About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

03 Jan 2003: Mkwayi, Wilton

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POM     Now you did your military training in China.

WM     Yes.

POM     That was with Steve Naidoo?

WM     Yes.

POM     Could you talk a little about that?

WM     It was just a short duration because we were not actually trained extensively. We were trained on indigenous methods. Ours was to come back and teach others because we knew that getting arms would be difficult so an advantage when using indigenous methods, to make for instance pipe bombs, use bottles, Molotov cocktail, and those were the small things we learnt to do, and melting the iron to make grenades, those were the small things that we were trained on. Actually we were six. It was Raymond Mhlabla, myself, late Joe Gqabi, late Patrick Ntembu and Mlangeni in Johannesburg, we were six. On training now, what I was talking about, we were four, Steve Naidoo and Mlangeni they were doing other things, communications, using radios, so we were not in one place.

POM     When you came back you came back to SA and then you were arrested in connection with the treason trial.

WM     It was before. The treason trial was 1956.

POM     You escaped from that?

WM     I didn't escape. I was told to go away, then I walked away. I am not a cheeky somebody. When the policeman tells me to go away I go.

POM     How did this happen?

WM     There was a state of emergency, 1960, then a few of us were in the case, others were detained. We knew they wanted us as well but they did not know where we were staying, different places, so they went to court and when the case was postponed for a certain date now to sort out things because when the witness was Chief Luthuli in the box, when he was wanted by the judges, the police refused to bring him therefore the case was postponed for a certain date. When we were going out now from court at the gate the police were already there so they asked, "Are you in the treason case?" Some say yes. When I went I said, "What the hell are you trying to do?" Once I said that you could see his lips shaking like this, he said, "Go away or I'll arrest you." I said, "Thank you sir." "You thank me?" "Thank you sir", I said, "Yes, thank you sir." I walked away because he told me to go away so I never disobeyed the law.

     In fact then after that I had to walk, because I walked away through Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Congo up to Nigeria, Ghana, then to China for military training.

POM     I'm going to read you a statement, this is Mac when he came back from his training and he was working underground. He says: - "Ruth First came to me and informed me that Mkwayi was in town and wanted to see me. I had met him. I knew he was fully involved in MK and would from time to time drop in at my cottage at night. I was now living in a servant's quarters in Doornfontein in a street called Pierce Street. That's where I was arrested. Now Mkwayi contacted me and then Ruth First came to me and asked me to go to Natal to make contact with Steve Naidoo and find out what his circumstances were to see how we could integrate him into MK and arrange for him to come to Johannesburg." Now I said:- "When you met with Wilton Mkwayi at that point did he raise the question of your joining MK?"      Mac says:- "He raised the matter and the answer was, from other places, look he's fully occupied with certain tasks, we cannot make him available for MK at the moment."

     Did you want Mac in MK?

WM     I wanted him in but when he said he was busy I said we will keep in contact and do certain things together. That's what we were doing.

POM     That's what he says, yes. He says: - "I knew Wilton from London. I had been part of the group of people who had arranged for him and Moses Mabida who became the General Secretary of the Communist Party in the eighties and who was secretary of the Revolutionary Council to come to London." Is that correct?

WM     I don't know about that. I was not there. When they arranged that they were already outside.

POM     He said: - "So Moses and Wilton had got together. They were in Swaziland and when the state of emergency arrests took place in 1960 he was one of the treason trialists who evaded arrest and fled first to Basutoland and from Basutoland to Swaziland. Then we had to arrange for them to come over to London and from London we arranged for them to go to Prague to work in the World Federation of Trade Unions."

WM     Correct.

POM     Is all that correct?

WM     Yes.

POM     OK. "So I had continuing contact with him." Then I asked him: - "What kind of assistance were you giving to Wilton after you returned to Jo'burg in the early sixties?"

     And he said: - "It started off one day when Wilton came to me, Steve Naidoo was in town and he was staying at my cottage and one evening Mkwayi turns up. Obviously he knows that Steve is visiting Johannesburg because he's in the MK High Command. But he turns up at my home, comes to greet Steve and produces a pistol in a brown bag. He says to me, 'Mac, I'm in trouble. I've a brand new pistol. I don't know if it is a Spanish Astral, I've never seen one of this make before.' Wilton said, 'I was running a course teaching a group about the structure of the pistol and how to assemble and disassemble and clean and maintain it. I dismantled this pistol very nicely in front of the class but when it came to reassemble it I couldn't do it. I'm really embarrassed. Can you help me out?' He put the pieces on the table and Steve who had done training with Wilton is the first to tackle it but he is failing. He wants to force it and I (that's Mac) say 'Hold on, let's put our heads together. If you dissembled this thing easily then we should be able to reassemble it easily without forcing anything. Let's sit down and work out the function of each of these loose parts.' So Wilton is sitting there and we try to work it out. It takes us quite a time, a couple of hours, but finally by working out the function of each part we find there is a part missing so it cannot be put together. As we debate this Mkwayi says, 'I brought all the parts chaps, there's no missing part.' And suddenly we tumble to the fact that in the disassembling he hadn't disassembled a certain part. There are two pieces still attached to one another. So we look at it and disassemble that part and it comes apart and now when we reassemble it everything fits nicely. Now Mkwayi says, 'Mac, you're a genius'."

     Did you say that, 'Mac you're a genius'? He'll be very glad to hear that's true. He still thinks he's a genius, OK.

WM     He's a genius.

POM     He says you said: - " 'Now I have other problems. I get weapons coming to me into my possession and I don't know whether they're good or functional. Can I bring them to you to check out? Every time I'm able to buy a weapon clandestinely can I bring it back to you to check it out so that you can tell me whether it's functioning and whether it's worth buying?' So I would do things like that."

     Is that the way he was helping you out?

WM     Helping me in many things like that. I regarded him, although not in the MK, I regard him as adviser as well.

POM     Then again he says: - "Wilton comes to me and he says, 'Pipe bomb ingredients, we can't get them because the regime has put out what ingredients we are using and the result is that when you go to a shop you can't buy them.' So Mac says, 'What's missing?' And he gives a whole list of things." So Mac dressed up as a gardener to go and buy saltpetre and he learnt all about roses. He would put on a pair of overalls like a gardener and go into a shop and discuss roses and bring the man in the gardening shop around to saying, 'Oh maybe you could use saltpetre, it's a good fertiliser.' And that's the way he would get the saltpetre and other things. So he used to do things like that. He would, yes?

WM     Mac was good in that way because sometimes I say I don't want to see you, when I come I want these things here and indeed I will find them there.

POM     He would? OK.  He said: - "After the Rivonia arrests Ruth First comes to me after her detention and she says she's got to leave the country. I support her. Then she raises my circumstances and says, 'We have a problem, we've a problem regrouping MK and there's a desperate need for people who have skills like you.' I say I am quite prepared to take on that task. She says, 'Well Wilton has been asking for you.' She said that she herself felt there was a dire need for me to make my knowledge available to MK so I said, 'OK.' After that Wilton visited me one night and said, 'Look, we need you to serve in the MK High Command in the capacity of the Commissar'."

WM     I said of adviser, capacity of adviser.

POM     Of adviser.

WM     You can say command, you can say anything.

POM     He just gave himself a promotion.

WM     It will fit in.

