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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
11 Dec 2002: Pillay, Ivan
POM Ivan, I think the last time we talked we'd gotten as far as you spoke about your increasing, not involvement, but attraction to the Black Consciousness Movement. You'd met Steve Biko and you were slowly crossing the threshold. Up to that point you'd been mostly involved with community services rather than in anything else. So perhaps we could take it from there and get to Vula and get through Vula and your various activities, the activities of others and if we work efficiently then perhaps maybe you will be able to go on vacation.
IP All right, look, let me try and run through things a little faster than we did before and if there is a need maybe to get into greater detail you identify them and we can then do that. It's been quite a long time since we spoke but my involvement in BCM reached a watermark in the pro-Frelimo rallies that were held.
POM Yes, you've mentioned those.
IP In 1975, I've mentioned that, OK. The way that happened underlined for us that we needed something more than the mass struggle which is what we were involved in up to that stage. So I escaped arrest and then decided deliberately to start lowering my profile and then began to look around for people who would have contact with the ANC. That would be not just me but three or four other of my colleagues with whom I had grown up. I remember meeting with the late MD Naidoo. He was on Robben Island for five years, house arrested and banned. He was an advocate. I don't think they allowed him to practice but they had to allow him to earn a living and he ran some sort of Estate Agency if I remember correctly, conveyancing.
POM M D Naidoo?
IP He was the brother of MJ Naidoo.
POM And were they any relation to Mac's first wife, Tim Naidoo?
IP Yes. MD and MJ were brothers of Mac's wife if I remember. I spoke to MD, of course one had to be very circumspect with these things, but I made it known to him that I was looking for contact. He was quite a seasoned person and he wouldn't respond very quickly. All he did was he gave me some book on political economy by Eaton. And then I tried a few other places and spoke to people. But anyway we began to lower our profile, we began to do a lot more reading. We managed to get some books, Che Guavara's on guerrilla warfare.
POM So you were like a small group that were operating on your own, looking for a home?
IP Looking for a home, yes. By then I still hadn't seen any banned literature of the ANC, I must confess I hadn't up to then. We had got things from Amilcar Kabral, I even remember something from the Americas, and books like this that we collected together. We'd hire a room which four or five of us used where we had these books and we used to read and we discussed things about them.
Then I met somebody who you've met recently whose name is Sonny Singh. Now Sonny had just come out of prison and it's one of these coincidences. I knew somebody that knew Sonny when Sonny was in school and who was continuously warning me and warned me that, hey, you guys had better be careful. He just said to me, "Look, I've met somebody that I was at school with who ended up on Robben Island and spent ten years there. You guys have got to be very careful." So I, of course, said I'd like to speak to this chap and started a relationship with Sonny Singh who eventually put us in touch with the ANC.
Then we formed an ANC unit, it comprised four people. I'm the only one left in the country. It was myself and my brother who's now in Canada and then it comprised another two persons. One is the late Nzima, what was his proper name? Paulus Nyawose. His code name was Nzima, he was a big chap and regarded as a lucky chap, he had six fingers on each hand. In the African custom that is very lucky. He was a trade unionist and a herbalist and he headed our unit. He died, he was blown up in Swaziland in the eighties, he and his wife were blown up. So he headed the unit, there was my brother, and then there was a high school friend of mine, Krishna Rabilal, and he was killed in the Matola raid in 1981 in Mozambique.
POM What year would this be, Ivan?
IP You mean when we got together?
POM Yes, and formed the unit.
IP It would have been late 1974, late 1974/75. Now Nzima, the late Nzima was in touch with another gentleman, a wonderful man, he's also been killed, his name is Shadrack Maphumule. Now Shadrack was actually the contact with Swaziland. Shadrack was killed in Swaziland in 1986 or so and the regime's killer squad marched into Swaziland round about 1985/86 and killed a lot of people and one of them was Shadrack Maphumule. He spent ten years on the Island.
POM They just walked into Swaziland, took out the people they wanted to take out and just crossed the border?
IP That's right, yes. Even my brother actually, my brother was kidnapped from Swaziland in 1982 but in the struggle one of them dropped his dompas. You know what a dompas is?
POM A pass.
IP Yes, so they put him in the boot of the car and they took him away. We had this dompas which gave the photo, as you know, and the name. The name might have been false but there was a photo and it was a South African dompas. So there was a haggle going on for a long time, it took about two months, and he was the first person to be returned. They held him for two months but we put a lot of pressure and the poor Swazis, who normally would not stand up to the South Africans at all, even they at this time, at least they could point and say, "Look there's a dompas, it's you fellows who have done this." So there was a lot of pressure in the UN and everywhere and two months later they drove into Swaziland, they had him in the boot of the car, blindfolded and they just took him out of the boot, left him there and drove back into SA.
POM It's like a return flight.
IP So we had this little unit. Now I don't want to romanticise this thing and give the wrong picture of it. It was early days, we were just starting, we were trying to do simple things like buying one or two vehicles. For us it was new, I mean trying to buy these things in a way in which it would not be traced to you and trying to arrange secret meeting places, accommodation. The late Nzima himself began to familiarise himself with the route to Swaziland, he would cross illegally, go there illegally and come back. We were beginning to bring back leaflets and beginning to distribute them in and around Durban and we were doing other small things like painting slogans and so on in the simplest way with a spray can, put on your gloves, just go and spray the slogans around.
We actually hadn't got on to do anything too serious. Perhaps the more serious things that were done is that we had a hand in taking the late Stephen Dhlamini out of SA. Now Steve Dhlamini was the President of SACTU, South African Congress of Trade Unions. He was banned and he had been arrested a number of times since the early sixties and he was in bad condition and the organisation said, "No, look, it's time Steve left the country", and we helped with the transport and the late Nzima helped with the crossing.
POM So you took him into Swaziland?
IP And by the way we did that with Mac too, but at that stage I didn't know it was Mac as such but it was our unit that helped and Nzima crossed him over the fence.
POM What year was this?
IP This would have been late 1976/early 1977, something like that.
POM And Mac was involved in?
IP We took him out of the country.
POM Oh you took Mac out of the country? That's right, that's after he was jumped.
IP We didn't do too much. Those were the sort of things we were doing and we were gearing ourselves. I met Mac once. Another person we took out of the country was Sonny Singh himself and on the day that Sonny was leaving, on the evening that Sonny was leaving, in the morning Sonny came to me and he said, "Look, I want you to take a message to Mac, tell Mac that I'm leaving. Is there any message that he would want to pass to the outside?" And by coincidence, Mac was not a resident of Merebank, Mac comes from Newcastle which is a few hundred kilometres away, but he had a brother staying in Merebank so when he was released he was released to his brother's flat which happened to be near mine. So Mac was actually house arrested there. So that night I just went in there and I said look, I wanted to see him, and he was very suspicious, he didn't know me at all. So I said I've come from Sonny, Sonny is leaving today, he just wanted to know do you have anything to say. Mac said, "No I have nothing to say." I said, "Thank you very much", and off I went. So it's not like we did a hell of a lot of work at that stage, certainly not in the underground. We were just starting.
POM Now you were receiving no training or had received no training whatsoever? This was all kind of make it up as you go along?
IP Yes. Well in a way if you're somebody that's careful and you've already been doing mass work for the last seven/eight years it gives you a certain preparation because it was a police state then so there are certain lessons that you imbibe that come quite naturally. But there are other things that you must really know and you must know how the system works for you to get around.
But anyway all that came to an abrupt halt when Shadrack Maphumule got arrested. Now if you remember I said he was our main contact and he got arrested and I must tell you, to show how amateurish it was, it was absolute chance, I was reading the paper and I came across this name and I said to my brother, "This is our man, the name here", because I didn't even know his name, there was no need for me to know his name. The one who knew his name was the late Nzima. I said, "But I think this is our man." And it was on a Saturday, I remember very clearly. My brother said, "OK, all right, I'm going to phone." So he phones Nzima and Nzima says, "Yes, this is the man, the man who's been arrested." Our problem is that the man, Shadrack, he worked at Natal University in the Social Science Research Department, and there parked at the university were two cars registered in my brother's name and mine which Shadrack used for taking people out and bring people into the country and these were our names. So the thing that we were concerned with now was if Shadrack talked or documents were found somewhere in Shadrack's house or office or whatever it would lead directly to us.
So we then decided on that Saturday that my brother, Joe, and the late Nzima would go, would hop the fence and go to Swaziland, to go into safety until the dust settles and until we know what is going on. I would stay behind because I actually had not met this fellow physically. It was Joe and Nzima who had met him so he had never met me, didn't know me at all, so we could explain away any links to me to say my brother used my name or whatever. That same afternoon they left for Swaziland.
It's one of these very unfortunate coincidences that day Nzima's wife's brother was getting married and Nzima and the wife would play a very important part at that wedding. I was close to that family and I actually went to the wedding myself. I went and I said to the wife that, "Look, you guys must go on with the wedding, your husband is not going to be here and this is the story." She wasn't pleased at all, she wasn't understanding at all, but anyway so it was a bit of a mess but at least they had got across safely.
