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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
21 Feb 2003: Aboobaker, Rashid Ismail
POM I think the best way to go about this is simply for me to throw some questions to you regarding Mac. He had said to me that there were close points of interaction when you were in exile and close points of interaction on occasion when you were working.
POM Maybe I will start with one that he said just ask Rashid about it and that was about he for one period was out of sight for about six months. He was in Swaziland and when I asked him about it he just said, "Ask Rashid, he'll tell you all about it."
AI OK. You've got to say which period you're talking of.
POM I guess this would be, it would be a six month period, so it would be post his release, post 1978.
AI Because at various times, I'm trying to work out whether you're talking Operation Vula or if you're talking about another time.
POM I'm talking about another time prior to Operation Vula. He wouldn't have been in the country if it had been six months when he was in Swaziland.
AI Yes. You see would this be in sort of 1981/82 period?
AI Right. We're talking about what we called then Operation Green Vegetables. I find it difficult to start talking over the phone because I'm not used to that. Let's see how it goes. I was involved quite closely, or say directly involved with Special Operations and the operations against the oil refineries, against Sasol and Natraf and those. Because of the formation of the Special Operations unit which was a very close-knit and a small unit that was created especially to carry out operations against strategic targets
POM How many of you were in it altogether?
AI Well there was the President, OR Tambo, Joe Slovo, there was Obadi Mogabodi(?) who subsequently died in Motola in 1981, during the Motola raid when the SADF carried out the operation. There was I, who was the Commissar of the operation, of the unit at the time. Then there were about twelve comrades, combatants who were sent into the country to carry out the operation. I had also come into the country earlier on but we hadn't gotten to talking about that the last time when we met. Just to say to you that this unit was established as per agreement between Joe Slovo and President Tambo at the time. The agreement or the mandate that had been given by the NEC at the time was that the specific targets and the nature of the operations that the unit was going to be carrying out would not be told to the NEC. Tambo was given the mandate to take charge of those special operations himself and, as you may know, those were highly successful operations where we carried out co-ordinated strikes against the apartheid regime in one of the critical areas, one of the strategic areas, and that is the whole question of the fuel supplies that fed the economy and the military.
Now flowing from that the Revolutionary Council, and I'm sure you've come across that concept before, the RC of which Mac was a member decided that the RC also had to carry out some strategic operations and they then tasked Mac to set up a unit to deal with that kind of operation.
POM When you say 'that kind' what kind of operation did they engage in?
AI Well I'm talking of Special Operations.
POM So they had a Special Operations unit of?
AI They ask Mac to set one up. You see the Special Operations, the one that was set up by us was the equivalent of, say, a special forces unit with specially hand selected cadres, etc., that carried out the operations. These were highly successful. Now the RC then felt that they needed to try something similar to setting up a special task force or special unit to carry out also major operations inside the country and they tasked Mac to do that.
POM Have you any idea why they would set up a duplicate service so to speak, especially when your unit was being so successful?
AI Well when some units are successful people try to also have
POM They try to get in on the act.
AI rivalry, it was a bit of healthy rivalry, let's say, because the special forces that we had set up were set up with a specific mandate to deal with strategic targets and things and because this is a guess on my part I mean really you would have to take the question up with people who were on the RC or ask Mac himself.
POM I'll ask Mac himself, yes.
AI As to why this was done. All I can say to you is what was done. I don't know what was in their minds.
AI But Mac was then given a specific mandate and the operation that they then wanted to deal with, or that Mac then started working on or putting together, was the whole question of carrying out attacks against military personnel but these were military personnel you know each year at the time the SADF used to have a call up at the beginning of the year and they had one mid year, and each year when they had these call ups, these were all these youngsters that had just finished schooling and things and at the age of 17, 18 they had to go into their two years of conscription camp, it was for their conscription, and the concept was that when these people had come to their assembly point and when they were being moved to the training points on the trains and things, MK would take them on on the trains. So really it was to sabotage the lines when the trains were on there and then to go in and deal with the units.
POM Deal with the trainees?
AI Recruits, the fresh trainees. Hence the issue of Green Vegetables because these were pretty greenhorns.
POM Yes. So the idea was to kill them?
AI Well we were at war.
POM I know, I know, but sometimes you use such polite phrases. George Bush has never used the word 'war' in the last six months.
AI Well nobody goes to war any more, it's a state of national defence or they're destroying weapons of mass destruction.
POM That's right, but they never use the war word.
AI You're right about that but they do believe in killing. I'm trying to point out to you what was the thinking or the objectives. Now at that time Mac had requested he was put in as the commander so just like Slovo was given the mandate to be the commander of the Special Operations Unit Mac would have the same status and level as Slovo to be able to do this except that in Mac's case he would report to the RC on what he was doing but he was given a pretty free hand in terms of having to put the plan together and see to its implementation. At the time Mac then spoke to Slovo about me joining him on the task team, on the command. Slovo did not agree to that because Slovo then said to Mac, "Look we were extremely busy with a set of further plans."
POM You're on your own.
AI And he would not release me for that purpose but there was agreement between them that wherever Mac needed advice or assistance I would be able to give that assistance to Mac. Mac then went ahead and established a small command and it was at that time that he moved from Lusaka into Maputo and then from Maputo he operated primarily from Swaziland and it was around that operation. Now during that time he was given the right to access the different commands within MK but more specifically what they wanted to carry out was a co-ordinated operation of attack in Natal, in the then Eastern Transvaal (today Mpumalanga), in the Gauteng area as we know it today and also in other parts of the country wherever they could identify these specific trains that were carrying these new recruits and then deal with those trains and then have a crack squad that would go in once they've derailed the trains and deal with the
POM With whoever was on the train.
AI Yes. Mac was then given a mandate to recruit people from any of the front commands. Now I take it you know about the front commands, how they were organised?
POM No I don't.
AI You don't?
POM Point me where I should go to find out or just
AI You see I could describe all of it to you but it would take a long time.
POM Give me a summary.
AI MK - you see I'm trying to determine how much you know about MK and its organisational structure.
POM I don't know.
AI Even when I talk about Special Operations we've got to be able to locate it and say what was the context, what stage of the struggle had we reached, where were we at, what was the thinking of the time? Let's start. Basically the MK commands - you had at the time GCHQ or General Command Headquarters which subsequently became the military headquarters. In the old days, in the sixties in Mandela and Mac's days, I'm talking of the sixties, you had the High Command. Now the High Command I think and then through those years there wasn't much of a High Command except in exile where you had a command level outside, but a very loose structure in organisation. These structures started coalescing about 1976/77 onwards and at that time from 1976/77 GCHQ had been established basically with Joe Modise as Commander. We had Joe Slovo on there, Cassius Make that was looking after logistics which dealt with the ordinance, and then the general support that was required you had Mzwai Piliso that looked after the personnel and training. It was a very small command structure. In Angola after 1976 they had also established a small structure to support them and to look after the camps and Mzwai Piliso looked after the camps. You also had Andrew Masondo who then, after he came off from Robben Island and went into exile, became the National Commissar. You will actually find some of this information in various books.
