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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
30 Mar 2002: Shubin, Vladimir
POM Professor, perhaps you could begin by just giving me a little bit of your own background and when your association with South Africa began.
VS It all started in 1969. In 1960 I was still a student but southern Africa, South Africa, 1969 for ten years I worked with what used to be called Soviet Solidarity Committee which practically played on with responsibilities of the kind of anti-apartheid movement in the Soviet Union. For seven years I was Secretary for African Affairs there. Then after doing my PhD I moved to International Department of the then ruling Communist Party, spent there almost twenty years too, about nine years dealing with southern Africa and then at a later stage, 1989-91, I was the head of the Africa Section. Then for three years I stayed in Cape Town at the University of the Western Cape and then I came back as Deputy Director of the Africa Institute. That's in short.
POM Were you in charge of South Africans, particularly from the ANC and the SACP who would visit Russia?
VS To some extent because both the Solidarity Committee and the International Department had contacts with the ANC and on top of it the International Department had direct contacts with the SACP. They would be coming to Russia very often under the auspices, if that is the word, of either this or that organisation. Of course more co-ordinating functions were with the International Department. There were people who would come, for example, for the military training still but often they would know who came and why the people came and this and that.
POM You would know or you wouldn't know?
VS I would know, at least if I want, because all political decisions about receiving people for training, this trade or that trade, would be done at that system, that period through the party, through the International Department.
POM So how many ANC, SACP, uMkhonto people do you think would have been trained?
VS Look, it's a very complicated story. I tried, I think I mention in the book, I tried to sum up the people who would be coming for different reasons, for training, for some conferences or some even medical treating, the delegations. All in all in my opinion but you will never find the final figures because it's very difficult to calculate, about 3000 people, but very often it was the same people.
POM Coming back.
VS Yes. So I would say something like 1000 people from SA who spent more or less a long time, at least a month, say, between months and many years in Russia, let's say the Soviet Union because many of them were trained beyond the borders of Russia today. About 1000 would be a realistic figure. You see there is a reference there in my book, they say that they think there were 1700 trained but all that I can say is that this is not the final figure, the final figure is higher though again it could be one and the same person coming two times or even three times. That's the problem with calculating the exact figure.
POM Now with whom over this whole period would you have had most contact with?
VS You mean on the personal level? You mean the names or the organisations?
POM The names.
VS Originally there were different people with different periods depending. I think initially in the sixties before I was in that, in the early seventies one of the prominent figures was the late Mzwai Piliso, he used to be the ANC representative in Cairo. Peoples Solidarity Organisation and one of the channels maybe of the first contacts between us and the ANC in Cairo. We were meeting him in the late sixties and seventies, etc. Of course one of the top figures was Alfred Nzo who was Secretary General in 1969 of the ANC. Nzo, Tambo of course definitely, OR, of these people and also very active at that stage was Josiah Jele who used to be the ANC representative in Helsinki and then at some stage head of the International Department I think from 1985. That's the names.
The next generation, not generation, the next period it's more maybe it was Ronnie Kasrils, Mac Maharaj and some others. I am sure I've missed many of them.
As far as the party is concerned, from 1982 I was working with the International Department. There it was mostly of course Moses Mabida, Joe Slovo, maybe these two figures were the most often in contact with us.
POM What would be the nature of your consultations?
VS Look it was very versatile, if this is the word, depending on the subject. Give me some hints.
VS Everything, everything.
POM Everything down to sportswear, football shorts.
VS There were two years. These people needed everything. Yes, it's very important that the Soviet Union could supply arms but sometimes people, especially in the west they think it was arms only, even the official figures. I think I mention at the beginning of the book about a third of what was sent, of the government expense, they filled with civilian goods. But those which were sent, as we used to call it, through the public, meaning NGO organisations like the Solidarity Committee on the expense of the Soviet Peace Fund which was made by the contributions of the people, that was purely civilian, there was nothing military there. So really depending, it usually was like this: the ANC once a year would make a request for both, military and civilian. The ministry, different ministries, Defence, Foreign Trade, would be instructed to look into this and to give the concrete proposals what was feasible, what was not feasible. Then a decision would be taken by the leadership of the party and practically together with this decision there would be draft decision by the government and the government would have to sign it too you see. So officially it was a government decision but politically it was a civilian one until 1990 when the whole system started changing.
This is one channel. The second channel, well they would apply directly to this non-governmental, we used to call them public organisations, like trade unions, like the Youth Committee, like the Women's Committee, the Solidarity Committee, and therefore there were all means and possibilities without involvement it wasn't all government money. They would also send something. That was to mention.
As far as the party is concerned it is mostly political training otherwise the request would go through the ANC. They were starting from the mid-sixties.
POM When you use the words 'political training' what content do you set it in?
VS There were several institutions which would do it for free. One was the so-called Institute of Social Sciences, the underground name, I'm joking, underground was some kind of controversial International Lenin School. There used to be courses there starting from, say, one month to two years and quite a number of the ANC and SACP people started there from Thabo Mbeki and down to some activists. You can find the reference to the Institute of Social Science in a number of CVs if you check the Internet here for example.