Two weeks had passed, nobody had come to me, no questions, nothing. I was on tenterhooks but nothing, absolutely nothing. One evening I get a surprise, there's my brother, he's back. What's happening? No, we went there, we met with the people in Swaziland and Maputo, they said that he must get back into the country and fetch me, take me out because it would be a matter of time before the documents would lead to me and there's no point. Then I said OK and I left there and then. I took half an hour or something to pack, maybe even less. I actually think I already had some sort of bag packed in case I had to move even just laterally somewhere. So we left, not immediately for the border because again this was not well organised that there was like a pipeline. Actually in the end what we did is that we moved, it was a good thing, obviously you've got to move, we moved about 20 kilometres into a more distant relative's home and we stayed there for about three days and we had organised somebody to transport us and off we went to Swaziland and we stopped about half a kilometre from the border post and we started walking towards the left of that road to intercept the fence, cross the fence, we got over, and all the way fortunately there was no road block, nothing.
POM So you had moved across the Swazi border, just crossed, one leg over the fence and then the other.
IP Yes and that's it, we were there. There was nobody waiting for us or anything like that and we just started walking. Well my brother had been already so he had an idea, so we just crossed and we walked to get as much distance between ourselves and the border. We walked and walked until we were quite tired, it was a bit cold because this was about July, very cold for South Africans, and we passed quite a few huts and we tried to speak to people and get in but nobody responded, obviously. In rural areas there's such a problem about witchcraft and so on and we were walking around at one o'clock in the morning, two o'clock in the morning, nobody is really going to respond to you. We walked through and we came then you sort of walk in an arc like that and we knew now we had come back to the main road which runs from Golela to Manzini and finally to Mbabane. We then actually made a little fire not far from the roadside to keep ourselves warm and something like six, half past six, came a bus and we got onto the bus and this bus took us straight to Manzini, but straight is a long time. At that stage those roads were not tarred and these are these all-stop buses, stop at every stop. The distance is about 200 kilometres I think, if I remember correctly, and it took a very long time to get there. We probably got there about one in the afternoon or something and you know these buses are really packed and they have chickens on the roof and goats on the roof. Anyway, so we get to Manzini and we contact
POM When you got on the bus did you have currency to pay?
IP No, at that stage, even now you can use rands in Swaziland, I think even now you can use rands in Swaziland, they're freely exchangeable with the Swazi currency. We got to a place called The Swazi Handcraft and this business was run by a guy called Lukele who was an ANC member. He was married to a minor princess in the royal family, Swazi royal family, and Swazi Handcraft was a place where Swazi handcraft was sold. Actually it was a very good spot, it was the main place where Swazi handcraft was sold with a lot of people coming and going and he was a member of the ANC and this was where when people came from SA and they wanted to make contact with the ANC and they got the right directions then they would come to The Swazi Handcraft. And so my brother then went, I had to wait for him somewhere just around the corner, he went in and he came back with the late Nzima and off we went to a safe house, spent a few days in that safe house and then we went to the border of Mozambique and we crossed the fence there too into the Mozambican side, spent the night at a safe house on the Mozambican side.
POM You had no trouble again crossing the border?
IP No, but there's a very big difference. When you cross on the Mozambican side then you're actually received by our people at that stage because there was a great understanding between Mozambique, between Frelimo and ourselves. We were received and we would actually walk past the soldiers and the policemen and they would know what we are about broadly speaking. Then off we would go to the safe house, spend the night there and next morning transport would take us through. You couldn't travel on your own to Maputo, one thing was language, but there were many roadblocks on the Mozambican side and you had to have people who knew the language, who had the documentation and could explain what they're about to the roadblocks. Then we were in Maputo.
I spent something like a month there in a safe house where I received some type of training in security, in doing clandestine work, in some types of armament training without firing a weapon actually. It's familiarising yourself with a weapon, opening it, closing it, aiming it but not actually firing all the time.
POM Was this intensive or fairly low key?
IP It was intensive. You do something every day but the whole day would not be filled with this, there would be political economy, there would be history of the ANC and a number of things.
POM Who was in charge of the ANC at that time?
IP In Maputo at that stage?
IP The Chief Representative, the head of the ANC in the diplomatic sense, was a guy called Lennox Lagu I think he's a General in the army now, a very good guy. He fought in Zimbabwe together with the ZIPRA contingent, when you had the joint ANC/ZAPU contingent fighting through Zimbabwe, he fought in that. So he was the Chief Representative. His deputy and the key person who ran the clandestine side of things was Jacob Zuma. OK, then at about the end of a month
POM Did you know what you were being trained for at that point?
IP There was a general understanding you know, I wrote a lot of reports when I was there about what I understood was going on in SA and what needed to be done and we were finally agreed on what should happen. What should happen is that I should go back into SA and I should recruit and set up as many units, ANC units, as is possible.
POM ANC political units or MK units?
IP Underground units. Let me put it this way, it was underground units. Exactly what they would do, etc., is something that we would decide later but certainly what they would immediately get involved in is some sort of political underground.
POM Underground at that point meant literature distribution?
IP Slogan painting.
IP And receiving guidance from the ANC on the outside and providing that guidance to the mass movement would be part of that. Part of that would be actually preparing people for recruitment into the ANC for whatever tasks. One of the weaknesses of the ANC at that stage was the approach, then and quite a while longer, the approach that the ANC used was quite close to the IRA one and the IRA, as you know, although it had some popular support but its armed wing worked very much on totally unconnected cells and there was no contact between those who did political work and those who actually did armed work and the ANC suffered for this because you couldn't grow in numbers fast enough. It is difficult to recruit if you're not in a mass movement because your mass movement is your fertile ground which actually produces the cadres. You must be fast enough to identify them and fast enough to slip them out of high profile activity so that although they continue to be active you can start to bring them into the underground.
So one of the things that we were saying at that stage is that we needed to build an underground that was not only involved in military action. We needed to build an underground that also did other things like slogan painting, like leaflet distribution, like recruitment for the army, like guiding the mass movement so that we can get all what we used to call pillars well co-ordinated.
About a month later I was taken to Swaziland, back to the safe house where I had been and I sat around now for one week, two weeks, three weeks. The people in Swaziland were trying to work out how to get me back into the country. In the meantime something I've forgotten is that whilst I was there
POM In Maputo?
IP In Maputo, my brother had left to go for training to Angola. That's proper training, not like the one that I did. The late Nzima went back to Swaziland. Although he had not received any training but he was deployed immediately. He was fresh from home, he had the trade union connections. You know the ANC suffered for a very long time from having very few Zulus, at least in exile and in the underground, and the ANC faced the prospect of competition with Inkatha which had massive, at least, formal support. That was clear.
POM So at that point, that being the stage - ?
IP 1977, yes. After about three weeks I really got quite fed up because this is different from Maputo. In Swaziland now you've got to sit indoors the whole day, you can't just walk around except very carefully and we don't have the run of the place and there was no training going on and so on, so it was really quite boring. After reading, reading and you're also very anxious because you're actually waiting to go back in so you have all sorts of anxieties about what's going to happen there and of course nothing happens and you're waiting and waiting.
I then spoke to the people there, the organisers, and I said, "No, man, I have a way out. I can solve this thing." Because I worked for the construction industry and I know the company I had been working for actually did work in Swaziland so I said to them, "Now come with me, let's go." And we went to a place, I can't remember now very well where it was, but somewhere in the south, not too close to the border but somewhere in the south where this company, Roberts Construction, today it's called Murray & Roberts, they were building something or the other there and I went in there and I was so lucky. I went in there and I met two guys that I knew. I met an African guy first that I knew. He was a clerk, what we used to call a time clerk, the Zulu word is mabalang, he was a very important figure, not in the company but he's a very important figure in the life of the African workforce because this is the man, invariably it's a man, who actually works out how many hours each person works and therefore what their salary should be. He was a guy, and I've never seen him since, actually I should have tried to see him if he's still alive, his name was Clifford Mabaso and I had worked with him already for about two years. He wasn't your most progressive person but he was aware and he was an Inkatha member but one of these members who genuinely believed that Inkatha was the ANC, was not different, especially at that time. I said to him, I said, "Hey man, look I've come here for some business, I don't want to go into details on it. I need to get back but I don't have a document, can you help?" So we talked and he said, "I think we can do it." You see in the construction industry we got paid every two weeks and what happens then is every two weeks on the Friday these workers, the South Africans who were working there and large numbers were South African, most of the skilled labour came from SA, black and white, on Friday evening would leave for Durban and they would actually come back on Sunday. He said to me, "Look, we'll go with a truck full", I don't know, probably 70, 80 people, "There will be a whole truck load and they don't ever search this truck so you just hide in the truck and we'll go through the border post." Right, that's fine.
And then I met the second person there who was going to be the driver, an Indian chap and he knew me too but he didn't really know anything of the politics. Clifford knew, knew something of the politics. And this guy just gave him this story that I'm here and I need to get back and I didn't use a document and the less you say the better. And he said, "No, it's all right, let's go." So off we went. I sat in the front of the truck. It was a driver, it was myself and there was this black guy, the mabalang, and then the rest of the workforce was in the back of this truck. It's a truck that they put a canopy on it, a wooden canopy which has seats, benches on it.
We got to the border post, Golela, and we got off. This guy Clifford said, "Come with me", and we all went into the toilets and drank some water and so on. The thing is that he decided on the spur of the moment that, no, you're not going to hide in the truck, let's get off. And it's a good thing we did too because as we were doing that somebody came and shone their lights and looked inside with torches. He said what we're going to do is the following, "I'm going to collect everybody's passport altogether, into a bunch, so they will not be the wiser, and I'll take all these passports and give them to them and then we will walk across all of us." So I said, "Fine", and we all gave him passports and they gave me one of these injection you know in those days you had to have these injection certificates, vaccination certificates so from afar it looks like I'm giving him something. So we all gave our documents to him and he went to the window, and this is about nine, ten o'clock at night. Then we walked through and we stood there and somebody stamped all these things and then they came and they gave them to him and he handed out and he pretended to hand me a document and we all got into the truck and away we went. So my first time to cross back into SA illegally I actually went right through a border post without a passport.
