This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
07 Jan 2003: Chiba, Laloo
POM. Laloo, first maybe we could start by you telling me a little bit about yourself, where you grew up and just how you yourself became involved.
LC. Well I don't think this interview has anything to do with me.
POM. OK, well just a little bit.
LC. I come from a family background where my parents were working class people and I attended school. I left school and then I started working.
POM. When did you leave school?
LC. I left school in 1949, Johannesburg Indian High School.
POM. Did you do matric?
LC. Yes I did matric but I failed matric so I left school, I wasn't interested in further studies although my Dad persuaded me to go back to school but I wasn't really interested. At that age you have many other interests.
POM. Where were you born?
LC. I was born in Johannesburg, in Fordsburg.
POM. In Fordsburg, OK.
LC. That's right, in Fordsburg. After I left school I started working. I worked for a number of years and then I went over to India and in India I met my wife and that's where I got married.
POM. In India?
LC. In India, yes, in 1952. My mother and my two sisters being in India at that stage.
POM. They were still living in your mother was living in India?
LC. Yes. She was here but I think she had gone over and I joined her in 1951, somewhere around there. In 1952 I got married and I came back and I started working in a dairy in 1954. 1954 I started work and I worked there as a foreman, despatch clerk first and then a foreman in a dairy, Phillips Dairies. By that time of course I knew Kathy in a social way and all the friends in Fordsburg, Tommy Vassen, Bobby Vassen, Herbie Pillay, Paul Joseph and people like that.
. In 1956 what had actually happened was that there was that arrest nation-wide, 156 people were arrested. Do you remember? And they were tried and they were put on the treason trial. Now at that stage I was 25 and I said to myself, here's my friend and he's been arrested, he is politically involved, what am I going to do? I am doing nothing. And that's how I actually got interested in politics. So today I can say that Kathy actually inspired me to become politically active. He is my political mentor and I look upon him as a political mentor and that's how I really started.
. Then I was of course involved in the Transvaal Indian Congress. Then I joined the SACP in 1959. In 1960 when the organisations were banned, outlawed, then of course after that I became involved in MK and in 1961
POM. Were you sent abroad for training?
LC. No I wasn't, I didn't go abroad.
POM. So you were one of the first people who would have been you were among the first batch of recruits.
LC. 16 December 1961 when MK was launched I was part of the original units that carried out actual sabotage. So I was there right from the beginning.
POM. What training did you have to carry out acts?
LC. None, no training whatsoever. What we did do is people who were accustomed and were used to the idea of making bombs they showed us what needs to be done, timing devices, dynamite, gunpowder, how to make that, sulphuric acid, all the mixtures, the concoctions, the timing devices, etc. And that's how we started off. Our first bombs were made in plastic bottles with charcoal and sulphuric acid and things of that nature. Our timing devices were actually not electronic, they were made in these capsules you know these tablets that you get, capsules, and the timing was measured on the basis of how thick the capsule was. If the capsule was thin then the timing would be short, the sulphuric acid will eat through the capsule and then come into contact with permanganate of potash and that will give off a spark and that spark will set off the gunpowder. Those were the first plastic bombs we made at home. Those were the issues.
POM. Did you come into contact with Indres Naidoo?
LC. Indres Naidoo, we were arrested on the same day, the same night in April 1963 with Indres Naidoo, Reggie Vandeyar, Shirish Nanabhay, Abdulhay Jassat and myself. We were the first five Indians who were arrested in the Transvaal, what used to be known as the Transvaal. Today it's known as Gauteng, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo.
POM. But then it was just?
LC. The Transvaal Province.
POM. So you were the first five Indians arrested?
LC. The first Indians arrested in Transvaal. It was in April 1963.
POM. Now you met Mac, when did you first bump into him?
LC. I first bumped into Mac in 1963 just before our arrest. Just before that I met him. What had actually happened, Reggie Vandeyar, Paul Joseph (I don't know if you know Paul Joseph?)
POM. I interviewed him in London actually.
LC. Paul Joseph, Reggie Vandeyar, who was sentenced with Indres Naidoo, Paul Joseph, Indres Naidoo and myself no Paul Joseph, Reggie Vandeyar and I were friends, both politically and socially, so we used to meet at Paul's place in Fordsburg sometimes. Paul was part of our unit, our sabotage unit.
POM. He wasn't part of it?
LC. He was part of it.
POM. He was part of it.
LC. Yes, so was Reggie. We were the first unit that was established in the Indian areas, the first MK unit that was established in the Indian areas.
POM. You were in the High Command too?
LC. That I'll get to at a later stage.
LC. I'm talking in the beginning when MK was formed the first units were made up of we were four people in a unit headed by a unit leader. That unit leader was Wolfie Kodesh and under Wolfie Kodesh it was Paul Joseph, Reggie Vandeyar and myself, that was the first unit. And we on 16 December 1961, that particular unit, carried out three acts of sabotage: Fordsburg Post Office, the non-white section of it, then the Bantu Commissioner's office in Fordsburg and the Pass Office in central town. So we carried out three acts of sabotage in one evening, that particular day. Then of course we carried on with our activities.