The second smaller thing was so-called the Youth Communist League and they had their own school, some people studied there, not many but from time to time. There was also Trade Union School. They were not just political, there were some kind of leadership courses. Apart from the pure politics there was a lot of social psychology, political economy, organisation of work and it was more serious. The point of it was not about establishment, not dramatic.
POM So would you provide the same training for members of the ANC as for members of the SACP?
VS Usually at that institution they were in two separate places but it was very similar, we had the same, terminology would be different but otherwise it's very similar, the same books were used.
POM So their political training had a Marxist orientation?
VS Definitely, but not a dramatic one, at least the people there, the lecturers were quite reasonable and clever people. You should not see the establishment as something really dramatic and formal. They used to have a lot of discussions, even the exams they would not call an exam, they would not have exams, they would call it a 'final discussion'. They were supposed not to examine the friends and comrades from the other parties, they were supposed to discuss things.
POM You make a statement here that intrigues me, this is in the article, 'The Soviet Union, the ANC's Task Force'.
VS That was a joke because they used to say that the ANC is the Soviet Task Force. That was illogical so I decided just to change it around to show that it's not so simple.
POM The statement that intrigued me is: -
"The USSR's most important contribution to the elimination of apartheid in Africa was not materialistic and its training facilities were other steps as described below, but the encouragement of non-racism in the ANC ranks."
VS Yes, of course as far as material assistance is concerned, including training, it was important in the sense that rather often nobody else could not or would not wish to give this assistance. At the end of the sixties when they had to close the camps in Tanzania and they could not go anywhere except Soviet Union, some other facilities, I think this is more important than the material because you see people were coming from inside SA, especially the second wave from Soweto, some of them just before Soweto, after the Portuguese revolution. Then you know the Black Consciousness attitude, they would not say that they were racist, that would be very wrong, but many of them would think that all whites are bad. I am simplifying of course, they would take a gun and go away to fight whites. And then they come there and all the structures are whites, especially the military, because most of the people were in the military. Some of them were telling us that for the first time they saw the white woman cooking, white woman washing something. Those in the camps some houses, some barracks where they are staying. I discussed it with some people here in SA, they say in the farm they would see here but these chaps were not from the farms, most of them were from the townships. They were isolated from the white people inside the country. And general culture, I don't say that there was no racism at all in the Soviet Union, it also existed, but in a very limited way and it had never been encouraged. Therefore this fraternal attitude developed there and it was not only from the top because most of them never saw me or somebody else, they are soldiers, they are lecturers, instructors, civilians. So I think this is very important, just as important as the contribution of the white people, the Joe Slovos you see in the struggle.
You remember in one of the books also they say that I came to Angola and wanted to get arms to kill whites and the first time you come there you see so many - a white man in the camp. It's the point.
POM Did you find ethnic rivalries between say Indians and coloureds and Africans?
VS You mean while they were there or what?
POM I would assume that many of the first people who came were Indians who were at the forefront.
VS No I don't think so. First of all I've never seen it. For the leadership of course people would come, mixed delegations, but as far as the activists are concerned 95% of them were blacks of course. There were some Indian activists but not very many, most of the people in uMkhonto were Africans as you know if we speak about uMkhonto. There would be, say, one white in the group, even for political studies, one in a group of ten or fifteen maybe, or two, something like that.
POM During this period how would you define the USSR's strategic interest in the region?
VS I would say there were no strategic interests. There was nothing OK let me tell you a story. In 1990 a prominent professor from SA came to Russia, to the Soviet Union, we had a conference on Africa and we were talking during the break. He said, "Tell me, what about this total onslaught, all this total onslaught theory?" I said, "Look, there has never been a total onslaught otherwise it would be in my safe in my office but it's not there." I think I mention it in the book too. He said, "Not even under Brezhnev?" I said, "No, not even under Brezhnev." And then I met a very top commander of the old SADF, allow me not to mention the name, at one conference when I was already in Cape Town in 1993, and I told him, we were sitting somewhere in the farm, there was this bosberaad, some conference they invited me to, and I told him somewhere quarter to twelve, I said, "Look, General, I should disclose your top secret, there was no total onslaught." He said, "Of course there was not, I never wrote about it, it's academics." And he pointed to some academic from Stellenbosch. He said, "Of course there was nothing. Even if all our archives are open you will never find some kind of master plan, it never existed." But it was a part of what used to be called, I am speaking the language of those days, anti-imperialist struggles. They were supposed to be waged by the socialist countries, workers and the liberation movements, so it was part and parcel of this and a combination, say, of the workers' struggle in SA and the national liberation struggle of SA which was more or less personified by the SACP, SACTU, those days COSATU and the ANC. That was the General. Of course he used to write me even on some kind of what would be called on the executive paper that the victory here it's no victory, the liberation politics, like elimination of apartheid, new improved situation on the African continent generally. That would be correct. Maybe I was a bit too optimistic in those days.
POM Do you think looking back, looking at the literature and speeches made at the time, the propaganda, that the white South Africans' fear of communism was real?
