What used to happen by then is that each and every day, 24 hours, there was a car of the police at my parents' gate. I couldn't go home, I couldn't do anything. If I wanted to go home it means I must enter at the back. Even then I would just spend two minutes, just get there. "How are you? I am still alive anyway. See you." Then I'm out. But due to advice then I had to leave the country.

POM     Were any other of your brothers immediately involved?

SN     The younger brother to me he had once tried to be active as a worker because he used to work for some steel and engineering company in Springs, I've just forgotten the name, where he tried to organise the workers under the name of NUMSA, the National Union of Metalworkers, but he was under pressure then to quit the job because he was being harassed and exposed. What happened at that stage is that there were two trade union movements. The one was affiliated to NUMSA and the other one was affiliated to UWUSA, that is the United Workers of South Africa. Then the others were using threats and all sorts of things to get rid of my younger brother so he had to quit the job. Now he's unemployed, still looking for a job.

POM     Is he still living in Springs?

SN     Yes.

POM     Are your parents still living in Springs?

SN     Yes.

POM     Are your sisters still there?

SN     All of them, all of them.

POM     Are your sisters married?

SN     My sisters are not married yet.

POM     So they all live at home?

SN     Yes they all live at home. It's a small house. They had to add three rooms at the back to make it spacious.

POM     Is your father still working?

SN     No my father pensioned whilst I was still in exile. When I came back he was almost five years on pension. He is an old man.

POM     What age is he now?

SN     I think he is 78 this year.

POM     He is? Wow! So you born when he was quite old?

SN     Yes. In fact I can say he is older even than my Mum.

POM     What age is your Mum now?

SN     60.

POM     60? Oh not old. You Mum is 60 now?

SN     Yes.

POM     So your father is a lot older than your mother. Did she work while - ?

SN     Yes, she worked. As I said, she started working in 1974. She worked in Springs, I & J, she worked there for about eight years and then she had to leave, they were retrenched and she had to find another job and she found one in factory mines because they had to have this other section of workers which is sort of domestic like, catering for these white boys. My parents are people who never had a proper education, first and foremost, and many factors in fact.

POM     So you go abroad, you leave the country?

SN     Yes, well I left the country.

POM     Did you have problems getting out?

SN     No, no, no, everything was well organised by the time I left the country because I left through Komati, the part between Mozambique and South Africa. We used that border when I had a passport but I didn't use the passport because I had to use other ways. I was with people who didn't have passports and whatsoever but because I knew the route, I had been there before, that's what happened. I had gone there once as a courier to fetch some arms inside the country, thus I knew the ropes there. So the second time when I went back it was easier for me because I just showed the people the direction and there were people waiting for us on the other side of the border, thus we never had that much difficulty.

POM     You went from there to?

SN     From that destination, well I went to Angola from Mozambique, I went straight to Angola. Then in Angola  I trained first for ten months then I had to go and specialise in Military Science. Then I had to go to Yugoslavia.

POM     Where did you go to in Yugoslavia?

SN     I've just forgotten the place exactly because we were not allowed to go outside whatsoever, we were just trapped in that place.

POM     So you were in Yugoslavia but you might as well have been on the moon.

SN     Yes. It happened to many people in Europe because we had just been given space to move, like for instance in GDR. I went there, I trained there, but you know what happened there? You were housed in a block of flats, we used to stay there, we had everything in there and we were told not to go out. Well, I had my own suspicions that why do these people not want to let us go out, but those have been proven lately by the upheavals in Eastern Europe and whatsoever.

POM     So you spent ten months training in Angola and how many months in Yugoslavia?

SN     Ten months again.

POM     Then how long in the GDR?

SN     Ten months again. I had to come back to Angola.

POM     When you came back what were your specialities?

SN     In fact in Yugoslavia I specialised in Military Science. Then in GDR I specialised in Political Science. Then I had to come back for a while because I came back and I spent about three months in Angola and I had to go to the Soviet Union for further specialisation in politics.

POM     Where did you go in the Soviet Union?

SN     I was in Moscow. We used to mix with students in Moscow, the ones who were in Patrice Lumumba University.

POM     That was better than ?

