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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
08 Jan 2003: Joseph, Daso
POM Daso, we might begin with just you giving me a little bit of background about yourself, where you were born and what your connections were with people like how you became involved and why you became involved. Then my understanding was that you were both a member of the SACP Central Committee and a member of MK and that you got out of the country before you were arrested when everybody else was being picked up and that Mac said he was very close to you for the period of time he was in the country in the early sixties after he returned from the GDR and was in the underground here. So maybe we can take it from the beginning.
DJ Actually speaking we started when we were very young, young boys at the age of 14, 15 we got involved in the political movement.
POM You were born in?
DJ I was born in Malay Camp which is known as Ferreirastown, Malay Camp was the name given like District Six but today it's known as Ferreirastown. I was born in a poor family and I saw, together with the rest of my friends, we saw how people struggled under the apartheid system, under the oppressive regime that existed. I'm talking of the early forties when life, although it was unbearable, was not so restricted as it became later in later years. This suppression of our life, our attitude towards other people, towards black people, became more apparent when we saw how Africans were being treated by white policemen in the area where we lived. For no rhyme or reason they were always picked up and beaten up before they could even produce their passes.
I remember when we moved from Malay Camp to Fordsburg and it was a very small home, we moved into the area and we got to know people very well. Although we were young we saw members of the Communist Party in the early forties hold meetings, CP meetings in our area on soapboxes and there was hardly anybody attending these meetings, people weren't even listening to the speakers. It seemed as if they were talking to dogs and cats and so on around them. Some of it sunk in, some of it went past us because we were not really geared towards this type of language and making us aware, politically aware of what was happening in the country. At the same time it triggered off somewhere behind us that the CP was standing up against a system which was unjust and was prepared to make itself heard and seen.
I think that to a great extent this influenced my thinking in the political movement and as a result of that I became aware of things, like I say the way Africans were being treated, and then I still felt helpless about doing anything about it. One day I remember an African was arrested for presumably stealing a bag of tomatoes or potatoes or something and he was being pushed against a wall by an Afrikaner policeman who used abusive language and all and he was beating him up and saying that this guy had stolen this bag of potatoes or vegetables, and the next thing was during that short period a crowd developed around there and we became interested, my brother and my friends became interested in this incident. I don't know what got into us, we stole the bag of potatoes away from him while he was beating this guy up and one of us ran away with it. When he looked by that time he realised that the evidence had disappeared.
POM That was your first act of political involvement?
DJ That's right.
POM That's neat.
DJ As a result of that they arrested one of my friends, David Jack. David Jack was a leather worker, also a very close friend of ours who went to school with us. When they arrested him we were all up in arms and there was an uproar, you can't arrest him. By that time the victim escaped there was enough opening for him to get away so we caused a deviation in the whole set up that was deliberate and when I think about it now I knew it was deliberate. The whole act was planned on the spur of the moment and we were quite pleased about the poor guy who got away. But at the same time they held our friend and he was marched, the police station wasn't far from there, to the Fordsburg Police Station in Bree Street. When he got there we all marched to the police station protesting that you can't take him, he had nothing to do with it but they didn't want to hear of it and eventually he was brought to the Magistrate's court and was charged and we had a very good barrister, Vernon Beranger, he was an old barrister, he was very, very good. He reminded me of Sherlock Holmes, the typical English lawyer who spoke very articulated everything and spoke very clearly. Of course when Vernon Beranger got hold of the policeman in the box he tore him to pieces and told him, "Well look, you say that you were assaulted. How were you assaulted by this small looking fellow here, David Jack?" So he said well he held what was supposed to be a thief or a rogue who had stolen the potatoes and while holding him he grabbed David Jack and by that time this fellow got away. Then when he turned around he saw missiles coming across. It's quite possible they did. Then Beranger asked him where did the missile hit him? He said it hit him on the back. He said, "Well then you said you turned around so how can you say it was him. If you turned around that missile should have hit you on the chest so in all probability you are fabricating the whole story." He actually tore him to ribbons and eventually the whole case was thrown out.
I think that was a very good lesson for us in a political way and that I think also helped us to build this whole attitude of what was unjust in the country and our feelings towards the other sections of people. There were a lot of ethnic, racial attitudes. People had this prejudice against Africans and prejudice against coloureds and Indians but more so with Africans. I think it was unusual to see a group of Indians, young fellows who were now siding with the so-called down-trodden. Of course we were all downtrodden but they were worse off but people didn't understand that, they thought we were communists. But then I was never a member of a Communist Party so it was not a question of being communist. That's how it actually evolved.
Also in the early years there was a Communist Party and the CP in fact was involved in the day to day struggle of the people, the hardships. I don't know whether you remember that when during the war when there was rationing imposed people couldn't get any basic foodstuffs like sugar, soap, bread and if they wanted this the Indian shopkeepers were hoarding them to build up a black market price and they were hoarding them in the backrooms of their shops. So it was the CP, at that time it was Hilda Bernstein and a number of other party members like Vella Pillay and so on, who came along and forcefully Yusuf Dadoo who was well known at the time as a leading member of the CP who came along to these shops and forcefully brought out the bags of rice and sugar and flour and sold them at the price that they should be sold at to the people. I think that gained a tremendous amount of support for the SACP. It gave them what I would say was the basis, unlike what they've got today, to what a party stands for. It stands for the basic needs of the people who wanted them and saw them there. I think the fact that they were able to identify themselves so strongly and clearly made the SACP become a strong base for the political struggle. I would also say it probably influenced a number of people like Ahmed Kathrada and all these other people into seeing the value and the significance of being members of the SACP.
POM Had it a stronger base at that time among the Indian community than in the African community?
DJ Politically yes it was and I think that's due to the fact that Mahatma Gandhi set the whole basis, the foundations for the struggle and I think the fact that you had people like Dr Yusuf Dadoo, Dr Naicker and you had Dr Goonam and you had a number of other leading South Africans, IC Meer, Rahima Moosa, Fatima Meer yes, Zainab Asvat all these people, that's Dr. Asvat, all these people played a tremendous role among the Indian community. Even Yusuf Cachalia he was a leading member, Amina Cachalia's husband, and Maulvi Cachalia who was the brother to Yusuf. These were the people who I would say influenced the struggle in the country and probably even had a tremendous political influence on members of the ANC.
POM In fact your campaign of resistance began in 1946 which preceded any
POM You were sending guys to jail before the ANC.
DJ And I think a significant factor we mustn't forget also, it's never been emphasised, is the SA Indian Congress formed by Mahatma Gandhi, it was the first political organisation to be formed. The ANC was formed in 1912.
POM 1894 (the Indian Congress)
DJ But that is not being mentioned and I think it's worthwhile recording that fact. I'm not saying that the Indian Congress is a leading party but it's all the influence that it played.
POM Sure, it was there first, the first organised
DJ Yes and I think that's omitted quite often and I don't know if that's done deliberately or whether it's just accidental.
POM Actually I begin with Gandhi because Mac was born in Newcastle and people used to congregate there on the marches to go into the Transvaal.
DJ That's right. It's probably worthwhile you looking at Mahatma Gandhi's book, Satyagraha in South Africa which will tell you and give you names of people there and Gandhi's struggle and his influence in the struggle. I still believe that Gandhi's influence in the struggle in SA was paramount to the other struggles of the sort. This fact is there and must not be overlooked at all times.
Later on when Mandela and Walter Sisulu and all our leading comrades were put on Robben Island and I was in exile, it was during that period that Oliver Tambo and the ANC Executive decided to open up its membership to all other nationalities. Prior to that the ANC was predominantly only African. So it's very important to put this into its proper context.