Anyway, I was in Durban next morning and again you improvise this thing. I was dead scared of the telephone so I didn't like to phone anybody from Swaziland to say I'm coming back and meet me here and prepare this and prepare that and so on. So I got back, I don't want to go into too much detail, although I said I wouldn't do that at the beginning I am going into too much detail. Suffice it to say I met a number of people and said to them that, look here, this is the set up, I am now with the ANC, this is what we're trying to do. I would spend with each one about half a day explaining what this is all about and then saying we'd like to see you more. We're not at the point where we can deal with you directly inside the country so we want you to come out for a weekend, come to Swaziland, come to Botswana, these are the places to come to and this is how you can trigger us off that you are coming, these are the code names you use and when you come through we'll have a much longer time, we'll discuss the whole thing. We'll even have training, which is what we did quite well. One of the things we did quite well is to concentrate into two days, especially in Swaziland, a training programme for people that actually prepared them very well for underground work.
POM Who prepared, who was the chief in Swaziland at that time?
IP The chief in Swaziland, again at the diplomatic level was a guy called Stanley, he was our diplomat in Namibia, Mabizela, that's right. At the underground level actually the late Nzima was playing the key role but he wasn't the nominal. The nominal person was an old man called Past Four.
POM Past Four?
IP Now what was his name? You mustn't ask me this time. But if you say to Mac Past Four, Mac knows who is Past Four. I think it comes from saying it's time to knock off now.
POM Past four, OK. He saw a lot of them walking.
IP So anyway I set up all of these things and I had come away with one complaint and this is Krishna Rabilal, the one who was killed in Matola. We crossed back not into Swaziland but into Botswana and there's no particular reason except my caution because I had gone out through Swaziland, I had come back through Swaziland and I felt that if I was under any surveillance and somebody was planning to intercept me somewhere they would bank on my going into Swaziland. So I had a very good friend in Soweto, he died early this year, Philip Masia, I knew him from the trade union movement, and I got to Soweto and he organised to take me through to Botswana.
We cross into Botswana in broad daylight and this is something that has actually stayed with me for ever in all my subsequent crossings, I've always preferred to cross during the day when I can see. So Krishna and I crossed and Philip was great. I mean he walked us into Botswana for two or three kilometres at least until he was quite sure that we were safe and he said goodbye and went back. He is somebody who has remained my friend for a very long time. He was my friend a few years before that and he's remained my friend for ages. We got to Botswana, I can't remember the point but I know it was a railway station, your first settlement, and I got to this tap and I had to wash now because Philip had organised me some make up so that I would look darker and I was relieved to get to the station, there was a tap there and I was washing all this gunk off me which now in the walk in the hot Botswana sun had begun to melt and I was washing and I could see some big boots through the water. I could see some big boots and I said, "Now here we are, here's trouble." And indeed it was, it was the Botswana police. "Where are you guys coming from? Where are you going to? Where are your passports?" And of course we were in trouble.
They took us back to the border post, we were actually scared that they would hand us over onto the SA side so we had to make a decision then, because at first you try to lie it out and say no, man, you are here on holiday and you left your passport in the hotel and so on. Then when you're actually going back to the border post you now want to clarify things so that you don't go in the wrong place and you say, look, we are politicals, we're running away from there. They say, OK, fine.
We spent the night in that police station at the border post and they took us the next morning to a place called Lobatsi where there's a bigger police station and I actually knew somebody in Lobatsi because I had been to Lobatsi already twice and I had another friend there who was in exile but he wasn't ANC, he was a Trotskyite. I had some funny friends. I knew this fellow but I didn't use his name but I knew who he stayed with and he was a well known fellow who had been in exile and lived in Lobatsi for some time and he ran a little shop, not a successful shop but a little shop that sold a few odds and ends and I gave the name of this chap. I said, "Look, this is a chap I know." And then they said, "Oh, we know this fellow, we'll go and ask him. If he's prepared that we release you into his custody then we don't have a problem, we don't have to hold you in the police station, we don't have to hold you in a refugee camp or anything." Great. So they took us to this guy and said, "Do you know him?" And he said, "Oh, yes I know this chap. He's been here." That's fine, OK, great.
So they left us there which was a bit awkward now because we were really with the ANC but then we were there and I said to my pal, I said, "You know what, we're really with the ANC and I need to make contact and say that I'm around and I obviously will have to go over at a certain stage." He wasn't too happy but that's life.
POM Why wasn't he too happy?
IP He was a Trotskyite.
POM That's kind of academic.
IP So off we went. You must know even the stories, there were lots of stories about our ANC exiles who were messing up and so on. Stories would abound, especially in exile communities which have nothing else to talk about. They're very close, incestuous communities. So then the next day I went to the ANC, made contact with the ANC in Gaborone, the capital, and we were put into a camp called Mgodisane(?), well camp is not the right word, it's an ANC house for refugees. There were about thirty of us so it was Krishna Rabilal, myself and one senior person, one or two senior people well people of my age at that stage, and the rest were 13 and 14 year olds who were coming from Soweto with the 1976/77 rush, exit out of the country.
We lived there for about three months. I can't tell you why, it was very frustrating. The ANC couldn't get us out of there into Lusaka and then for training. It was quite a difficult period, facilities were not great, there were not lights, there was no water, there was one of these borehole things that didn't work very well. Food was a bit of a problem at that place. Botswana was very, very hot. That particular house was under a lot of threat. Jimmy Kruger, the then Minister of Police, had actually named that house where we stayed as a house that accommodated terrorists and was threatening to come and blow the place up. It was quite tense and we had no weapons or anything. So out of all of us the head of the place apparently received full training and so on, he was the only guy who had a weapon and he had a pistol and there was lots of suspicious activity around, there were lots of vehicles driving up and down and every time that happened people would be scattering all over and trying to hide.
POM You didn't run into Hassen Ebrahim when you were there did you?
IP No, but subsequently I ran into him but not in the 1977 period. Then finally after three months we left and we flew to Lusaka, from Gaborone to Lusaka. We were given UN passports, UN documents, this refugee thing, and we were flown out from Gaborone to Lusaka. By some coincidence, if I remember and I'm not mixing it up, Oliver Tambo happened to be on that plane so we said hello, all of us. There were many of us, about 30 of us going to Lusaka and of course we were very happy to meet the old man and he had come from the Business Class section to greet everybody and spend some time with us. Nothing very profound, hello, how are you, where do you come from.
We landed in Lusaka and then to cut a long story short now, because of time, you spend a lot of time waiting but finally you go and you get some training and then you are redeployed.
POM Where did you get your training?
IP I was destined to go to Funda Camp, a camp called Funda which was for short term training.
POM That was in?
IP Just outside Luanda, for short term training like three months training, what some people call crash courses and what ANC comrades called crash courses. Anyway, when I went there of course my brother was there, he was still in training.
POM He was still in crash training?
IP Yes, and he was there together with Sonny Singh who was training too, but I only spent a few days and I got a message that I should get back to Maputo, that I shouldn't go for my training then, I should go back. So off I went to Maputo, because what had happened now is that the people I'd gone to contact and they were sending messages that they were going to come out to Swaziland to meet with the ANC so I had to come back to be part of the team that would meet with the people and start the work with them. So whoever was in the leadership at that time had decided that the training could come a little bit later and that I should go back. So back to Maputo, still spent about a month and finally it was decided, let me go to Swaziland on an experimental basis.
The comrades were very nervous about basing an Indian or two Indians in Swaziland at that stage. It had never been done. The feeling was that we would stick out like a sore thumb, we would be easily recognised and so on. But eventually it was agreed that my brother and myself then went back, my brother first and myself later and we agreed on a story and the story is that we would rock up to the Swazis and say, "Look here, we are refugees, we came yesterday from SA, we are running away from the police." We wouldn't say anything about the ANC, we would not declare ourselves as the ANC which is exactly what we didn't. So we were what you'd call 'non-aligned' refugees. We thought this would give us a little bit of leeway, a little bit of space, which it did, it gave us a lot of space. It gave us space for two to three years where we came under scrutiny but I wouldn't say very close scrutiny.
POM That would be scrutiny by the Swazi police?
IP The Swazi police, yes. And you know if everything works perfectly well of course they wouldn't know but things don't work perfectly even on the side of the enemy. We actually had it for two, two and a half years. The great thing about it is that we were not in an official ANC structure, we were in an unofficial ANC structure so we didn't meet ANC people, we didn't go to ANC spots where people gathered, etc. We kept to ourselves. When we met with the old man, Past Four, or Nzima we would meet them in the dead of night. If I was going to meetings they would meet me on a corner, I would get into the back of the car, street flap down, and then enter the ANC premises which were known premises and then go into the meeting. I think it did give us some time.
The one thing I'm forgetting just for completeness is I'd gone all the way from SA to Botswana to Lusaka and then to Angola with Krish Rabilal and then I left him in Angola where he stayed on to finish the training, because I had to go to Maputo. Just for completeness.