VS It was there, it was there, they were brainwashing their people. Remember, there was a small booklet called The Three Professors. One was Du Plessis, one was professor, I've forgotten the name of the third one. Communist strategy, such a nonsense but the forward was by I think Vorster. It was the type of thing which they were teaching people about. The fear was there but again I have my own view, when people say that they are trying to say that the collapse of Eastern Europe and the communist governments there opened the way for 2 February, for De Klerk's speech. I don't buy it too.
Let's not forget that the first settlement in Zimbabwe was reached in the heat of the cold war, you remember? 1979, 1980. The situation was very tense but Zimbabwe was there. The settlement of Namibia was reached in December 1988 before the collapse of the Eastern Europe, so to speak, it's not an academic term of course. And even here, for me the most important date is not 2 February, it's October when Walter Sisulu and others were released. You remember they released everybody except Mandela, for tactical reasons he was still there. Because they openly continued speaking at the ANC rallies and there was a drastic difference between this moment and the moment when they released Govan Mbeki earlier, he was practically confined to his place, Port Elizabeth or somewhere there in the Eastern Cape. There was a big difference. What could they do? Put them back in prison? Nonsense. And all this happened before the so-called collapse of the Berlin Wall. I still believe that 90% it was internal dynamics.
POM So when De Klerk in his autobiography says that for him the defining moment was the collapse of the Berlin Wall, that had that not happened he wouldn't
VS It helped him, let us remember that Mandela was met not even by him but by the old man, by Botha, in July, early July when nobody expected the collapse of the Berlin Wall in three months. He himself met Mandela before the collapse of the Wall. I think they are trying to explain the whole defeat, debacle, call it as you like, it was defeat of course of the system, of them, through this to appease themselves, to relieve their wounds. It's a bit complicated. Psychologically of course it became easier for them to explain to their people and it was in his speech also that now there is no danger, I'm not quoting but from memory. But on the other side the collapse of the Berlin Wall, not in a direct sense but say the collapse of the Soviet Union, etc., it created no problems for the ANC because those guys became more intransigent, the regime. Fortunately by that time the ANC again had very deep roots within the society, through the UDF, the trade unions. Fortunately by that time many countries, African, and such countries as India for example, were ready to provide assistance including training and I believe military training, some of them were trained in African countries in the last months, fortunately. But over and over they could believe that the process would still go in this direction.
POM So the whole underpinnings of the government's attitude to the ANC, the SACP, based on the theory of the total onslaught and if to the total onslaught there must be a total response, to you it existed in their imaginations?
VS It existed in the sick imagination. They convinced themselves. Some people were convincing themselves of something. I think I mention in the book too when OR was there in Moscow, Tambo, in early 1989 he said that they were so much critical of the ANC (I'm looking for the word), some kind of lepers. They make them lepers. I am not quoting him exactly, but now they are free to touch them, the regime is. They know they have to talk but in their imagination they created such an evil of the ANC therefore it was a discovery for everybody whether it's businessmen in 1985 in Lusaka or those Afrikaner intellectuals in Dakar in 1987, etc., etc. And when they started coming to Lusaka it became a discovery because people were quite different from what was portrayed by the regime.
By the way, again, to speak about this move to the left, more than once our people were warning the ANC (warning is the wrong word maybe) but when discussing with the Communist Party that don't hurry up, don't rush everything immediately and this and that. That was a usual refrain especially after the mistakes which were done by Frelimo and partly by MPLA, of course MPLA is a separate case, they wanted to be more revolutionaries than others. They've also seen that. They've seen the experience of other countries. They remember discussing with Cuban comrades, they were also saying don't do it.
POM When these delegations came to Russia were they free to move around or were there restrictions?
VS You mean delegations or people for training? It depends on the nature of the visit. You mean a delegation? Delegation, no problem. People in the barracks somewhere, of course they were in the barracks, it was a military centre somewhere. They would go, say, by bus to Moscow somewhere, they would have one day for a Sunday or something free but still they have to come by a certain time back to the barracks, it's a military discipline. People who would come for short term specific training, it's also military, but they used to stay somewhere in a flat, they would just have a key for this flat, that's all. They can move anywhere.
POM Did they have comments to make on what they found in Russia or in the USSR at that time?
VS Again I have a kind of a theory myself. Of course there were many theories. The people who used to come, they compared the life in the Soviet Union, there were shortages of this or shortages of that, they compared it not with, say, Clifton or Constantia, they compared it with their Philippis and their Khayelitshas, etc. Therefore the comparison was very often in the favour of the Soviets, better than the conditions they had here. We should not forget that most of them for the first time went to the theatre. Ronnie writes in his book Armed & Dangerous in the Soviet Union for the first time they were brought to the theatres, for example. This is also part of the quality of life. Of course they saw many negative aspects also but I think the balance was still in favour.
POM When did you first, can you recall when you first came in contact with Mac Maharaj?