SN     Yes it was better in the Soviet Union.

POM     You could meet more people.

SN     Yes

POM     Did you get out at all to see how the people lived?

SN     We used to go to where they lived in Patrice Lumumba and spend some time but not to sleep there.

POM     You didn't get out at all to people from the Soviet Union, the Russians?

SN     I would say at some stage we used to get out with some of the comrades because I still remember there were three comrades of ours who went and tried to mix with the population and get their views about what the situation was in the Soviet Union and how do they live and whatsoever, but that thing backfired and those comrades were expelled from the Soviet Union which was a surprise to us. I remember that. You see what they told me when I came back is that where they had gone to it's a backyard of the Soviet Union. Moscow as a city is beautiful but there are backyards in Moscow where you find people who are hungry and whatsoever. All the slogans about socialism and people having everything was not there. I was fully convinced that should I be there I would just see the beauty, not the bad side of it. I used to go as far as going to the locals and whatsoever.

POM     In politics was it Marxist/Leninism?

SN     Yes.

POM     Was it a very rigorous kind of training?

SN     Yes, yes. For instance, I don't know, maybe I might be wrong, what used to happen is that Marxism/Leninism it's a broad principle which has never applied practically in any country. The Soviet Union tried to apply it in practice, it took them several years and they didn't manage to implement it practically. So to draw lessons from such situations with the situation in SA I would say maybe it's due to their analysis of Marxism/Leninism which led to the failure because there are countries like China which never practice Marxism/Leninism to its fullest, instead they opted for Maoism which was their own form of Marxism/Leninism. So all these countries you see at this stage there is only one country that I believe that because of its principle of not copying Marxism/Leninism from other countries, because Marxism/Leninism is not a blueprint, but here you go like this and this and that and that. It's applied in conditions which are conducive to your own situation. For instance, you couldn't apply Marxism/Leninism in Russia because Russia by then was still dominantly peasantry, the working class was still small by then. Lenin too failed to develop the working class in the Soviet Union, thus you see this thing which happens now, thereby you find Stalin and the rest who are doing the opposite of what Marxism/Leninism says because they tell you to take the party to be a party of individuals, whilst the party is for the workers it never belongs to anybody. Those are the things which I say I can see as mistakes within the implementation of that principle in the Soviet Union. The other example is Cuba. Cuba will never copy Marxism/Leninism. It just has its own vision on how you implement it.

POM     Has Cuba been successful?

SN     Yes relatively. You see that thing which we take examples from which are good, and the Cuban revolution, those people managed to instil pride unto themselves which was threatened by the Americans because they were there to watch and they were there to propagate their own propaganda and whatsoever. Cuba managed to instil itself and to be surrounded by big nations. As you know Cuba is a small entity, a small country, a small island, but it managed to survive. Even up to now it is surviving but under difficult conditions at the moment because there is no longer the Soviet Union, there is no longer anybody who used to be an ally to Cuba. It is suffering at the moment.

POM     So you came back, you did your training in the Soviet Union and you came back to Angola?

SN     Yes. When I got back to Angola I was deployed in the propaganda section of MK.

POM     What is the propaganda section?

SN     The propaganda section is we used to divide it into two. There is propaganda which is broadcasting and there is propaganda which you sit down and strategise and come up with concrete policies which are supposed to be followed.

POM     This is within the MK?

SN     Yes. You see, for instance, there is one mistake which people used to do, they used to divide MK from the ANC and it's not like that because you cannot join MK not having joined the ANC itself. That's one principle which we believed in for some time.

POM     So were you an officer?

SN     Yes I was a junior officer in the army.

POM     This is in the middle now of the Angolan war?

SN     Yes. During the Cuito Cuanavale war we were stationed in the northern part of Angola, we were not in the southern part where there was much fighting, but, to tell you the truth, there was much fighting in the northern part of Angola as much as in the southern part. What used to happen, we were the only people manning that frontier.

POM     How many of you were there, of MK?

SN     We had about three camps.

POM     Were there many people?

SN     I can't count figures now because we were so many. We used to have six companies, which is a battalion itself. We used to train those people as a battalion.