POM     It will fit in. OK. He says: - "Now traditionally the Commissar also becomes the Deputy Commander so I said to Mkwayi, 'I have a problem about that proposal. My problem is that the function of a Commissar involves interacting with the units and I cannot see myself fulfilling that function without experience, without the direct experience of being a member of an ordinary squad carrying out ordinary sabotage activity.' I said (that's Mac saying) unless one has gone through that experience you cannot be expected to motivate and ensure that the units are functioning properly otherwise you'd be talking with no experience behind you. We argued this matter and agreed that I would follow that course. He asked me how long I would need because he told me that they needed me to serve as a Commissar immediately. I said, 'Well let's agree, give me six months in a unit, let me function in that way.' He had problems about that. He felt that six months was too long. He also felt that serving in an ordinary unit carrying out sabotage was too risky. I said that out of that risk we had to balance the fact that this task, this post, required that sort of experience so we agreed that we would follow that path and we set no time limits. He said, 'Fine, let's go ahead on that basis.' That's how I got introduced to the individual members of the High Command and began to work with them."

WM     But I was refusing by the way. I was refusing that he should meet a group of people. I wanted him to meet one, two, three, that's all. He must know those, he must not know the units.

POM     Now is this the High Command or in the units?

WM     High Command. When you are in the High Command there are units you have to visit sometimes. That's where I was refusing that he cannot do that because those units will know him and they should not know him. Only the heads of the units can know him. They must not know even where he's staying. When there is something I will make contacts and then he can meet those somewhere, not in his place.

POM     So he could meet the heads of a unit but nobody else?

WM     Yes.

POM     He wouldn't know the members of the unit?

WM     No.

POM     That's right. OK. So he said at that time in the High Command he was working with Dave Kitson, there was Lionel Gay and there was Laloo Chiba. "I met them all because I was now serving on the Central Committee of the Communist Party as well. I now had direct access to the Secretariat of the ANC underground as well as having direct access with individuals on the Secretariat. The individuals there were Mkwayi and Michael Dingake." That's OK?

WM     Yes.

POM     He says: - "I was in touch with the ANC Secretariat through Mkwayi and Dingake. I was also serving in MK but on almost an ad hoc basis because we were living in an emergency situation. If Mkwayi or Kitson or Gay or Laloo Chiba were stuck with anything they would come and raise matters with me and I would advise them or do the job. Lionel Gay came with a problem about a radio transmitter he was constructing. Then Mkwayi comes to me and says we need a large stock of pipe bombs. We need to manufacture them and assemble them and have them ready for use. I've got a problem, I don't have the facilities, so I say (that's Mac) 'Well it means we've got to manufacture the gunpowder, go and buy the pipes and the gadgets, the bolts and everything. We've got to buy a threading machine to make the threads'." That's all OK?

WM     Yes, OK.

POM     Doha was now in bed because the gunpowder blew up in his face, he kept telling Mac, 'Take it easy, take it easy, you're going to quickly', and Mac kept going too quickly. "But Wilton and I made sacks full of pipe bombs in my kitchen. He could make them in his kitchen in the servant's quarters of the house he was staying in." This is my question: "So would you and Wilton work together making the lead bombs?" He said: - "Yes, Doha was injured." He didn't say 'I injured Doha'. He said: - "There was urgency to the manufacture so that Wilton could distribute the pipes to all the units that needed them."

     I'm talking now about the command structure of MK. He says: - "At the most senior level it began with Nelson but after Nelson's arrest Walter worked as the head of the High Command for a short period. When Raymond Mhlaba arrived from the China trainee group he was supposed to take over but hardly had he taken over that position than he had to go on a mission to Algeria. In the meantime I'm not clear whether Walter again temporarily filled in or whether Mkwayi had arrived and filled in for a while. Raymond arrived back from Algeria and took over the position. Then the Rivonia arrests took place and Wilton was entrusted with the job of regrouping the High Command. I was not integrated into MK until after the Rivonia arrests."  Is that correct?

WM     Correct.

POM     OK. Now he's talking about down here at the time, this is going forward in time, but he talks about two people. One of them I want to ask you about, two of them I want to ask you about, they're the two men who gave evidence against you, who turned state witness, Lionel Gay and Pieter Beyleveld.

WM     No, not Beyleveld.

POM     He didn't give?

WM     In my case he didn't. I know he did in Bram Fischer's case and some other cases but I don't think he did good stuff for the state because he disputed what black chaps like Bartholomew Hlopane was saying that this was a communist thing, this was a communist thing, Piet Beyleveld was saying, 'I was the Chairman of the Communist Party, there's no such thing.' So now the state didn't want him.

POM     Because he said you were the Chairman of the Communist Party.

WM     He was, he was.

POM     Oh he said he was the Chairman.

WM     Piet Beyleveld was the Chairman.

PM     He was forced to give some evidence but he was trying hard to ruin it.

POM     Yes, OK. He said he gave evidence against Bram Fischer.

WM     Yes.

POM     He said he kept protesting that he had tried to minimise the damage but that was not good enough, the state stopped using him as a state witness after the trial in Pietermaritzburg around 1967 and he died a lonely death from natural causes isolated from the struggle.

WM     I would say so but I was already arrested.

POM     You were already in Robben Island at that time.

WM     In fact I blame our chaps over Piet Beyleveld because when he was detained he had police mentioning the names of three chaps in Mfulo, Johannesburg. Piet Beyleveld has never met them, they didn't know them, but he put something in his things, clothes, when the wife was searching you find this. He gave this to the chaps that were present, "I found this, this note says these people are to be arrested because Piet Beyleveld heard the police mentioning the place where they could be." Now Piet says, "Quickly, take those people out. They must not be arrested." And those people were arrested because they were not taken out because they felt that Piet was manufacturing these stories or he was working with the police. Piet was an Afrikaner speaking Afrikaans and they were speaking Afrikaans there and he had them, these names, and he kept and wrote these names, these people are really wanted by the police, take them out. That's why I say I blame those people who did not do the job because he was advising them that there is this talk by the police, these people must not be here and those people were arrested.

POM     I'll come back to that. This is the Bram Fischer trial, he says: - "The Security Branch visited Wilton Mkwayi and me on the Island."

WM     That's correct.

POM     "They said to us, 'We've arrested Bram Fischer and his time is up. We want you to give evidence against him." And you told them to go to hell."

WM     Of course. Why should they not go to hell, why should they come to me?

POM     "I remember on one occasion while we were appearing in court Percy Yutar the prosecutor in the Rivonia trial came past and Yutar came past and he looked at us. Wilton and I were standing next to each other at this grille and Yutar said, 'You are lucky, you are lucky I am not the prosecutor. I wanted to prosecute you people.' We said to ourselves, 'Who is this clown?' "

WM     Because we did not know him.

POM     You didn't know who he was. Now he's talking about when you go into court for the first time and Mac wants to get out that he was tortured. He says: -"In the strained atmosphere of the court we were handcuffed and suddenly the orderly demanded that everybody rise in court. The prosecutor simply got up and in a slow mechanical tone said he was asking for this case to be remanded. I then interrupted. I said to the judge, 'I seek the court's protection.' I didn't wait for him to answer because Joel (Joffe) had briefed me, 'Don't wait for it, don't ask for permission. Ask, but proceed as if you've got permission, just rattle it off.' I said, 'I seek the court's protection, I have been tortured. My torturers are here, they are sitting in the public gallery', and I started recounting some of my tortures, how I had been tortured. The judge tried to stop me but I continued. I was of course very nervous because now I knew I was taking on the cops and I was still in prison so I was very nervous of what I was doing but I was rattling off their names."  Do you remember Mac doing that?