. With the passage of time between 1963 and 1964 what had actually happened was that various units were being established in the Indian areas as well, basically Fordsburg, Doornfontein, Mayfair and so on, and each unit leader then established each of the original MK unit, the four of us then started our own unit. So I became a unit leader of my unit, Paul Joseph became a unit leader of his unit and Reggie Vandeyar and so on and so on. Now what had actually happened at that stage, this is between 1963 and 1964 by 1963 we had established various units already and then I headed four units and I became what they called a platoon leader, under my command, I was a platoon leader, under my supervision or whatever the case might me, or under my leadership I used to run four sabotage units. Each unit had its own unit leader so that's how we actually operated. So between 1962 and 1963 I was already a platoon commander.
POM. Now were these all Indian units?
LC. Indian units. All members of our units were South African Indians.
POM. So really the first units in MK were Indian units?
LC. No, I wouldn't say the first MK units were Indian units, all what I'm saying is that in the Indian areas we were the first under the leadership of Wolfie Kodesh. So that's how it started.
. Now in 1963 we were then arrested. What had actually happened was a person called Gamat Jardien had penetrated one of the units. He was a police informer. As a result of that they had planned an act of sabotage and of course the police had been tipped off by this informer and that's how Indres, Reggie and Shirish got arrested. And as a result of that arrest Abdulhay Jassat and I got arrested. So five of us are now arrested on April 17th, if my memory serves me correctly, 1963.
. But before that, you asked me the question when did I meet Mac, I had met Mac just previously to our arrest and Paul Joseph's arrest. Paul was working in a furniture factory, Reggie was working as a waiter in one of the restaurants in Fordsburg called The Red Lantern, I was working in the dairy as I told you, and we met at Paul's place as social friends and Paul introduced us to Mac. This is so-and-so, at that stage you didn't know his right name, I didn't know who he was, I didn't know what his political affiliations were, I didn't know what his political involvement was and I suppose the same applied, as far as he was concerned, the same applied to him as well. I don't think he knew who we were or what we were or what work we were involved in.
. That was in 1963. Now 1963, then of course we were detained.
POM. So he's arrested too?
LC. No he's not arrested at this stage. I'll come to the arrest at a later stage. In May 1963 Indres and them were sentenced. Indres Naidoo, Reggie Vandeyar, Shirish Nanabhay, David because they were caught red-handed and they were sentenced to ten years imprisonment. Abdulhay Jassat and I, they did not have any evidence against us and for that reason we were placed in what used to be the 90-day detention law, that is the time that it came out. So charges were withdrawn against Abdulhay Jassat and me and
POM. Were you held at Marshall Square?
LC. Marshall Square from where Abdulhay Jassat escaped subsequently. Marshall Square. I was then released after 90 days and after my release Wilton Mkwayi - by that time by the way before my release what had happened I think in July 1963 the Rivonia arrests had taken place. Consequently the National High Command over MK had been smashed and Wilton Mkwayi was reconstituting what came to be known as the second National High Command. After my release from detention I had to go underground because I was somehow or another connected with the escape, the escape of Abdulhay Jassat, Mosey Moolla, Harold Wolpe and Arthur Goldreich. Remember they escaped from prison? In some way or another I was connected with that and I was instructed to go underground. It was during that time when I was still underground that contact was made with me and Wilton Mkwayi approached me and said he was busy reconstituting the National High Command, which came to be known as the second National High Command, and he wanted me to serve on that. That's how I actually became involved in the second National High Command, the activities of the second NHC.
. As far as Mac is concerned he's involved with MK. Wilton had approached him and said that he wanted him to be involved in the work of the NHC as a political commissar. Mac's approach to that whole thing, if I remember correctly, was that he would like to do some ground work as a foot soldier of MK so he can get acquainted with the situation and work and the things that need to be done and so on. He'd like to do that for a couple of months but he would also refer the matter to the party and the party will then direct him exactly what to do. Mac was not brought into the High Command formally and he never attended any meetings of the NHC. It might be that he did attend a meeting or two if he was asked to attend but when I was not there, but as far as my memory serves me correctly he was not formally brought onto the NHC, the second NHC, nor did he attend any of the meetings of the NHC.
POM. What were your first impressions of him?
LC. Well I had met him briefly once just before my arrest, I told you that already. I had not met him after we had started after I had met him after we had reconstituted the NHC. The person who was in constant contact with Mac was Wilton Mkwayi. At a later stage I know that Wilton approached him for a number of things. One of the things that we needed were raw materials for the production and manufacture of gunpowder, of all the ingredients we needed that and Mac was assisting in that process. The second thing that he was doing, if my memory serves me correctly, he was acquiring all the equipment like the threading machine for the manufacture of pipe bombs. The third thing, if my memory serves me correctly again, that he was involved in at that stage we were also sending out recruits for training. One of the destinations was the Eastern bloc countries, Czechoslovakia, Soviet Union, and Mac was involved in making the arrangements with London for recruits. We would recruit them but he would then make the arrangements with London to see to it that they would be sent off wherever it was decided they should go. That was the type of work that Mac was doing. Acquisition of raw materials for the manufacture of gunpowder, acquisition of equipment for the manufacture of pipe bombs and of course making arrangements for recruits to get training. I don't know how many arrangements he made, I can't recall, but I definitely know one which I'm fully aware of. So that was where Mac's involvement was, his connection with the High Command.