POM     After they were trained what would happen to them?

SN     What happened is that during the period of the front, the front started in 1987, from 1987 to 1989, in fact there was not much training going on during that period because we were faced with a situation where we had to defend our camps because we were under serious onslaught. It was a joint manoeuvre between the Americans using the South African territory, UNITA, and the South African mercenaries. That is so, we had to battle with those people. In fact what they wanted to do is they wanted to stop trafficking of food to our camps, to starve us, our stomachs.

POM     So the food would come from where?

SN     The food used to come from Luanda, that is the capital, which was being shipped from Europe, different countries in Europe, Yugoslavia, Soviet Union and the Scandinavian countries. They used to give us solidarity. We had to battle because if we were to be starved we knew first and foremost that there would be serious problems within the camps because of food shortages. So we said, no, if this situation is going to go on like this and these people we knew exactly what was the purpose of them trying to create this blockage. Firstly they wanted to release, because we had a camp nearby to keep prisoners of war, we used to call it Camp 32.

POM     These prisoners of war would be members of UNITA?

SN     No, not members of UNITA per se. It's people who used to be infiltrated by the Boers through our structures outside and we used to capture them and put them in a safe place. So through that period 1987 1989 there was not much training going on because what we used to do, we used to concentrate on training a bit but practical training mostly, preparing people for pressures ahead. What used to happen is that we either used to ship food from Luanda to the camps, our convoys used to be ambushed, people get killed and all sorts of things. So we had to mobilise ourselves from units which would be specialists, will be established in the front to protect in particular the villagers because the villages first and foremost were under fire from units because we started only in the north of Angola. They had done that in the early stages, that was in the early eighties, there was an eastern front led by UNITA bandits who used to harass the local population and they used to harass us, try to stop our convoys which is what we did, the very same tactics. They were trying to use the northern part of Angola. The composition of UNITA by then, it was not UNITA per se. UNITA was the cannon fodder, used to run and battle and do all sorts of things and shoot and do whatsoever, but we knew that they were just a supporting force which is running in front as cannon fodder, not the people who were manning strategic positions. For instance, in the UNITA personnel there was no-one who could manipulate an R57, there was no-one who could manipulate a machine gun and all the armaments, except the light ones, the AKs and whatsoever where they killed many of our comrades, I must tell you that, because at some stage 37 of our comrades fell in a battle in a day and that was that.

POM     Is that right? All from UNITA?

SN     No, from our side, from the MK side.

POM     They were killed by UNITA?

SN     Yes. I cannot say by UNITA per se because the people who were manning the positions were not UNITA, it was not UNITA, it was the Americans, the mercenaries, the South African mercenaries combined with the mercenaries and the Israelis. We used to fight multi-nationals as an army because we had no alternative but to defend ourselves and the purpose. In 1988 there was one thing which made me happy at some stage because Ronald Reagan had stayed in power. He said there is no forcing Angola which was stopping me from realising my objectives. I can see because this thing, the war in Angola is not about the terrain, it was much more political than military. It was much more political than in its military content. UNITA had that thing that they wanted to seize power by force of arms but they didn't have the sophistication first and foremost to engage the Cuban forces, Swapo, Fapla and us, because Swapo, Fapla and the Cubans used to operate on the southern front but we are alone on the northern front. We were facing all these multi-national forces, multi-national mercenaries, to stop them. We used to manage to stop them in many instances, not only once.

     I remember that, for instance, this battle whereby our comrades died, the 27 who died, then it was just UNITA, fully trained commandos of UNITA, not just the ones which were used to repulse like nothing because we used to repulse them in most instances and proceed. But these ones were fully trained, they were in full military gear and you can see that those were soldiers and they were being backed by heavy machine guns behind. That battle took about one hour forty-five minutes because in that convoy, the convoy was about 70, 70 men on a convoy, and when we arrived, because they had to communicate with the front and from the front we got the message because I was in the camp by then, I had to move from the camp to the front, from the front to reinforce our comrades. When we finally reached that position it was an easy position to sustain. The fire that they got from the bandits and when we arrived we just away all the attempts of trying to repulse our comrades and just to try to overrun our convey because the men had just fought UNITA first and foremost. They wanted to overrun our convoys so that they can be sure that from then onwards that there is nothing that can happen between us and by then we will be captive, we will go hungry and then there will be mutineers in our camp and all sorts of things because what I tell you is that a hungry soldier is a dangerous soldier. You cannot keep a person for ever fighting, hungry. I'm not saying we used to eat as much as we can but when food was there we used to eat. When it was not there we just forgot because we used to stay for about two days without food but we told ourselves that we are not here to eat and spend lots of time and have fun and whatsoever but we are here to prepare ourselves so that we can go home and fight. That was the spirit.