POM That I'm doing. So when do you make an act of joining the party formally?
DJ That was later in the fifties when I became an active member of the SACP. In fact I was drawn in, I was influenced also by my brother Paul because we were a very close family and we were three brothers. There was Peter Joseph and myself and then there was Paul. I'm the youngest, and my sisters. My brother Paul was arrested at a very early age so became politically involved at a very early age, he may have told you that, and he was in the defiance campaign. Being a young boy at that age it was quite a blow to my mother that here was her young son going into prison and it was a blow and the first time that she realised that we were politically orientated already. By then I had already joined the SACP and the SACP was then not illegal, it was a legal party. After joining the party then I met, through the Indian Congress, I met with Ahmed Kathrada and all the other comrades who were also members of the SACP and eventually when the party was being proscribed they formed another party instead of the SACP, it became I think just the Communist Party of South Africa. It changed it's name and I think that also had an impact on people like us because we all questioned that although we were not leading members of the SACP. We said that no party bans itself and that the party should never have dissolved, because they dissolved the SACP and they did not consult the members. They didn't consult us, it was a decision taken by the upper echelons.
POM Who was the Secretary General at that time?
DJ I think it was then, I don't know if it was Moses Kotane, I'm not quite clear.
POM I can look it up.
DJ It could have been Moses Kotane or it could have been Yusuf Dadoo even. Dadoo was in exile at the time.
POM So it would have been who?
DJ It would have been Yusuf Dadoo and Joe Slovo and all these other people. Sam Kahn was a leading communist and they were involved in the dissolution of the SACP. As I say that decision came as a blow to us. I'm not saying it was right or wrong but in my mind I knew the party was supposed to be the vanguard of the working class so why dissolve the party. That was my understanding of reading Emile Burns, Introduction to Marxism by Burns.
POM Yes. So after the banning?
DJ After the banning we formed cells. The party was re-formed again, it became another party it became the SA Communist Party. I think they realised the mistake they made because I think at that time we had also Michael Harmel. He was the leading guy, he could have been the chairman then of the SACP and I think he and others must have realised the errors that they'd made and it was then decided that the party should be reinstated and it should still be known as the SACP and that's what happened.
Then when the party was banned at that stage we were all put into cells, little groups and I was a member of one of the cells. I took my instructions from Ahmed Kathrada at that time, he was my contact and there was nobody else you could meet or talk to. There was of course Wolfie Kodesh, he was a very close comrade of ours. You could say that's where our links were. We didn't have any other links because gradually everybody was taken away and there was nobody around except a few.
POM When did you become a member of the Central Committee.
DJ Well I don't know, we weren't told officially that you are a member of the Central Committee. I wasn't told by anybody because the blokes that were supposed to be on the Central Committee were all arrested or went into exile. So my working with Mac and my realisation that my close working with him that I must have been a member of the Central Committee.
POM I see.
DJ But I wasn't told that officially. Why I say that in all honesty is that when I went into exile in London I was viewed with suspicion by the people in exile.
POM You were saying when you went into exile?
DJ When I went into exile I was viewed with suspicion because I wasn't when I met people like Rica Hodgson and Jack Hodgson, they're both now deceased, I spoke to them because they wanted to know how I came into exile.
POM What was their name again?
DJ Rica Hodgson, she's now in SA and her husband is late now, Jack Hodgson. I knew them very well in the party as I knew a lot of the people but we never spoke as to who were party members or who were not. So I went to see them in London, it was easy to go to them when I was there. While speaking to them, the way I was questioned and all about how I came into exile and so forth, I realised that they wanted to know details about me, how I came out of the country, why I left the country. I was questioned very closely and I gave them all the right sounds because I was sincere about how I came into exile. After that nobody, the old party members, ever approached me to ever join their group or the Communist Party at that time. It was only later, the later years, it must have been somewhere around 1986, I had a visit from a friend called Herby Pillay who came to see me officially and talk to me and so forth and then asked me what do I think, what are my views about joining the Communist Party. I remember saying to him, "Why do you have to come and ask me to join the CP?" There was no need for that because he took offence to that, he thought I was saying that because being an Indian and not being a white comrade I was singling him out but that wasn't the case. I said to him in all honesty that I can't see the point in him asking me to join the CP when I've always been a member of the SACP and therefore I don't see the need of being asked to join the CP. I think that message went back and they did take me in. So I joined a group of South African communists in London. Although they were in exile I wouldn't say they were effective, they were ineffective as SA communists because you're in exile and I thought the most effective way you could work was with the Anti-Apartheid Movement, the most effective, and the ANC in exile. The SACP existed but you had to work with the ANC and the AAM. I didn't have those strong views I had about the SACP that I held when I was in SA.
POM So going back to your joining the MK, that happened - ?
DS That happened while I was in SA. I was recruited by Wolfie Kodesh and we were just about we were three of us in a cell and of the three, that's myself, Babla Saloojee and Quarter Pint (Ahmed Quarter), Babla Saloojee was killed.
POM Yes, trying to 'escape', or more likely thrown out the window.
DS He was thrown out of the 7th floor out of Greys Building in Johannesburg. He was in my cell as an MK member and there was Quarter Pint. Quarter Pint was known to us because he was quarter in size, in actual height. His nickname was Quarter Pint but he was actually known as Ahmed Quarter, he's still around, he was with me. When they were arrested they were both kept in separate cells and I remember Quarter Pint told me after he was released that he warned Babla by knocking on the wall of his cell, "Don't mention Daso, don't mention Daso", and I think they were protecting me because I was a teacher as well and they knew that but in spite of that the sincerity and honesty of my comrades was tremendous considering the fact that they were under so much torture and pressure and they were beaten, that they could hold out like that. I admire them. That was the first thing I learnt about the comradeship that existed because when they revealed this to me I was shattered and I remember when the news was conveyed to me about Babla's death when I was working voluntarily at the Anti-Apartheid offices, I was really shattered when I got this message because they were close to me. I never felt so shattered as I ever was if I lost anybody personally, myself, I don't think I would have felt that much as I did for Babla. Babla was a great loss.
POM Now you had no formal training?
DJ I didn't have any formal training but I would say that the training came as a result of my experience in the political movement and the fact that I was a member of the SACP although we were not trained to take up arms and there was the shock when the announcement was that the ANC was going to take up arms, I think being members of the Indian Congress as well as me being on the executive of the SA Peace Council, that came as a blow to me because I was now torn in my mind whether to adhere to Gandhi and his philosophy of non-violence. I was told in discussion that this was a decision that's going to be taken and how do we feel about it. It was conveyed to us and at that stage I think many of us found we couldn't grapple with it, we were torn between non-violence and violence. Where I think I developed the idea that violence was one means of getting to where we want to get to as a result of our campaigns, because the other non-violent campaigns failed, was when I met Mac Maharaj. That's when he strengthened my thinking that violence in an armed struggle was the correct thing. That's when my thinking became more precise and I felt that Mac had really imbibed this into me, he gave me the strength because, as I say, I grappled with this for a long time in my mind when the question of violence came up.
Then I remember that our first act as a member of MK, although we were not trained, was to go and publicly announce the launching of MK and that was in 1962. Myself and Ahmed Quarter were given the task of putting up these posters, 'An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth', and then it said a lot of other things. We went round Johannesburg and we were allocated an area whereby we were asked to stick up these posters. It was after we had been around Market Street and Diagonal Street, we were working down towards the Pass offices in Avenue Road and the Pass office was very, very dark and it was a very quiet evening. We went along to the walls of the Pass offices that were facing the front and we began putting up these posters, Quarter stuck the glue onto the wall and I had the poster and spread it on. It was after we had completed that task and been around all over that we later discovered that when it was announced the following morning, we had put the posters up that night, that bombs went off simultaneously at the Fordsburg Post Office, the Johannesburg Pass Office where we had put up the poster, the Portuguese Embassy, they all went up at the same time and a number of other buildings blew up. It was then that we learned that Ahmed Quarter and I would have been the first victims for MK because a bomb was planted right where we put up the posters and the guys who put it up there were watching us at the time and they couldn't signal to us that they had planted a bomb there.