VS I was trying to recall exactly. Definitely we met in 1983, they had this meeting of the Politburo together with trade unions in Moscow, some kind of Industrial Committee, it was practically Politburo. Definitely at the Party Congress in 1984. In 1985 he stayed for some months in the hospital. But whether I met him before 1983 I am a bit puzzled. You see I heard about him since he was released, even though he was in prison some of the friends who were here together with him were telling me about him. But I don't remember exactly whether I met him before 1983. He was released in 1977 I think, or 1976 later but he crossed in 1977, crossed the border. Frankly I don't remember whether it was earlier than 1983. Perhaps. They had some meetings but I am not sure if he was there, meetings of the Central Committee around 1978 in Moscow. You see I usually distinguish between meeting people, just looking at them and discussing with them. You can say that from 1983 we started discussing, that's the real meaning of meeting the people because almost surely I saw him somewhere before but it was not so important.
POM So what was the nature of your interaction?
VS You see they would come to the conference, it was their own conference, a meeting organised in Moscow. We would discuss different things, very different things. But then of course in 1988 he came already to prepare for Vula, 1988 and then in 1989 sorry, in 1988 and 1989 he came back and he spent some months in Britain and in 1990 he came again and left again under disguise to SA. Every period we became much more close.
POM How involved was the Soviet in providing assistance to Operation Vula?
VS It was a very specific thing because in the beginning, I think I mentioned also in the book, when OR and Slovo told us about it, I particularly had a long discussion with Oliver Tambo, we were supposed to organise as a cover up for them. Mac was supposed to be in hospital for a long time and General Nyanda, now Commander in Chief, he used to be Gebhuza in those days, he was supposed to be in Moscow for very long military training. I was very happy when I read after half a year or a year in Africa Confidential, which I don't like at all or did not like at all because there was a lot of nonsense there, deliberate nonsense they said that he quarrelled with the leadership, was disenchanted and left for training in the USSR. So that legend worked perfectly, the intelligence which was also behind the Africa Confidential story according to many people.
So that was how it started but even if it would be just cover ups, still it means that they had to come to Moscow at least for some time to support their legend. If you are going for medical or if you are going for training you still have to leave from Moscow. But then around December or early 1988, they requested a bit more, they requested some technical assistance. I don't want to go into all details, they are still what you say 'old habits die hard', but as you know nobody was arrested for the lack of documents inside the country. Afterwards sometimes they would discover that the documents are forged but nobody was arrested for the lack of documents in uMkhonto and other political operatives in SA.
You will see in this book by Allister Sparks, he writes there about how they left most and a bit of training, a bit of consultations with people who know how to survive under surveillance or something like this. But it was not long, I think they spent about two or three weeks in Moscow in July 1988. If you discuss with Mac maybe he will give you more exact figures. I don't remember, I think it was three weeks they spent, from memory because I don't have any notes now.
What was important, we never asked them where do they go, what city of SA they would stay, what would be their task, what would be their connections? No, it was not all of this. We would never ask. Even when he came back for the first time I didn't ask him where he stayed. He told me many things, how they travelled, who helped him, this and that, how they crossed the border, but we would never ask. Only after the end of Vula we understood it was mostly Natal was the centre but that was a matter of principle, a kind of mutual trust. We had a joke, I'm not sure it's for record but at least four or five persons knew about it in Russia, the Soviet Union, four or five in the ANC and SACP so at least these people are not traitors because there were some cases.
POM So it's your belief that, to recapture one part, again I want to come back to the question of the total onslaught, the propaganda creation of the SA government, but do you believe that the average white South African had a real fear?
VS Look it's difficult for me to judge. Definitely the government tried to spread this fear, to what extent they had it maybe you have to discuss with them. I am not sure, at least by the end of the eighties, say second half of the eighties I don't think people really believed it and again I think a very important point was Namibia and SWAPO. When they agreed to have an election in Namibia of course they still wanted in the regime to stop SWAPO from winning but it was clear that there was a good chance, a predominant chance for SWAPO to win so if you can negotiate with SWAPO why not with ANC? And when the transition was very smooth in Namibia, you remember, with the exception of 1 April and this and that in 1989, so it was again a lesson that this type of transition perhaps can be achieved in SA. You remember they elected Sam Nujoma unanimously as the President and the same with Mandela here. I think that was very important. Again, it was long before the collapse of the Wall. The election practically coincided, 7 November election and there 9 November Berlin Wall, but the whole process started before that.
POM When you say that you believe that negotiations with the ANC were driven by internal dynamics within SA?
VS By internal dynamics plus, of course, international pressure, including at a later stage certain pressures, though very limited, from the West, more from Scandinavian countries, less from Mrs Thatcher who thought that those who think that the ANC will come to power, I think it was as late as 1988, were living in the cuckoo land. You remember that famous statement, 1987 or 1988 that statement? She was one of the last to surrender, and Reagan, but that's another story. I don't want to offend the poor lady, they say her health now is not so good.
POM What would you point to as the internal dynamics that were driving the process?