POM     Did that question ever come up, MK members saying, "What am I doing in Angola fighting UNITA when really I should be in SA?"

SN     No. You see that's the thing which I like about our comrades in most instances because they understood first and foremost why there was a front, why they had to be deployed at the front. We didn't just go to the front because we had been told to go to the front. What we used to do was to sit down and discuss and take a decision and say that we are not going to be dictated to but, no, there's a front on which we will go and fight and do also one, two, three, four, five and at the end of the day you'll be heroes and whatsoever. No, we understood first and foremost the objective of the front, firstly to defend ourselves, our lives and the lives of the people because as I said about this Camp 32, the purpose of the Boers wanting to overrun our camps was to release their people whom we had managed to capture because it was not only spies but even South African agents and soldiers. We had soldiers who were captured in Angola, captured by us not being assisted by anybody. What they used to is that they used to infiltrate their own personnel through Angola using the Cabinda territory. Although infiltrators from that territory up to where we were, we captured them, put them in jail.

POM     What happened to them subsequently? What happened to those people subsequently?

NG     You see there was one thing that we believed in as an army is that if we captured anybody, not just the ones who had been sent by their own masters in SA because we knew that the South Africans, most of them, had been forced to take that option because we knew first and foremost how the Boers used to operate. They can force someone to go into exile and infiltrate an organisation through their sophistication, that's what we understood first and foremost. So we didn't just take them as if, yes, they are just enemy agents, we are going to hold you here until you get free then you will go back inside the country and whatsoever. No, we need to rehabilitate because I know of many people who were in Camp 32 who ended up being committed soldiers. Some of them are officers today but they were in Camp 32 when they arrived, they are officers in the army. They will tell you, "We made a mistake. We never knew that this is MK." So we had to rehabilitate them and let them go free.

POM     So how long were you still in the northern part of Angola?

SN     Well 1988/1989 we had to close our camps under the agreement in order for SWAPO, because it was a condition. The condition was given to the Boers by the Americans as a condition that you see through that period they tried to link our existence in Angola and the Cuban forces to lead them to this thing of unconditional withdrawal of the armed forces in Angola to make way for Namibian independence. So we sat down and analysed the situation and we considered, no, this thing is not targeting the Cuban forces as such where they are the main target, because first and foremost when they got into Angola there were cries that, no, these people and whatsoever and whatsoever. They managed to leave SA and go to Angola, cause a lot of havoc to come and defend the territory of Angola because Angola by then just couldn't sustain it's own military and whatsoever. They had to call the Cubans. So the Boers now at this stage they tried to link the withdrawal of themselves to the condition that if the Cuban forces don't withdraw they don't see the need of our withdrawal and in fact MK itself should withdraw from Angola in order that there can be peace in this region. We were hostage because we wanted Namibia to be free. We sat down and said anyway if this thing is linked to the independence of Namibia why don't our brothers stay here? Why they must stay here for a long time whilst their country is about to be free? So we just gave in to that condition and we had to move out of Angola. On our withdrawal from Angola that's when I got the accident there.

POM     What happened?

SN     What happened is that by then I was in Viana in a transition camp.

POM     In Angola?

SN     Yes. I was on my way to the Soviet Union for further specialisation in Military Intelligence. It was just a mistake if I can say so, it was a mistake which at some stage I think that it was a mistake but not a mistake per se. We will not go into details about that because it involves some of our people and whatsoever.

POM     What happened?

SN     In fact it was an anti-personnel mine which caused the damage.

POM     Did you step on it or were you in a vehicle?