POM Oh my.
DJ So Quarter and I, well it was a shock. At the same time we realised how close we were.
POM First victims of the struggle.
DJ The first victims of the struggle would have been announced and we were not even trained MK. So that's it.
POM By the time Mac had come back to the country, Mac had been trained in sabotage, had you been engaged in any act of sabotage yourself or were you mostly engaged in postering and - ?
DJ No we were not involved in actual sabotage, we were not called upon at that time. It was the initial stages. Prior to Mac coming to SA I went to the Soviet Union, I travelled abroad in 1960 and I went to the World Peace Conference, I went as a representative of the SA Peace Council to the World Peace Council held in Moscow. It was there in London that I met Mac Maharaj at Vella Pillay's house. There were a number of other comrades to entertain us and welcome us because they knew we were going clandestinely into the Soviet Union and while I was there I think somehow Mac knew he was coming to SA. He must have known beforehand because he most probably had Vella Pillay single me out, because Mac came to me in that crowd and started talking to me. I remember the gist of the conversation, probably he will know more about it, is that he came and he introduced himself and so on and in the discussion I said to him, I said, "Well are you coming back to SA?" He said he was studying in London, he was very cagey, he wasn't giving me anything, and I believed him. He said he was studying and he had no intention of coming back to SA, no intention he said. I said, "Well you know you probably will be wasting your time just studying in London, you could be of use in SA. I see no point in you just studying here and not putting your studies to some use." I had no knowledge of Mac's background when I said that to him. I think he must have laughed quietly to himself but somehow he didn't give me any indication, neither did Vella tell me about him.
So when I came back to SA after my presence in Moscow, I returned to SA and this was about 1962 when I met him and then when I came back it was round about, when I started school it must have been school starts in January, so I went to school that morning to teach and he came to the house because my wife told me that a guy called. We were living in Hubert Street in Ferreirastown. She said this fellow came but she didn't know who he was, he looked a very strange character and she was very suspicious about him. We were very suspicious of a lot of people so we didn't want to talk to anybody and she knew that herself too. She told me that fellow looked very strange and, "I haven't seen him before." So I said, "Well describe him to me." And she said, "Well he sported a little beard and he had spectacles on", and that's all she could say about him. The next thing I thought, what I couldn't figure out, was who it was. When I came back from school towards the evening Mac called and when he saw me and I saw him I just couldn't believe it. I thought, no, what an idiot I was to have told him that he was wasting his time in England and there he was standing in front of me and it was then that our relationship really built with my family, with Sally my wife, my children. Vanitha was my daughter, she was a baby, she must have been about two at that time. Then there was Vijan who was smaller. No Vanitha was about three and Vijan was about a year.
POM What was your first impression of him? You got to know him in London oh sorry, when he came here.
DJ When he came to SA. I took to him quite easily. I realised when this man told me that he had no intention of coming back, I realised in the back of my mind this must be a sincere bloke because he had good reason to tell me that and I knew, I could see, something told me that there was something genuine about this bloke. He got my address from Vella Pillay because I didn't give him my address so I knew then that he must be a good contact. There was something there that told me he was a sincere comrade and I think that proved itself all the way through as we went along and we worked together. As I say, my relationship with him developed so strongly that I believe that it was the best thing that could have happened to me in my political career because I think Mac did something for me that began to instil this whole feeling of 'we have to be liberated'. There was no question about that. Mac was a trained guerrilla fighter. The first time, this is the impression I had, I knew that this guy, he wouldn't have come like that if he was not trained. But I never revealed this to anybody and I thought to myself that here was a guy you could see was solid. We never came across anybody from abroad who was trained so this instilled in me this feeling that this guy was genuine and you could learn a great deal from him. I think I learnt a lot from him and I'm proud to say that I see him occasionally and when I see him I know that I can admire the guy for what he has done.
POM He sent his best. He says, "I never ring the people I should ring", and he's always apologising, "Oh I should be doing this."
DJ I told him, like we told Ahmed Kathrada, we had more letters from him when he was in prison than outside.
POM Good for you. So did you work with him in the printing business?
DJ Yes I did. In fact as we got along Mac was then introduced to the rest of my family, Paul. He was not introduced to everybody but, as I say, he was unique. There was a need not to expose him and the word came across, it must have been from the party or whoever, that Mac must be given limited exposure, in fact none whatsoever and that he must be kept in very, very close proximity. The people we introduce must be very genuine, in fact we don't introduce him to anybody. We know the bloke as far as we are concerned but to other people we were not going about introducing him to anybody. So Mac's movements were restricted to my family, Paul's family and he had some connection with Indres Naidoo's family.
When he was in Johannesburg he occupied a house in Doornfontein, which I will come to later. This house was unknown to anybody except us and nobody went to his house except my family and Paul's family. So there were clear indications that we were not going to expose him to anyone. As I say we valued this fellow and we didn't want to lose him.
POM How did he interact with your family, your children?
DJ Extremely well. I think you see quite often people don't know anybody until they've been with that person and it was fortunate enough for us to know Mac. With the family he was so attached to my children, Vanitha and Vijan so much so that even when he was on Robben Island - in fact they referred to him as Uncle Mac and I thought that was appropriate because I thought of Ho Chi Minh, Uncle Ho. But they were extremely fond of him, so was Sally, my wife. Mac spent most of his time when he was exhausted he was day and night ceaselessly, continuously - he was an extremely hard worker. In fact when he became Minister of Transport I laughed at it because when I used to sit with him in a car we used to go around to the various chemists and so on to go and buy the ingredients for the manufacturing of weapons and so on, guns, preparation of the bombs and so forth, he'd give me a list of these ingredients and I would go into the chemist because I was more innocent looking than him and he didn't want to expose himself. Mac was the kind of bloke who gave the feeling he was very quiet but inwardly he was a very warm guy. He never revealed himself. Till today he never reveals himself.
In fact we've come to the question of a lot of things that I feel he should have done and he hasn't done. There's this business of him he could smile things off. He's very diplomatic in his ways and would keep quiet when people say things, he probably would just laugh it away or joke it off. He had a technique for that when anybody told him anything or said something to him that was critical, Mac would come in very quietly and say something else as if it didn't bother him but I think it did bother him a lot because it was on one occasion when a fellow like Piet Beyleveld, a leading South African communist, was arrested, Mac was so close to me that's why I say this, is that when Beyleveld was arrested he said to me, and I think probably couldn't say to anybody else at the time, he said that that was the best thing that could have happened. I said, "Why? What's wrong?" He said, "Well that fellow he seemed to have hindered and blocked everything that I wanted to do. Any suggestions that I made or anything that I wanted to do he would present an obstacle. In a way he's out of the way now so that helps me in getting things done."
POM Interesting that he turned state witness and spoke against Mac and the others.