POM OK, leave that to me.
AI OK. Now the front command were organised basically you had commanders that were based in Lusaka, Zambia, that dealt with the western front and then you had others that dealt with the eastern front which were based in Mozambique. Whilst Modise was based in Lusaka to look after the commands from the west, Slovo was based in Maputo and looked after the commands based in the east. What had happened was that the country was divided into two broad areas using the highway from, say, Johannesburg, Pretoria going northwards to Beit Bridge as the dividing line. Everything west of it would be part of the western command, everything east of it would be eastern command. So you would have the Eastern Transvaal, Natal and then the Johannesburg/Pretoria area was an area where both of the commands had access into because it was the heart of the country and it was such an important area strategically. Lesotho, they also had sent Chris Hani and Lambert Moloi to look after the commands from Lesotho but because of having to traverse the country they were given a bit of autonomy and Chris Hani and Lambert Moloi were responsible for looking at operations into the Cape and parts of the Free State. But generally the main commands were operating on the west and the east and each of those areas in the provinces were also sub-divided into the urban and rural because the operating conditions in the urban and rural were very different so you had commands for either of those.
POM Now did they have people on the ground in these commands?
AI Yes. What happened actually was that in Botswana you had the actual commanders and in the west you had Keith Mokwape and Snukie Zikalala at the time that were based in Botswana and they would commute between Lusaka and Botswana. On the eastern side you had the two Natal commands, urban and rural, and you had two Transvaal commands, urban and rural.
To come back to the Green Vegetables issue, Mac was given the mandate to recruit any of the commanders to assist him in putting the operation together. Primarily he then got people from the Transvaal Rural Command to assist and then also the Transvaal Urban people to assist.
POM Now where were they based?
AI They were based primarily in Swaziland. In the Transvaal and I must just say there also were counterpart to the military structures, there were also political structures because these were responsible for doing political work amongst the population, for linking with the unions and were responsible for the mobilisation of the people. Theoretically the approach that was taken by the ANC was that we would go in and mobilise the people, prepare the groundwork as it were for the armed units to be able to go in. Quite often you found that people were quite reluctant, especially in the rural areas being more conservative but also bearing the brunt of the apartheid machinery and with the farmers and things like that.
POM Yes, the commandos.
AI Being reluctant to participate in the armed struggle or anything, or often not being aware of what was going on. In the urban areas it was easier to mobilise, it was easier to get the messages through, etc., and you will find that in the SA context what is a very important thing, unlike other liberation movements and guerrilla struggles, is that where normally people moved from the borders of the country towards the urban centres, in SA we had the inverse where in fact we moved into the heart of the country into the urban centres and that was largely because of the growth and were moving from there outward into the rural areas. So it was of a very different nature.
POM The inverse of what was the usual in other countries.
AI Yes. And what we understood and what we did very clearly was we went in and worked amongst our people and of course it was easiest to work amongst the most enlightened of the people which were the workers. So often they became the basis within which we operated and worked from there. The command had infiltration routes into the country, they had units inside the country, people that supported the ANC and were also prepared to keep people there. Often what used to happen, especially in the more rural context was an operational tour would be carried out which would also be there to create a consciousness and an awareness of what was going on inside the country and in fact, to come back to Special Operations, the operations against Sasol and things, they had a tremendous mobilising effect, in fact what we called armed propaganda effect on the population. So people became aware of what was going on and why these operations were being carried out. In fact by the time when Mac was undertaking this operation the townships were ablaze because everybody, it had captured the imagination of the people that MK was able to carry out massive strikes against the apartheid regime right in the heart of the country and co-ordinated strikes which the regime was not able to hide.
Inside of that context we were now saying we needed to start moving against enemy personnel and Mac has this mandate. He then uses these command structures, he has discussions with the various commanders. The commander of Transvaal Urban at the time was Siphiwe Nyanda, he was then known as Comrade Gebhuza, today he's the Chief of the Defence Force.
POM Yes. OK.
AI The Transvaal Rural we had a comrade by the name of Robbie Moema(?) and another comrade, I don't know his real name but we used to call him Thabo Mosquito. I'll try to get you the real names at some point. In the counterpart to the Transvaal political machineries was also a comrade by the name of Archie who was quite involved with Mac. He came from the political structures and Mac was responsible in fact Mac was one of the key role players in the political structures of the movement under the RC.
POM Yes he was secretary for the Internal Political Reconstruction & Development.
AI Yes that was the political arm. Now he had the access those were units that reported directly to him. You had people like Archie and where there was a military structure there was a political counterpart for each area. In the Natal area you had a comrade by the name of Blackman, don't ask me his real name, I'm not sure if I know it but I can get you those names. Mac might know them too. For the Natal Urban you had a comrade by the name of Conquerer.
POM Don't worry about it we'll get it in the run back.
AI He was also one of these people that was killed in Motola. It was Ndu, so at the time when these structures were set up there was someone else that took over. Oh, it would be anyway I'll give you the names. I can picture the people.
Mac then moved from Lusaka into Maputo. He had various discussions about the plans and how best to go about it, how best to identify the trains, which were the recruitment centres, what were the times, trying to get information. Initially he had to put together all the information about the recruitment and the movements of all of these troops and then to identify. It wasn't given that he had to attack them on the trains, he had to find the best possible means of dealing with them whether stationery or on the move but at the same time also recognising that if you went into any operation it had to be done in a way that the units carrying out the operation were also able to get away. Whilst many of the assembly points were in the cities, for instance in Auckland Park where the old show grounds were which is now part of Wits, that is where they had one of the assembly points for instance. They had various assembly points in the Pretoria area and from there these troopies would then be taken to their various training zones for specialisation and the areas that they were going to go to.
You must recall that during this time, there was no question of people that were allowed to become objectors. There was the whole question of political objectors at the time. This only came by about 1985/86 during the state of emergency. Prior to that in fact most of the white youth went for military training. They did it well it was given to do, for fatherland and what have you.
POM You're being kind.
AI I at various times, whenever I could, he would have discussions with me and I would advise him on the operations, on what he was looking at but I was not able to assist him to any enormous extent because I was quite caught up in the plans that we were dealing with.
POM In your own stuff, yes.