SN     In fact what happened was that we were removing these things from one person to the other.

POM     And one went off? You were moving from one place to another and one of them - ?

SN     Yes. It just blew me. What happened by then is that, because I was rushed to the Military Hospital in Angola and you know what the Cuban doctor said when I arrived? He said, "We think are going to amputate both legs." I said, "No guys, you can't do that. If you can't do anything just leave me like this." There were many options by then, the GDR was still in existence before it was overrun and the Soviet Union was still existing. So there were two options for me, either go to the GDR or the Soviet Union because already arrangements had been made for me to go to the GDR but later on bad news came that, no, the GDR was in shit. So I had to look at the alternative of the Soviet Union. I learned about the situation in the Soviet Union earlier before it happened, that things are going to be bad in the Soviet Union because we used to get briefings from the Military Attaché in the Soviet Union, Boris. They used to give us briefings that the situation in that country starts is not going so well and whatsoever. In fact it was the starting point which led me to reconsider my going to the Soviet Union before I got injured because we used to have regular contact. We were only the Commissariat, Boris, myself and other officers. But I got that and I considered the option of the Soviet Union but it was later on that I said no, let me go to Zimbabwe, it is near home.

POM     Did they operate on you in Angola?

SN     You see what they did is they didn't operate on me, just put on these things. What do they call them? The ones to stretch bones and whatsoever? In fact they were the most terrible because it was broken into three parts, here, here and here. Yes they tried to set them in Angola but they failed so I had to go to Zimbabwe.

POM     How long did you stay in the hospital?

SN     About six months.

POM     And you were lying in bed all the time because you couldn't move?

SN     Yes. And I had serious wounds on both legs so I had to spend something like three to four months in bed not moving until the wounds got better. Those things are called tractions. So they had to remove the tractions too after that period. I started moving around but then I was using a wheelchair which I still have up till now and I used that wheelchair from that fourth month. When I got out of the hospital, I got out after six months and I went to one of our primary clinics, spent some time there.

POM     Still in Angola?

SN     Still in Angola. I spent some time like one month and a couple of weeks and then I had to be flown to Zimbabwe. So when I arrived in Zimbabwe I was still using the wheelchair. I used the wheelchair in Zimbabwe for eight months.

POM     Did you go into hospital in Zimbabwe again?

SN     When I arrived in Zimbabwe initially I didn't go to hospital but I went to one of our residences. I stayed there, made appointments at the hospital. I was admitted after about four months because they had a long waiting list. I was admitted and I underwent an operation; first, because you see this stump here, after the accident it was like this. I had to go and do reflex of the muscles. They had to do other operations after this one and I waited for some time but by then at least, after the operation of the leg I started trying to stand up and do all sorts of things, exercise, the next thing I just started walking in the house, up and down, up and down, until one day I walked out of the gate. You see it's much better, you feel much good by that, that you are now trying to walk for some distances. Then I had to come back, when I came back it was 1991 when I came back to SA.

POM     When did you meet Nomsa? In Zimbabwe?

SN     Yes a long time ago.

POM     You did?

SN     Yes.

POM     You skipped that part.

SN     I first met her in 1989, 1990 in Zimbabwe.

POM     How did you meet her?

SN     She came to visit where I was staying. We had a relationship, we discussed many things and whatsoever. Well naturally, that one is attracted to another. So that was it.

POM     So you had two operations in Zimbabwe?

SN     Well I had to have the last one in SA because I went to hospital and spent about a month.

POM     And now the recent one?

SN     That's the one I'm talking about. I had to spend a month well it was a bit terrible at first. I can't just sleep on the bed or sit on the bed doing nothing, I have to practice walking, all sorts of things, because I've undergone serious operations, severe pain, because the bones were broken and they have to try them on traction. I was having wounds at first and broken bones and all sorts of things, I was having much pain by then but when it comes to these operations which they have done in the past, the past two operations - as I said, with the others I just considered them minor because of the pain which I underwent at first, the rest are just light things. He told me that, "You've just had a major, major operation."

POM     He told you that it was going to be a major operation?