DJ He did but, interestingly, he didn't give evidence against my brother, Paul. That's what we queried why? Because one of the Central Committee meetings that was held in my house in Ophirton, everybody was present there on the Central Committee. At that time it was Ruth First and a number of other people, Wolfie Kodesh and my brother Paul and Piet Beyleveld. This was a house that was one of the safe houses. My house was a safe house. Being a teacher nobody knew my house at the time and the meeting was held there. When Piet Beyleveld was arrested he couldn't point out the house as to where it was. They brought him along, the Special Branch brought him to Ophirton to point the house out where the Central Committee held its meeting and he wasn't quite specific, he was a few yards away from my place. It was Piet Beyleveld then who together with my brother then, should have mentioned my brother but didn't and that we found very strange. Did he still have some feeling for my brother? I don't know. But what sort of feeling I don't know.
POM Did he know your house to point it out?
DJ Yes he didn't point out the house but whether he was confused because the meeting was held on a winter evening and therefore it wasn't quite clear where the house was, I could understand that. But I couldn't understand why he didn't mention my brother at all. That was something that was very, very strange.
POM So you would assist Mac in purchasing materials to make the pipe bombs?
DJ That's right. Then he had the two printing presses. He told you about this?
DJ Then he also had a place in our backyard, we organised a room in the backyard where he actually was also busy manufacturing his weapons and he held meetings there with various people that he met. We never met these people because he never introduced us although we lived in the front of his rooms, he never brought them to us. Then he had another printing press which he probably told you was in Doornfontein. We'll come to that too. Those were the places I know, two printing presses, one in Doornfontein and one in Ophirton. Then the other one where he also manufactured his stuff, his weapons and so on, was in Ophirton in one of the back rooms.
POM At the back of your house and at his own place.
DJ It was rented and the rent was paid by my wife, for all the places. My wife went in fact she had to go into exile because somebody said she collected the rent and that they were able to identify the woman who came to pay the rents. So as a result of that she was exposed and she had to come and join me later in London because the pressure was put on her to go because there was the danger that other people may be arrested because of this.
POM So she was paying the rent on?
DJ On the properties, the buildings that he was using.
POM All the buildings, for printing and for manufacturing arms?
POM Now the rent on his place in Pierce Street in Braamfontein where he lived?
DJ He lived in Doornfontein.
POM And the rent on that?
DJ The rent on that wasn't paid by us. That was separate, that he must have made some other arrangement. It was just one room. OK we will come to his arrest and all that. So what else was there?
POM You were manufacturing or buying the weapons, he was making weapons in your backyard.
DJ That's right. Then I worked with him in the printing shops.
POM And you worked with him in the printing shops. You talked about Doornfontein.
DJ Doornfontein yes. I'll come to Doornfontein now. He had a printing press in Ophirton, we used to work on his linotypes, his printing sets. I learnt a bit of printing because of Mac. He was very well trained in that respect. He showed me how to set your print out and so on, how to set those blocks and he was well trained in all that. There were times when I worked with him together there and then of course he had another connection besides his printing presses, he had Royal Printers where he used a bloke there to print some of his stuff as well.
POM They used to print for the Nats.
DJ That's right. They used to print for the National Party as well. So Royal Printers were printing for the Indian Congress, the SACP, and they were printing for the NP.
POM They were called the Royal?
DJ Royal Printers. They were in Wolhuter Street.
POM That was in Fordsburg was it?
DJ No Ferreirastown. Royal Printers.
The house in Doornfontein, it was like a warehouse, store room, run by Jewish traders who used the place to store their mattresses, their furniture and so on and they used to have their sales on a weekend and so forth. Mac occupied the room upstairs of this building, there was only one entrance. You entered and there was no other way out so Mac used this regularly. Mac was flipping about from one place to another always, you'd never find him in one place. He was always engaged in printing and disseminating stuff for the various organisations. It was when he was arrested, and I'll tell you how he was arrested afterwards, it was when he was arrested that we were concerned that if they discovered these places they would pick up all the material that he was involved with and that would be incriminating and would therefore put him away for a longer period than he would be if they didn't find the stuff.
So among ourselves, that's my brother Peter, friends who were very active members of the Indian Congress at the time who we had organised, young people like Gopal Moonsamy and there was Kista(?) Moonsamy, the brother and then of course a driver who was called 'Thunder'. Thunder was his nickname, his actual name was Sonnyboy Padiachee. Mac used all the brothers, there were three brothers, Boya and Gopal, Mac used these three brothers for a lot of his work and they were just poor flower sellers but they were politically conscious of a lot of things, they were very alive, politically alive. I think that came about because I worked with these guys. They were just ordinary flower sellers but their heart was in our struggle although they were not recruited and were not members of any organisation. They would do a lot of things for us on their own. If we needed any finance, if we needed any help they were there to help us. They were solid people who we could rely on and Mac depended a lot on them as well.
So it was Sonnyboy who drove his truck, together with the comrades I mentioned, we drove to Doornfontein to the house where Mac kept all his printing work and so on. We then decided only two would volunteer to go into the room to go and clear it out and see what's there, the rest would stay in the truck because we didn't want to risk the arrest of everybody. We thought if this place is discovered during Mac's imprisonment he would receive a far heavier sentence.
POM So you went to his house after he was arrested?
DJ Yes, to go and clear out the material that we thought would be incriminating.
POM And you cleared it out?
DJ Well we volunteered, it was myself and Gopal, Gopal volunteered to go to the house. When we got there we managed to get into the house, it was easy, it was a lock which we broke, and we went in, we shut the door and we had a lot of black bags with us and sacks, so we were busily engaged, we had our gloves and so on, and we were engaged in packing, just throwing in stacks and stacks of printed paper. We couldn't tell what it was. When we saw all this we threw it all into the bags and then we took some of the ink that we knew would also leave fingerprints and so on onto the roller because at that time printing with the ordinary printer was a Gestetner machine, it wasn't sophisticated material or technology but it was valuable to use to get your propaganda across. We were busy doing this when suddenly there was knock on the door and we just froze after that because we realised, the two of us realised that we were trapped, there was only one entrance, there's no exit so what do we do? So in a split second we said, well what are we going to do now? We either stay in here, they get us and that's it, or we open the door and face up to it. So we decided we'd open the door and face up to it because we had told the comrades waiting for us that if we don't come back in 10 or 15 minutes you fellows just move, don't wait for us because then you know that something has happened.
So we opened the door and there stood before us this bloke, we thought he was a member of the Special Branch. He looked at us and he said, "I know Mac well and can I help you?" We looked at him absolutely dumbfounded, he was offering help instead of saying he was a member of the Special Branch or something and wanting to know what we are doing. We just didn't know, we were stuck for words and he finally said to us, "You know I can come in and give you guys a hand to clear all the things here in the room." So we said, "That's very kind and very thoughtful of you, thanks very much. If we do need any help we'll call upon you as you said you're just two doors away", that he lived two doors away from Mac's printing house. We said, "We'll call upon you if we need any help." With that he left. It didn't take us long to fill the bags quicker than ever and we managed to get quite a lot out of there, a lot of bags, and we never returned for the rest. We don't know whether it was helpful or not.
POM Do you know who the guy was?
DJ We didn't know but later we discovered that he knew Mac, he was a coloured man who knew Mac in the area, he lived there himself, he was a resident in one of the rooms there because they were all single rooms and he became very friendly with Mac during the time that Mac was there. But he must have assumed that Mac was busy with something but he didn't know what it was. So that was a very close shave.
POM So then when he went to jail you said he corresponded?
DJ Before he went to jail, I'll tell you how his arrest took place because I don't know if he told you.
POM He was arrested with Tim.
DJ Yes, but prior to that.
POM Had you met Tim before?
DJ Yes, I know Tim very well, very well. My whole family knows her well. She came to nurse. Now Tim was the only person who stayed with him in that room, nobody else, and if she socialised she socialised with us because her life was also a restricted one. I felt sorry for her in many ways but that was one of the conditions that Mac had imposed on her, that she was not to meet other people.