VS Well that's a combination, I would say UDF in the broad and general democratic movement, trade unions with strikes and stayaways and threats of stayaways. UMkhonto was limited, They had their own propaganda, as they used to in Latin America for example, these armed actions which are not so much ambitious in themselves but a kind of demonstration of intention of the force or of the potential force. Internationally, it's practical assistance plus general rejection of apartheid and of course psychologically I think activities, for example, of the British anti-apartheid movement, I do respect these people, I had a couple of drinks with Bob Hughes, Lord Hughes nowadays, last April when I was in Britain, Mike Terry was the Executive Secretary, they were marvellous people there in Britain, especially I think for whites here, this resistance against apartheid in Britain was very important. Later in the United States because in the United States it was born around 1985/86, the anti-apartheid feelings because before there were some tendencies there especially among black communities. So it's a combination, you cannot mathematically calculate what was important. I think it would be wrong. It was the process, one or another may be a factor, it was more important at one stage, less important in another stage and that combination brought about the change.
POM Did the ANC in Moscow in discussions with you ever talk about seizure of power, uMkhonto reaching the point of where there would be a mass insurrection and they would (seize power)?
VS I would say, OK I don't want to sound as an opportunist, but if you want to get something you must want more. You must declare something more, a higher target than in fact what you reach in the end of it. That was the feeling that if the regime is intransigent, continues to be intransigent, it could come to an uprising or something but it could happen sooner or later if the regime wouldn't compromise. I don't say it was absolutely impossible, I think it was possible but there would be a lot of bloodshed, destruction of a colony and this and that. So as the aim, not ideal, I would not call it an ideal, as the aim it was there but at the same time I am sure, at least from the discussions with them that they were ready to find the solution provided. Do you remember the conditions? They are ready to discuss the demolishing of apartheid, at least in 1984/85, and coming back to their real home the first questions, the first contacts were 1984 that Professor van der Merwe who is almost forgotten, of UCT, he was the first to come to Lusaka and to speak to them, to Mzwai, to Sam Mamakana(?) who is now in the President's office, he used to be Ambassador, an MK man, in the Soviet Union. So in 1984 before perestroika there were first talks about talks about talks about talks. There were several channels as you know. One channel was Van der Merwe, one channel later, later with Mandela in prison, and those emissaries who used to come, one channel those intellectuals, some of them were connected with the services here, started the emissaries between the NIS, the government and the ANC. That was another complicated process too. But those talks about talks, as I say parallel to the slogans, parallel to the desire to increase the upsurge, I see personally nothing wrong in it. We never told them why are you doing this. It's up to you, you see.
POM Well I'm sceptical of everything.
VS OK, that's OK.
POM The notion is so prevalent that the Soviets had strategic interests in southern Africa, particularly relating to minerals.
VS Look I was speaking in America at Berkley, they had a conference on Sub-Saharan Soviet and they told me that time, somebody from the State Department was also there, they said, "But what about those minerals?" We don't need those minerals, we have them. Whatever government comes to power will be trading those minerals with the West and Japan. OK, some hard Stalinist, I don't like this word 'Stalinist' because nobody can explain to me what does it mean, but anyhow government comes in SA what would they do with those minerals? Sell gold to the Soviet Union? But we are producing the same minerals. Now we lost some of them because those republics, say Kazakhstan or Ukraine, but in the old Soviet Union practically we need nothing from here. We could not buy anything, fruit maybe but not those minerals.
POM So in that sense, to you what was the cold war all about?
VS Big cold war or small cold war here, which of them? The cold war had two dimensions. Of course it's a separate subject which needs a lot of discussion. One is the ideological dimension and one is the geo-political dimension which we would call just strategic now, geo-political became very popular. Now they speak more about geo-economics than geo-politics.
POM And you don't think either of those overlapped in SA?
VS They overlapped. In SA not so much, not so much. Again, technically, we and the United States and even Britain, with the exception of Mrs Thatcher, all of us demanded the end of apartheid so it's quite different from the cold war in the other areas. On paper our positions were quite close. We differed only in methods, whether to apply sanctions or not, whether to wage an armed struggle or not, that was the difference.
POM In conversations with Mac what would be the range of your conversations?
VS It's difficult to recall, very broad. We would discuss the situation in their part of the world. Some human problems, mostly what was going on here, what can be done. He always had a nice sense of humour, as you know, therefore I think we could easily understand each other. I don't know what he would tell you but I think we could easily understand each other, there was a certain sense of humour which he has. I can tell you something perhaps again, it's up to you, depending how you will write it, but when I knew that he is coming, sorry he is going, it took a long time because he told me in 1987 September that it's Mac, it was supposed to be Mac, Gebhuza and Keith, then Keith for one or another reason dropped out. I don't know why they dispensed with him. So you know that Mac lost his eye a long time ago and maybe, I'm not a security officer but just as a human being, he was the most recognisable person among the ANC's leadership and I was a bit surprised, I never expect this surprise neither to OR nor to him. But you see one has to be very brave to go over, you are very easily recognised. Of course he had this what you call it, this and that, but if somebody looks at you for say five, ten minutes he or she will, sorry I'm not very gender sensitive, I'm apologising, they will notice that something is wrong. Up to now I don't know how he could risk it. I don't know whether you discussed it with somebody, that point? Have you discussed that point?
POM I always find it funny that when he would go back into SA during Vula and he would always talk about the disguises he used but whomever he met in the underground recognised him straight away.