SN     No, after he had done it, I was in bed. What usually happens is that usually when I get out of the operation room I wake up, I don't wake up and remember what is such, here we were in the passages. I just woke up and just started talking. Like, for instance, in Zimbabwe when I was there for the first time they were so shocked because they don't expect that I would know. I mean I'm not afraid of pain, why do you feel sorry for me that much that you can pay me not to wake up and do a lot of talking? No, I just told them that I'm already used to operations then they accept what I say.  When I was in Zimbabwe I had to undergo another operation. I had three operations in Zimbabwe in fact.

POM     All on the legs?

SN     No, on the arm, on the leg. I've got two operations on one day and this one here.

POM     And you've had one on your head now too?

SN     Yes. Well I don't know what's happening yet because I realise this thing after some time, maybe after three months, that I've got this thing here, this patch on my back where I thought it was maybe due to the fact that I am always lying on my back. I had to look at all of my X-ray photos. I had seen this and I said, "No way."

POM     Can you leave it there or do you have to take it out?

SN     I don't want anybody to do anything with my head.

POM     It's working perfectly?

SN     I'm OK now. I don't need any further operation whatsoever. These things are delaying my life. I can't function. I will have to be in and out of hospital all the time.

POM     Are you anxious to get on with your life?

SN     Yes.

POM     Do you know what you would like to do?

SN     In fact I wanted to continue with my studies because when I left high school I was doing Standard 10.

POM     You've done a lot of studying. The GDR and every country you stayed in has ceased to exist. That's not bad.

SN     If it's bad it's bad in another sense because if you can look at the Soviet Union itself and the GDR, it's obvious that after the end of the cold war, there was the fact that the war is over. Before, you cannot say the war is over. The cold war is over but the war is not over you see.

POM     So will the ANC help you if you want to go to college? Do they help you financially?

SN     Yes, I hope so, because at the moment I'm just being assisted by the NCCR, this grouping of church bodies. National Committee for Repatriation of South African exiles, the NCCR. They are the ones at the moment who are still trying to help there and there.

POM     Does the ANC not have a programme to help people like yourself who are disabled?

SN     You see the ANC by the time I came back inside the country was still a bit disorganised. I don't know now because as far as I can see things it has shifted from the state in which it was before to a much more organised situation. If you can look back the ANC was still trying to re-establish itself inside the country and it had a lot of problems. It had many, many counter strategies so it was difficult. I think by now at least it's organised and I don't doubt that when it comes to them assisting me in terms of going to college or whatsoever I don't think they will have problems with that.

POM     How did you retain your spirits? How did you keep going all the time you spent in hospital in Angola and Zimbabwe? How did you keep your spirits up, how did you keep your discipline, your will to keep going?

SN     OK I understand. In fact you see I had this belief that I'm not doing this for myself, I'm not doing this thing for the organisation that is the ANC but I'm only doing it for the love of the country and for the love of the oppressed of this country. For instance, I'm a member of the ANC, OK, that one cannot run away from. I don't think fighting for the liberation of SA necessarily means we are fighting for the ANC or fighting for the ANC to be in power. The ANC is there as an organisation and it is the first liberation movement to provide for the aspirations of the oppressed in this country. The PAC itself is a break-away from the ANC. AZAPO and the rest they are just being formed lately. So I had that belief and in fact I had much more courage whilst I was in hospital in Angola. I didn't care whatever people would say. When I was in Zimbabwe I was admitted to some occasions, white occasions. They don't want to call themselves Zimbabweans, they still call themselves Rhodesians.

POM     This is across the board?

SN     One of them said to me, "Hey, what happened?" I said I got injured in Angola. "What happened in Angola? Are you an Angolan?" I said, "No, I'm a South African". "What were you doing in Angola?" I said, "I am a member of the ANC's military wing, uMkhonto weSizwe." And this guy said, "But what are they going to do for you? Look, look, look how you are now." I said, "Rubbish, we're not talking about people doing something for me. I was not doing this for anybody, I was doing it for the love of my country. And who are you to tell me that?" This guy said, "Oh, OK, just leave that." So I just looked at him; he doesn't know about political conviction, he doesn't know me first and foremost and how I came to be in that hospital. I just looked at him and I thought that was the reaction that I can expect from anybody. He still had that thing of they are Rhodesians, they are not Zimbabweans and he used to call that hospital Alexander Fleming Hospital, but Alexander Fleming was long ago forgotten. It was called after the first black doctor in Zimbabwe but he insisted that it was Alexander Fleming Hospital. Let him stick to his racist connotations, I don't care.