. Another thing that he was involved in, after the Rivonia trial had ended, on 26 June 1964 it was decided that there should be a secret broadcast, people should go onto the air with a message. What actually happened, if my memory serves me correctly, it was Mac who prepared the text of that secret broadcast. It was an illegal broadcast, like Radio Freedom for example. So we had acquired the necessary equipment and we did go onto the air but apparently it did not come over the air. If I remember correctly Mac was involved in preparing the text of that particular broadcast.
. So those are the types of things Mac used to do. I had very, very little contact with him, very little contact. I was formally introduced to him by Wilton at his home in Doornfontein in Pierce Street, that's where he was.
POM. You've a good memory.
LC. You know when we talk about the events that go back 30, 40 years our memories can slip and what actually happens is that I recall things differently from other people and vice versa. We might agree on a number of things but there are a number of issues, I think, that we don't agree and we don't agree because we recall it differently, our recollections are different. But whatever we recall we recall in good faith. But that is one of the problems when you try to capture events that go back 30, 40, 50 years. So that's as far as Mac is concerned.
. Then of course on July 6th 1964 I was arrested at home. Lionel Gay had been arrested previously, a little bit before that, we knew about it and of course they picked me up on the morning of it was a Monday morning, they picked me up at home and I was arrested. I tried to escape but they caught me and I was taken to the police building where they interrogated me, they tortured and interrogated me.
. During the course of our interrogation, I was there for 60 hours, what was the chap's name now, I can't remember it. He said that one thing we're not going to do is to torture you, we won't torture you, we won't lay a finger on you. That's what he told me. I can't remember the name.
POM. I'll find out, I'll check that.
LC. Of course Swanepoel was involved. So I said, "What the bloody hell, when I was arrested on 1963 they tortured me to hell and gone and they didn't get anything out of me."
POM. During the 90 days?
LC. Just before I was placed in the 90-day, before we appeared in court we were all heavily tortured.
POM. How were you tortured?
LC. Electric wires. But that's a different story.
POM. OK, I'll come back to that story later.
LC. All five of us were badly beaten up. When Kathy came into court, when we appeared after 48 hours, he didn't recognise me, we were badly messed up. So he says he won't lay a finger on me and I said to myself I underwent heavy torture and I didn't say anything, I didn't reveal things. Now they're not going to lay a finger on me how the hell are they going to get any information that they want? What I didn't realise was that, and they didn't lay a finger on me, what they did was they took a square sheet of paper like this -
POM. 8½ x 11.
LC. Yes, A4, what they call A4. They put it on the floor and they said, "This is where you stand until you talk." I stood there for sixty hours, sixty hours, but during that course I realised that Mac had been arrested and he was being beaten up and what they wanted to know from him is where is the transmitter through which he had made the broadcast. Then I realised that this is the issue. I then told them, "Look man, he doesn't know anything about that transmitter. He doesn't know anything about the transmitter, stop beating him, stop interrogating him over the transmitter because he doesn't know about it." That's what I told them.
. In any case after this we were taken back to our respective cells. I was detained in Langlaagte Police Station and ultimately we all ended up in Pretoria Central.
POM. Did they torture you after that?
LC. No, no they never tortured me.
POM. So you stood for 60 hours.
LC. That's the torture.
POM. Oh sure, yes.
LC. But they didn't lay a finger on me.
POM. They questioned you during that 60 hours, non-stop?
LC. Oh yes they questioned me all the time. If I sat down they pulled me up, dragged me up and said, "You stand." That type of thing but they didn't lay a finger of me, I must be frank about that. After that we were taken back to our various police stations. I was in Langlaagte Police Station detained at that stage and then from there we were all transferred to Pretoria Central and that's where I met the other people who I didn't even know some of them were arrested. Amongst them was Paul Joseph, Steve Naidoo, Mac Maharaj, myself, Ahmed Baba, we were there in Pretoria Central.
. What had actually happened at that stage, Wilton Mkwayi they were still looking for. They knew Wilton's name and they knew who he was but he had disappeared. As soon as we were arrested of course he went into hiding. They took quite some time before he was actually arrested. I think he was arrested, it must have been somewhere around two, three months after our arrest so he was in hiding. After our arrest of course charges were laid and we stood trial. Five of us were actually charged. Wilton Mkwayi was accused number one. David Kitson was accused number two. I was accused number three, John Matthews was accused number four and Mac Maharaj was accused number five. We were found guilty.
POM. Now I want to go through the trial process because Mac made a number of statements that I want to see how other people's recollections are the same as his. George Bizos and Joel Joffe were your Attorney and Advocate and he says that when you were taken to court on the first occasion that he began to blurt out that he had been tortured and began to point out at the police, said they were here in the public gallery. Do you recall, have any recollection of that?
LC. He might have done that but I'm not too sure. I don't want to say he did or he didn't. He might have done that because he was severely tortured also and he might have pointed that out. He probably pointed that out to the lawyers, it's quite probable that I really don't know. I can't be 100% sure.
POM. Then he said that there were two, like Lionel Gay, who gave state evidence.