POM How long was she in Johannesburg?
DJ I think it wasn't long after Mac came to SA that she came. He must have met her in London I think because we only got to know her when she came to Johannesburg and then also we learnt afterwards that she was MD Naidoo's sister and Phyllis Naidoo's sister-in-law as well. So we didn't know all this, it was later we discovered all this. And then we knew she had a political background but at the same time her life changed tremendously. She worked as a nurse and her life was very restricted so ever so more that as family we provided the family relationship. Our families built up a strong relationship so much so that she spent the greater time of her years during Mac's release with us.
POM When he was?
DJ When he was around.
POM So how long did she stay in JHB?
DJ I think soon after Mac's trial and all, it wasn't long after that when Mac was arrested. I don't know how long, I can't be specific about that but I don't think it could have been very long when she went back to London. I don't think it was very long after that.
POM So did she stay in Johannesburg for the whole period?
DJ I think she stayed for the whole period during Mac's arrest and after that I think she went away, probably to Durban.
POM Because Mac says she went back to Natal.
DJ Yes, she went back to the family.
POM But to do a training course.
DJ She could have but she never told us that. With the arrests everything fell apart so we lost contact with her. When Mac was arrested everything fell apart, there was no contact whatsoever.
POM Of course she was arrested with him.
DJ That's right. But prior to his arrest I went to visit my brother who was living in Fordsburg, I went to visit my mother in Fordsburg, Paul lived next door to my mother, so I went to go and visit my mother, taking my daughter Vanitha with me and it's when we went there, when I entered the back door my sister Violet told me, "You'd better disappear because Paul is just being arrested." They had just taken him away. So when I shot out from the back door and I walked across the road and I stood on the opposite corner, away, I observed Paul, my brother, being taken away carrying a little suitcase and he was being arrested. Then I realised mass arrests were taking place then. So what I did was I went to inform Amien Cajee. Amien Cajee was also a leader and he didn't move from the flat and soon after that he was arrested. I then got the flower sellers that we were talking about earlier, I got Boya Padiachee who drove me in his truck to Mac's house, I took him there, I told him to park a block away. I went into the house, I found Mac there, found Mac and Tim in the house. I told him that Paul had been arrested, Amien Cajee had been arrested, and that he would have to be on guard now, that most probably he would be next.
Mac ignored my warnings and he went along back to Fordsburg, he was driving around looking for a friend of ours called Desmond Francis, a school friend of mine as well, a very good friend of the family, he was going to London on holiday and I think Mac wanted to get some messages across to the comrades in London and he was using Desmond to convey the message. He found Desmond and I think he did give him some information and so on and then straight away he went back to his house in Doornfontein even after me giving him this warning. By that time the entire block was surrounded by Security Police. The Chinese family occupying the front house, the cottage, were under house arrest. Tim was inside the house under house arrest with the Special Branch and Security Police, armed police and so on because they knew they were dealing with a trained fighter. They waited for Mac, Mac returned and he walked straight into their hands. Having done that it made me recall me asking Mac one day, "Mac, you are in this room, assuming one day you are being faced with an attack from the police, armed police, what would be your response?" He said he would shoot his way out. It didn't work out that way. I always remember that. I thought well here was a guy who was really going to do it, but anyway, there you are, that's his fate. That's when he was arrested.
I soon discovered that his arrest was mostly his fault, was Mac's fault, it was his own carelessness because when I spoke to my brother Peter, Peter was just an ordinary waiter, when I told Peter, "Listen, they have just arrested Mac and I had warned him in advance about this and he hadn't taken notice", Peter's response was, "If he's a trained guerrilla fighter he should have known that a trained guerrilla fighter never returns to his base if he's exposed." I thought that was quite true and was quite correct, that Mac's training should have taught him that once he's been warned and his base is being discovered he should never have returned. He should have shot to Durban, shot to anywhere but that place. He would have survived a little longer I should think.
POM Even when he went to Fordsburg looking for Desmond Francis he should have taken Tim with him.
POM And not gone back to the house.
POM So in a sense he took no precautions.
DJ She was kept hostage.
POM So he went back to the house for her.
DJ So you see the basic faults. You think sometimes you can be highly trained and then there are little mistakes that you make. Then also another thing was during Mac's arrest we discovered, as I said to you in the beginning, his house was a safe house and was not exposed to outsiders. Mac attended a meeting with a number of other people and a fellow that was in his company was known as Lionel Gay.
POM He was at the meeting of the Central Committee?
DJ That's right, he was a member of the Central Committee and he was with Mac at this meeting. I don't know how that comradeship developed but Mac overlooked the fact that he brought him right to his house. This fellow Lionel Gay dropped him outside his house and Lionel Gay was the only person who was then able to describe Mac Maharaj to the police, to the Special Branch. He said it's a fellow who has one eye, that was enough to be arrested. He gave a good description of Mac and he brought them right to the house where he had dropped him.
So those were the weaknesses that I see, that I felt that Mac had failed. As much as I admired all the training and so on but these were the basic weaknesses that he revealed.
POM That's very interesting.
DJ I think Lionel Gay, when he came to London after his release, he was taken back into the movement, he was recruited into the ANC again. I met him at a meeting in London, at an ANC meeting.
POM Did you know at that time that he had - ?
DJ Yes. And I asked about him and they said, "Well we're in this political situation where we must learn to accept that people do change."
DJ People do change.
POM Would you have met him at an ANC meeting?
POM What year is this?
DJ This was after his release. I don't know, when was he arrested? When he was released, it must have been just prior to negotiations taking place.
POM But Lionel Gay didn't go to jail.
DJ I don't know what happened because he was off, just completely off.
POM And then suddenly he turns up at an ANC meeting?
DJ Turned up, he was in London and he was at our meeting, at a members' meeting of the ANC. These meetings are strictly only for ANC members. This is where we discussed intricate issues that were related to our struggle and he was there and when I queried it they said, well we have to learn to accept that people can make mistakes and so on. I thought it was a big mistake maybe but Mac Maharaj went for a number of years for it. It was quite a stretch.
POM My God!
DJ I'll never forget that because I met him there.
POM Did he look at you? Did he know you?
DJ I didn't know him but I asked who he was and they said that was Lionel Gay.
POM That's incredible.
DJ It is absolutely and I couldn't understand that myself. Maybe you should get more information on that.
POM Yes. This ANC meeting was members of the ANC only?
DJ Only members who were in exile and ANC members. We always had our own closed meetings when we met. These meetings were vetted so nobody outside would have been able to come to them.
POM Who was in charge of the ANC at that time?
DJ At that time Solly Smith, ANC representative for London and the other was Dr Francis Meli, Information Director for the ANC, he also became an informer, Solly Smith also became an informer, they worked for the government later or something. They were discredited both of them. The other one became Director of Information, I can't get his name now.
POM You said this took place just before Mac was released, in the 1970s?
DJ No later, later, it was close to the nineties. I think Mac was out by then.
POM Mac got out in 1976.
DJ Yes, Mac was out of prison then so it was after that. It was in 1990, somewhere around there.
POM About 1990.
DJ This is when the ANC was having negotiations with the government.
POM But when you say these two people turned
DJ In fact they were discredited because we found they were passing information to the NP.
POM They had been?
DJ Yes. Solly Smith and what was this guy, he was trained as a doctor or something in the Soviet Union. You will have to find his name. Dr Francis Meli.
POM I'll look, I'll check you on that.
DJ That's extraordinary isn't it? But there you are.
POM If they were passing information to the NP then it all makes sense.