VS No, no, that's not so correct, because at least I think I mentioned in the book too he told me about the girl who was sent from Lusaka underground and she was sitting there discussing with him, he was in disguise, and he was asking the questions about all the leaders and who is where and he asked about Mac himself and she replied, I don't remember the words exactly, that there was something wrong upstairs as they usually say, meaning that he's apparently in a psycho hospital in Russia somewhere or something. And then this poor girl was sitting, sitting and then they started understanding that she's speaking to Mac. It took her some time to understand that it's Mac. But again that was very strange that the regime could not find him? They had all his pictures, he was on the Island, these big books which are available at the Mayibuye Centre about reports of the police of him, Security, Intelligence Service, this profile of Mac Maharaj. I don't know, but one has to be brave, very brave.
(Break in recording)
POM What you were telling them was not to be afraid of whites, to alter the last few -
VS I would not say, no, you mean to whom? To the activists who would come or what? What do you mean 'them'?
POM To an activist.
VS I would not say that we would be tailing them, just by their life there, by seeing, by interaction they would understand that the whites can be on their side as well. But the same applies to the Anti-Apartheid Movements, I don't want to say that the whole of the Soviet Union was excluded here, not at all. A similar contribution was done by the International Solidarity Anti-Apartheid Movements and this and that. Just because I wrote about the Soviet Union in this part of the book therefore I mention it because people usually speak about these things but they don't speak about other factors.
POM Well white fears revolved around nationalisation, around
VS What do you know? The Freedom Charter, after that Mandela published an article when he said the Freedom Charter will open the way for the rise of the black entrepreneurs, black middle class. I don't think he used the word middle class as bourgeoisie so it was clear from the very beginning, it's not a socialist document. After all Atlee nationalised in Britain more than it was written in the Freedom Charter. You remember the first Labour government?
I used to joke, this is again I like jokes, I said, look if somebody wants to finish the ANC a very good recipe, that we used to joke but not officially with friends like I don't remember whether I told Mac but these type of people look, to allow ANC to come to power, to incite it to nationalise the mines tomorrow and then there will be the end of the story. That we used to tell them in the seventies and eighties, not because I was instructed by somebody to say it. It was a kind of humour conversation and they were a bit worried. Not worried, especially because in Mozambique for example they went too far. Angola was a bit of a different story because of the war. It was clear that again not because Soviet Union was pushing them in this direction, not at all.
POM On the question of a market economy?
VS I don't know. I'm not a champion of market economy but now I can tell you there should be free market. Should be free movement of capital, free movement of goods, free movement of labour. Free movement of capital more or less there. As far as free movement of goods already Labour, try to get a job somewhere. It's not a free market, it's a slogan of free market. It's still a controlled market.
POM How do you characterise the changes that took place in your relationships with both the SACP and the ANC?
VS The results were so bad in the Soviet Union, as you know the people voted 51% for Gorbachev in 1986, the election of 1986, but now very often they just ridicule perestroika, put it in inverted commas. I personally believe there were two periods: one period 1985/86/87/88 which was mostly positive, and the second period which was negative. The first period, remember the slogan was more democracy, more socialism. The second period, very covertly the restoration of capitalism started and there was more authoritarian rule especially when Gorbachev became President. He and several others they can decide something behind the backs
POM Especially when who became - ?
VS Gorbachev. That's 1989, because there was no more control. Before there was in some way collective decisions, either Politburo or something. And the same as far as the relations with the ANC and generally in southern Africa are concerned, I think in the beginning it was positive because there was no what we called glasnost discussions and the ANC and SACP people were also telling us that. We became more involved in the discussing and in alliancing, it was partly the positive influence of the events in the Soviet Union plus we became more active with Gorbachev. He received Tambo and Thabo was there too, Mbeki, it was Gorbachev, Tambo, Thabo and myself, five of us in these discussions. That was 1986 and it was very difficult to get him in 1989. Finally they were seen by his deputy. That was transition already. He would easily receive someone and hope to get more credit or something at the expense of the So I believe in the beginning it was all right. In the end it was a disaster because they started dealing with the regime behind the back of the ANC and they went behind the back of the International Department or those who were dealing with Africa.
In 1991 the people came. I met this man who was here, he was the head of Armscor. He came there in May, there was a big group of these white businessmen who came there in May to Moscow. He confirmed I met him in the company of Joe Modise once two years ago. And that was that, they started ending sanctions practically. Shevardnadze, again he gave permission for this chap, I say there in the book what his name is, Minister of Trade, to come to Moscow under the camouflage of Chernobyl but they went very far from Chernobyl, they went to and to Petersburg. So that's again, it's not I would say one line - it's very complicated but I believe there were two periods. It's very difficult to find the borderline between these two periods. The first period, the changes in the Soviet Union had a positive effect on the ANC. There was an increase of the support, opening the office, taking some people to even jet trainers, helicopters trainers, the navy in 1985, or it was a bit later, that the old army, old armed forces, were surprised to find out the ANC has fully trained naval officers. We had trained them for over four years, really serious course of training. Plus, as I say, encouragement indirectly of discussions, of the fresh approach to the problems, the liberation of dogmas, that was the first period. The second period was detrimental.