WM     Yes.

POM     And then he stopped, he lost his way and the judge said, 'This case is remanded.' But do you remember him kind of interrupting the court? You do?

WM     Yes. I am not saying he was interrupting, he was saying – adjourning the court. There will be this problem, police are always there – protection against police. When it was introduced in court now they must protect you.

POM     OK. Now this is out of a movie, the next bit. He said: - "We planned an escape from Number 4 while awaiting trial. We were locked in steel cubicles, the three of us, each individual in a steel cubicle. Wilton, Laloo Chiba and I were in the same bunch of steel cells. Steve Naidoo and Paul Joseph were being tried separately. So each of us were in our little cubicle and each of the cubicles looked out into a small passage and there was a communal door into the passage before you went into your individual cells and got locked up. We demanded that we be allowed out into that little passage to sit down and eat. We demanded we be allowed to play games together. We said that we were no longer under punishment and so depending on the warder we would be let out into that little passage and we would sit there and play cards and yak and share the food." That all happened?

WM     Yes.

POM     He said: - "The atmosphere was one of total corruption among the warders. We would be busy trying to entice them. What did we have? Food. Share it. Give them some of our home-made food, all of them black and white went for Indian cooking." Did you like Indian cooking too?

WM     I like it, yes.

POM     "But there also awaiting trial were some common law prisoners, bank robbers. They had been part of SA's biggest mailbag robbery. They had hijacked a Post Office delivery van carrying postal mail and the value of the mail, I remember, was about R41 million. We first bumped into them in the waiting cells at the Supreme Court. One night at Number 4 late at night a warder came and quietly opened the door to our cells to the passage. He took Mkwayi quietly downstairs to another section of the prison and there was the head of the Benoni bank robbers and his deputy, two of them, and the warder went away, allowed them to sit and talk alone."  Do you remember that?

WM     We wanted to escape.

POM     "They raised the prospect of us escaping with them. Wilton engaged in this discussion and the next day when he got a chance to see me he reported the matter. 'Look', he said, 'The Benoni bank robbers are planning an escape, should we pursue it?' When I asked him what he had done he said, 'Well I have arranged that the next meeting should be two people from each side', and he wanted me to come into the discussion." So he went with you to the next meeting.

WM     Not – I raised the point that it should be two.

POM     It should be two.

WM     But before it happened those bank robbers were moved and locked in another place, nearby but in the morning we could see when we were going to court.

POM     Well he said: - "At the next meeting when we met we raised the question, how had they arranged this communication between us? And they said all the warders from the Commanding Officer of the prison down were courting them because the police had discovered only one person's stake out of the R41 million. After they had split the money (he says one of them was a Hungarian) the Hungarian like a fool had gone on a bit of spending spree and that had led to their arrest but the authorities had not found the other money so the warders were all crowding around to find out where the money was so they could have some themselves. The gang was acting under rigid discipline and had come to an agreement that they were going to escape if possible with the co-operation of the Commanding Officer and he would get a percentage of the money."

WM     Well I am sure they were doing that because those chaps, you will be surprised that some of them were teachers in those robberies, they were arrested. This Hungarian chap he tried to hide … because it was the digging now of the … and put part of the money underneath and the place was good now, the place was not in such a good position. Before now it was looking good and so on but I think they made a mistake because even with us going to court in the morning we see them, we talk, not an arranged meeting by the way because we are here, we just talk of certain things, the police are there because they know how to deal with police because somewhere else they were not present, they deal with them and you find yourself meeting them, talking.

POM     So they were able to use the police and the warders?

WM     Of course.

POM     So that's how they could meet you and Mac?

WM     Yes. Otherwise they couldn't, they couldn't.

POM     So everybody was looking for the money. He says: - "Then at this meeting (when you were talking to them) I asked, 'Why do you want us to escape because remember you are robbers, you are privileged here, you can bribe? The prison officers see you as good people but if they touch us they get in big trouble. It's not to your benefit to take up with us so why do you want to escape with us?' They were very interesting. The deputy gang leader had the gift of the gab (he must have been like Mac). He said to me, 'No, we have a common interest, you people, you're politicians, freedom fighters, want sanctions against SA.' So I said, 'Yes.' He said, 'You want no investment, you want this economy to go down, you want to carry out sabotage?' I said, 'Yes.' He said, 'Well we are robbers, we don't rob poor people. We are robbing the rich people, that's part of our sabotage'."

WM     They can talk -

POM     "He said, 'So all right let's not argue about it, let's get to the next point. Of what value are we to you?' He said, 'You are valuable to us to help us escape because we can escape but we will hide in the country and we will get caught again. We've got money but we need to get out of the country. Number one, you know how to get out of the country illegally. Number two, if you escape to Botswana or Swaziland you will get refugee status and cannot be deported back and if we are there with you and you testify for us then we too will get refugee status so we won't be returned to SA. That's why we want you. We don't want all the political chaps who are awaiting trial, we want this group, Mkwayi, you Mac and Laloo Chiba, we want you people because you are big names in the newspapers and if we get into Botswana there is no way that the Botswana government will deport you to SA. There will be a world outcry so that's why we want you.' That's the reason they gave. Right? And you said, 'That makes sense'."

     He said, "The escape was twice postponed. The first time we became too nervous. There was a plan that the day they were on trial at the Supreme Court and we were also on trial, we would attempt to escape from the Supreme Court cells. They said they would be able to smuggle the arms into the holding cell and we would escape from those cells." Did they say that? Yes?

WM     They were criminals by the way. They know these things.

POM     They know how to take guns into - ?

WM     Of course. They are helped by the police.

POM     Great police system. He said: - "They got their visitors to bring in the arms, to bribe their way in. The court orderlies and everybody knew. So here you are going into the Supreme Court with these guys and these guys have arms on them. They could have shot the judge. They brought the arms into the holding cells but we decided to not do it. When we looked at the situation we decided it was too unsafe. With just two pistols there was no way we were going to get away alive. Now we presented them with a problem because they had weapons in the holding cells and we were saying no, it won't work. Then they had to smuggle those weapons from the holding cells of the Supreme Court into the prison at Number 4. So they smuggled the arms."

WM     They are helped – those warders that are taking them will be paid, they will take them inside.

POM     "Inside with guns. They are about to appear in court and there are prison officials guarding them, Police guarding them, they had pistols which they had handed to us in the holding cells. I said (Mac said), 'No way, take them back.' They said, 'What must we do with them?' Mac says, 'Take them back to Number 4 where we are housed and where you are housed', and they said, 'No problem, we can conceal them and take them back'."

WM     Exactly, I told you all those warders –

POM     So they go into their trial with pistols in their pockets and from the trial they transported them back to Prison Number 4. They were searched at Prison Number 4 and still took them through and they were strip searched. Now they're back in Number 4 and you're still meeting with them. Yes? "Now we had to plan to escape. We said from our side that the escape should take place from the Number 4 prison. We opened clandestine communication with our colleagues outside, in fact with Bram Fischer and told Bram that we were planning an escape."

     And how did you manage to do that?