So I get back into Swaziland and I spend about a year in MK, the only underground structures were MK in spite of what we were saying what needed to be done, but the only underground structures were MK. After about a year, a year and a half, I can't remember quite correctly now, this Internal Political Reconstruction Committee was formed.
POM That's Mac's committee.
IP That's Mac's committee, yes.
POM Now when you say you were in MK what were you doing in MK?
IP What we were doing in MK, we had to recruit people, we had to train people, we had to send weapons into the country, we had to plan armed operations and that's what we did.
POM Were you planning armed operations you didn't cross the border and carry out operations?
IP No, not in that period. I crossed the border subsequently, we'll come back to that, but in that period we didn't actually go in to carry out actions, we were part of a command structure and what we would do is to send cadres inside to do recruitment, to set up the cells, to take weapons in and we would send some cadres to carry out the actions. We would also recruit people through the cadres or through my own actions, like when I went in and pulled them out, trained them in those weekends and sent them back. That would be some of the things that we did.
Then, as I say, I got a message and again it was one of those coincidences, I happened to be back in Angola and I received a message this time from the late Cassius Make whilst I was receiving my training to say, "Look here, you should finish this training and you should get back to Swaziland, you are now part of this IPRC." So off I went back and became part of this committee together with Shadrack Maphumule and together with another comrade that's now died, his name was Jackson Kuzwayo, also ex Robben Island but he died of an accident. For the next few years that's what I did.
I made three trips into the country and the last one I made was in 1985 where I was in Durban for three months working clandestinely. Now my going in of course was with different considerations, it was not a short term thing to go in to carry out one or two actions. It was part of trying to build a leadership inside the country and this is something we'd been wrestling with for quite some time. Ever since 1981/82 we'd been talking about it and trying to do it. We had actually come to the conclusion then that it's really difficult to do these things by remote, by sitting on that side of the fence and trying to send people here and get them to do this and there was no way out, we had actually to go in ourselves to do these things and that's why I went in.
Before going in I remember meeting with Chris Hani and Chris said when you come out you should come to Lusaka so that we can get the actual story of what the experience is like, what has happened.
POM He was in Lesotho, right?
IP Swaziland. At that stage he had been chucked out of Lesotho, he was now operating out of Lusaka and then he would travel to all the places and at that stage he was in Swaziland. He would come for a week or something, a few days, and go back.
We had been wrestling for some time and something like in 1982, if I remember, or 1981, we had actually made a recommendation that the top leadership needed to go into the country.
POM You made the recommendation to?
IP To what was at that time called the RC, the Revolutionary Council.
POM This is in 1982.
POM OK. And Mac was on the RC at that point?
IP That's right, he was a member. Then when I came out a lot of things happened in between that took us no further on this journey, in fact it took us backwards. The RC was scrapped, they then formed something called the Senior Organ and instead of the political work growing in importance it was actually a quite separate and parallel action, not integrated, not part of a co-ordinated strategy.
POM The RC was abolished in? I thought it wasn't abolished until Kabwe.
IP 1984. No, no, before Kabwe.
POM It was abolished before Kabwe?
IP Yes it was abolished before Kabwe.
POM Then it was replaced by?
IP The Senior Organ, something called the Senior Organ.
POM Which was more of a - ?
IP You know what happened is that the difference between the RC and the Senior Organ is that your RC people were selected as individuals and were given the overall task of leading the struggle. Your Senior Organ was like a federal type of structure which sought to get representation from each part of the movement. So the women's organisation, the youth organisation, the MK, the political machinery part of it was there, we had a religious front, we had a workers' front there, worker/SACTU front, it was a cumbersome organ and very unwieldy and it put up a set of players as key players who really were not in touch with what was going on. We actually, in my view, in those years we actually treaded water, if not we actually went a bit backwards.
POM That would be the years from?
IP From about 1982 to about 1984 we lost something. Work still went on and we made an impact and so on but you must understand in 1979/80/81 we had made tremendous strides. In 1981 out of nothing we had co-ordinated a nationwide anti-republican campaign.
POM This is on the 20th anniversary?
IP That's right. And in Durban alone we had carried out, this is the ANC as a whole, I'm not talking about myself, armed attacks, so many armed attacks that it was averaged out at one a week. For us that was great going and the secret was very simple, the people who did the armed attacks were not external cadres, they were cadres who were legal in SA, who were trained in exile or rather they were trained in places like Swaziland for two days, three days, and they were given the equipment and the basic know-how, not too sophisticated. The problem with the training is that when you go for proper training they want to tell you this is a plastic explosive, this is the chemical it's made of, this is the temperature at which it's unstable and this and that and that, and you spend hours this is a hand grenade, this is how you open it, this is the primer and this is this and this is that.
POM No need to know.
IP Precisely. So some of us had gotten down this training, this short term training to a fine art and it didn't actually take too many people to actually pull off these many attacks. The signal was very clear, the signal was don't try to pump in a whole lot of people inside the country. You've got millions inside the country, use the millions inside the country and why take somebody out of the country, make this person illegal, train this person and then try to make the person legal. It doesn't make any sense. Those days if we knew anything about process engineers we would have seen that the process is totally flawed. Anyway.
I come out, it was a good experience being inside the country. I was very anxious because I had health problems and so on but I'm also a very nervous person. Three months is quite a long time and in that three months in the last two weeks or three weeks of the three months a state of emergency had been re-declared.
POM This is 1985?
IP 1986. Now we're going into 1986. So I was also relieved. So I got out, came to Swaziland and Swaziland was in uproar because the regime had really carried out a number of attacks, carried out a number of kidnappings, they had turned ANC cadres around and because although we were training people we were not always that careful so people knew where other people stayed and so on. It was a very, very problematic period and I didn't want to spend too long there and anyway I had this invitation from Chris. So of course as soon as I came through I sent word to Chris that, look, I'm around, I've come back, do you still want me to come? He said yes definitely come. So off I go to Lusaka.
I get to Lusaka and they said, "Look here, what you guys have been asking for has been finally agreed. We're going to set up now a team, we're going to put key elements of the leadership at different levels into the country and you have been selected to play a role in this."
POM You were told this by?
IP By Mac and Chris I think, I saw them in Lusaka. I then went to Cuba for training, I went on some course. It took a long time, by the time you get to Cuba you've got a month, a month and a half of waiting around in different places. Got to Cuba, waited a long time there too because those comrades were very disorganised. Everything is mañana. I remember being so fed up with one of these chaps, I can't remember his name, I said to him, "You qualify to be a member of the ANC", and he was so happy, I said, "Because you are just as disorganised as we are." We went there and we sat there for about two to three weeks because they were not ready for us.
So we get back to Lusaka and then we start the painful process of trying to get our minds in order first. Mac, Gebhuza and myself intermittently with Joe Slovo but mainly Mac, we spent a lot of time to understand, conceptualise what is this and how are we going to do this at the broad level and then starting to work through details, especially communications. How are we going to communicate? Because this is leadership and this leadership that is there it's got to be in dynamic touch with the outside leadership, and how do we create this. We spent a lot of time and during this period of course Mac had his legend that he was not well and he began to play through this legend so Mac was not really running up and down to ANC meetings and so on and he would go off again for his little bits of training in communications, little bits of preparation on disguises and so on. We did all of that, little things like preparing documentation and so on, going to the border areas, working out how we would cross and so on.
My cover story, and we decided this would apply to the whole of Vula, is that basically what we did was use the party as a cover, and this is something that OR agreed with readily from the way go. The party had a certain mystique about it in those days. It was held in very high esteem by Indian people but held in very high esteem by careerists who wanted to get ahead also. If you wanted to get anywhere you had to be in the party, at least that was the understanding by some people. But anyway, for whatever reason, I had been a member of the party since 1981 or something like that but if it was known that you were in the party, and there were very few people who were known to be in the party, and it was decided there that I would be a known member of the party and known to be a full time member on the staff of the party. Nobody asked you too much questions because everybody knew the party was clandestine, the party was not officially in Africa, because the ANC was officially there, not the party. In fact some African countries were very hostile to communists.
So it was agreed, we discussed this, we spent a lot of time over it and it was agreed that I, and later when I was joined by somebody called Archie
POM By who?
IP Archie. There was another comrade called Archie who was my assistant, one of my assistants.
POM Archie's second name?
IP Archie Andrews we called him, but I don't remember his real name now, I'll get to that. And I actually stayed in the party house.
POM The party house in?
IP Lusaka, and I drove a party car and everything and I did party work, I became a member of the Central Committee of the party, so I would have spent 10% of my time on party work and the rest on Vula work. Then we set up a small Vula infrastructure which stretched from London to Holland to Lusaka.
POM That was Tim Jenkin in London?
IP Yes, Conny Braam in Holland and in Lusaka we had besides Archie and myself and then set up a Vula house that was completely unknown which housed three Dutch persons that we brought specifically for that purpose.
POM Three Dutch brought for the purposes of?
IP Of providing us with an infrastructure that would not be a known ANC or party infrastructure and we housed our communications in the houses that they rented.
POM Now had Mac disappeared at this point?
IP No, no, no, not yet. We were busy setting up.
POM Still you're setting up.
IP Obviously I'm talking about it in a way in which we would conceptualise and we start to put things in place. We didn't put everything in place from the word go. We spent a lot of time with Mac on the communications and at that stage your e-mail type communication was just starting and I remember Philips had come out with a little communications machine which you fitted into the phone and sent messages.
POM With what?