AI And we were at that time dealing with a number of major operations. We were dealing with the operations against the power stations, we were dealing with operations against Voortrekkerhoogte which was the heart of the SADF, where the main military bases are. I was also working on an operation on Koeberg, the nuclear power station. At some point I must also tell you about that because in fact the person we utilised in that operation came to us from Mac.
POM Is this the guy he found in Harare?
AI Yes. Rodney Wilkinson.
AI I must relate that to you as Mac was in that and say how it got dealt with. But to come back to Green Vegetables, Mac spent all of that six months or so in Swaziland sending units into the country to carry out reconnaissance having determined how best he was going to be able to carry out an operation having created the concept of the operation and then needing to verify, needing to get the equipment into the country, needing to get the units that were going to carry out the operations into the country, seeing to their safe withdrawal from within the country. So there was an enormous amount of
POM Organisational work.
AI - that goes into it. That's what he was doing in Swaziland. Now Mac can fill you in with detail on that. If you can speak to Archie, he was called Archie Abrahams at the time, if you can speak to Ivan Pillay, they will be able to tell you about what exactly Mac had asked them to do, the kind of information he needed to collect. Because Mac used a lot of his political resources also inside the country to get the initial information on the call-ups, that means dates, times, venues, any movement plans, how they were organised, what they were doing. In fact he put together a very, very elaborate plan to carry out an attack against a number of targets.
POM That's Mac. He goes for the whole thing.
AI We all like to do everything at once, smite the enemy down all in one go. It's a lesson I learnt, in fact Joe Slovo whenever we used to talk about these operations he'd say, "Well we can do maybe five co-ordinated - " He'd say, "Listen chaps, there's always exponential growth in terms of the amount of logistical input that has to go into it." It's not linear because it doubles with every additional operation you want to carry out and the risk of exposure also grows exponentially.
They then finally decided on, I think it was about four areas where they could take the operation on. They were looking at one of the areas was in the Eastern Transvaal, as you go into the high ground, along the railway line into the Drakensberg mountain areas, the thing they had to achieve was to derail the train so the concept was to blow the rails, derail the train and then send in a unit to deal with these guys. The number of people that actually protected or defended these trains was minimal.
POM Is that right?
AI Yes, at the time, because the enemy part of the enemy's problem, part of the regime's problem at the time was continuously under-estimating the capacity and that is also fed by apartheid thinking. You know, blacks can't think, they can't do, they can't fight, and the whites are there, they're going to rule the world, they're going to bully everybody around, etc. In fact it is that very thinking that we sometimes used against them. When we needed to bring weapons and things into the country we recruited whites to bring them across the borders. We knew to get a woman, show a leg and you get all these soldiers at the borders, they're supposed to be doing all this checking
POM Yes, I got across the border from Mozambique once by using two Playboy issues I bought especially and putting them in nice conspicuous places and I was across the border without anybody looking at anything.
AI I must relay some of those stories to you some time. It's amazing what you can do. But because of that mentality in that time, whites will never act against you, all whites are for apartheid, etc., which largely they were unfortunately but that's the reality of the time.
You see Mac and them actually started identifying. The big problem they had was identifying the right train because at that time, unlike today where people travel mainly in these minibuses and things, the main form of transport for the black population was the trains. The units had to be absolutely certain that they only took on the right train. The big question is identify time, movement, schedules. Had they been able to get information that worked in the Railways, and I think that was the crux of it, I remember having long discussions with Mac and saying, "How are you going to identify those?" You've got to track the movement, you've got to have spotters all the way along the routes verifying where the train is at all times and then tracking its movement and saying that is the one. That meant the only way they were going to be able to hit that train was to have someone sitting there with the trigger mechanism alongside the railway tracks spotting. That meant they had to get information all the way along the line. Remember in those days cell phones were
POM Non-existent, yes.
AI How do you relay information? What signal systems do you have? Can you actually verify all of those and then at the precise moment be there to hit those targets? Even then you would have security units that would be supporting the main unit and you'd have the attacking unit that would go in.
POM Once the train was derailed.
AI Derailed or stopped. I think from an operational concept perspective, and look, I discussed those things with Mac but I wasn't involved in the planning directly. It was left to Mac and those command units that had to do this. But Mac went a long way in dealing with those operations and got to the point where they had people in - unfortunately they never got to the point to be able to carry it out. They had identified, and I think with time they kept having to narrow it down because they were also racing against time. This event happened at a particular point in time and within a week all the people were moved from the assembly point to the barracks. After that that operation had to wait for another six months so he was also under terrific time pressure. It's not like when you have a static target, you can choose a time when you're going to go in but you're also moving against a target that's in motion and I think that was essentially the difficulty that Mac had, and then the communication problems with the units that were going in and out of the country, bringing information, getting there to deal with it. I think if it had been one or two points with the command being there right at that point in time with all the equipment around that, then it could be carried out.
POM What happened did it just peter out?
AI Eventually yes, they just couldn't make the targets. The big issue became identification of the train, getting the information to the people at the right time and being able to carry it out and then the fear that if you hit the wrong train can you imagine the political fallout if you hit a train full of blacks?
POM You blame it on the government. That's what you do very quickly.
AI Blame it on Saddam.
POM Let's for a moment just concentrate on Mac. When did you first bump into him? How did you two meet?
AI I first met Mac in 1977/78. I had already left the country, remember, in 1976. I told you about that. Mac was released in 1976 and then I think he left the country in about late 1977 if I recall. He then left the country late 1977/early 1978 and then he came through to London.
POM It was because he had to transcribe the autobiography of Mandela.
AI I think it was his first trip to London, not the first, it would be the second or so or third trip. He was in London and I was in London at that time where I met Mac and that was a very short meeting with Mac because prior to that I had been in Belgium and I had come to London and I was in that waiting period, waiting to go for military training. That was 1977, late 1977. It would have been about August or September of 1977, that's when I met him.
POM That would be right. OK.
AI Subsequent to that I met with him again, it was end of 1978, I had just finished my military training and was in Funda Camp and the RC held a meeting in Funda at the time. That would be end 1978/early 1979. At that time I was an instructor at Funda when the RC had their meeting there. We normally had discussions about things, etc., but it wasn't on any formal basis. Then I would have met with Mac at various times, Mac came to the camps from time to time but for any longer period would have been from 1979 1980 and I would have met him with Joe Slovo and others, also with Sue Rabkin.
POM Now in terms of your interactions in work, where were the overlapping areas when the two of you would be involved prior to Vula and during Vula?
AI It was in terms of look I was primarily in military structures and in special operations. Mac dealt primarily with political structures. So formally we didn't have much of an interaction in terms of work at that time except for this operation, Green Vegetables, and then subsequently when we dealt with the whole question of the Koeberg operation.