     He said:- "We smuggled out notes with our lawyers and had other ways to smuggle things out with our visitors. We got messages saying we were planning this escape. I remember asking Bram that Bram should do two things through our comrades who were still outside. Two cars should be parked and the keys left under the driver's doormat at a certain spot near Number 4 prison. Number 2, I asked that they should hire a minimum of two accommodations with no traces to the accommodations. They hired a place in Ferreirastown near Marshall Square here, the jail, and they hired a place in Doornfontein for us with all sorts of problems arising but to cut the story short they sent a report that this would happen and the cars would be there. There was a lot of talk about raising money for us but Bram replied, said the cars would be there. There was a problem getting money but there would be some money." Does that all make sense to you?

WM     It makes sense because it was difficult to raise money at that time.

POM     "But the night we were due to escape the prison is shut down and everybody is locked up. We were waiting for the moment when suddenly late at night the sirens go off, the alarms of the prison go off, we just hear pandemonium. Prison officials running in, running all over the place and some of them rushing into our cells and looking for people. Are you there, are you there? They don't say anything to us. Something's gone wrong. OK. We just hear pandemonium in the prison, don't know what's happened, nobody comes to open us up. The plan had been that the Benoni robbers would get out of their cells with all of their contacts but they would make it look as if they had escaped by force. They would hold up the warder with the keys apparently under duress. He was a co-operative man but to cover his back they would force him to open our cells then we would get out and they would use this warder to get the exit door to the prison opened. We would get out, tie up the warder, beat him up or maybe take him with us and dump him some place. Then once we were out of the prison we would take over. We hadn't told them (that's the Benoni people) where the cars were, where we would be going. We would get to the cars and then off we would go."

WM     How can you tell them beforehand? They are crooks.

POM     I know. They're crooks, they'd leave you there and take your cars. I said, "Where were the cars, five minutes away?" He says, "Yes just two or three minutes away in Dark Street." Now what we didn't know is that to make it look as if this was not an inside job these Benoni chaps took a hacksaw blade and cut through the hinges on the steel door. They were in a communal cell with other common law prisoners, 30 or 40 of them, and while they were sawing with the hacksaw blades they held the other prisoners hostage."

     Is this the way you heard the story?

PM     I've never heard it.

POM     "They had threatened all the others not to squeal and told them to sing. The singing was supposed to drown out the noise of the hack-sawing. They left the hinges just slightly, just waiting, so that if you yanked the door it would fall open. They were going to bribe the warders but it must look as if they had done it themselves. They must not compromise the warders but that night on inspection there was a warder patrolling who was not part of the game plan. One of the prisoners told the warder on patrol that there was an escape being planned and this warder raised the alarm. The officials came and opened the door with a key and the whole door fell off. Of course they took all these prisoners, beat the hell out of them and of course some of the prisoners pointed out the culprits. We didn't know all of this and we didn't know what was happening."

WM     We did not know what was happening.

POM     "Next morning we were supposed to be at the court. We didn't expect visitors but by half past eight that morning Mkwayi, Chiba and I were taken out of our cells by the prison authorities who said that our lawyers were there. So we get to the consultation room, there's Joel Joffe, there's George Bizos, I don't know whether Arthur Chaskalson was also part of the team. George Bizos writes a note, he sits next to me at the table and he writes a note. Ostensibly they were interviewing us. They note said, 'What happened? Bram wants to know what went wrong.' So I replied that something seems to have gone wrong and it's all off for the time being."

     Do you remember that meeting taking place the following morning when you were supposed to be far, far away? The Benoni chaps never spilt the beans on you, they kept their word so they were kind of good guys.  When you got out of jail, from Robben Island, did you ever decide to go looking for the R41 million?

WM     We've never seen them otherwise we will not even know them.

POM     Then he's talking about the time when you were at court, he says: - "We made admissions from the dock. Wilton Mkwayi opened up saying, 'My lord I am a professional agitator.' That's what you called yourself?"

WM     Yes.

POM     On your CV you write down profession 'professional agitator'. He says: - "Dave Kitson, number two got up and said, 'My Lord I am a communist.' So we acknowledged that we were involved in the underground and in different forms of underground activity but that we were not morally guilty of any crime. We explained what we did by indicting the apartheid system so that was how we handled it." Right?

WM     Yes.

POM     "We were found guilty. We were a bit surprised by the sentences. The judge was a Mr Boschoff. He used to belong to the Ossewa-Brandwag so he would have been the pro-Nazi, right wing group that opposed SA being in the second world war." He says: - "The issue of the relationship between MK and the Communist Party arose. The evidence was pretty heavy against me because of my membership of the party and the Central Committee. When George (Bizos) tried to draw a distinction between membership of the Communist Party and the MK the judge intervened during cross-examination and said to Bizos, 'But Mr Bizos, you know what these communists are. They don't allow the left hand to know what the right hand is doing.' Now that sort of remark from the judge led George Bizos, Joel Joffe and the legal team to feel that I would be among those who would get the heaviest sentence but I got the lowest sentence. I got 12 years whereas Mkwayi got life." Right?

WM     Yes.

POM     Now there was evidence against Mkwayi of membership of MK but not of the Communist Party. Right?

WM     Yes.

POM     "Members of the Central Committee who gave evidence for the state denied Mkwayi was a member of the CP but fingered me (Mac)." So neither Lionel or Piet Beyleveld said that you were a member of the CP?

WM     Beyleveld was not there.

POM     He was not there?

WM     No.

POM     "And one of the state witnesses alleged that the CP Central Committee was dictating the policy of the MK. The proceedings were very staid, we never got to defend ourselves. We didn't go into the box to give evidence and we merely made a statement from the dock when it came to mitigation of sentence but we had quite a tussle about this. I was for a very aggressive statement (Mac wanted to make an aggressive statement). Bram was defending a case next door in the Supreme Court and from time to time he would come into our courtroom, speak to George Bizos and greet us. Finally the word came from Bram, 'Hey! Stop all that, it's enough, it's been said. It's on the record and you don't have to do the same thing and start courting a death sentence and life imprisonment. Your job is to survive now and get as quickly as possible out of prison, it's going to be a long struggle and you'll be needed back in the fight.' So he said, 'Cut all the stuff about grand statements, say as little as you can'.

     Again, you would demand time to come out and talk in the passageway. The three of us, Mkwayi, Chiba and I would be involved in discussing what would go into our statements and helping each other to draft. In the day through the consultation process we finalised what each had to say, was going to say. That was the procedure."  That was the procedure you followed?

WM     Yes.

POM     "Lionel Gay was an amazing witness, one of us who had broken ranks in detention and gave evidence for the state. It was the remarkable ability of this man to withstand cross-examination by our lawyers and to virtually silence them. But I have no grudge against him. I am prepared to put aside the fact that he became a state witness. The element I can't put aside, he had a bag of tricks that he used not just to co-operate with the regime but to try and put the rope around us. He literally tried to get us sentenced to death. He did this in a very sophisticated way. It was not part of his main evidence and strictly you're supposed to cross-examine on that main evidence but the judge allowed him to add under cross-examination and to put on record as substantive evidence matters that did not arise under cross-examination. For example, I know he shut up Zwarenstein (that was Dave Kitson's lawyer) within two minutes. Zwarenstein just had to sit down because Gay was opening up dangerous territory. Zwarenstein, acting for Dave Kitson, tried to challenge Lionel Gay's memory on something. 'Are you sure?' he said. And Gay said, 'I am very sure, I'm sure because I remember another incident.' And before he could be stopped, 'That incident was that we decided to set up an execution squad'."  Do you remember Lionel Gay saying that?