DJ But they wanted to keep it quiet that these fellows were doing that because they were both drinking very, very heavily and they were being utilised by the CIA and so on and they were put in that situation where they were trapped and they started divulging information which we were receiving from Tanzania, from the ANC in exile, and all these documents that were being passed to us for discussion were already being passed on to the opposition as well, your enemy. Then they began to ask you, well how do they know about it? It was being published in some of the papers and so on. Finally they narrowed it down and they discovered that these were the two people that were doing it because there was nobody else. They worked it to a fine point where they found out it was these two fellows that were related to it and that's how information went. We were wondering how did your enemy know what you were doing.
POM So Mac, you said, used to correspond with you when he was in prison.
DJ Yes, and then Mac started writing to me when he was in prison and those letters were all coded messages. I knew when Mac was in SA he had a novel, I can't recall the novel, it could have been a Dickens novel or it could have been one of his novels, but he had a tendency to have novels or books with him and I thought he was a good reader and so on, but then I think one day I did look at the book and I saw that there were pages and so on, letters that were being coded there, they were darkened and so on, and he had a knack for using various passages and phrases out of the book which he must have used as a coded message to his comrades in exile, wherever he was sending messages to. When I received these letters they made no sense to me but at the back of my mind I knew they were intended for somebody so what I did in turn was I thought well these messages he wanted me to convey to Vella Pillay and then by saying that I knew that he meant also the SACP. Because I was a teacher working at a special school for mentally handicapped children I used to write letters to Mac and to Ahmed Kathrada that we were very successful in raising funds for the mentally handicapped and we had a large gathering and so on, and these were meetings or they were money being raised for the organisation, but I used my school as a form of events that were being carried out. In that way they used to write back, some of us used to write about the weather in England, they were angry about that, but quite often whatever I wrote was sometimes censored and so when I got replies from them most of the letters in the early years were censored so I couldn't make out what they were saying to me at times.
What I did was I passed the letters to Vella Pillay because I knew in the back of my mind that he was a fellow who had originally recruited Mac Maharaj and therefore he must be the man I should be passing the letters to. I couldn't trust anybody else. And then of course there was the Chairman of the SACP at that time, Yusuf Dadoo. It was then that after a period when I used to get these letters regularly, the letters were either from Mac most of the letters came from Ahmed Kathrada but I knew that these guys were discussing things in prison because they were lengthy letters, there were things in them that didn't make sense to me but somehow I thought they must be saying something but I couldn't work out what it is. I tried very hard, I even held it up to the light and I took various lights and matches to try and read the parts that were censored but I was defeated in that respect I think.
But anyway, after me passing a number of letters to Yusuf Dadoo, whom I knew was the chairman of the SACP, if he wasn't the chairman then he was definitely on the Central Committee of the SACP, I used to go out of my way to go and give him these letters and one day when he met me on one occasion he said something very strange to me. He said, "Tell me something, why does Ahmed Kathrada or Mac Maharaj write to you?" And I thought to myself, why do you ask me such a question? Here are letters definitely stamped Robben Island, they're not fraudulent letters and I'm bringing them to you, nobody else is going to do that, and now at the back of my mind I'm thinking you're doubting me and you've now become very suspicious of me in the way you framed your question. So he said, "Why do they write to you?" So I said, "Well why shouldn't they write to me. After all they are well known to me, they are my friends." Then I began to think that at that time probably there was an opposition to the SACP. Ben Turok came out with his book, his Marxist booklet, I don't know if you've found a copy of it, Ben Turok's publication on South African Marxism or something came in opposition to the African Communist in exile. The African Communist in exile was published by the SACP, so Ben Turok published his own Marxist publication and he was not in agreement with the SACP on a number of issues. So I thought maybe they thought I was part of that group or in opposition to the SACP. In fact I mentioned this to Kathrada and he was rather surprised that Yusuf Dadoo should have asked me that, he had no knowledge of that.
POM You asked him that after he was released?
DJ After he was released I asked him. I said, "You know this is what I was asked by a leading SACP member whom we idolised."
POM Did he ask you why you were getting letters from Kathrada as well?
DJ Yes he did, because the letters I got were only Ahmed Kathrada and Mac Maharaj. Nobody else corresponded with me. Most of the letters were through me for somebody else that Mac or Kathrada had known, whom I would pass it on to. So I was used as a safe contact and hence they used the name Moonsamy. That's how they used the name Moonsamy because it wasn't known to the Special Branch. Joseph was known to them.
POM It all fits.
DJ All fits in, yes. Now let's see how far we've got. I told you about the warning, I told you about Lionel Gay.
POM Would Vella have those letters?
DJ He should have them because they all must have made copies of them too. Vella should have them and Paul may have some of them too. Did you ask Paul too?
POM I didn't, no.
DJ When I get home I'll see if I still have some.
POM I was still to have gone back and seen him again in London. You can tell him that my second trip to London was a disaster, I had to go right back to SA, I didn't have time to see anybody.
DJ If you refer to the letters that came, Letters from Robben Island, that's Ahmed Kathrada's book, most of the letters published there you will see were from me, from Mac or Kathy. So you'll get an idea because there they published the full letters because Kathrada had something about re-writing whole letters that he wrote. He spent ages meticulously recopying the letters that he wrote to his comrades and the ones that were sent to us were heavily censored. The ones that were later published in the book are the ones that he had hidden. If you see the book, if you read the book you will see those letters printed in full. I saw things in there that I hadn't seen on my letters.
This other thing, you were talking of projects that Mac Maharaj was involved in. I recall very clearly that in the early years Mac, one of his ideas he had, one of his projects was to build another base whereby he could manufacture his weapons, get all his chemicals and all the rest of it in a safe place. One of the ideas he came up with was that we should build a cinema, we should build a cinema and show films in the cinema and when building, construct the whole cinema so that it covers the underground parts of the cinema which will conceal the manufacture of arms. One of the people that we got involved in this idea was a fellow called Harold Kingsman. Harold Kingsman was a worker who worked with Paul Joseph in the factory, in the furniture industry. He was a very close friend of ours and we got hold of him and asked him to look up the idea and think about the whole thing because the place where we thought we could build the cinema it so happened to be in the area of Lenasia, it was a place called Grasmere. It's ironic that it happens to be Lenasia because it's an area which we were opposed to, that we were forced to move into. Harold Kingsman was given the task of drawing up the plans of the cinema with all the trimmings of a cinema, projection and so on, and also the underground basis to it so that manufacturing and the carrying out, training even of people could be carried out there.
We thought this was a splendid idea, that it could work, but our biggest obstacle was the funds, we had no money. Being a teacher I earned very little money and they said whoever can contribute towards the project should contribute and I contributed, without Sally, my wife, knowing, £200.
POM That was a lot of money at that time.
DJ It was a lot of money then because my salary was a very poor one. I set this money aside each month and I gave this money to Harold Kingsman very faithfully and the project was supposed to be taking its course. I think Harold got as far as, when I questioned him later on, months later, he said that he was busy with the foundations or something. Thereafter Mac was arrested and the whole project fell apart and of course the £200 never came back. I didn't mind that, if it had worked it would have been a great project I think, a wonderful idea.
POM Now Tim, did you meet Tim when Tim returned back to London?
DJ Yes I did, I did meet Tim but you see unfortunately I never got involved in the personal side of my comrades. In fact that is why we had a very close relationship with Mac and all my other comrades, whenever any personal relationships developed, broken partnerships or marriages broke, Sally and I never got involved in it. We felt that these were comrades of ours and their personal relationships should not involve us, we should accept them as they are. But unfortunately when Mac got involved with Zarina at the time
POM In London?