POM So on that one he had recruited somebody who had worked at Koeberg?
POM Do you want to talk about how that was mounted and carried out?
AI I can do that. With regards to Green Vegetables if you have questions we can go into further detail but you'll have to say what more you want. I think maybe you should talk to others and then maybe we can talk about it again.
With regards to Koeberg Mac through his contacts, Jane and Jeremy Brickhill in Zimbabwe, they had put him in touch Rodney Wilkinson and his girlfriend at the time had come to Zimbabwe and were living there and Rodney Wilkinson was put in touch with Mac. Mac then had various discussions with Rodney Wilkinson. What Rodney Wilkinson also had done and what he had was a set of plans of the Koeberg Nuclear Plant as it was being built.
POM He had a set of those plans? How did he get those?
AI Yes. He was the draftsman. He worked for one of the companies that was contracted to work on the building of that plant and he, I never asked him how he managed to get those plans out of the country at the time, but he had brought them to Harare. These were handed over to Mac. Mac then having had discussions with Rodney Wilkinson, and you should talk to Rodney Wilkinson about his interaction with Mac, then Mac having satisfied himself that this wasn't someone who was just pulling one or was an enemy agent or something, Mac was quite impressed with him and Mac then took this information and had discussions with Joe Slovo. Now Mac was very impressed with the capacity that Special Operations had, that our units had because by then we had carried out the operations against Sasol, we'd succeeded in the operations against the power station, we were going on with operations against the Voortrekkerhoogte. Mac passed this information on to Joe Slovo. He said, "Look, here's somebody that's in Zimbabwe. You people have the capacity, you have the ability to carry out this operation, see what you can do with it." Joe Slovo then took those plans and gave them to me and I read into those plans look, I come from a science background but I don't have full knowledge about all of the nuclear physics part. I had done physics and things.
POM You'd be in Iraq at the moment!
AI Well I was looking at those people and I reckon I'm better trained than some of the people that got sent there.
POM Yes I know, three of them. I looked and said what the hell are they doing going?
AI We had those plans. I then assessed those plans, looked at the issues and things, had discussions with Joe Slovo and said this was very doable. What we needed to do was find out whether this individual would best bet, send that individual back - we were looking at the options whether we should get this person in, which would have been the best bet. Secondly, if we couldn't we would get all the information from this person and thereafter look at the planning of the operation. Joe Slovo then - I had travelled to Zimbabwe to go and meet with this person.
POM With Rodney?
AI With Rodney, and at that time I didn't have travel documents and I was extremely busy with some of the other operations so we had one of the other comrades that was going to Harare at the time, Comrade Farouk, Mohammed Timol. He then was given all the information with regards to the contact of this person, of Rodney, and Mac was also asked to inform Jane and Jeremy Brickhill that Farouk would come and have discussions with Rodney. My discussion with Farouk was basically that he needed to get Rodney to come and see me in Swaziland. The approach that we were taking was, basically, that he should ask Rodney whether he was prepared to go back into the country or not. If he was he should meet with us. If he was not prepared to go back into the country then he should come to Maputo but we didn't want him to come to Maputo unless it was absolutely required because we didn't want to blow his cover.
Farouk went to Harare, met with Rodney and agreed with him and Rodney, being the kind of person that he is, someone who is quite gung-ho, ready to go into anything, agreed that he would go back into the country if required. His instructions at the time were to go back into the country and see if you can get your old job back, alternatively find another job but back in the plant. So we had sent some money with Farouk, he handed this over to Rodney and he went back in with instructions that he return to Swaziland within a few weeks to meet with me with proper arrangements for where he would meet with me, how I would contact him and things like that. I'm not going into specific detail.
On that basis Rodney went back in. He sent me a message within a very short space of time that in fact he was able to get his old job back which was wonderful news for us, and that he was going to be based in Cape Town and would come and see me a week later or so. So on that date I went to Swaziland and from thereon we started planning the operation and took the operation forward.
As far as Mac goes I think this was again, I'm not going to relate the whole question of carrying out of that operation because there's a whole series of details with regards to it and I think we have written some articles on that as well. You'll find stuff in various newspapers. I think the best one that you would find is in the Independent newspaper about 1995, somewhere there. I think it was written by Esther, 1995, Independent archives, where the entire operation is described from an operational perspective and things. I'll talk you through it if you need to. But just to say Mac again was able to look at the potential of an operative, size a person up and said to us very clearly, "This guy will go in for you guys, you need to move quickly on it." And, again, he wasn't saying look, I think I can pull this operation myself and therefore I'll hoard it or I'll keep it to myself. He was someone who was very willing and said that in the interests of the struggle, yes I'm saying that you people can do better possibly than he could do also because of the military knowledge and expertise in terms of dealing with those targets. My job in terms of dealing with that operation was to guide and direct Rodney in terms of what he should be able to take out which was to get him to describe to me, read the plans and things and then have discussions with him and say OK, let's see what kind of access we could get, which is what we were able to do quite well. In fact Rodney and I worked up to a very close working relationship there. He was able to tell me what he was doing and I would say to him, now try to do this, do that, do that, etc., and I would guide him through the process. Being on the inside of the plant he was able to get the equipment in and then carry out the operation.
POM Let me go to the archives, I'll send somebody to the archives first and if I want to get back to you on it I will get back later. There were two incidents I wanted to talk about and one was information that was conveyed to you regarding an enemy agent in Botswana. It was somebody called McKenzie?
AI Yes, Keith McKenzie.
POM Weapons were loaded with explosive and he was going to meet you to deliver it?
AI Well he was supposed to meet some of them under me.
POM Somebody else, yes. But the guy
AI Well we managed to capture him rather than he blow us up.
POM Yes, but that was on the basis of information well Mac says it was on the basis of information that he was getting through a guy called Rocky Williams who also comes up in relation to the government wanting to get hold of your fingerprints, that they had no idea who you were.
AI Look I don't know about all of the detail of where that information came from. What I can tell you is, now I'm just trying to think of what year this was, this would be the late eighties, but you're saying Rocky Williams?
AI No you see because Rocky Williams I thought worked quite closely with Hassen Ebrahim.
POM That's right, he'd been recruited by Hassen Ebrahim.