LC. Lionel Gay had turned state witness, he was a member of the second NHC so he knew quite a bit, and Lionel Gay, I'm sorry to say this but I think he was very, very vicious. He was vicious in the evidence he gave.
POM. Mac says that he (Gay) said that when he was being cross examined by Bizos that he said, "Oh that brings me to another incident where we set up an execution squad."
LC. That's right.
POM. Now you recall that he was saying that?
LC. I definitely recall that.
POM. Because you guys all said, "What the hell is he talking about?"
LC. Yes, well he definitely did say that. You see that what we were thinking of was setting up an execution squad. We wanted to set up an execution squad and that matter was discussed in one of the meetings of the NHC and of course that's what he repeated at the trial but he was vicious about it.
POM. So it was discussed but it was never set up?
LC. No it was never set up. It was discussed, the possibility that if things do happen we might have to consider setting up a thing like that where we might have to do away with some people, a person, or something of that sort. It was not necessary for him to mention that. In that sense I would say that Lionel Gay was very vicious.
. Of course another person that gave evidence was Patrick Mthembu, he gave evidence, Pieter Beyleveld gave evidence.
POM. He (Beyleveld) also was damaging.
LC. He was a member of the Central Committee of the party. I don't know what Mac has to say about it.
POM. Let me see what he said, I've got it exactly here.
LC. You see about the execution squad, that matter was touched upon very briefly in one of our High Command meetings that we need to consider something of this nature, setting up some sort of a unit that might have to deal with people and so on. No decisions were taken. The matter wasn't discussed or debated but why he actually pointed that out I really don't know.
POM. Beyleveld also gave damaging evidence.
LC. He gave a bit of damaging evidence.
POM. He also gave evidence in the Bram Fischer trial.
LC. Bram Fischer trial. I don't know what happened to Piet Beyleveld. He was a member of the Central Committee of the party, he was very highly respected and a thing like this happened. One can understand they give evidence, they want to save their own skin so whatever the speech may be, well that's just too bad.
POM. Now he also talks about three other things. One is when the lawyers were talking about whether or not one of you would go into the box to give evidence, that Dave Kitson also said in his statement that an execution squad had been set up.
LC. You see I can't recall that. That issue of the execution squad was discussed at one of the meetings of the NHC. It was up for consideration but no decision was taken as far as I recall and nothing was done. That's it, I don't know.
POM. Then he says that when the prosecution heard that you were not going to put anybody in the box they came and they said that one of the four or five of you had made a 113 page confession.
LC. Who was that?
POM. Well, no-one knew which one of you it was.
LC. Between the five of us?
LC. The five accused?
POM. Yes. He said the prosecutor said one of you had made a 113 page confession which hadn't been introduced into evidence and that they would try to introduce it if none of you went into the box. Do you remember, you were all saying - ?
LC. No, I don't know.
POM. You've no memory of that, OK. Then he talks about your attempted escape, the Benoni gang.
LC. Yes, what had actually happened there was that there was a gang we didn't actually attempt an escape. Arrangements were being made, things were being considered about that particular issue. They were thinking of escaping and I think Wilton was in touch with one of the gang leaders, it was a gang leader from Benoni. I recall that, but nothing came out of it.
POM. But you were supposed to, plans were being made.
LC. Plans were being considered, nothing was actually finalised, nothing was done, nothing happened in fact.
POM. Mac's account of that is: - "We tried to escape from Number 4 prison while awaiting trial. We were locked in steel cubicles, the three of us, Wilton, Laloo Chiba and I were in the same bunch of cells."
LC. What we called the 'coolie cots'.
POM. He said: "There was a communal door in the passage and we demanded from the warders that we should be allowed to meet."
LC. Yes, it was all different cubicles. There were about six or eight cubicles, I can't remember now and each had a separate door but there was a communal door. But we used to meet.
POM. He said that everyone - and I talked to Wilton last Friday in Kingwilliamstown, he and Mac both talked about the corruption of the warders, it was so easy to corrupt the warders.
LC. Oh yes, but what had actually happened although the matter was being thought of nothing really happened, nothing came to fruition.
POM. You don't remember a particular night when it was supposed to happen and then didn't happen?
LC. No I don't recall that. It might have been planned which I was not aware of but certainly I don't recall that. As far as evidence is concerned a number of people gave evidence.
POM. When you mentioned Mthembu, he was who? He was a member of?
LC. Patrick Mthembu. An original group of people had gone over to China for training.
POM. Ha! The Group of Six.
LC. The six, yes.
POM. Raymond Mhlaba and
LC. Raymond Mhlaba, Wilton Mkwayi, if I remember correctly, Steve Naidoo, Patrick Mthembu, Joe Gqabi that was the group. Patrick Mthembu was part of that but I can't recall him being vicious or anything of that sort. Then another person who gave evidence very, very reluctantly, we had to persuade him, was Amien Cajee, Doha.
POM. Oh yes. But he was a witness for the defence?