WM     I don't remember that.

POM     You don't remember that, OK.

WM     In fact the lawyers themselves stopped because we have told them everything about Gay, the things he knows. We expected him to divulge some but he did not. I remember, now I forget what it was, because when the name was mentioned by the prosecutor they couldn't remember first. In the end because he knew that it was us who told the lawyers – oh I remember now, 'But you didn't put this in your evidence', he did not. That's why I say sometimes he whisked us too, when a person has made a mistake somewhere we like to put so many things on him. That's how I regarded it. With me I still see him, he was in London, he came and slept here. We meet in London. In fact Bram trusted me so much, it's Bram I said after that whole thing, 'Bram, take this man out because he will be dangerous to the next group.' Because now the names that were mentioned here by the prosecutor if those people could come and be arrested he will be taken as a witness so the best thing is he must be out of the country and indeed he was taken out of the country, although outside there they tried to isolate him.

POM     But you still see him?

WM     Of course.

POM     So you don't regard him – the fact that he gave state evidence?

WM     Personally I don't regard him as anything else as Gay who wanted to come out over something but that thing fell back. He did not divulge everything.

POM     So he could have divulged much more than he actually divulged?

WM     Exactly. Yes. That's how I regard it.

PM     Possibly at that time Wilton knew more than Mac did, more that Gay didn't tell.

POM     So you would have known when Gay was giving evidence and they were cross-examining him for the state, you knew that even though he had said some things to them he hadn't said everything to them?

WM     Exactly.

POM     And there were a lot of important things that he hadn't said?

WM     Yes, inside everything.

POM     So just to repeat. He did not say at any time that the MK had decided to set up an execution squad?

WM     No.

POM     He didn't.

WM     I don't remember that myself. In fact some of those security police when they came with such things - Swanepoel, who was called Red Russian, he said, "You are giving me difficulty." He said to me, "You are giving us difficulty." They wanted to bring the execution squad and in a meeting, one meeting when somebody raised that question you said 'not while you are in command' because there is no such a decision that was taken by the organisation. So Swanepoel said, "Well at least you know so cruel, you know this MK but you still see what is wrong and what is right and decision should be taken for such things. It should not be somebody who raised this, that, it must go and be done."

POM     So it was Swanepoel who was saying that you had an execution squad?

WM     He was saying that about executions. I said there is not such a thing. He says, "Of course because in such a meeting when someone raised this question you say it will never happen when you are a commander, until the decision is taken."

POM     So Swanepoel was agreeing with you?

PM     He was addressing that Wilton had said there can't be execution, he wouldn't permit an execution squad and Swanepoel was getting that because he would have liked to have had that evidence. Wilton was in command and when somebody said we wanted an execution squad Wilton said, "No, I'm not permitting that."

POM     OK. So somebody in the command structure said we should have an execution squad.

WM     He was not even in a command that somebody. We found out that he was the one who was going around the country telling the police and became a state witness in many cases. That was Bartholomew Hlopane.

POM     So does Lionel Gay come over and see you about once a year or about once every other year?

PM     Not so often now, neither of us have enough money for a lot of travel.

POM     He says here, now he's back to Beyleveld. Was Piet Beyleveld called as a witness at all?

WM     Not in our case.

POM     He was not in your case at all? OK. So when he says Gay told them that all decisions were controlled and taken by the party (that's the Communist Party) and by the Central Committee, the ANC Congresses, MK, nothing, all decisions are taken by the Central Committee of the CP. Did he say that? You've no recollection of him saying that?

WM     No recollection of it at all that I can remember as such. Because Beyleveld was not in our case.

POM     So he wasn't there at all?

WM     Not at all.

POM     He wasn't even in the courtroom?

WM     No.

POM     But he had been arrested along with you, wasn't he?

WM     Before, before and he was not charged because they used him as a state witness, and to Bram Fischer insofar as I am concerned that was the first case, then they have taken him to Cape Town, I think it was that case and then to Durban. They had to now stop the persons who they were using, they were saying there is this, there is this, because Beyleveld says Hlopane was never Chairman of the CP, I, Beyleveld, I was one, there is no such thing. These things he is saying is nothing. It was the end of that Hlopane after that, he was no more taken to these cases. They couldn't rely on him.

POM     Yes, OK. But in your memory what did Lionel Gay say when he was on the witness stand?

WM     Well I can't remember now. He was asked questions and what I know is that I expected him to say more.

POM     So the name of the chap who was going around the country saying that the MK had set up an execution squad, his name was Bartholomew Hlopane. Was he an Ascari or a member of - ?

WM     He was a trusted somebody by the CP, a member of the CP.

POM     He was a member of the CP?

WM     Yes, he was so trusted. For instance when the Rivonia arrests, he didn't like the way the place was used. After that we discussed, we said no, let us move from here. We moved to a place towards Pretoria called Travel Inn, but I don't see it now. When I came out of prison I tried to find it, tall buildings, where is this place now? I never found out.* (see note) We moved there and still the party says where your contact will be, Bartholomew, we say no, no. No, we will find our own somebody who will be doing things for us.  Dennis Goldberg was there with us, he was the one who was going out, driving, to go and fetch things.

     (*NB     After "Yes, he was so trusted." In the next sentence, the first 'he' was not a reference to Hlopane – rather Wilton Mkwayi wanted to say that the farm owner, Arthur Goldreich and several others were very worried that security was extremely poor and too many people were coming and going with no regard to security.  We had acquired another farm called Trevallyn. We moved there and the party (CPSA) proposed Hlopane as contact man, but we said no. (We, meaning Wilton Mkwayi, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba & Arthur Goldreich). We were suspicious of Hlopane.)

POM     He's the one who escaped?

WM     No, no. Goldberg.

PM     Denis Goldberg.

WM     Even that one he was the one who was supposed to know the place, Goldreich. That's all we wanted those two to know the place.

PM     Arthur Goldreich.

POM     Was Bartholomew a member of the CP? A trusted member?

WM     Very trusted.

POM     Was he on the Central Committee?

WM     I think so.

POM     He would go around the country going to meetings of the CP? Where would he be saying that the MK had set up an execution squad?

WM     Well it may be in the … that there was that, not with us MK people. You can't be a commander and you hear these things. It's affecting you.

POM     Yes. Why would he be saying that? Why was he saying that you had - ?

PM     Possibly told to.

WM     In many case I would say because he was saying I was a communist and so on. Piet Beyleveld said we used to have meetings, have you ever seen him in one meeting? You saw him in Rivonia bring us coffee. We discussed after that coffee. Mkwayi was not there. Why was he not there if he was a member? So Beyleveld said that in court that there's no such thing, Hlopane is developing things, we don't know enough. He is key in the CP now and when we have our meeting he's not that key.

POM     So Beyleveld was saying in court that there was no execution squad?

WM     Exactly.

POM     That's what he said?

WM     I won't put it in many words but it was saying there's not such a thing that was said by Hlopane.

POM     I asked him what stood out in his mind about the trial, he said: - "Our instinct as the accused was that one or two of us should go into the witness box under oath and subject ourselves to cross-examination. The question was who should go into the box. Our first thoughts was that it should be Dave Kitson in the box because we thought that he would defend what we had done in a fairly credible way. He comes from a fairly well established white family, he's an articulate man. He was one of the top agents of the British Communist Party in elections in Britain, he had a long record, he was on the Technical Committee of MK and then post-Rivonia in the High Command. We thought he would be good and seasoned. But when he prepared his first draft of what he would say we got a shock because he said we had set up an execution squad."