AI I didn't know it was Rocky that provided because I thought this information came via other intelligence sources within the SAPS. What happened there, and I can just relate what I was told, is, now I forget the year, it could be late about 1987, 1988 somewhere there, yes it would be around 1988. What had happened is I was in Botswana on one of my trips and I had to be in touch with Helena Dolny, Joe Slovo's wife at the time about some matter and I called her from Botswana, she was in London at the time. Joe Slovo also was in London at the time. It so happened that they weren't in at the time that I had called so I left a return number which I rarely do but because I was calling London I took the chance of doing that which was fortuitous. The next morning I got a call back and I had been staying with some contacts underground there and I spoke to Helena about whatever I had to deal with and then I had Joe Slovo on the line. Helena said, "Oh just hold on, Joe wants to talk to you." So Joe came on the line and he said to me, "Rashid, do you recall", because at some point I had described some incident that had happened at a hotel in Gaborone to him and I don't know why I had done that or whatever because Joe and I were very, very close having worked through Sasol and all of those operations. He then said to me, "Do you recall an incident where you described the following to me, that you went to meet this guy and you had some juice or something like that, etc.?" So I said, "Yes, what about it?" He said, "Well there's some information but all we know is that there's someone, an enemy agent, and this person met with you and the glass that you drank from, etc., this person preserved and took back across the border because they're trying to get fingerprints and things off that."
Now initially I was trying to recall this incident when he first described to me, because I went quite cold thinking about it and he said, "Just think about this because only you know because you related this incident to me." I lay on the bed for a while because when you get information like this, suddenly, oops, what are the implications of this? So I thought about this, thought about this and after a while I made up my mind and I thought, OK, this could possibly be the person. Well I had completed my conversation with Joe and said OK we'll deal with the matter.
Ivan went and spoke to the people that worked with me in Botswana who were responsible for infiltration of material and cadres and things like that and these were very good comrades. I had worked with them over the years and I said to them, "Look there's some information of this type. I think it's this person. Think about it. It's the only person that we would have met under such circumstances or whatever." Now McKenzie was someone that we had started having some suspicions about previously because much of the material that he was taking into the country for us, many of the cadres were reporting back that they couldn't find it or they were cached in areas which they found unusual. We'd been thinking about it and trying to do some investigating into it and then came this information. So on the basis of this I had some discussions with the chaps and McKenzie was supposed to come and see us that very weekend when I got the information. This was on a Wednesday or Thursday when I got this information from Joe. I didn't know the source of the information that came to Joe. Ivan said to the chaps, "Look we need to verify this information", because the last thing you want to do is act against any cadre purely on the basis of untested information and there was no name given. All we were told is that these were the circumstances under which you met this person, that is the guy. Now we were guessing because we needed lots of cadres.
Whenever we went into the forward areas, Botswana, Swaziland, we would meet with cadres and now you're trying to think who exactly is it. We had to be careful we were moving against the right person. With Comrade Chris, who was one of the chaps who worked with me, and Teeman(?) who was the other comrade, we worked out an approach where I would try to get the information but we then decided we should try to delay McKenzie coming to Botswana that weekend. So we formed a plan that we would delay his coming, so Chris and Teeman then went and contacted McKenzie in the country and before they could suggest that he not come that weekend, McKenzie said he couldn't come that weekend. It was one of those things, so they said, "OK, great, when can you come? Next week?" So he said, "Yes, next week", definitely he will be able to come the following week. They then came and told me so I said, OK, well that gives me another week within which to plan and carry out and try to check the information out.
In that process then, while I was in Botswana, I got a message relayed through a contact that the President, Tambo, wanted to see me and that I was to go back to Lusaka immediately. I had a hunch that it was probably around this issue. What I then did is I worked out plans with Teeman and Chris, my people in Botswana, and said to them, "I think I'm being recalled to talk about this issue. I'm pretty certain it is this person." We then worked out a set of codes and we worked out a plan whereby when McKenzie came he wasn't to be allowed to go to any of the places that he normally went to but they should immediately take him to the north of Botswana and then that night they were to take him across the border but they were only to do that subject to me confirming to them the information otherwise they were to have dealt with him normally. But I said to them that I was 80% sure at that time that it is that person because I kept thinking about the issues and saying it can only be him. I then left Botswana and went back to Lusaka and went and met with the President. He then said to me
POM Now what function was he operating at that time?
AI Well he was President of the ANC, he was also Commander in Chief of MK.
POM Sorry, I don't mean
AI Not OR? Who are you talking of then?
POM You said you went back to see?
AI I went back to see the President.
POM Oh sorry, OR.
AI OR, yes.
POM OK, I just got confused.
AI Because the message I had was that the President wanted to see me, OR wanted to see me so I then went back to meet with OR. I went to OR's office and he sat me down. OR was a very cautious man, I had dealt with him previously with Special Operations during that time and I had a very great affinity for him. He sat me down and then he would take out his piece of paper and he would write on the piece of paper, and he said, "Look we have an informer", and he relayed information to me. The information I got was pretty much what Joe Slovo had said to me over the telephone. So I said to him, "Comrade President, I need a name." He said to me, "Sorry Rashid but that's all we've got." I said, "But I have this information", and I told him that I had the information from Joe and we'd been working on it. I had a hunch about who it is but I need conformation. He said to me, "Look, from the sources that's all that he's been told." So the intelligence structures had fed the information through to him and he then relayed the information to me but it was being taken so seriously that I was actually told, "You go and see the President himself."
On the basis of that I went back to the place I stayed in, thought about it some more and then decided it couldn't be anybody else. Then I called my comrades in Botswana and I told them that the information we had from the President was the same as what we had previously but now I was taking the decision and instructing them to go ahead with the operation against McKenzie. On the basis of that McKenzie then came to Botswana the following Saturday, yes it was Saturday morning that they met with him. They had a place where they normally met with him. Immediately after that he said he wanted to go back to the hotel and they said, "No, no, Rashid wants to meet with you, he's just some distance away, can we go and meet with him?" So this chap said, "Yes, OK, sure." They pushed him into it and in the process what they did is they'd organised one or two comrades from the other units to assist in this process.
Now that I think of it this was actually about 1986, it wasn't 1987. It was before I became Chief of Ordinance. What we then did was they arranged for people from the Logistics Unit. There was another comrade called Alan who was part of the logistics structures, the ordinance structures in Botswana. So between them they contrived to get this chap and his girl friend quite drunk in his kombi and they then drove the kombi. So they bought him a nice quantity of booze and this chap really liked his booze so they pumped him with booze and they drove north. This chap after two or three hours of drinking became drowsy, fell asleep and the critical point for them was they needed to get past Francistown and there was normally a road block that was manned by the Botswana police at the time so they needed to get past this roadblock. Fortunately for them they didn't have any problem getting past this roadblock. Later when this chap McKenzie woke up he said, "Hey, what's happening? Where are we going to? You said two hours or so, now we've been going for four hours, what's happening?" They said, "No, no, no, it's just a bit further, beyond there." And they continued driving. At that time they knew they were past any of these check points. They continued driving and then towards evening, about six in the evening or so, this chap started getting really worried because he realised he was quite far north and he said, "What's happening?" So they said, "No, Rashid is just here." At this point this chap starts sobering up again.