LC. No, he was not for the defence. They wanted him to give evidence and we said that what evidence can he give? Why do you want to refuse to give evidence when the state asks you to give evidence and then you'll just be imprisoned or whatever the case may be. You rather give evidence because your evidence is going to be innocuous and so we had to persuade him to give evidence. Bram actually spoke to him, not Bram, Bizos spoke to him and we persuaded him to give evidence and he did. It was not a problem, we understand that was not a problem. Ahmed Baba gave evidence. He was one of the unit leaders from Roodepoort, he gave evidence, he was a state witness. Patrick Mthembu, Lionel Gay he was the chief. Lionel gave, Patrick Mthembu, Pieter Beyleveld, Amien Cajee, Ahmed Baba. Those are the ones that I recall.
POM. This is where he's talking about Beyleveld, he says : - "One of the things that stood out for me as far as Beyleveld's cross examination in this hostile court, the reason for that was that Piet Beyleveld had admitted that he was a member of the Central Committee and implicated him (Mac) as being a member. Lionel Gay had insisted in his evidence that the Central Committee took all the key decisions about the sabotage campaign. Now Beyleveld did not identify Wilton, accused number one, he identified Mkwayi as a person whom he knew in the trade union movement and when asked to identify the communists he went for me and he said, 'That's a communist'. 'What do you mean?' He said, 'No, I've been a communist, I am a communist and he is in the structures of the Communist Party.' Yes, he did say I was on the Central Committee. He said that the Central Committee took decisions about the sabotage campaign."
LC. It might be. Look, there was a meeting between the ANC underground structures of the movement and the Central Committee and of course the leadership of the ANC often intertwined with the leadership of the Communist Party.
POM. He says also:- "Wilton was an amazing witness. Lionel Gay was an amazing witness, he had a remarkable ability to withstand cross examinations by our lawyers and to virtually silence them. He literally tried to get us sentenced to death, he did this in a very sophisticated way as part of his main evidence. Strictly you're supposed to cross examine on that evidence but the judge allowed him to add on under cross examination and that's when he said, 'Oh, we had set up an execution squad', so he was kind of putting the rope around your neck."
LC. Well in that sense he was vicious, it was not necessary even for him to have mentioned the question of the execution squad.
POM. That's right.
LC. Because he would be found guilty in any case. But I suppose once a state witness starts giving evidence I suppose he goes the whole hog, he talks and says a whole host of things.
POM. Again, this is about Dave Kitson, he said: - "The lawyers wanted to put him into the witness box and when he heard the draft of what he would say he got a shock because he said we had set up an execution squad. Wilton Mkwayi in consultation with the lawyers lost his cool, Wilton just said, 'I don't know what you're talking about. We never set up an execution squad'."
LC. That was in David Kitson's intended draft, the draft that he was going to go through in the witness box?
POM. That's right.
LC. That is absolutely wrong.
POM. But you remember that being in his draft?
LC. No, I didn't see his draft so I don't know. That might have been there.
POM. OK. You get to Robben Island and you and he get put together in the single cells.
LC. What actually happened was that after we were sentenced David Kitson and John Matthews, John Matthews was accused number three, they were taken to Pretoria Central because it's a whites only prison. The whites were separated from the black prisoners. Mac and I were sent to Robben Island. Wilton Mkwayi was kept behind in Leeukop Prison for further investigation. Not for further interrogation, I would say they wanted to work on him, they wanted to whatever the case may be. So we landed up on Robben Island I think in January 1965. We were sentenced on 18 December 1964 and within about two, three weeks originally we were held at Leeukop Prison for about three weeks and after that we were taken to Robben Island. When we landed in Robben Island we were taken to what they called the B Section where Mandela was, Mandela, Walter, Kathy and all of them, where the Rivonia trialists were serving their sentences. That's where we ended up Mac and I.
POM. He mentions three things specifically that you and he were involved in. The first is where you two are part of the painting team oh sorry, you were in the communications team.
LC. That's right. What actually happened was there was a communications committee set up on Robben Island because we were isolated from the general body of prisoners. There must have been about 1200, 1300 prisoners but we were kept in B Section, about 28 30 of us and we were totally segregated, totally isolated from the main body of prisoners. So it was necessary that a communications committee be set up to keep in touch with the other prisoners on the one hand and at the same time also keep in touch with the outside world. That communications committee was Kathy, he headed the communications committee, and it was Mac, he was also on the communications committee. There were one or two others who were subsequently released. It was after their release that I was brought into the communications committee. Now the main function of the communications committee was to keep in touch with the main body of prisoners and smuggle out messages, whatever the case may be, whenever it was necessary.
. Now there I must say that Mac was absolutely innovative, he was absolutely brilliant. You see let's take the gadgets that he had thought of. There was a matchbox. In the matchbox he'd built a false bottom and smuggled a written message into that false bottom and of course when you opened the matchbox it was ordinary matches inside. But beneath the matches there was a concealed compartment. That's one of the things.
POM. Now you would use that to send messages?
LC. To the other sections of the prison.
POM. And to the communal section?
LC. And the communal sections. Then there was the tennis ball. We punched a little hole, a small little hole in it, a little slit, put in the written message and threw it over on the other side. That's another thing.
POM. How did you get hold of the tennis ball?
LC. By now we were allowed to play tennis, we were allowed to play tennis at a much later stage but that's how it was. Then the shoe, what Mac really came up with was absolutely brilliant. You see this shoe, there's a slit here.
POM. On the right hand side.