WM     I don't know about that.

POM     "Wilton Mkwayi in the consultations with the lawyers at Number 4 lost his cool and Wilton said, and Wilton is another character, he's not going to argue in a sophisticated way, he just lost his cool and said, 'I don't know what you're talking about', when Kitson said that."

WM     I don't remember that.

POM     You don't remember that? OK. "Now we realised, oh-oh, if this is our witness under cross-examination we don't go that route. We've never been questioned on this, we had not been interrogated, and Wilton says, 'I know nothing about that decision', and Dave says, 'But we took that decision.' Wilton says, 'I know nothing about it.' Of course we're sitting with our lawyers and you don't want to involve your lawyers in that discussion." But you never recall Dave Kitson saying that a decision had been made to set up an execution squad? You never remember saying that you never took that decision? 'I wasn't present if that decision was taken, I don't know what you're talking about'?

PM     That is consistent with what Wilton said earlier. To me that figures, that may be that part of the CP had an execution squad but not MK. That sounds to me as if maybe the CP had set up an execution squad but MK had not. That's why Wilton wouldn't have known if there was such a thing.

POM     Now he says: - "The Attorney General who was prosecuting the case was a guy called Masters. He was a very sophisticated A-G but when he picked up that none of us were going into the witness box he went to our defence team furious because he was preparing to cross-examine. He said to Bizos, 'I have a 113 page confession from one of the accused. If you don't go into the box I am putting it into the records.' George Bizos came to us and said, 'Chaps, there's a problem here.' We decided not to go into the box. 'Masters is furious and he's threatening to put a 113 page statement on the record from one of you. I think we're in a minefield'." Do you remember?

WM     No I don't remember that.

POM     You don't remember that. OK. He then goes on to say: - "So I'm convinced and my advice is don't go into the box. Mac said, 'Does he have the basis to introduce such a statement?' And Bizos said, 'No I don't think so, I think the State has conducted its documentary evidence.' So I say, 'Well then I will go into the box.' So Wilton or one of them or the lawyer said, 'But why?' I think Wilton was saying, 'No we don't go into the box.' So I said, 'No, nobody amongst us in preparing their briefs of telling the state knows – have admitted to that statement.' So I say, 'One of us goes into the box to give the state the opportunity to put on the book what they know because then we will know who made that 113 page statement.' And George Bizos and Joel said, 'No, no, no, it's good. What do you want to do?' I said, 'I want to know who did this and who told us. I want to know it before I die.' I was over-ruled, Wilton said, 'No, no, you're not'."  Do you remember any discussion of Mac wanting to go into the box? You remember nothing about that statement?

WM     I may not remember all the words because Mac can talk and talk too much sometimes and we know that the court, the prosecutors will state what he has said when sometimes he didn't mean it. We were refusing that we must not arm the court with the case by going to the box because when you are there they ask anything and you don't know what they are going to ask, you must reply. So you don't arm them, let them find their case. We know we are already sentenced after all whether the judgment is not given now but we are long ago sentenced, we knew that.

POM     So you felt that if you went in for cross-examination you'd only be, in a sense, providing them with more ammunition and more opportunity to dig into things.

WM     Exactly. Even if they are not using this now against you they will use that against other people.

POM     Against somebody else. Yes. I want to be just very clear. In your memory there was no mention of Bizos talking about a 113 page statement made by one of you?

WM     Well perhaps - I am deaf by the way.

PM     You weren't then.

WM     Perhaps I didn't hear those words, perhaps I didn't hear the words.

POM     So what you're saying is that you're not sure. Would that be more correct?

WM     Yes it would be.

POM     He says: -"The three of us black accused were staying in the same section and could shout and talk to each other." And you were all wondering who could have made that statement but you've no - ?

WM     That we were talking among ourselves is like other things you think were said in the meeting. For instance this question of - about this execution squad, those were the things they usually say if we had this – it's not a meeting, you are there sometime meeting but when you say now it was a meeting, to me it differs, it gives some other understanding because when you are talking there you are just talking.

PM     Informal discussion.

WM     You are discussing, you are saying and this one will be mad sometimes and say, let us have the execution squad, these chaps are sinning. To me that is not a meeting, it's just a talk of you there.

POM     Shouting things to each other.

WM     Yes that's why I say sometimes when you seem to say it was a meeting, that's why I disagree.

POM     OK. But when you were meeting with the Benoni group the warders let you out of your cells to go and meet with them?

WM     They were bought.

POM     Yes but they would let you –

WM     Yes.

POM     OK. So on that we're clear. Robben Island. Do you remember Father Hughes? He was a Welshman, an Anglican priest who used to come and have you all sing and then he got you into the corridors to conduct the services.

WM     Yes.

POM     And Govan Mbeki and Neville Alexander were still saying, "I'm an atheist, I don't go to church services." And then he got you into the quad in the sun and suddenly Govan and Alexander were saying, "Well, it's nice to go to a church service now and then." Then he said, "Anyone here for communion?" And some guys put up their hands and went.

WM     Because there would be wine.

POM     And then they came back and said, "Guys! You get wine, you get a little bit of wine if you go to communion." And the next week everybody was at communion. So that's all, he goes through that in great detail, talking about the Welshman.

WM     He was good by the way. Because while singing there must be two near him and giving them what the papers say that morning and so on and he had this and that area, in Natal there was this last week or so. And the singing is going on.

POM     And he's telling you the news or some of the news?

WM     Exactly.

POM     "Father Hughes won our hearts. Then one day they found him with the wine and they took it away, but he got it back."

WM     They said he must not bring wine.

POM     Mac said: - "He said, 'All of those who want communion after the service come and see me I will be available.' We were in the corridor and Andrew Mlangeni of the Rivonia trial said he was going for communion. We said, 'Andrew, what's happening?' He said, 'Ssh.' We said, 'Are you an Anglican?' He said, 'Keep quiet.' So off he goes to communion. Monday we are at work. 'Hey Andrew, what's this? It's fine for us to go to church to sing but what's this nonsense? Are you a believer?' Andrew says, 'No chaps, at communion you're given a thimbleful of wine.' Oh! The next time Father Hughes arrives and says, 'I will be administering communion', oh, there was a big rush. Father Hughes' communion services were increasing one week after another, crowds were growing."

     Now this is where he talks and you're on the Island and the opportunity to escape. He says: - "An opportunity to escape arose when Wilton Mkwayi, Madiba and I were taken together to the dentist in Cape Town. I had previously been taken to the dentist alone and worked out that it presented an opportunity for an escape."

WM     That was from the dentist's place.