IP A little computer actually, it was a little computer, about this long, and it had an end that actually fitted into the mouth piece of the phone so you'd actually type your message out and put it there and send it. So we experimented with that for some time but what worried us was that you had a limited number of combinations for your ciphering so you didn't have like now when you're using computer software where you have a huge number of cipher options.
Anyway preparations were getting to a point and then we decided then that the legends we must take Gebhuza and Mac out of the country, out of Lusaka, and so that people should also forget about them. There's a psychology with people that if you say Mac is sick and Mac is not there and he's not seen for three months people begin to forget and so Mac went off for an operation in USSR to his knee and then we said no, that it was his knee and then he had some lung complication and Gebhuza seemingly had to go for long term training preparing for conventional warfare and both were out of the country. What we wanted to do was actually break the whole link with Lusaka so they actually went there to the USSR and spent some time. Of course they were busy doing other things, busy doing training, really doing the final preparations. Then we worked their travel routes with different sets of documentation so that they would fly out of Moscow to Amsterdam, from Amsterdam catch the flights to Africa. I can't remember all the details but they would end up flying to Swaziland.
The lady who helped me in Swaziland was a lady called Tootsie Memela. She had worked for a number of years for the movement and was very good at knowing the border areas and crossing people.
POM I've talked to her. She works for Standard Bank.
IP No First National.
POM Sorry, Mac's bank.
IP Yes Tootsie Memela. So Tootsie and I meet then in Swaziland. Of course I never tell Tootsie she knows we are in preparation and we're doing something, I didn't tell her who it was so when she actually met them for the first time she got the shock of her life. We had this elaborate plan that people would come from SA and pick up Mac and Gebhuza at a certain point, we would cross Mac and Gebhuza to that point and pick them up and they'd whisk them away. The same principle being that you rather use a car from inside the country that doesn't cross the border because those people are legal. Once you are going from outside in you already attract attention. But it was organised such that the one car would do that but some vehicle would come in to actually physically meet us and fine tune all the preparations for the next day. With all this elaborate preparation that meeting didn't come off, something went wrong. People were not there to meet us and therefore the people were not at the border to meet us, nothing.
Now everything was dead right, Mac and Gebhuza had left Lusaka, people, especially people who didn't know them well had forgotten about them, they were not in people's minds, they had come back successfully from Europe, back to Swaziland. No trace, nobody was aware. The ANC mission in Zambia don't know anything and in Swaziland they don't know anything because we did this entirely separate, it's only Tootsie and myself that know this. Everything is fine. Tootsie and I have gone to the border, almost every day we've gone to the border to check and we are getting reports, everything is fine. The troops have actually left the border. It was timed, it's pay weekend, they've got their pay and they are going for the weekend, they're not going to be on duty. What do we do? And Mac being Mac says, "We're going." Everything is right, OK, this arrangement has fallen down, let's look for alternatives.
POM Sorry, he said let's just go ahead?
IP Yes, let's look for an alternative way to provide the transport and let's go ahead. Quite correct, absolutely right thing to do. Fortunately we had alternatives. I had an Irishman there that I had found in Swaziland five, six years earlier. Don't ask me how he has come to be there, he was quite a young man, obviously involved in the Irish troubles, obviously running away from something, very sympathetic to the SA struggle and done a lot of work for us already. I hadn't introduced him to any people in the ANC so he was sleeping there and I had another bachelor.
POM Can you remember his name?
IP I must make a phone call, I'll give you the name.
POM I'd love to know, look him up. I wonder if it's worth talking to him.
IP I wonder if he's still there. And very interestingly he actually ran a printing press.
POM He ran a printing press?
IP In Swaziland, and we used a little bit of it. But we kept him quite safe and he had this wonderful house in a sort of semi rural area where I stayed when I was there. And then there was this Dutchman that we had chosen from Holland and we had deliberately put him there, so he also was very clean, not known to the ANC, etc. We struggled with him in the sense that he was a very good guy, difficult to get him a job there and a natural cover. Nevertheless he was there and we had these two people and we said, "Right, this is it. We've got two people here, they've got transport and they are white." You are 90% there if you are white. We then organised this that the one vehicle would go before the other, without them knowing each other, and give us continuous checks to tell us what's happening at the different points. Now in those days there were no cell phones, two-ways and all that, so it depended on passing a certain point, getting to a call box, making a phone call, etc.
POM Hoping the phone worked.
IP Yes. So this is what they did and everything was clear and we had the Dutchman waiting inside at a particular point and then we phoned each other to say, "Right, go, go and pick up the people." We then crossed Mac and Gebhuza, they put on overalls over their civilian clothing, put on overalls so that it won't get torn by the fence and so that people around there, they would not look too obvious that they were not locals. Overalls and a balaclava and so on. Crossed and our friend had come around and put them in there with the Dutchman and they went through.
The original plan was to go through to Durban but because the transport arrangements had fallen down it was decided that now they won't go to Durban but they would go straight to Jo'burg. They went straight to Johannesburg and Mac and Gebhuza both know their way around there and, I suppose Mac himself has gone into that detail. But from there they then made contact with Durban and finally moved to Durban to base because in Durban, I mean I had lived there for a few months too, so we already had an infrastructure that was quite strong and the Durban comrades knew and they were preparing. They didn't know exactly who would come in but they knew that we were now sending people in. We got the communication arrangements wrong but they knew and they were a strong group of people and pretty well organised. So before long Mac and Gebhuza were able to change base to Durban and that's where they worked from in the main. Full stop.
POM So you worked during the Vula Operation out of - ?
IP Zambia and the frontline states.
POM Zambia and Swaziland.
IP Swaziland and Zimbabwe, yes.
POM Now you were moving around doing? You were getting people ready to send them in?
IP Send people in, receive people, send weapons in. We sent a lot of weapons in.
POM So you'd have to send the weapons from?
IP Lusaka to Botswana. Yes, we moved it in huge loads into Botswana, we actually built, and that's where the Cuban experience was valuable, was that we built a bunker in the open fields, underground, and hid these weapons there.
POM You built a bunker underground in Botswana?
IP Yes. And then
POM You'd take the weapons to?
IP To the big store from Zambia into there. We then set up at least one place in Botswana, just a house where there could be a garage where we could work from so as now Mac and Gebhuza would send in the vehicles to us, they would send people on holiday, say, to Botswana, and they would come in, we would meet them at a point and they would go off on their holidays and we would take the vehicle. OK? These vehicles would already have a concealed compartment so we would then open the compartments. Obviously we would have gone first to the arms dump, brought in the arms we want to put in, put it in and close it and then deliver the vehicle to a point where the holidaymakers would pick it up and then go back.
POM Now would the holidaymakers be aware that they were carrying arms back into the country?
IP They would be aware that there was something. They wouldn't know exactly what. You would know, they would not choose anybody but what you would find with the holidaymakers not everybody would know everything because the best thing to do if you were going to do something like this is to take your spouse along and children and you've come on holiday and you're not going to drive kilometres, it depends on your type of holiday, and then we'd meet one of the spouses, which one was the conscious one, in the hotel car park and take the car. All you needed if it was going well is you need five or six hours, you put in the thing and you deliver the car back and that's it and they can go on.
The major part of the work would be the communications. We had to keep Mac and company abreast of the political developments in the movement. This is the time when things changed very, very rapidly. This is the time when businessmen started meeting the ANC, this is the time Dakar takes place and all of these things were taking place. There was lots of debate going on in the movement and people inside the country they've got to understand all of this. And secondly, with the likes of Mac and Gebhuza and others, you're talking about more than giving directives, you want to give them the feeling, you want to give them the context in which all these things were taking place, what is the mood like.
Similarly, from Mac's side they are sending huge reports. You see in the period before Vula we didn't use communications through computer technology. What we had were sheets of paper on which we wrote in very small handwriting on the thinnest sheets of paper and then we would hide this and conceal this in little powder containers or whatever, in your shoes or something like that, sometimes in disks and so on, computer disks. We didn't really use electronic mail.
So we were now beginning to get lots of communications, quite a lot of detail, but we were also beginning to get more and more strategic engagement, One of the things you should understand is that up to now we had been dealing with individual units, individual units don't pose so much strategic issues. It's functional, it's more about targets and how to overcome this problem and that problem but once you have a leadership in place it's building an organisation rather than carrying on an operation or building a unit, it's thinking as a leadership. There are questions about is there a negotiated settlement around the corner? If there is how should we handle ourselves? Is Mandela going to freed? If he's going to be free how is he to be handled, what role does he play vis-à-vis the Mass Democratic Movement? There are all of these issues and the whole issue of Winnie Mandela began to pose such a problem how do we handle all of this? Or even the late Peter Mokaba who was very problematic, how do we handle this when it comes to individuals?
Those would be some of the issues. But generally it would be the broader issues. There was a whole debate around people's war and the protracted struggle and a negotiated settlement and how all this fits in. Quite clearly the international situation had changed, the Soviet Union was waning, Britain was beginning to recognise us, the Americans began to shift a little bit. In those last three, four years many new things had happened and I can't remember all the details but lots of discussion, conversation about that. COSATU, I mean there were also issues on COSATU because there were two clear streams. There was the SACTU stream and then there was the worker stream, FOSATU, and pulling all that together and keeping that in line. The UDF, all of those debates that were taking place there and so on, the stayaways, the huge stayaways that came in the townships during that period that actually took us to a new height of struggle and whether they like it or not pulled the trade union movement, including the workers, into the national political struggle.
POM Sorry, which did?