LC. You take out all these stitches, the thing opens up. So we used to write a message, seal it in here, re-stitch this whole thing, send the shoe for repairs because in our section there were no repairs so we used to damage our shoes and send them for repairs. When it reached the other side they used to always look whether this was tampered work or whatever it may be and then retrieve the message. That was one of the methods that he had devised.
. Another thing that he had also devised was photographs. We were allowed to keep photographs in our cells, we were allowed to receive photographs in prison, we were allowed to buy stationery, so we often used to buy board. Now that board, you take one cover and you take another cover and in between the two covers you seal your message and you paste it. Right? On top of it you put your photographs. So when people were released from prison they were just told, just take this, give it to so-and-so in Lusaka or London or whatever the case may be, and that's how we also used to get messages across, smuggled out messages.
. But the main thing was The Long Walk to Freedom. Now that project was initiated through a discussion between Madiba, Walter and Kathy. One day they were taking a walk, exercising in the courtyard, and they were discussing the possibility of writing Mandela's biography, The Long Walk to Freedom, and the decision was taken that that should be written and that should be taken out, smuggled out from prison by Mac, smuggled out by Mac. So five of us knew about that project, it was Kathy, Mac and myself from the communications committee, and Madiba and Walter. It was a totally covert operation, nobody knew about it, it was highly confidential because the stakes were very high for security reasons. You know in prison there are often raids that take place every now and again, just found the radio, checking, do things, and we didn't want things to be discovered.
. Then it was decided that that should be done. Now we needed storage. Where do we conceal the manuscripts, the transcriptions, etc., etc., and here Mac was the one who devised in a bench as well as in the library a compartment where we used to store all the transcribed stuff. What used to happen is Madiba, if my memory serves me correctly, Madiba used to write a couple of pages during the day, during the night, mostly at night. Once he had written a couple of pages he used to hand it over to Kathy. Kathy then used to take it to Walter to go through the contents of what Madiba had written, effect whatever changes were necessary, make the corrections, give it back to Madiba who rewrote the corrected version now and then once it was corrected it then came to be transcribed.
. Now in one of the books it is said that the substantial portion of writing of the manuscript, transcribing the manuscript was done by me, but that is not correct. In my opinion I think the transcription, it was about 600 pages, was condensed into about 60 pages, I can't remember now, I would say that 90% of the transcription was done by Mac. I think that needs to be corrected because the impression that Madiba gave the bulk of the transcription to me is not correct but it was done by Mac. Once it was transcribed two problems arose, how do we store it and how do we smuggle it out eventually and there, again as I said, we made a false bottom in one of the benches and in one of the uprights of a cupboard and we used to store the stuff there. But once it was ready to be inserted, concealed, Mac at that stage I don't know why, for his studies or what, had what you call statistical maps. He had maps from the Bureau of Statistics and in that he prepared a file and it is in that file we put in all the transcribed stuff and when he was released he took that file with him and it was transported out.
POM. And the original?
LC. What happened to the original, that's a different story. Mac didn't know what was going to happen because Mac's approach was that I don't want to know anything it is not necessary for me to know, because if something does happen and you've got information it's not that information - and that's generally our attitude in the movement. Most disciplined cadres they don't want to know what doesn't concern them. The original manuscripts what happened, at that stage we were also allowed to buy certain groceries and we used to buy cocoa because cocoa used to come in plastic containers. I still vividly remember the containers, a brown container with an orange lid. So what we did with the original manuscripts we took them, folded them up and shoved them into those containers. At that stage you were also allowed to do a bit of gardening, I was connected with that gardening. So I took those cocoa tins, those cocoa containers with the concealed manuscripts and buried them in the garden. But those were also discovered at a later stage.
POM. They were?
LC. They were discovered. Did Kathy tell you about it?
POM. He might have mentioned it briefly.
LC. What actually happened, one morning all of a sudden we saw a whole host of people, the warders come in and they started to build a wall. You know B Section were going to build a wall and because they were going to build a wall they had to dig up certain portions and our garden was part of that certain portion and while digging up that garden they found the containers, some of them, not all. We managed to keep a few but that's how some of the manuscript was actually captured. We intended destroying them but we had kept it until we were sure that Mac's transcription had reached London or Lusaka or whatever and we were waiting for that message to come through. But by that time this thing had happened. I don't know whether we had already received a message that the transcribed version of Long Walk to Freedom had already reached London or Lusaka, we might have received that message before we actually destroyed them. I'm not too sure now. Certainly we did get the message but there was a delay I suppose in destroying the original manuscripts, also an operation, but part of the manuscripts were captured.
POM. And the rest you were not discovered?
LC. Which we destroyed, some of it we recovered.
POM. Yes, OK. So was disciplinary action taken against you at that time?
LC. No, what had actually happened was, and this is what if my memory serves me correctly, remember I said that Madiba wrote a few pages and they were corrected, some of the corrections were in Kathy's handwriting and when they discovered that he lost his study privileges for a couple of years, two years or so he was not allowed to study. That was the disciplinary action that was taken against Kathy, and against Madiba too. For how long I can't remember. It was called 'abuse of study privileges'. But that's how Long Walk to Freedom was actually written and smuggled out.
POM. Now he talks also about two things that you two made a false bottom under the seat of one of the benches.