POM     Yes. So anyway he went back, he'd gone there and sussed the thing out. He said to Madiba, "I think there's a chance to escape, we have found out the date when we are going to be taken and there will be four of us." So your condition, because Mac says he'd been told that if he was to escape he was to either take Madiba or Walter with him. So he said, "I'll try to escape but it's a bonus he's also with him. Madiba was disbelieving at the beginning but I told him I had seen the date when we were all going to be taken. It was the first time that more than one person was ever taken to the dentist." Right? You used to go one at a time so this is the first time that three of you went together. "We had no elaborate plans, it was going to be very improvised. We knew one of the comrades who ran a taxi on the Grand Parade, a chap from the fifties. So we said if we can escape from the surgery the key to that escape must be that neither Kolevson (that's the name of the surgeon) or his receptionist, nor the warders escorting us should be in a position to alert the authorities of our escape. If we could just get a leeway of a few hours we'll make it. The rest of it was going to be very ad hoc. On the day we went to the dentist it was the first time that more than one prisoner had been taken to Cape Town. Our minds were saying this was a wonderful opportunity. We weren't looking at other things. We were taken out of our cells and to the reception of the prison. Then we were handcuffed and manacled at five in the morning and taken to the boat. When we got to the boat and were put in the hold Madiba said to the warder, 'It's against maritime law that we should be transported on the high seas with manacles and handcuffs', and he argued this thing with the warders and the warders came back and opened our manacles and handcuffs for the trip to Cape Town." Right?

WM     Yes.

POM     Do you remember them taking off the manacles? Yes?

WM     Later on they were taken off.

POM     "We got to Cape Town docks and there was a prison van there. As we got off the ship onto the docks they handcuffed us, I don't think they put on the manacles, and pushed us into the van and locked it. It was a closed prison van. I immediately looked into every crevice of the van and searched the crevices around. There was sort of a gash there. I ran my fingers through it and there was an object. What was it? I pulled it out, it was a knife." Do you remember him finding a knife?

WM     No.

POM     You don't. OK. Mac said, "I showed it to the others and we all became very - "

WM     Another thing, these vans were not only taking political prisoners, there were common law prisoners as well who sometimes were taken to Cape Town.

POM     Well on that occasion were there common law prisoners with you?

WM     No, no.

POM     Just the three of you?

WM     In the van. I say you may find something there, even a sharp spoon. It's not from our section. The van is taking all the sections at that place. So he may find a knife.

POM     Oh sure that's what's he's saying, he just found a knife.

WM     OK, OK.

POM     He said he became very excited because we had wondered how we would get the warders' weapons when we staged the escape. Now he's saying we had a knife that he had found. "So I hid my knife in a pocket of my prison uniform. When we got to Kolevson's the waiting room was empty. We were now trying to decide when we should pounce on the warders. Madiba said to the warder, 'Now that we are in the waiting room you'd better take off the handcuffs.' And the warder took off the handcuffs." Right? "No argument, just a little bit of protest. Madiba said, 'No, but we are going for our treatment now in the dental chair and we are here in the waiting room. What can we do? You're guarding us, four of you.' So they uncuffed us." Right? OK.

     "I was standing near the window overlooking the street when I noticed the lack of activity, no pedestrians moving, no vehicles moving and I said, 'Oh-oh, this is a trap, it's all working too smoothly.' So I called Madiba to the window and I whispered to him, 'Look.' So he looked down and said, 'What is it?' I said, 'There's no movement, no pedestrians, no cars are moving on the street. They took off our manacles and here they've taken off our handcuffs. We thought they would only be removed when we got on the chair for treatment', and Madiba instantly saw the problem and said, 'You're right, it's off.' We then called Mkwayi over and Madiba said to him in Xhosa, 'Here's a problem.' And Mkwayi said in Xhosa, 'You cowards! You people now haven't got the guts to go through.' Madiba said, 'It's off.' We had our dental treatment and then were put in the van but we were not taken back to the docks."

     Do you remember saying 'You're all cowards'?

WM     They were all cowards.

POM     They were all cowards? Even though there were no pedestrians outside. You wanted to go right ahead?

WM     Not like that because they will find that there was nobody outside. Anyway you don't know, you are looking at the street and you will find that there were painters painting the building outside. At least a ladder was there. If there was something to be done, go to the toilet, down the ladder, but the problem is this arrangement with somebody who will be ready, who will know it will be on this day? When you get there, there must be somebody taking – if it was properly discussed and arranged with people outside we may not have gone all of us, we may select sometime that two must go, two can sit here. We are shocked as they are shocked … still cannot see because we are sitting here with them. So in that respect sometime it's always better to try.

POM     Always better to try?

WM     Yes.

POM     Were other escapes planned?

WM     It was difficult from Robben Island but criminals were doing it. If they can do it what will make us not to do it? They were not guarded like us.

POM     So criminals would be taken to the mainland for something?

WM     Even for treatment or something. For instance one time there were also horses there, there were cattle there on Robben Island. Prisoners planned, the common law, to go – they were going to use horses, cross by horse.

POM     Because the horses would swim?

PM     They could.

WM     Yes. Even a cow.

POM     A cow can swim 13 kms?

WM     They swim. But their plan failed because one of them told one warder. When they were going to the horses the warders were there. They were arrested but they argued their case to show that warders are corrupt. They were opening those common law prisoners, not the political side. They go with them to go to steal honey, with warders to go and steal honey, to steal milk, because those cows were milked there. That's why it was easy for them to go about planning all those things where we couldn't have such a chance. Even the swimmers on our side, I think there were just about three who could cross according to distance because in their training they were trained to a longer distance than that short one to the Island.

POM     No-one ever tried.

WM     When we go to the sea warders are always there. For instance, if you want something like sea food, these perlemoens and so on, the higher ups wouldn't allow us to go to the water. They say if you want something here are the warders, they must do it for you. For instance sometimes a warder comes up if one of you can drown here it will be a scandal, it will be known all over, which means if it is a warder it's less than us, no publications would be made and so on. The only thing the warder is called, I know some have already given grease and so on so that they can smear grease so that they can swim across but it never happened because warders are always here.

POM     But you were in the single cell sections? You were always confined, you never got out to mix with the communal – with the other prisoners?

WM     Even with other political prisoners.

POM     You couldn't

WM     It came late now because one of the warders who was brought as in charge asks, "Why are you sitting here?" because I was watching the soccer there. "Last week I didn't see you people." So one warder says, "No they are not mixing with other people." He says, "Why?" "No, the security." He said, "That's why there are problems of hunger strike, that and that." He said to us we are going to mix and we mixed.

POM     When did that happen?

WM     This was already late.

PM     In the eighties.

WM     Very late.

PM     Into the 1980s.

POM     OK. That's all Mac said about you except that you were really fuming. He said: - "They took us back to a cell. We were taken, after the dentist we weren't taken right back to the docks, we were taken to Roeland Street Prison and put in a big communal cell just the three of us."

WM     When actually the warders who come there to see that … we'll go to Cape Town, we are put in Cape Town, you will sleep in Cape Town, the boat will not move.

POM     I see. He said: - "This was an unusual development. They should have transported us back. My mind was telling me that they had put us in a bugged cell. They wanted to find out why we had not escaped because he believed that they had set a trap for us. I think I had smuggled a piece of lead pencil so I took some toilet paper and I wrote, 'Chaps, no talking, no talking about this incident. We can write and discuss but only innocent conversation.' Wilton was fuming so he wrote and I said that it had been a trap, don't talk. Madiba and I were convinced that somehow or another the authorities had realised that we were planning escape. Whether they had bugged our cells, they had picked it up in such a way that they would make the escape and Madiba would be killed." Did you ever think there was a planned set up? That they were setting you up?

WM     No. The plan I know was set by police with few warders, not for us, for Madiba. That plan was not for us, it was for Madiba.

POM     The whole purpose of the thing was to get him to escape and kill him?