POM Very quickly!
AI Yes. Then they waited till dusk and they got to the border area and now they had to get across the river because they were doing an illegal crossing. At that point they said, "Come, let's go." So the chap said, "No, where are we going?" They had their weapons that they'd concealed in the kombi, they took out their rifles and they said to the guy, they just knocked him on his legs, "Come, let's go." "Hey, what's happening?" They said, "You know what's happening." He became very docile. They just said to him, "March." They took him and his girl friend, took them to the rubber dinghies that we normally used to cross the river with, across the Zambezi. At that point, at the confluence between Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, there's a very small gap between Botswana and Zambia so the chaps could cross across there. They then went across into Zambia, that takes quite a few hours of crossing because they had to trudge through the plain, cross the river and then get onto the other side so early morning they got on the Zambian side. On the Zambian side we normally had a house that we kept there which was normally used for this kind of crossing. They kept this chap there until dawn and then from there they said to him, "Let's go." At that time he wanted to know where he was and he was told he was in Zambia. They then took him and brought him through to Lusaka.
I had laid out a complete plan whereby the people in Zambia also took this chap and took him to the residence where many of the new recruits were kept, a place which we called RC where previously the Revolutionary Council used to operate from. They then came to tell me that this chap was there. I then went to the Intelligence and Security chief, Jacob Zuma, who was amongst the top command of the intelligence structures, and said to him, "You remember the information you people gave to me about this chap? Well we've got him here." And they were quite surprised because we didn't let anybody know what we were doing, when we were going to do it, etc. That was normally my modus operandi. I kept total control of those operations.
So I said to them I needed them to set up their security panel to do the interrogation and we would support their interrogation fully and the chap was there. I think within hours of this chap having landed there we found that there were certain people walking around trying to find out where this chap was and we found it strange because we said the enemy structures work quite fast. They had realised that he had disappeared. What we didn't know at the time, and through the interrogation process we were able to crack this chap fairly easily.
POM That long walk.
AI We were able to convince him that he should because what we said to him is we knew that he had been arrested. What we were doing was throwing him bait and this chap took the bait. I said to him that according to our information he had been arrested some time back and he should just tell us about it and that the enemy had captured him and then he started working with them. So he realised there was something untoward, etc., so he decided that was probably the best bet for him. Once he'd accepted that I knew I had the right person because up until that point I didn't. I then said to him, "OK, so you weren't arrested two weeks ago or the last time you were here, why don't you tell us the truth about how long you've been working for the other side." He then shifted his story to say it was a few months and I said to him that wasn't true either and with a bit of clever interrogation technique and bullying and a few smacks and punches we then got him to confess that he was in fact an enemy agent, that he had always been working for the enemy, that he was recruited by the police because he was a gangster from Eerste Rivier.
So I left him to the security people to deal with. What he didn't reveal that day was that in fact the enemy had planted explosives in his kombi which were to have been used to blow us up. We only uncovered that later. What had happened back in Botswana is that Teeman and Chris had taken that vehicle back into Gaborone and in Gaborone they then went and parked it off with a supporter, a local Botswana person. A few days later we then heard on the news that this car had exploded. The comrades then rang me to say that the woman where they had parked the car was killed with a child because of that. Now my comrades were very agitated about it and said, "Hey, we must find out what's going on."
We then went back to McKenzie and this time we did deal with him, he was beaten up. Especially the security people there, there weren't all these niceties about interrogate kindly. They decided they were going to panel beat him and they did good and solid and they made him talk. He then confessed that in fact the plan of the enemy, or his instructions were as follows that he was to have handed the vehicle over to Teeman and Chris, he was then to have gone back to the hotel and when the enemy called him he was to have left everything, whatever he was doing and return to the border immediately. What transpired was that they also had a tracking device in that vehicle but it had a limited tracking ability so it was within the city that it could do the tracking. Fortunately for us what had happened is we had already put together a plan which took him out of the city and that is how they had lost track of him on that day when he had come, on the Saturday. So that is how we won that battle just because we had already put our own plan in operation. They then were waiting and trying to contact him and discovered then that he was missing.
Subsequently when the vehicle got taken back to Gaborone they were able to track the vehicle back to that place and then they had sent in their own agent to trigger that vehicle and this is how it exploded because they thought that place belonged to the ANC when in fact it was just a place of a supporter. Normally what the comrades would have done, Teeman and Chris, they would have taken the vehicle to one of our underground residences, they would have loaded equipment, material into it and then having sealed the vehicle given it back to him and they were hoping that at that point in time to have triggered the vehicle and that was what came out of the interrogation. We then said to him, "Why didn't you confess to those things?" And only after that did he put all the information to us that in fact it was (the SA Police) that had briefed him, it was a number of Police Generals that were intent on killing me and my unit in Special Operations that he was sent on.
POM Did they have timing devices to trigger the explosives in the car?
AI I think they had remote trigger devices which they would have been able to trigger from some distance, a sort of radio controlled device, and also a tracking device so that they would be able to track where it was and say exactly when it came to a standstill and after a little while they were going to trigger it. But it so happened that our chaps had already - because they weren't in the zone for all of that day they lost track of him.
Now, again, I can't say exactly where that information originated but what I do know is that the security structures had very good information sources amongst the intelligence people because Mac, before he left the country, had already had units and I think through Mo Shaik and various others and then Jacob Zuma and other of the intelligence people had infiltrated the Security Police and also had people in the Military Intelligence structures which knew about this. You see this operation was basically a police operation. That's why if you link it to Rocky Williams, you see Rocky Williams was in Military Intelligence and he was able to bring lots of information, in fact case loads of military signals. He worked in the Signals room in MI and he was able to take that to Hassen. I don't think it's quite the same thing but Rocky Williams worked in MI structures and he used to take that stuff through to Hassen Ebrahim who then worked in the political structures and passed that information on to Mac, which was also extremely useful information because often through those military signals and things like that we were able to analyse what their movements were and call up plans and things. In fact that was of enormous assistance during the Angolan war, all the signals that they sent. If you read the patterns and things you are able to make out who was doing what. It's the whole question of analysis.
POM Did you ever work with the IRA? When you talked about the kind of operation that Mac was talking about, about derailing the train, that depended upon having a remote device that would go off.
AI Look we had those devices and in fact if you go back to the Church Street (bomb) we were using those devices, the remote trigger devices and the know-how had come from there.
POM The know-how came from the IRA?