LC. To conceal a radio.
POM. A radio yes.
LC. That wasn't my stuff. He concealed it and when they raided they didn't find it.
POM. So well done they didn't discover it.
LC. That is true.
POM. But the word came from Walter and Madiba to get rid of the radio. Now how did you get the radio in?
LC. Kathy and Mac actually arranged that with one of the warders. I think it was Kathy, I'm not too sure, maybe Mac. I'm not too sure because I really don't know how it came in.
POM. Then for a while you had access to a newspaper. One of the warders got his fingerprints on
LC. Yes well, I think that was a bit of a blackmail. If my memory serves correctly, I remember discussing this thing in one of the meetings of the communications committee because at that stage it was brought up. What had actually happened, there was a night warder and that night warder was on duty and I think Mac called him once and he said, "Here's a little note, just give it to Walter or somebody." So this fellow took that note and brought the note back and Mac said, "Look, I've now got your fingerprints on this. Now what you need to do is to give us newspapers." Or something or that sort and that was part of the status but Mac was good at that.
POM. Then he talks of the two of you working on, he says, a raid that night on the Namibian Toivo ya Toivo was assaulted, it was in March or April 1971 or 72.
LC. May 21st.
LC. 21 May 1971.
POM. I'll tell Mac his memory is slipping.
LC. I can't remember very well but I think it was 21 May 1971. Kathy would remember that, Kathy is very good at that.
POM. "The bench was with Laloo and during that raid they even opened the toilet rolls to see if we had written and re-rolled the toilet paper in each cell. In Laloo Chiba's cell one warder actually picked up the bench and put it down. They found nothing, they didn't find the radio."
LC. The radio was in there.
POM. Yes. "But after the raid Madiba, who knew we had the radio, after the raid Madiba said, 'Get rid of the radio.' During the day Walter came to me and said, 'Instructions to destroy the radio.' I said, 'But it's safe.' He said, 'No, there are people from various organisations .' And had it been found it would have meant collective punishment for the whole section. So I said, 'But, old man, do you know how long we've struggled to get the radio in?' He said, 'I know but you destroy it.' I said, 'Don't ever come back to me again, take the radio.' A couple of days later Walter comes to you and says, 'What's the news?' And you say, 'Well you destroyed the radio'."
. . He talks about two other things, one was the Hindu Festival where you were selected to get the sweetmeats. He said: - "We had a grand plan ,it was a Hindu priest, but what language was he speaking in"?He says you were chosen. "He introduced himself to the priest and then he said one of us is going to conduct the prayers for the whole group today but the second one is going to take one of you to another room for intensive prayer." So you were chosen and they finished their prayers and he said, "Eventually Laloo Chiba comes out looking completely spaced out and dazed and we're thinking, 'God, this man's mind is packed with news.' We asked him what happened and he said, 'I tried to ask the guy for news, he wouldn't give me news, he took me through a rigorous rigmarole of prayers and I had to endure it'."
LC. I remember that one. There's what the call the Festival of Lights, Divali. What we used to do, we were allowed once a year to receive gift parcels from that particular religious group and that's how we all used to go and see the priest and so on.
POM. Do you remember Father Hughes?
LC. Father Hughes? Yes I remember Father Hughes. I believe he died. I don't know.
POM. Mac talks about him coming and getting the warders to open the door so he could do his sermon and his singing in the passageway and then he got you out in the quadrangle.
LC. That's right.
POM. And some of the people like Govan, at the beginning Govan and others would say, "Break this, we don't believe in it." And somebody said, "God! We can get out into the triangle, into the quad", so suddenly they were attending services. And then the wine.
LC. There what had actually happened on one occasion, on one occasion if I remember correctly, I don't think it was Father Hughes, but one of the priests came and they came with a little suitcase and in that case he had all sorts of little things. But in that suitcase was also the Sunday Times so one of the prisoners, Hennie Ferris if I remember correctly, said, "Father, I would like to offer a prayer here." So he says, "OK, you offer a prayer. Everybody close your eyes, let's do some prayers." And he took them through a whole prayer. In the meantime while everybody's eyes were closed one of the persons raided the satchel and retrieved the newspaper. But that's how we used to get news.
POM. Then he again talks about the two of you making the keys, the keys to the cell.
LC. Yes the keys to the cell, the filing now I was slightly involved in it but I can't recall too much on that one.
POM. Let me read to you what he said, this is an Easter weekend 1971 or 72, somebody had come over from - Jaftha Masemola, the PAC man who is now dead, had been brought over.
LC. He was the key chap.
POM. "He had been brought to our section because he and two others had been caught with a key. They had been in communal cells. So I said to Kathy, even though Jaftha was in the PAC I thought I could persuade him to bring his technical knowledge to bear on how to make a key. We collected pieces of rusted metal, I got hold of a little piece of a hacksaw blade and a small triangle, all of which I kept hidden away. I approached Jaftha who agreed to help to make the key. He then told me that the technique to use, because we couldn't make a mould, was to smooth out the piece of iron on both sides until it was shiny and smooth. We would use the lard from our breakfast bread and smear it on both sides and put it into the keyhole and turn and gently pull it out to see where the obstruction was. Then we would file it bit by bit. So that Easter weekend I lined up Kathy and Laloo. I would be in the cell doing the filing and making the key while Kathy and Laloo patrolled the corridor."