POM     Did you run across that a lot in Zimbabwe, the racial divisions?

SN     There were serious racial divisions in Zimbabwe, serious racial divisions. You also find a situation like, for instance, next to where I used to stay. There's a bar which is for whites only.

POM     A bar only for whites?

SN     If you can venture into that bar you won't survive, you will be badly injured or you will die. That is why it's important, for instance, in our situation to try to harmonise our relationships, black and white, because the ANC never said we don't want whites, we don't want people of colour or whatsoever. That's not the policy of the ANC, that's not the belief of the ANC. We believe that SA is one, it should be unified under one non-racial government, not a racist parliament or whatsoever parliament or a black government. No, we don't need a black government, we just need a government of the people and by the people we don't mean black, we mean black and white. We had people like Joe Slovo, we had people like whoever.

POM     Have you been disappointed or impressed by not just Joe Slovo? I interviewed him in April and the question I asked him was, this was in the run-up to CODESA 2 so everything was still looking pretty rosy, was he surprised or disappointed by the extent of the progress that has been made since February 1990 when Mandela was released and the organisations unbanned? And he said by and large he was surprised that they come so far. If somebody had told him in February 1990 that in less than two years they would be sitting around a negotiating table, negotiating with the government about a new dispensation, he would have been surprised.

SN     You see when the ANC got into this thing of negotiations like that it came in genuinely and that is why it was a surprise to many of us in fact, not only Joe Slovo, but to many of us because what De Klerk did was just radical and which many Boers tried to resist, but it did encourage us. That is why Mandela called him a man of integrity. That statement, I don't go with it because I can't see any integrity in De Klerk as a person.

POM     You can't see any integrity in De Klerk?

SN     No I can't. I believe that De Klerk was first and foremost part and parcel of the government of Botha, in fact all the previous governments. He also had been Minister of National Education for years and if you can show the thing which led to a number, many of us today being what we are, being unable to do many things, it was the education system in SA of which De Klerk is part and parcel. If you can look at these two Departments of Education, the National Education and the Bantu Education system, it was under Gerrit Viljoen who was one of the negotiators. They all go as a team defending the very same thing which they tried to purport some years ago and now they are trying to turn it and give it to us in a modernised form, that this is apartheid but in a modernised form, accept this and just forget about many things. You see whatever you say the ANC entered into negotiations genuinely thinking that the Boers, even though we know that they haven't changed that much, at least there is something, repression was the order of the day. There are no jobs. But here comes a man, just transforms the whole thing of which I can say to you that this thing was just a surprise, a big surprise, nobody was ready. Then the Boers by then had their guns, they had their guns so they caught us, they just caught us unawares and that position prevailed for the whole period 1990 and 1991. Activism, serious activism amongst our people when they started that De Klerk is not different from the rest, why are we just doing this thing? You see the purpose of negotiations, as far as I understand, is that the Boers would negotiate themselves out of power, would be stripped of power, but that period prior, it was a situation by the ANC's negotiating itself out and letting the Boers keep power. They can't.

POM     So do you see a turning point being reached now, that the ANC now has it's act together, the government just adopting a tougher line, they're not going to lose sight of it?

SN     Not now. You see what used to happen is that through that period, as I've said before, the ANC was a bit disorganised, it never had a specific direction. But now there are formations within the ANC, the NWC particularly, the National Working Committee, it's the main driving factor even analysing the negotiations and gives a specific direction to the National Executive Committee because the NEC on its own cannot function, it doesn't represent itself, it represents millions of people. Thus if you can look back at the last few months you can see from August that things just turned and the struggle was taken back to its owners, to the people and not the leadership, the leadership is there to represent but it doesn't own the struggle. So that's how I feel about it.

POM     I'll stop there for today. Fascinating listening to you.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.