AI Yes. We had people that were based in London that used to manufacture these things for us.
POM Same guys, two pay cheques.
AI Not necessarily. No, no, they had trained our people to develop and produce those. That's what happened. Our people were trained to do that.
POM So you sent your guys to London and they would train them and then they would come back. Is that right?
AI Yes, look again I was given completed devices. It wasn't my people that had to develop those devices.
POM They ended up using the electronic timers on things.
AI Trigger devices. We had all of that kind of know-how, etc.
POM When Mac came into the country did your level of contact increase during Vula?
AI With Mac?
AI Yes. During that time and when we were based in Lusaka Mac was also a personal friend. In fact I used to see him every weekend in Lusaka, we used to have discussions, etc., and in fact in 1984 I developed ulcers, I think I always had ulcers but it became an open wound because I remember drinking with Mac until about
POM My God! You're halfway there.
AI We often sat around and talked, in fact we were very close, him and Zarina on a social level too and we always had lots of political debates and things. We lived in the same city. I think there was a respect. I have very high regard for Mac, huge in fact for Mac's intellectual capability, analytical capability. He also has a way of ragging people but we were very close and often had very in-depth discussions about things. In fact he was also quite close to Joe Slovo and we often jointly or separately would have get-togethers and things with Mac.
POM And get smashed.
AI Yes. There were lots of good times had too. It wasn't all grit and grind.
POM Well they're often the important things.
AI Often when I think back to those days and I think back to the operational activities and things the one thing was one never had a doubt about what we were doing. There was a sense of purpose, a determination. For as long as the enemy was there we knew what we had to do so everybody was very focused. At the same time I think people realised these were the lives we led and you made the most of it. You also lived a fairly wild life.
POM Wild yes! So in Vula what kind of contact would you have?
AI Let's go to that period 1986 onwards. I think the initial concept of Vula came out between Mac and Joe Slovo and Tambo. It goes back to the Green Book. You've heard of the Green Book? The concept of people's war and the theory that we needed to ultimately be able to embed ourselves amongst the people, to be able to mobilise the people, to be able to lead the mass uprising. We understood quite clearly that with the concept of guerrilla warfare, etc., we could not directly take on the SADF militarily. In fact our strategy for defeating the regime always hinged on people's war, people's power and that we were going to use the power of the nation as a whole to unseat the apartheid regime. The military struggle was going to become the hammer that was used with the anvil of the people. I'm sure you've heard of this concept.
We also understood that the military struggles in the early period, 1978 1980/81 played an enormous role in creating the kind of thinking that the enemy was not invincible, in mobilising the people, in creating an awareness that you could fight the enemy. That in itself led to many of the mass upheavals and uprisings. Also the people became much more defiant once they realised that MK had the capability, the ANC had the capability, of taking the enemy on.
Now through those processes for Vula the thinking always was that we needed to get the people into action. The big question always was how then do you mobilise the people? The problem of distance, the communication line, was identified clearly as holding us back and there was a clear move prior to that from about 1983/84, in fact there was quite an important meeting that was held of the leadership between the political structures and the military units. Now at that time, by 1981/82, the RC had become defunct and we had then the political reconstruction side, the political side, and the military structures which were fully functioning structures. In the forward areas Maputo, Botswana, etc., we also had Senior Organs and then you had the command units in Swaziland, etc. There were political structures and military structures and we had created political/military councils so you had the PMC that co-ordinated the work of the Senior Organs, that co-ordinated the work of the political and military structures in the forward areas as well to create this interaction. Everybody recognised you couldn't just carry out military operations without a political base being created, at the same time to create the political base you needed to create a military operation. Neither of those had supremacy one over the other. In fact they had to work interactively and grow the situation in the country.
The big problem was, and already from 1983 when we had this big meeting in Luanda, the concept there was mooted that we needed to get command cadres into the country because there was a clear recognition that moving across the borders was becoming increasingly difficult. The enemy had realised that we were moving across borders and had created barriers to that. They had mobilised the defence force to cover all the border areas because they knew once we went inside the country it became very difficult for them to find us and they also realised that once we were deep inside the country we were able to operate and carry out operations. In fact it was the enemy that mooted at the time of 1983 the 'total onslaught' approach and the concept of area warfare. In fact they mooted the notion that we were carrying out an 'area warfare' and they then decided that they would have a blanket coverage, a security blanket over all of the areas and they divided the country up into security zones. Hence the creation through the State Security Council of all these strategic areas that you had.
POM The National Management Structure.
AI The Management Council. Then the most notorious one of course was the one in the Eastern Cape. That was their concept of countering the ANC's strategy. The ANC's strategy was based on get to the people and by then we had become quite entrenched in the townships. The townships had become no-go zones, all of the townships.
POM Now would these comrades who had been infiltrated from the outside who were in the townships and emerged to lead the campaign but to guide making the townships ungovernable?
AI Look, there were people from outside and inside. The political structures under Mac and them had been very successful in mobilising the people inside the country. Many of the people that stayed inside the country like Pravin Gordhan, Yunus Mohammed, etc., for instance in Durban areas, the creation of the UDF at the time was also an ANC creation through some of the people with Pravin and Valli Moosa and the others and the success of the UDF was also growing. You had people that needed leadership.
Now whilst the level of political leadership existed inside the country there was a clear gap in terms of military structures and co-ordinated structures to be able to take on the enemy in a concerted way. Everybody recognised that we needed to do that. The attempts to get more people from outside, commanders, militarily trained commanders into the country proved quite difficult. The ideal was also that we needed to get people in who would first develop the unit and then go into action because often what happened was we had what we called 'pot boiling'. You know, you keep the pot boiling, it means you go for short term gain. You keep carrying out operations but through that process you also deplete your resources, you're not able to build up for a longer term, more in depth campaign. Those were the gaps.
Invariably what was happening was while some of the commands were successful in coming in, the moment they moved from the outside in they were creating a vacuum behind them because we needed to put more command cadres also in the forward areas, in Swaziland and others. It wasn't quite working. The instruction to the forward command for each of those areas was that they were to have gone inside the country but they needed to have left functioning structures behind them because those were the roots for feeding them. The idea was that where the commands were based in the frontline countries, Swaziland, Botswana, etc., those were to move in but they were to have left corridors to feed that. If you think of the Vietnamese combat of all those tails, the underground, literally underground corridors. Those weren't successfully created and Vula was born out of this concept that said most of the front commands are too involved in short term operations, there isn't a long term (break in recording)
POM from one situation to another.
AI You just do it in a different context.
POM And the pay is better.
AI Yes, or how you get paid.
POM So Mac comes in and sets about his business. When and how does he make contact with you?