. So you made one key, you needed the master key.
. "So one day when the others went to work I got hold of Laloo and said, 'Don't go to work today, stay behind.' We said we were sick, going to see the doctor, something like that, it wasn't very difficult. You could put yourself on the list for the doctor that day and then stay away from work. During the morning I said to him, 'Now here's a piece of soap, I want you to make an imprint of that particular key from the warder's bunch of keys. I decided that he would take (he's talking about this officer who was one of those very combustible) I decided that he would take this huge bunch of keys when he got into the warder's office. When he got into the office he would pull up his chair, slam his keys on the desk, put up his feet and relax, so I said to Laloo, 'Now I'm going to go and provoke this warder and make him come out leaving his bunch of keys on the desk.' He says, 'How are you going to do that?' I said, 'Don't worry, but the moment I get out of the office you rip in and make an imprint of the key'."
. . He says he got into the cell and he began to talk the warder, then he began to insult the warder and the warder said, "I'm going for you", and he ran outside chasing Mac. He was chasing Mac and pulling him down, you nipped in and make an imprint in the soap.
LC. Maybe my memory is playing tricks on me or maybe his memory is playing tricks on him but I don't recall it that way. I know a key was being made but I can't recall him provoking the warder, he might have provoked the warder, I'm not too sure exactly what happened.
POM. What's your memory of the plan?
LC. Well I know he did say that I should stay away one day to do something but I can't recall all this. Maybe my own memory is fading. But you know what, you should speak to Kathy about this, just check it with Kathy.
POM. So Mac got released and you stayed on for how many more years?
LC. For another six years. I think it was in 1976, 12 years, yes he was released in 1976. Now the normal practice in prisons was that the warders used to transfer prisoners a few months before their actual release date. So if they were supposed to have been released in December, we were sentenced on 18 December so I suppose we were supposed to have been released on 17 December, he was supposed to have been released on 17 December 1976 but he was shifted away a couple of months before that, probably in August or so, maybe September, I'm not too sure now, and he was transferred to another prison and from there he was released. I think he was then under a banning order for a short while.
. What had actually happened was, I can't remember the details, we got news, not in prison, this was outside of prison, that Mac had taken ill, seriously ill, and he was being sent to the Soviet Union for treatment, an operation, and that's where we met. After I was released there was no contact between Mac and myself. In 1985 during the state of emergency I was detained, right through till 1986, and after we were released we went underground and then emerged in January 1987. I got a call one day from a friend, a mutual friend, he said he wanted to see me very urgently, so I said, "OK I'll see you", and we made arrangements to meet. We went to Zoo Lake and here is Mac, he had slipped into the country secretly and he wanted to know from me whether I was willing to be involved in the underground structures of the movement. I think it was Operation Vula. So I said to him, "Look, I'm already active in the UDF." In 1985, I was released in 1982, 1985 I'm back in detention. I come out in 1986 and we were instructed to go underground so I went underground. I had just emerged from underground, I had just started work. I had started reshaping my life and I don't think it's possible for me to get involved in more structures so I declined. That was the first time I saw him after his release. On a subsequent occasion I met him in Lensasia here, we had a few chats and so on.
POM. So if you had to sum up Mac as you knew him in prison, what would you sum him up as?
LC. First of all I would like to say that Mac is a brilliant chap, he's got a brilliant mind, a very sharp mind, and of course a very sharp tongue as well. Secondly, I would say that Mac my association with him and what I heard of him at a later stage in court, was that he's a committed and dedicated revolutionary. He was willing to place the interests of the movement above his personal interests. He is also a brilliant analyst, very objective, can be. A very good debater and I think most good debaters would feel very uncomfortable in his presence. He could destroy arguments. He's very thorough in his work, very methodical, meticulous as far as his work is concerned. That's my impression of Mac.
POM. He is married to Zarina was married to your brother?
LC. That's right. I've got a younger brother who was in Lusaka for about 12 years with the movement and he's now working for the NIA, he's with the NIA, but he was married to Zarina and after they divorced then Mac got married to my brother's former wife.
POM. A nice little circle.
LC. A nice little circle, yes. He's really a decent chap.
POM. Do you think he could have served in government under Thabo?
LC. I don't know. He certainly served as Minister of Transport.
POM. Under Madiba, but he reveres Madiba.
LC. But I don't know whether he would, I really don't know the dynamics. That's exile politics, you know. He was in exile, Thabo was in exile, so I don't understand that exile politics that well. I really don't know. But as a minister I think he did a good job.
POM. Thank you ever so much. You've been terrific. I'm going to come back again and do your story from the beginning. It will be part of the Robben Island record.
LC. For that you must go to Mayibuye Centre. It's done.
POM. Are you on tape?
LC. I'm on tape, yes, with Wolfie Kodesh. I did an interview with Wolfie Kodesh so you'll get all this.
POM. The two of you together did it?
LC. Yes he interviewed me.
POM. Who did?
LC. Wolfie Kodesh.
POM. He interviewed you?
LC. Yes. So it's on tape already.
POM. OK. It's been a pleasure to meet you again.