IP The township stayaways, especially in the then Transvaal. There were stayaways up to that period. The trade unionists did a stayaway on trade union issues, like Fattis & Monis or whatever in the earlier days, but that period is when you got, after long interruption, we had workers coming out in a stayaway for days at a time and where for days at a time the regime lost complete control of the townships. There is also the period, even in the countryside, where they had lost control. Comrades were beginning to set up their own roadblocks for a short period but it signalled a certain forward movement.
POM What was the picture you were receiving from you were receiving all this information, what kind of picture was emerging in your minds in Lusaka as to what the actual state of the situation in SA was and the degree to which it was changing?
IP Look, the clear picture that came across is that we would reach a stage of greater fluidity than we had ever experienced. You must know that many of us went through a period where we became active in the late sixties, early seventies and that was a period of rigidity, there was no fluidity. Every little bit that you tried to do was very difficult and it met a lot of resistance, not only from the regime, it met a lot of resistance from your own people. Everybody was so scared so you actually moved through a period and then you had a few outstanding incidents like the 1972/73 workers' strike. Then you had 1976 and then you had 1981. You then had 1986, the tenth anniversary of Soweto. All of these things began to push things to a new context, a slightly different context and increasing the fluidity but from time to time you'd get jammed like PW Botha's Rubicon speech which indicated that we were jammed for a moment.
POM Were you getting a picture that the regime, particularly in say post-1986/87 or so that
IP It couldn't rule in the old way.
POM - that things were changing within, the NP itself was changing, that it too had lost its rigidity?
IP Yes, yes, it did but I would say, having said that, I know different people would read it differently but personally I was very sceptical in the sense that I still thought that a negotiated settlement would be a long way off, it wouldn't have come so soon.
POM So from your position you saw Vula as moving the people and the armaments into the country for the purpose of a national uprising?
IP Yes. The agenda, look in 1989, I'm talking about the party now, we had our congress in Cuba and a prominent player in that congress was Thabo Mbeki, he was a member of the Politburo. The programme that the party adopted at that congress was called The Path to Power.
POM The Path to Power?
IP Yes. It doesn't eschew negotiations but it clearly raises the perspective of taking power. It doesn't say that we will not negotiate anything, but by saying 'taking' it's indicating that you may get to negotiations but that's still some way off. In other words you've got to apply a lot more pressure before we get to that point. I didn't think that that point was there.
POM Would I be correct in saying that the thinking was in order to get to the point of negotiations on our side we have to escalate the level of violence to a much higher level than it's been?
IP Yes, well I wouldn't say violence alone. You see we always talked about the four pillars of struggle and the armed struggle was one of them, the international struggle was another, then there was a mass struggle and then we said the underground political struggle. We obviously meant that we would have to intensify all of these and we will have to more closely co-ordinate all of these. You need to get the synergies, the benefit of synergies amongst all of these. But the weakest element in our struggle has been the armed struggle. The armed struggle has played a role but its role has been more of armed propaganda than of
POM It had a symbolism to it.
IP Symbolism, yes. I still think that the regime lost more people in accidents than we killed, to be very frank. And it was difficult, it was not an easy situation.
POM The same thing happened to the IRA in Northern Ireland with British troops, more were dead in accidents than were killed by them.
IP It's a difficult thing, it's not a rural struggle, it's an urban struggle. We make a lot of mistakes and we're trying desperately, of course sometimes we stepped over the mark but we always tried desperately not to injure civilians, most of the time. Some mistakes, especially in the late eighties, were committed.
POM Did the Kabwe conference modify that?
IP Very slightly, I think what the Kabwe conference said was that whereas previously it was, no, no, we would do everything we can to avoid civilian deaths, in the Kabwe conference we said that we would try to avoid it but we would not decide on the basis that we would do something or not do something because of its impact on civilians. Obviously if you're talking about, what shall I say, the relativity on this issue, but whereas before Kabwe we would be very strong and say we are not going to hit this target which we considered to be a military target because some civilians are going to be hurt, after Kabwe we were saying we are still going to hit that military target if the civilian consequences would be low. But it certainly, in my view, did not say we must go and hit Wimpy Bars. I was at Kabwe and it's a gross distortion for ANC people, I know some of them have been saying it, certainly the late Steve Tshwete was one of the people saying it, at no time as a movement if you read the Kabwe decision, read it very clearly, it's not OK to go and bomb Wimpy Bars which we did, some of us did anyway.
So a big part of the work was that and JS and OR would be intimately involved in that part of the discussion, the strategic issues, the policy issues. I would be involved in that but they were really the minds who responded to these things and then I would see to all the other support for the logistics, the communication systems, get the money in, get people in, get the people trained, get their disguises, get them in and receive couriers who were coming in from the outside, send in the weapons.
POM When you went to Moscow in 198- was that on behalf of raising money for Vula?
IP No, no. I went there in 1990 to receive Mac. JS and OR and I were there to receive Mac. Mac had come back from inside the country. We had different sets of documents and he was able to fly to Moscow and we received him in Moscow and we did the debriefing session there. Moscow was a necessary staging point because he needed to come out to see his family for one, two I think there was a need to actually talk with us. You know you can communicate and communicate but the personal touch is a thing that is actually required. If I sense it right, if I can remember, Mac was still impatient. He felt we could do more, we should give him more guidance, we should give him more backup.
POM In terms of that he meant more arms, more - ?
IP No, no, no, I think he meant more in terms of leadership commitment and that we shouldn't, although we don't want to announce to everybody that we've got Vula, but he shouldn't run Vula in a secluded way. In other words if we are talking to various sorts of people it's got to feed into Vula. In Vula you've got to know what's going on. You can't keep Vula
POM A secret for ever?
IP No, you keep Vula a secret but Vula should know what is going on on the other side so that we understand and appreciate what is going on in the movement, etc., etc., and Vula is not running under the wrong impression, that the movement is exactly where it was when we started Vula. Now things had shifted. I actually don't think we had appreciated enough how things had shifted even in the movement, I don't think JS understood it, I don't think I understood it. I think the only ones who understood it were Thabo Mbeki and a few others.
POM When you say 'how things had shifted' what do you mean by that?
IP Let me put it this way, if you're a movement and you've got these four pillars of struggle and you're sending a leadership into the country and it's your first leadership and you're sending an NEC member into the country and that's your strategy and that's where you left off, that's what you're doing, nothing has changed officially. Now a key element of what you are trying to do is actually played by that leadership. That's your people on the spot and everybody is saying, and it's true, there is so much fluidity and that's why you had to put a leadership in. There is so much fluidity you can't control this situation or you can't lead it by remote control and getting a communication once a week and taking another week to respond to it. You've virtually got to respond to these things within hours. Now if you do that your whole strategy, although you're not going to announce to people that you've got this, your whole strategy and the way you're positioning yourself takes this into account and certainly your leadership on the ground you take into full confidence, not in terms of details but of where you are going.
We're still under the impression that this is what the goals are and we've got to build this machinery, this organisation, and suddenly in 1990, February 1990, Oliver Tambo, JS, myself and Mac are meeting. We are debriefing Mac, Mac is going to go back inside and one of those mornings JS comes, OR has now left, JS comes, Mac and I stay in the same flat, JS comes in and says, "Guys, the ANC has just been unbanned." OK, now here we are in Moscow speaking to our underground person who is going back inside, participating in clandestine structures and it catches us unprepared.
We make the most of it but I'm saying if we knew, or some of us knew, that we're going in this direction it could have meant that you'd still have a leadership inside the country but you'd do things slightly differently. You might not have spent so much time in going to get weapons which you were not going to use. You'd need some weapons. You might have spent more time networking, building up a solid political base for the negotiation period that's going to come, etc., etc., etc. This is with the benefit of hindsight let me just say.
But Mac would sense it in the sense that many people by then in the period of fluidity had been going out of the country, meeting with ANC people. As I said there was the youth, the youth of SA would send a delegation to meet the youth of the ANC. The women of SA would send a delegation to meet the ANC Women's League. Business was meeting all the time. The students, NUSAS was sending out delegations. All sorts of meetings were going on all the time. There was a meeting in Paris, all sorts of things. Mac and company would debrief some of these people when they got back, knowingly, sometimes the people would not know. But they would give mixed signals about where we are going.
Certainly in terms of where I was in the movement I didn't have privy and I knew very little about what was going on on the negotiating front. I came from MK and the underground work and I came straight into Vula which was also underground. So Mac could sense it better than I could have because he was the underground, he was getting different signals. I think he was beginning to see that the negotiation process was gathering steam. Nobody would know whether it's going to succeed and how it's going to actually pan out but it's building a momentum that Vula was not part of, let me put it that way, simply put it was not feeding into, it was not benefiting from it.
POM The steam within the country or steam within the ANC and the government was moving in the direction of negotiations and Vula was operating, was not really part of it?
IP Yes. It was not benefiting from it, it was not getting the full import of what was going on.
POM It wasn't being debriefed in the way that it was not receiving briefings on for example, I asked him this question, and it's very funny that you said that the only person who knew the greater picture
IP Better than he.
POM - was Thabo, is that Thabo knew about Vula, Thabo was also involved in negotiations with the NIS, with Niel Barnard. Mac didn't know that Thabo was talking to Niel Barnard.
IP Yes, none of us knew.
POM Except OR?
IP Maybe OR. I don't know. By the tail end of the negotiations OR got sick, he had a stroke, he could hardly talk, so I don't know what OR knew and what he didn't know. But certainly we didn't know, it was never discussed in the Politburo.