WM     Exactly. But some warders can talk because one will say if Madiba is trying to escape you should stop him because they want to kill him. You just say that you know by the way, there are those some big guns you see coming here, you don't know them, we don't know them, but they would like Madiba to escape. They can even arrange a helicopter to take him but he will die there with that pilot. So the warder used to say just as talk, saying he must be careful now, they are after something.

PM     He was considered more dangerous alive than dead.

WM     In those days. Now they say we have never thought that Mandela could be so good, could be stopping all these things here. He became somebody now for them. They even praise our constitution.

POM     Things are finished.

WM     Myself I say this constitution is bad. Why is there no country in the world accepting a constitution like this in their countries? They praise it when it is there.

POM     Why do you think the constitution is bad?

WM     I think so.

POM     Why?

WM     It has handcuffed us in many things. Now somebody has done something wrong, white or black, he kills you, now the state must find a lawyer for him.

PM     There's nothing wrong with that. It's the implementation of the constitution, poor administration.

WM     Here you hear people stealing money, about R50 million, R20 million, he's arrested. The state must find him a lawyer. He says he has no money, he can pay only R500. No other country could allow that.

PM     Darling, that's not true.

POM     Well next time you see Madiba you tell him that his constitution –

PM     He talks a lot, he does not believe that. He knows perfectly well it's poor administration and poor policing, it's not the constitution. The only problem with the constitution is it centralises too much.

POM     So when you remember Robben Island and I'm sure you've been asked a hundred million questions about it, the picture I get from Mac is that, number one was that whether the treatment was very harsh or wasn't very harsh depended upon the Commanding Officer. Some COs would be right down your necks, other COs would let things go but that in the quarries you guys decided that you weren't going to work, began to hold classes around your picks. He tells the story of one CO who called in Madiba and said, "Please, you're humiliating me in front of my officers. I go to inspect you guys and you're all leaning on your shovels and that makes me look awful. Could we reach an arrangement?" And you worked out that you'd only work for ten minutes out of every hour when the Inspecting Officer was coming around.

WM     The one who is in charge he must make up his mind, he must have contacts there. When the officer is coming he must be told that the officer is coming, then the officer will find us digging or when he goes we leave all that. He must put other warders because there are always three or four to watch somewhere for those higher ups when they are coming and you say they are coming, then we will do something.

POM     But as soon as they were gone?

WM     Well.

POM     That was it.

WM     Besides that they were silly sometimes because even those higher ups because they would say, "No this is not in the regulations. You want something not in the regulations." For instance we were not given bread we blacks. Coloureds and Indians were getting and coffee in the afternoon. With us, no.  So we decided to ask for bread so I went to the CO. He said, "No, no, no, the regulation is saying nothing." I say, "That's why I come to you. If it was in the regulation I was not going to ask it because it's there, it's going to come. That's why I come to you." "This will cause a problem." I say, "There's no problem, what is not there in the regulation you are there to help us." Sometime one from Pretoria was called Aucamp, he was dealing with political prisoners. I saw him ask and the Head of Prisons says he is coming, he raised this question with him. I raised it. He says, "No, no, no, you are making a hotel of this." I say, "We know hotels, there's no hotel like this." "Why do you put this to me? Here are your chief warders here who can discuss this thing." I say, "I can even do that but I prefer to do it with you and the panel here but not like this in the passage." Later on I was called and they agree that during Christmas you can buy bread and cake but first it must be two packets of biscuits and a loaf of bread and it happened.

     Even this thing we were talking about, this priest, they didn't want us to, the authorities, to attend those services and we insisted that any priest that comes, because they were saying you belong to that church, stay outside, they are not coming here, why do you want to do go this one? We say why should we not? We are here, you are supposed to help us on that. I was called with Govan Mbeki to Pietermaritzburg. There was a lawyer called MD Naidoo, I think he has died. When we were there the prosecutor asked me about somebody who was sentenced there in Pietermaritzburg by the name of Steve Dhlamini, he is late now. "Did you meet Steve?" I said, "No, the warders are refusing that we meet because he's in the other section." "Since I believe he is a communist we know here in Pietermaritzburg not just he was in prison, we know him outside here, communist. But why is he attending church like this?" I say, "He was attending it outside here. He likes music, he goes for music." I don't know where they got information. "We believe you discuss this business of attending these sermons to anyone." I say, "Of course, but the state is still refusing and I don't know why." The judge now, "Are you sure that they refuse those services?" I said, "Well I don't know my lord, because there are warders here who come from Robben Island, they can testify to that they are refusing." He says, "No, no, that could be actually I don't know, I think it's wrong that they don't want you people to have these services. How will you repent or that and that?" The next thing someone from Pretoria now who is responsible for those services came to Robben Island and called and he says, "Well we are going to allow you people to attend services of anyone." It became very good, there are these days of eat and others were refusing first to go as Mac was saying but when there were those things everyone when they come –

POM     There was a Hindu –

PM     And Muslim.

POM     Where they'd get sweets and everyone became a Hindu.

WM     So my point was that, "Why should you say the regulation is not allowing, it's silent about these things therefore as you are in charge I have to come to you to put a request. If you are reasonable you will see what to do. If you are unreasonable well it's your business because we must not beg you so much. If we put a request we put and we'll tell you too we'll put it to another one when he comes." Things now became all right on Robben Island and when we left Robben Island I don't know whether it was still jail or what. Jail because you were sleeping in your cell. That's all.

     Oh about now when we are already out even money, you'd keep your money with you in your pocket. When you want to buy something you go to the shop, buy and come back. At the beginning it was prison, I must not forget that, it was prison.

     So you did good to read because when she told me what I say, well I don't know what to say because I prefer to be asked questions then I know what to say. When I don't know that's my problem. If I don't know it, if I don't know it.

POM     I think you've done terrific. Thank you very, very much. In Gaelic we say … that means many, many thanks. Now in Xhosa what would you say? Many, many thanks would be?

WM     …  thank you very much.  By the way I am writing my own book by mouth. I have even started to write.

PM     He's got very little on paper.

WM     First of all –

PAT     He dictates it, talking it?

PM     Even then we don't get down to it often enough. There are too many interruptions.

WM     First of all the best education I got from Robben Island, and it was little, because we were also saying that somehow although we said we are going out, you say, "Ag, why should I worry myself so much?" These chaps are always saying you are going to die here when they come. So you see big guys from Pretoria coming to tell you that you are going to die here. That's why when they say you're witness against someone, what for? We were sentenced to life, they want you to go about witnessing. Hah! Few people can do that. That's why personally perhaps I don't take many things too seriously. If I was doing this thing with you, this I'm arrested, you witness, and you don't say all those things, to me why should I be angry with you? I know what was happening before you agree. They were harsh. I know what was happening. Those are my problems sometimes and I don't – for instance you tell the lawyer, this chap would say this and the chap doesn't say one way I will ask a question looking here, do you remember this? If the person says I don't remember, oh I have forgotten to put that in my evidence, why should you pursue now? You ask him another question. Sit down because he didn't say these things there. Now it is you who are raising them. Those are some problems, some who were with me because I think I'm too soft-hearted by the way although when I have to tell you to go to hell I will tell you. That's all. And it ends there by the way. I don't think that I am angry or I will do this or so. It's finished with me even if you were wrong.

POM     Not many people can say that.

WM     For instance a lot of whites here they're saying, hey, you people –

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