DJ In London, yes, I know the circumstances in which he got involved here. I don't know if we should skip that or - ?
POM Well you can tell me.
DJ Is it important?
POM What I will do is I will send back a transcript to you and then you can mark any bits that you say don't use.
DJ All right. You can also use your judgement. The thing is that I didn't know that Mac was going out with Zarina at the time.
POM This is when he came back in 1976?
DJ 1976, that's right. At that time I had a very good comrade who was from the Cameroons, the one Cameroonian party, his name was Ndeh Ntumazah. He was a leading member of the one Cameroonian party which was banned in the Cameroons, it was called the OK Party. We were very close to him as comrades in London, being in exile we got to know him. He lived in a house where Indres Naidoo was also associated and one day a party was being held at Ndeh's house and at this house Mac was there, Zarina was present, Zarina's husband Chips was present, Indres Naidoo and a number of other people. I wasn't present at that party, I can't recall being there. It was there that my friend Ndeh observed Mac and Zarina being in a very good relationship with each other and he said to me, "What's wrong with you comrades? You seem to be taking other people's wives every time." That was his comment and I didn't say anything to him. That's the first time I learned that there was some relationship with Mac and Zarina.
Then over a period I never asked any questions and when Mac used to come and visit me when he was abroad or had to do any work and he passed through, he'd stop at our place, have a meal and so on and we would just discuss our own relationship and so on, never anything personal. One day Mac called at our home with Zarina and I have a habit of always asking people how is one keeping, how is Tim? I asked Mac, "How is Tim?" And Mac said she's all right, he was very cagey. And then I asked Zarina, "How is Chips?" And then I think Mac realised then that I was ignorant of something and he suddenly said, "Don't you know that Zarina and I are married?" I realised then I had put my foot in it. I said, "I'm sorry, congratulations", and so on and I just left it at that. Sally was also surprised. That was the first indication we had that they were finally married.
Then it was later that we met Tim. At the time and I didn't see Mac we used to meet Tim at her sister's place, at Suri's place, Suri is a sister to Tim. Mac knows the name Suri, his sister-in-law.
POM She lives in?
DJ She used to live in London, she's now in Durban. It was then when we met Tim at her sister's place that Tim was very withdrawn and very cold towards us, very withdrawn, very cold, and she smoked heavily, her drinks were also becoming more frequent. When she spoke to us she was very abrupt, very sharp. Then I realised that her separation from Mac had affected her, I think it had affected her very much, that was sad. I didn't want to say anything, I didn't want to mention anything to her, neither did Sally. We just kept quiet and whenever we saw her and even when I went to Durban three years ago I met her at a friend's place in Durban, she just evaded us and she wasn't as friendly as she had been in the past. Then I realised that, no, I'm not going to say anything, I'm just going to appear as normal. If she wants to talk to me she can talk and that's how we kept it. So ever since then I've never had a good conversation with Tim, nor was I able to speak to her like I used to because she somehow had cut herself off completely and I realised that her separation from Mac had affected her.
POM Even after all this time.
POM I actually feel that she must have felt an awful lot of anger.
DJ She did.
POM And bitterness.
DJ She also held as if we were partly responsible, the comrades. Also I remember her being very, very angry because at the time when we cleared Mac's place we removed his own personal documents, probably his marriage certificate, his personal papers and so on and in among the papers were her personal papers related to Mac, her marriage and so on and these were destroyed. We destroyed them not because we felt we wanted to wipe her out but he didn't want any links, he wanted to be an independent person when he was arrested, he didn't want to draw anybody else in with him. I know that because that was his attitude always. When that happened she thought we did that deliberately so she held that against us. She didn't see the political side of it. I think also politically she wasn't as sharp as Mac, she wasn't clear politically for her to accept a lot of things, so you can understand her frustration, her anger. She was just an ordinary person who probably also got caught up in the whole situation and then saw the separation taking place.
POM She never remarried or anything?
DJ No, no. She is still on her own and you can say she's a different person, she's lost her personality, her whole character has changed, she's not the same, not the kind of person we knew.
POM I was going to ring her.
DJ Maybe it's worthwhile trying.
POM Mac and I have talked about it and we've talked about it as unfinished business. Something is not closed.
DJ That's right, exactly. I would say this is it, one of the major issues.
POM So I will ring her I think and just tell her what I'm doing and say I'd like to come down to Durban to talk to her.
DJ She may, you never know, she may talk. If she doesn't want to she'll tell you.
POM I'll just say that's fine if you don't want to. I would just like to meet her anyway since she played a significant part in his life. Spent six months in solitary confinement.
DJ That's true. What else was I going to tell you, there's something I was going to tell you which came to my mind. Oh yes, I will tell you this first about Mac. When Mac was held in prison his sister lived in Springs. She's known to the family, her name is Mannie.
POM Is she still alive?
DJ No she's now deceased. Her two sons I think died tragically in a car accident. Both her sons, a son and daughter died, you must check with Mac. You know a person, if you're here, will be Sally's sister who is a hairdresser, she will tell you about that because they knew about it.
POM Did Mac ever talk about his family in Newcastle?
DJ No, the only thing he told us I remember was about his father in Newcastle.
DJ The only thing I remember him telling us and we laughed, Sally is a seamstress (that's Sally my wife) and he asked her if she would be able to make his father a shirt and she said well she could because she makes all shirts and so on. But he said the only big difficulty is his father is huge and to have a shirt made for him is very, very difficult because he's really outsize. So Sally said, "Well why don't you get one of his old shirts and bring it along and I'll make it." But Mac never got that far, never got as far as to get that shirt for his Dad. Sally was waiting for all the time thinking that she will make it for him. That was the only time I remember he ever spoke about his family. His sister he spoke about and I think on about two or three occasions I came with him personally to Springs and while I was with my in laws.
POM To see her?
DJ To see her, and while I was with my in-laws Mac would go and see his sister and speak to her.
POM You say Mannie lost her two sons?
DJ Do you know the names. Suren and Hiren?
POM That was involved in a car accident?
DJ They were in a car accident.
POM About when?
DJ Eight to nine years ago.
POM So Mac would have been back in the country.
POM Then you say she also lost - ?
DJ A grandson in the same accident. Two sons and a grandson in the same car accident.
POM Oh my.
DJ That's tragic.
Kanama (Daso's sister-in-law)
Before that Mannie lost her eldest daughter, also in a car accident.
POM Also in a car accident? What a tragedy.
K She died and then her husband.
POM Did she talk about Mac?
K No, they weren't close.
DJ They weren't so close. They never spoke. When I took Mac there it was Mac and his sister so what transpired between them we don't know. That was the only sister that I know he was in contact with.
I was going to tell you before that was this thing about when Mac was arrested and when his sister Mannie died Mac was brought to the house here in Springs and he was handcuffed.
POM That's during Vula?
DJ Yes that's the Vula period, that's right, the second time. He was brought to her handcuffed and under heavy guard.
POM To the house?
DJ To the house, to his sister Mannie's house. I remember them telling me that's what happened and then what transpired after that was when I met the priest that actually carried out the ceremony for his sister on that particular day when Mac attended to be present at the funeral. This priest I met in Cape Town, he's also a Mr Maharaj, no relation to Mac Maharaj. In fact I told Mac and I gave him the address of this man and said he should contact him in order to say how much he appreciated him being there. What this priest told me, Mr Maharaj told me, was that when Mac was brought in and while he was carrying out the funeral ceremony, Hindu ceremony, Mac moved closer to the priest and then very, very quietly whispered into his ears, "Prolong the ceremony." I thought that's very appropriate, that proved to anybody that Mac was well tuned about all these things. The priest did it, the priest in fact prolonged it to such an extent that Mac spent quite a bit of time there. That was one incident.