POM And yet in 1990 he goes to Cuba as a member of the Politburo.
IP 1989, yes.
POM 1989? Oh sorry, and says the road to power is - meanwhile he is in Europe talking to Niel Barnard in hotels in Geneva.
IP Yes. Actually the talking, if I remember later when I read, some of the talking began 1985/86 in London.
POM That's right.
IP But again I want to be fair, absolutely scrupulously fair. Thabo was present at that meeting and he actually chaired some of those sessions I remember very clearly. It doesn't mean that this is the line he pushed. He was present, this was debated, he was there and I don't remember somebody raising very strong spectres that ran counter to The Path to Power.
POM In Cuba?
POM Just a couple more questions and thank you for both the story and the information, they run different paths and yet converge. One is Patti Waldmeir in her book, this came out some years ago, she was the Financial Times reporter here for years. She said: -
"Vula had never flourished and by July 1990 when Pretoria uncovered the operation and arrested Maharaj and other Vula leaders, it existed more powerfully in Maharaj's mind than in fact. Mandela was furious not at De Klerk but at his own people. The ANC could not afford to create the impression that it had a secret agenda to overthrow the state."
"The incident highlighted divisions within the ANC that would bedevil negotiations for years to come between those who wanted to talk and fight and those who saw the two as mutually exclusive. The two groups - the strugglers and the diplomats - had been battling for control of the ANC for years already. The ANC had only publicly committed itself to negotiations a scant six months before Mandela left prison."
How would you read that statement?
IP What she bases this on, she is saying a lot of things there. For example, the last mentioned, and I'll deal with the least controversial thing, that the ANC had only agreed on negotiations six months before. It's not true. Actually negotiations were discussed at Kabwe. OR briefed the conference, he said there are a bunch of businessmen that want to come and meet us and we think it would be a start of a process of engagement with various lots of people from SA. "I cannot assure you that we will not be speaking in some of these delegations to people who are going to go back and inform the government of what is being talked about. Can we go ahead, can we engage?" And he had to get conference permission, he couldn't just go and meet a whole bunch of businessmen, and conference gave him permission and said yes, go ahead, begin an engagement.
So when we say then that we've accepted we've also got to understand the ANC history. The ANC has always had the door open for negotiations, throughout, throughout, every step of the way. You read Mandela's speeches and so on and every major step it said we are ready to negotiate tomorrow on these issues. It's because the doors have been shut that we've tended to take a particular route.
So this person is actually not basing what she's saying on fact and understanding.
POM Was there, what she would call, diplomats and the strugglers, those who wanted to say the path forward is like you're suggesting through Vula was saying get more people in, get more arms in, escalate the level of violence against the state, push them to a point of where they start saying this movement is growing at such a level, the armed wing is growing at such a level that we will have to consider engaging in negotiations with them. That's what The Path to Power suggests to me, you escalate the level of violence until you bring your opponent increasingly down to the level of recognising that no matter what amount of violence he uses against you, you can always escalate it one level more and each of you get into a recognition that
IP You see again posing and putting the thing like that it takes the context out. You see what I would say is you had people with two different sets of knowledge of what is going on, so if you have one set of people who have knowledge and don't have a full understanding, for whatever reason, and if their understanding is - (break in recording) So if your boundary of knowledge, if in your boundary of knowledge there isn't an understanding that's saying the Rubicon actually doesn't mark a hardening of attitude, it actually marks a hardening of struggle within that regime, that PW's position is far weaker than what is put out, that it's actually a matter of time before certain forces will remove. And that gives you a different perspective so it's a different thing from saying if everybody has the same knowledge and the same starting point and then say, OK, now you get the strugglers then I can see it. So my problem here is that there's been the accusation, for example, that Vula was an absolutely secret thing, nobody knew about it, blah, blah, blah, and the objective was actually to undermine the negotiations, but the actual truth is actually the other way around, that some people had the benefit of all the knowledge and guided and conducted whatever they did in a particular way with that total knowledge in which they had the advantage. So far from Vula playing a role in undermining that, actually Vula unwittingly and unknowingly played a role in somebody else's strategy and somebody else's game.
But I don't want to take that too far because I'm not a conspiracy theorist and so on.
POM But what you're saying is that those of you who were engaged in Vula were operating under and in a context set by the knowledge you had of what was actually taking place.
IP And the mandate of the movement.
POM And the mandate. And other people who weren't aware of Vula were operating under a different set of assumptions or whatever. Then there were those who knew of both Vula and the other, they were the ones with total knowledge who could balance the two and move things. Is that it?
IP Yes, that would be it.
POM Where were you when Vula like after Mandela, well I think you said that when you were in Moscow that part of Mac's complaint was that he wasn't getting sufficient support and by support he meant that he wasn't being sufficiently informed of what was happening.
IP And utilised and so on. Look if you're going to talk leadership inside the country, as this thing is opening up now, you would be saying to them do this, do that, go there, do that, do that. But you see we were in that period now where OR was already ill, especially after 1990, after that February when he got ill, so we were beginning to limp. The acting head of the ANC was Alfred Nzo who was a lightweight, to put it kindly, really of no consequence, so we actually lost with OR's illness, we actually lost that connection and the connection now was JS. JS did not have the same stature, he did not have the same colour and that would have put him at a great disadvantage.
Again, coming back to, I'm actually diverting from what you're saying, but coming back to what this lady says, again you see it depends on what you mean by success and how you define your outputs because you can only measure people by the mandates you give them and you say go and do this and you measure and you say you can't shift the goalposts in midstream and then measure them by sets of goals that you didn't have. But even by the first set of goals, I mean the ANC has never had a member of the NEC inside the country since the 1960s. It's a disgrace. The whole national leadership has been outside the country, nobody has ever gone inside the country. The few people that later became NEC members were not NEC members inside the country like Steve Tshwete or Jacob Zuma and so on, they became executive members subsequently. We began to put up the first lot of people in leadership and actually speaking, if you remember I said earlier, that somewhere around 1981/82 we had recommended to the movement to send in the leadership and this thing was delayed simply because quite frankly most of those fellows wouldn't want to put a foot inside SA at that stage.
POM They were living nice comfortable well not uncomfortable lives.
IP Yes let's put it that way, not uncomfortable, and it's one thing to ask somebody else to do something and to give somebody advice, it's another thing to cross that fence at that time. Anyway, so we dillied and dallied, etc., and by the time we actually put Vula in the fact of the matter is that by mistakes and by chance and by coincidence and all sorts of things, by pushing all these levers of struggle we always managed to move it forward. We never had a proper leadership inside the country but it gathered a momentum and it went and it went and it went. By the time we got that leadership inside the country it was actually a little bit too late.
POM The goalposts had moved.
IP Yes, the fact of the matter is that the goalposts had moved. The fact of the matter is that the situation had managed very well without us in the sense of giving hands of guidance. It's an historical opinion.
POM What was your personal evaluation of Vula in terms of its contribution to the struggle?
IP We are talking about a very short period. If I remember now it was 1987 that we sent Mac and Gebhuza in, so you're talking about 1987 to 1990 February basically, I wouldn't measure it after that. First of all it made the point that you could put your leaders into the country and they could operate there but what good does that do us at the tail end of the eighties? It doesn't do us any good actually speaking. We actually never sent anybody else in, seriously speaking, of that calibre. We sent in other people but the next lot that was supposed to go was Chris Hani and Jacob Zuma and for one reason or another it was delayed and delayed and it never happened. But in the little time that was there, as I said, we sent in a lot of weapons, we carried out some action, we did a lot of propaganda work, we did a hell of a lot of political work. Under the leadership of Gebhuza and Mac they managed to pull together lots of people, UDF, church leaders, all sorts of people, and give greater cohesion and impetus.
You must understand that, for how many years now? From 1961/62 there has never been an African political organisation of serious dimensions in SA. The closest to it, I'm talking about revolutionary, on the left, is the Black People's Convention but it isn't, there is no political organisation, African organisation, there's nothing. There's nobody giving political leadership as an organisation inside the country, there has never been. The closest you've come as a political leadership or political organisation was the UDF. The UDF was a broad front of civic and social organisations, etc. So providing political leadership, especially for the African people and some political cohesion was a huge problem. The Indian community was always slightly better off in that we had the Natal Indian Congress throughout the sixties and we revived it in the seventies and it continued right up to when the ANC was unbanned. It then went into decline. So they played a role there in pulling a lot of those people together.
On the intelligence side we made a lot of headway in penetrating the SA Intelligence structures. For the first time we had managed to recruit elements, it's one of the rare times we had managed to recruit people from within the SA security services and we were receiving reports directly from their archives.
POM Directly from through the communications system set up by Vula?
IP That's right. Using this information we were actually able to trace back on infiltrators in London, for example, who had been agents of the SA Police and were passing information through. I would say in terms of those things that we had set up, and we had set up a strong base in Durban, they had moved to Jo'burg again. I know in the beginning they moved back to Jo'burg and began to set up a strong base in Jo'burg. We had set up something in Cape Town independently of Mac and Gebhuza and then we linked Mac and Gebhuza. We had sent Janet Love in independently and linked them in and were now pulling it together. From the party side we had set up party structures also and the first party congress held inside SA since the sixties had taken place in 1989/90 (I'm not sure) in Tongaat.
POM That's 1990 because that was the one that created the famous incident about 'Joe'.
IP That's right, so it must have been 1990.