POM Because the Gorbachev regime at that point was
VS Because they were turning into so-called market, into capitalism which provides not democracy but autocracy. More authoritarian rule, less discussions, less consultations and more economic problems at home which gave people the possibility overseas to -
POM Again in your conversations with OR or Mac or whomever, where you had an opportunity to sit down and have a drink and just talk
VS It was so difficult to get a drink under Gorbachev. You remember tea, tea, tea.
POM I was going to get to that because there's a line in your book about where you and Mac had some meeting set up that didn't quite work out. There's a sentence in there where he had said to you, "Leave that chilled bottle of vodka on the rocks, I'll be back for it."
VS Yes. The problem was, as I mentioned in the book, when he went with that bottle to the airport and back and it became warm but he had his Martell whisky.
POM Did you ever talk about democracy?
VS Of course because initially it was a process of democratisation within the Soviet Union but, again, within the framework of socialism. I'm not hiding my political views, I didn't change the colour of the It doesn't mean that I'm going everywhere at every university, it's not like that. I did believe that there could be a marriage between socialism and democracy and that's exactly 1985/86/87/88. I don't remember a comprehensive discussion on the issue of theoretical, but I think they were positive initially on what is going on. Then more and more questions arise. We discussed more maybe of southern African questions and African questions than Soviet questions.
I'll tell you one example, but it doesn't concern Mac or these people. I went to Namibia in March, I was there for the election in March 1991 for the first university they invited us, and there was one good friend of mine of Zimbabwe, allow me not to mention the name, a minister who accompanied Mugabe. At the reception he asked me, "So, should you tell me, did Gorbachev sell out the Soviet Union to America or not?" I tried to say, "No, no, no", but later when we met I think he was right, much later in 1992. So that feeling started to appear, people started questioning the policy.
POM I suppose I find it paradoxical that a country at least which was characterised in the West as having a total absence of democratic institutions and what were called free and fair elections, whatever, would be going out of its way to help another country develop exactly that.
VS No it was much more complicated because our people understood that many, at least those who were sober minded, that many things which were done in the Soviet Union were done not because they had to be done but because of circumstances or because of the personality. Even nationalisation, it started in 1918, it started as a counter sabotage from the former owners, it was not planned. It's much more complicated than slogans of this history. And, again, there were some things, I would say it's not academic formula but there was some kind of consultative democracy also because there was a feedback. For example, the Soviet Union if you read the newspapers they had to reply in two weeks time if you complained about something to the newspaper. There was a law, the newspaper would ask the government, the official, they had to reply in two weeks time. One of the examples: there was serial control of the army and security, maybe it was in a strange form but what the party was doing it was also control but not but serial control of the armed forces, of the security. It was there, very tight serial control from the civilians organising the party. I don't want to go too far into the details but the real situation usually is a bit more complicated than the slogans.
POM And when you look at what has happened in SA since 1994, what would be your overall evaluation of the manner of managing?
VS That's a difficult question because I'm here for a short time, I never stay here for a long time after the first three years but that was just the beginning. I believe they are still succeeding. It's clear the country is still stable, this is clear. There are certain breakthroughs, I think your housing is coming up now, breakthrough in water and electricity and some breakthroughs as far as the basic needs of the people are concerned. But, again, they have to operate in the modern international environment which is not helpful. I can't agree with these - OK journalists have to be critical but The Weekly Mail 90% is just criticism, criticism, criticism. There's no assessment just criticism. In the previous issue, I'm sorry to use this strong word, they published late Modise, "What would you say, Joe?" The man is no more, they're asking him to say about he might be involved with something and they published him with the Soviet Assistant Military Attaché who is a Military Attaché, I just saw him, there is not any agreement, any supplies of arms from Russia but it was Joe Modise that the Russian that would be Mail & Guardian. Bastards.
POM So how would you judge the media here?
VS Strange, there are some good articles, interesting articles. TV, boring. Some programmes are good. Difficult to say really, some programmes are good, some articles are good, some are nonsense. It's almost empty, it's provincial, almost nothing but maybe it's important for the people of this province, maybe certain questions are very important. An interesting point, I understand there are more papers which are closer to the ANC but the reason, 1994 elections, not a single party, not a single paper supported the ANC, not a single paper. It's interesting. I understand now some of them are owned by the blacks, not the majority, there's Johnnic, I'm not a specialist in this of course but it's more complicated a situation. Can you imagine those elections, they won 63% without any single paper supporting them. It's about media.
POM The Sowetan?
PAT Do you think that the collapse of the relationship between the Soviet Union and the ANC going on after such an historical partnership and not dependency but inter-dependency and camaraderie and yet it seems to me from what I've read in your book it's like the Soviet Union
POM It falls away because it collapses, though some of the elements started working again later. I think I mention the last papers I was in Kazakhstan myself, I arrived the night before the so-called coup, but before going there I remember we drafted a letter to Gorbachev which was sent to him to his dacha in the Crimea where he was detained, some people say he never was detained but that's another story, again asking to keep the ANC military training free and this and that. It was not yet departure in the full sense but there was some kind of internal struggle over the issue too within the Soviet Union because different elements were taking different positions. But I think I interrupted you.