The last thing I should tell you I think is something that is worthwhile telling you. It's that when Mac came from London to SA as an underground fighter he wanted a driving licence. His difficulty was that although he was a qualified driver and he held a driving licence he couldn't use that same licence under his name so he needed another driving licence in order to cover him for the time that he's in SA so he asked me if there was any way that I could obtain a driving licence for him. When I thought about it I remembered that one of Sally's cousins had a driving school in Germiston and maybe I could arrange something there, but I had never done this before. At the same time what sort of name would he assume, would he adopt? It wouldn't be Mac Maharaj because then he would be revealing his name and his identity. So I had another friend of mine, a lady who lived around the corner from where we lived in Fordsburg who was very close to me, non-political but very good at making ginger beer. She was very attached to me but she knew I loved her ginger beer. I went up to her, Mrs Jacobs, and I said to her, "Mrs Jacobs, you know I have got a very good friend of mine and he has a problem. He's a good driver and so on but he's afraid that his parents don't want him to drive on his name. If he drives on his name they'll be very offended because they said he shouldn't be driving at all, he's too young to drive and so on." So she said, "Well anything to help you Daso, I'll see what I can do." I said, "But the thing is what you can do is, is it possible for him to have your name, one of your names on his driving licence?" She said, "Well that's no problem", but she didn't really look into the whole question and she just accepted because I had asked her. She knew me and she said, "By all means, use the name Jacobs, there's no harm in that." I said, "Thank you" and I didn't want to say any more to it and I went away.
So myself, Sally and Mac we went to Germiston to the Govender brothers, they run a driving school in Germiston. They are relatives of Sally so they can't refuse. Anyway we went there and I introduced Mac to them, "My friend, this is Matthew Jacobs, my friend Matthew Jacobs. He is a driver but you know how it is, he's scared to go here and get a driving licence because he thinks he will fail and so on and they won't give him a driving licence. Do you think you could help me out?" Being a relative myself they couldn't refuse me and they took Mac for a spin around the block and it was a matter of about five or ten minutes. Mac was issued with a driving licence under the name of Matthew Jacobs. So when he was arrested he was arrested under the name of Matthew Jacobs because they found his driving licence, Matthew Jacobs. Mac used that driving licence for everywhere. In fact Mac was such a driver and I was saying to you, I didn't come to the point, I couldn't understand that Mac Maharaj should have been made Minister for Transport when he used to drive like Dick Tracy with me in a car to fulfil his appointments, because he was very meticulous about his appointments.
POM Being on time.
DJ And he had to be on time always. That is something always about Mac, very, very meticulous and he drove like hell. There was no question of speed. Drive and stay alive, I don't know where that came from. All the ideas that Mac put in as Minister of Transport I don't think it reveals him because he was crazy on the road, he just drove, tremendous speed and you just held your seat. At that time we had no seatbelts, there were no seatbelts then so you just sat there and you thought, well, take what's coming. That was the thing about Mac and his car.
POM You said something very interesting at the beginning, you said Mac never revealed himself, just in the encounters you've had since do you think he's always been that way?
DJ Yes. In fact what I was saying, he's a very secretive fellow, maybe it was his training and his background but he never opened himself up. In fact he never spoke to us about his personal life, he never related anything personal except about his father to us and there was some attachment to his father because he wanted that shirt made, and there was this attachment he had with his sister, definitely.
DJ Yes. That was the only one that I know he came to see and there was definitely a family relationship there. As for the rest I think it wasn't so close because he assumed that role and when you speak to Mac, if you speak to Mac very closely you will not get anything very personal out of him. He's very secretive in his own way and that's how he was. That I find very difficult because to think that a fellow who's been like that and developed good relationships with people like myself and my brother and family, at no time did he reveal himself, his own personal feelings. It is strange, that is very strange.
POM Yes that's Mac.
DJ The other thing I would like to add to that which I think is very important is when he gave me one of the biggest surprises and shocks when he quit the SACP. I couldn't understand that because having worked with me in that environment that he could have taken a decision and he never discussed it with me. He never discussed it with Paul as to why he had left them. Surely that is something you would discuss with your comrades? If you have something that is something wrong there you'll say, look I didn't agree with this, I disagree with that. But I think he did have a lot of disagreement with the party as indicated earlier with the Piet Beyleveld thing so there must have been a lot of disagreement but that was the only indication I had.
POM Yes, I know all these things. I must give you a call when I get to London. Your number there is? I will definitely call you.
DJ I think so far, didn't you want to see Sally at some point?
POM Yes I'll see her in London.
DJ I think basically we've covered a lot.
POM If there's anything that comes across your mind.
DJ I hope that's been helpful.
POM Oh it is extremely helpful.
DJ The other thing I was going to tell you that it's fortunate I could talk to you now in this respect because there was nobody there apart from Mac who could confirm that I was an MK member and as a result of that I'm not getting my MK pension.
POM You're not or you are?
DJ I've been applying and applying. They've given me the pension now after Mac intervened, they're giving me the pension I should have got but as an MK member, which the other MK guys get, my brother Paul nor I, nor Peter my other brother who was also active all the way, he never got any pension. Peter hid Bob Hepple in his house, Walter Sisulu, he was arrested and all and they ignored all those things. There's a letter from Nelson Mandela thanking him when he was on Robben Island for smuggling in food from the company he worked for. He secretly acquired food from the company, he took it from there, packed up the van and took loads of food to Winnie Mandela while Nelson was still in prison. All his activities have not been recognised although he presented it all, they say he does not qualify for a pension. He also drove three of the 'Great Escape' colleagues, Mosey Moolla, Abdulhay Jassat, Harold Wolpe in the early hours of the morning of their escape from Marshall Square when he was returning home after his work as a waiter.
POM So only you.
DJ I get the ordinary pension, Paul gets the ordinary pension.
POM Does Paul get a pension?
DJ He gets the pension but he doesn't get an MK pension and he was an MK member, I was an MK member. In fact we worked I worked as MK to the last you could say with Mac. All the other guys were gone, they were either in prison or something because I got no instructions from anybody outside except Mac. When I wrote and referred to Mac as one who could vouch for me and so on they've just thrown my letters away. I went there, I spoke to them in Pretoria and all they did was they said, "Well we're processing it and so on", but it's now over six years or more they haven't. Peter is the same and Paul is the same. Paul and I get the special pension that's all. They're all getting their MK pensions but we're not getting it for the simple reason there's nobody there to vouch for us except Mac.
POM And they won't take Mac's word?
DJ Well I don't know if Mac mentioned it.
POM I will mention it to Mac tomorrow. OK. You can be damn sure I will, OK?
DJ Because the application has been there for over six years and they only gave me now because of Mac, they gave me the political pension but they've omitted the MK one. I've written to them to say thank you very much that you've rectified this after six years and you've now recognised that I am a political veteran but I still think you've overlooked the fact that I was an MK member.
POM You were one of the first.
POM What ministry is this?
DJ Pension Administration. **
POM I will bring it up tomorrow with Mac. I'll make him make a telephone call.
DJ I even wrote to Mac about it. He didn't reply.
POM Well I'll bring it up tomorrow. I have him again tomorrow.
DJ I made further enquiries. The Chief of the Military, Siphiwe Nyanda (who does not know me) has to be approached by Comrade Mac and they only can deal with Paul, Peter and my claim to MK. Peter has a very strong case for a special political pension (now a veteran whom Nelson and Walter regularly meet and speak with.) Peter is highly regarded by them, even Winnie! Why shouldn't he receive this recognition while scoundrels who have been discredited have?