POM When the organisations were unbanned and Mandela released, Vula continued?
POM Now that was the decision of, at that point, whom?
IP Let me say this, I don't think we should look at Vula any separately from anything else, nobody had given directives that we should stop our underground work. Underground work in the movement continued.
POM So you continued to ship arms and train people?
IP Yes. We continued. The first decision that is taken, I'm not sure, I've lost track of time, but somewhere in June/July 1990 the ANC says, "We will stop all armed action." Again you must read into that very carefully, it's doesn't say we will stop shipping weapons, it says we will stop, we won't carry out armed action.
POM You said, "We will suspend", I think that was the word used, "the armed struggle."
POM I'm almost there I've exhausted you. I've only done five hours with Mac today so far, OK. This is a sensitive question. Why did Mac quit?
IP Difficult. I wasn't in the country when he actually made that decision. I think I was outside. But I will give you my understanding of it. I've already indicated in the February 1990 meeting Mac had raised certain issues. He didn't feel that he was totally in the know and he didn't feel that they were utilised fully.
POM He didn't feel that he was being - ?
IP Being utilised fully. As I say, if this is your strategy and your NEC people are inside, use them. You'll actually put a lot of responsibilities their way and get them to go ahead and do things. These are the people on the spot, they know these things. There's always a situation in the ANC, it continues up to today, that we don't take clear-cut decisions. We're not decisive sometimes especially when it comes to the people issue, so we fudge. Now quite naturally at times like this when the doors are open and so on you're going to get all sorts of muscling in. Everybody is going to be trying to raise their profile, their importance, etc. Now a lot of this was already happening in the underground.
You must know many people had been released from Robben Island and everybody was beginning to prepare themselves and everybody was pulling in their own ropes. You had Harry Gwala in Natal doing his own thing and you had the President's father in the Eastern Cape also pulling his own way and in the underground, I'm not even talking about post-February 1990, we always had this problem of how to deal with the different people and the movement would not take a decision at any time to say to Gwala or somebody, shut up, stop this nonsense and so on. The movement didn't do it then and they hardly do it today, unless you are a so-called ultra-leftist maybe!
I think a lot of this got to him and I don't think Mac is undiplomatic, I think he's very diplomatic, I think he's very lateral in thinking so he's not narrow but he's decisive. I think it would have been a very difficult period and I don't think Mac would want to play the game that says I've got to prove myself again. That would be my understanding. As I say I don't know, I didn't spend a lot of time discussing it with Mac but I had no doubt that he would actually come back. Somebody reminded me of this two years ago, I think it was Shubin. During that time, I don't know where I was, and Shubin asked me and said, "What is this and what is going to happen?" I said, "No, Mac will come back. He just needs some time to cool off."
But that's the basic explanation. I think the other thing is, there's a guilt in Mac about his family, that he has not done enough and never spent enough time with the family and so on. That's always there and I think that built and built and built, I think he really felt now he had to also give some of his time to his family.
POM Where were you when Vula unravelled, Gebhuza was arrested and - ?
IP I was in Zambia.
POM Zambia. One of the key people I've interviewed is a policeman named Christo Davidson, in fact he's from Newcastle as was Gebhuza's family and he knew them.
IP And Mac's family.
POM And Mac's family yes, and Zuma's family, right? I mean for a small place! I'd interviewed him quite a number of times and the question of Gebhuza came up almost incidentally and he said, "You know when I interrogated him, he was one of my easiest interrogations. He just talked. We didn't have to do anything." When Mac was arrested they took him (Gebhuza) around to every single safe house and said you were here, you were there, you were in the other place. What's your feeling?
IP Look, it's a bit difficult to actually know, because you must know when that happened the communication lines and all of that went down but then we managed to restore it. Although people tried to give him the benefit of the doubt we had the understanding that he had put up very little resistance. One might say this with hindsight but I've never thought of Gebhuza as a good choice, a good selection.
POM To go into?
POM To go into Vula in the first place?
IP Yes. But that's a personal feeling and I was prepared to accept that I could have been wrong. You see I operated in the same place as him in Swaziland and I operated there for about ten years all told, so the legends of Gebhuza are well known. He's a fun guy, he likes a good time and he likes to be surrounded by people. He's got a king size ego. None of those things sit very well with doing sensitive work clandestinely. That does not necessarily mean that you will break down at the first questioning. You could have all of those things and still be a strong character but just from the point of view of the type of person he is and what he liked to do and so on, I found it difficult that such a person would operate clandestinely and do it safely.
POM Who made the decision to send him in?
IP This is a decision made by OR and JS.
POM But he would have known what kind of person he was?
IP Would he?
POM Would he?
IP You know at different levels, you know people have different levels. If you're a General Manager you know some things, a Manager you know a little bit more detail, then if you're a Sectional Manager you'll know a lot about little things. So you know different things and it depends who's writing what report and who's saying what story. But Gebhuza had a following, he had a name. None of that means that he should have broken down or given up so easily so I can't claim the credit for knowing that he would break down. There's no excuse for that, especially after February 1990.
It's a simple thing and we always briefed, when we briefed people we always briefed people that you try and resist and then you know at some stage you've got to say some things and you've got to say things in such a way that it's acceptable as the truth, but not the whole truth. And you play along like that. We said that in the worst times. Now it's February 1990, the movement is now unbanned, parts of the leadership are coming in legally. I mean Mac had already surfaced.
POM He was here legally, yes.
IP Legally. What is it that would make one just pour everything out? Up to today I cannot understand it, absolutely I cannot understand it. I don't understand it.
POM This isn't an easy question, maybe the most difficult Mac, who is he?
IP Who was he.
POM Who is he?
IP Who is he? Mac. I don't know whether I would actually be answering what you're trying to get at but my impressions
IP My impressions of him, look, I've always found him to be somebody who was not always a pleasure but it's always been an experience to interact with Mac, painful sometimes. I don't mean in a harsh sense because Mac is exacting, Mac stretches one out and Mac has the ability to deal from the general to the detail and back to the general, etc. He has the ability to link lots of things that you think are unlinkable. Mac has the ability to mix and hobnob with high society and he can link and hobnob with the lowest and relate to all of that. I think he's brilliant. He's also got a king sized ego.
POM He agrees to both, (a) that he's brilliant and (b) the king sized ego.
IP It's a pity but I recognise that there was no way that he could stay in that cabinet.
POM No way that he could?
IP Stay in the cabinet. You see Mac is a person of integrity and you see at the end of the day whatever you do, as I say, you've got to convince yourself. If you're not able to live with yourself then there's no point in this. Now unfortunately the mind is also very agile, it can rationalise most things but I recognise in Mac that he wouldn't rationalise something because it is convenient to do so. So I actually recognise the fact that it had to go that way. I don't think there was any other way. I don't think Mac poses a threat to anybody. I've never known him to pose a threat in the sense that he will go and mobilise forces against any individual or against any group or against any view. I've never known him to go and campaign. He's actually tried to keep through all the underground period a very careful and balanced approach to these things. So he doesn't present an organised threat to anybody. He might be a threat but then I think only to the most paranoid. Any day I'd love to have Mac on any team that I'm part of.
POM I'll get the transcript for you and send it back. Then take time to correct it because some of the things you've said are important, and corroborate other things.
IP I must find, I have a few things and I've got a few slips that OR wrote, short slips, about certain individuals in Vula and so on. Actually his style comes out, I must find it, he actually says to me when in the ANC I was practically a nobody, one of the notes is actually about Harry Gwala, or was it Thabo's father about this issue and how to handle this issue and, Ivan, what do you think? How should we go about this? That's the type of man OR was, he would be asking your view, he would be consulting. Very calculating, a bit slow and so on, but he was the right man for the right time. He's actually a good supplement to Madiba. Madiba is more rash and direct and OR was very all round, very balanced. Of course what I am saying you might not think of Madiba but it comes out like that sometimes. He's a man of passion and strong feelings. OR is so different. Again they are so opposite in size, OR was short and dumpy, a round man with glasses and a very unassuming and unimposing person but OR grows on you. Madiba, the first time you meet him, he imposes himself on you. Actually I wonder, it's a pity we were not young enough to see the two of them together. They are so different.
POM I ask this question because it's one of those hypothetical questions, but if OR had been healthy and after Mandela was released would he have been the first president of the country?
IP It's difficult to say. I think he would have been the first to offer it to Madiba. You know right up to 1985 OR wasn't the President of the ANC, OR was the Acting President of the ANC. It was only in 1985 I think that the movement decided that, look, how can we go around the world doing all of these things and we have an 'Acting' President. We ought to make this decision. And OR was Acting President and Nelson was never a President or an Acting President of the ANC. The last President was Luthuli and Mandela was the head of MK and he was the popular leader, known as the Black Pimpernel and all of that. OR would have been the first to offer.
POM Might Madiba have been the first to decline?
IP I think he would have tried to but in the end they would have agreed that Madiba would have been. You need at a certain stage in the country, you need the charismatic leadership. Madiba was the man for that. But just as he only sat one term he would have been very ready to decline.
POM He's done more almost as ex-President than he did as President. If I were Thabo and I picked up the papers every day I'd say, 'God damn it, who's on the front page, every day?'
IP Was it last week the old man came on very, very strongly.
POM Oh yes, I've an opinion about that and it is that it's the one issue that he missed during his own term in office, he did not pay enough attention to and realised it afterwards and has just passionately gone after it almost in a sense of atonement for his not seeing it.