PAT I was going to say, the point was here was the sort of culmination of much that had been worked for to build the foundation for this and yet they don't, when they go into the phase of the negotiations and the negotiations with the regime there is a that seems to be from their comrades in arms.
VS Yes, but I would not say from the comrades in arms because different people were coming, there were different people already. Some of them changed, the same people, but changed like Shevardnadze who used to be a member of the Soviet Solidarity Committee. At some stage he headed a delegation to Algeria in 1984 I think to the conference. At the end of it he was given permission from the Ministry of Trade to come, we were waiting for at least non-mandatory sanctions of General Assembly and the Soviet position. Then other people were coming, those who were not there before. Gorbachev used to change his people in the sense that he wanted these people, changing them. The final rupture in relations came after August 1991 though the ANC office remained there still but I think in 1992 financing stopped. I think in 1993 something like this, it was still there the office so there was no complete rupture in relations even with Russia. Yeltsin would still invite Mandela to come though it would be done in a clumsy way like so many things. They invited De Klerk and then they would invite Mandela to come before De Klerk, a kind of face saving operation. But I can't say there was complete exodus or complete rupture, that would be good. Here the head of the mission, you remember initially they had the mission with the Austrian Embassy which was correct, there had to be some presence here. It wasn't sophisticated, non-diplomatic but diplomatic at the same time. The man who was here first, he died later, Alexei Markarov, he was dealing with me for many years in the Foreign Ministry with the ANC so for them the appointment of him was also a sign of continuation of the process. Now he continued to be here until February 1993, for a year after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Chargé d'Affairs, so connections were established in February, almost for a year. So there was still this contact, it was not complete. The training stopped, practical assistance stopped, that's correct. And from 1993 slowly but steadily things started to improve. I think it was 1993 when Thabo Mbeki and Joe Slovo May, I was already here came to Russia, met the Deputy Minister of he published a book now on this, some kind of rejoinder to quote his book and I was editor of his book, but in Russian. Find a publisher for him. You've got your connections. He was thinking about doing it in English, that's the problem with publishers. It's called A White Sun over Angola. We have a theme, we had a book A White Sun over the Desert and they changed it for Angola. It's not a bad book, at least between us, and I then helped him to avoid some mistakes. Politically I would give him a number of points there because he was too close to Shevardnadze, too much for concessions maybe but that's another story, but it's a genuine book. So this is in short, not so short answer.
POM Yes. I know you have to run. You've been very accommodating.
VS Maybe I give you my e-mail address because it's the best way if any question arises, you're welcome. So where are you going to publish the book? Any title for it?
POM It hasn't a title. It's due out next March. It's Penguin bringing it out.
VS That's very good.
POM In New York.
VS Penguin used to be in the States. The UK. That's a different thing.
POM There are Penguins all over the place. You get Penguin South Africa, Penguin
VS But the centre was in Britain no?
POM But they're all inter-connected.
VS Hammersmith. So it should be in a year. INAFA stands for Institute of Africa Affairs.
POM And that can get hold of you at any time?
VS From 7 April because I'm going now. Any time I will be there. 7 April I will be in the office. That's in Moscow.
POM What I will send on to you is a transcript of the conversation by e-mail and you can make corrections in it.
VS Excellent. I am starting writing one book now. I don't know whether I mentioned it to you. I found the name for it what's the title of your book, you didn't say?
POM I don't know yet.
VS Because mine I don't have anything but the title. It's called The Hot Cold War. I think it's a good title. It's southern Africa 1960 to 1990. That's mostly ANC but there was SWAPO as well, there was Joshua Nkomo and AZAPO and this and that, Frelimo, a bit of that. I think I am supposed to see General Nyanda on the fifth, he was together with Mac in the underground, a bit for historical discussion. Let's be in touch. Believe me that generally people believed that sooner or later this country will be socialist but it had never been planned. It was general, in the whole world, they would change over to a better future but there was no strategy plan or something, believe me. I don't think there was any strategy anywhere about it. I think it was mostly a reactive approach to the situation. We must be realistic about it.
POM So the SA government in a sense was continually reacting to creations of its own imagination?
VS Yes on one side. On the other side from time to time they were trying to be independent of the west. I remember in 1984 or 1986 how they at some stage were saying they want to be neutral, they don't want to be involved, they want to be non-aligned. They were a bit threatening the west that if they misbehave, and there was talk about sanctions, they can directly speak to Russia and this and that. Anybody who reads Russian there - there was an interesting article by one of our diplomats about the meeting they had. I was not there but with South Africans in Vienna in 1984. There was some clandestine meeting with the regime and they are publishing now the memoirs of diplomats, the Institute you see.
POM That's your Institute in Moscow?
VS Yes, but it's in Russian. If you find somebody in Russian I will make a copy and send it to you. Where are you usually? Are you mostly in London or in the States?
POM I'm at the University of Massachusetts.
VS I see. Yes, your information to me, I had forgotten.
POM I will give you my e-mail. I don't have a card either.