AI In that process, before Mac went in I had various discussions with him and we also knew that the regime was beginning to talk about negotiations, maybe in their terms. I had a notion that Mac was coming into the country. One of the things that I had, in fact my units had the best ability to get equipment into the country, military hardware, etc., and we had a vehicle which was able to bring large quantities in but it could also fit a person into those compartments. We had a person from Botswana bringing the stuff in for us. Mac had various discussions with me about saying couldn't I reserve that for him and I then said I could reserve it for him but for a limited period of time. I couldn't unreservedly reserve it for him because I needed to carry out my own operations. We all had to get on with whatever we did.
POM It was like making an airplane reservation during the busy season.
AI Yes, I'll keep a seat vacant for you for a period but you've got to use it within X time and Mac couldn't give me that and also sometimes he wasn't always forthcoming that it was for himself. He just wanted me to reserve it and I said to him, well no, I've got things to do. I had spoken to Joe Slovo about him and said whilst I understand the need and I'm prepared to assist - In 1987 I became a member of the Military Headquarters of the Military High Command and I was in charge of ordinance. My job was to store the equipment in Angola, move it to the forward areas and then get it into the country. As such it would have been my job to have made sure that the comrades in Vula also received their hardware or equipment because by virtue of my position all hardware technically belonged to me and I had to make sure it was made available to people. I was also told by Joe Slovo and Mac that we had to make certain equipment available to people and I asked them where did they want me to make it available and whatever the purpose was. The interaction was basically to supply equipment to Operation Vula and subsequently we also had a request from the Vula comrades to assist them in building the compartments and things in their vehicles and in many of the cases we actually moved equipment into the country and then handed them over to Vula operatives.
POM Where was this equipment coming from, Rashid?
AI Well basically it was all equipment primarily from the Soviet Union, some of it from the GDR.
POM How would it travel?
AI Well the Soviet ships would drop the equipment off in Angola. From Angola we then smuggled the equipment through to Mozambique or to Zambia, either it was driven through by trucks or in aeroplanes. From there we smuggled it through to Botswana, Swaziland, etc., depending on which area we were operating in and from time to time we would go through arduous trips. From there we would also bring it into the country. We also had set up various huge operations, you've heard of that safari operation, Africa Hinterland, it appeared in the newspapers. That was one of the operations that Joe Slovo and I originally originated and then he had worked with Cassius Make who was my predecessor on the military headquarters to create that operation and then when I became Chief of Ordinance on headquarters after Cassius Make was killed in Swaziland, it became my responsibility to continue with those operations. So it was also one of those operations that I took and made it become much more efficient in terms of carrying the equipment through. We would also move the equipment by truck and that was able to deliver up to one ton or more in a single load.
POM These arms would be primarily guns, ammunition, AK47s?
AI Yes, guns, ammunition, basically small arms and explosives.
POM So at the time of, say when Mandela called a cessation to military activities, would there have been a large number of armed caches around the country?
AI Yes. What had happened by then, I think Operation Vula, Mac and the operation had quite a bit of equipment which they had brought in themselves, some of it which was transferred from us to them because we used all possible avenues to get stuff in. My own units under ordinance had large quantities of equipment, I'm saying large - we're talking in relative terms if you can think of a guerrilla force with all these constraints. In fact the largest quantities of equipment were held by my units inside the country and then I think some of the front commands that I described previously also used to get their own equipment in but that was largely for the ongoing operations. In my case I used to originally bring equipment in for the Special Operations. Subsequently I was then asked to assist the other units with getting equipment in and then I was appointed to the High Command and taken out of Operations to go into the Ordinance/Logistics area because they felt there was a huge need to get equipment into the country.
POM So you were building up arms caches for future use rather than just on a run to run basis.
AI Dug into the ground which were for immediate hand over to units. We had other caches, I had operatives inside the country that cached a few tons of arms in houses and things in safekeeping. There were other bits of equipment that we also brought in on short term notice.
As far as Vula goes, we tried to support the operation at all times. I knew about the operation because of my interaction with Joe Slovo. From time to time of course I didn't know exactly where Mac was operating from but had an understanding that Mac was inside the country. I made it my business not to get to know anything about anything that I didn't need to know about. If you didn't know about anything you couldn't talk about it. We operated on a need to know basis. But because of my interaction with the Vula people we would always support the activities and assist where we could but we also made it quite plain that we had responsibilities not only to Vula but to all the other units, the military and political units inside the country when they needed it.
POM So you were doing a twofold function, they supplying arms for (a) day-to-day use and (b) to supply arms that would be stored for future use.
AI Well we did both. We did for day-to-day use, we did for future use and we supplied stuff in large quantities for any special operation because in fact the person that succeeded me when I became a member of the Military Headquarters, Chris who used to work under me took over as Commander of Special Operations and I continued to support them. To some extent I continued to guide their work in Special Operations.
POM Now Mac talks about Kabwe and the resolution at Kabwe regarding the legitimacy of soft targets or otherwise. Let me read to you what he said to me and then you can just comment on it. I think that may be the best way to do it.
"After Kabwe comrades began to put bombs in public restaurants under the name 'soft targets'. We had a meeting, OR called us. 'This development, chaps, this is not what soft targets are supposed to be. We're now indiscriminately bombing civilians.' Some of the military comrades began to say those might be units doing it on their own. So he went to Slovo and he said after the meeting I said, 'JS, what's wrong man?' Some of the units are doing it on their own and he said, 'I was part of the team that was asked to look into it because the meeting said now Cassius Make who was secretary of the RC' - The two of us knew it didn't matter if a bomb went off here or there, and they said they came back and there were problems. Before I came into the country at these meetings JS denied that it was an instruction that they were to bomb."
AI Let me go a bit into this. Kabwe basically spoke about doing away with distinguishing between hard and soft targets. The approach that was basically taken was that if there were military targets in civilian areas and the statement of OR was that we will no longer be able to hold back in striking against military targets and we accept that there may be some civilian casualties in the process. What was made quite plain was these were not strikes or attacks against civilian targets. The soft targets were basically attacks against military personnel, but it must be made quite plain also that it was not only at that time where military personnel were identified as targets. Military personnel had always been identified as targets.
POM In fact Green Vegetables was directly
AI Yes, when we carried out the operation against the Air Force headquarters that was a military target, we were hitting at enemy personnel. That was just to distinguish from hitting at hard targets as in buildings, railway lines, refineries or whatever.
POM Like infrastructure.
AI Yes but it was always made quite plain that we had to strike at military targets. Now at Kabwe that approach was ratified and in fact the significant issue at Kabwe was, and I think if you go to Oliver Tambo Speaks you'll get his quote exactly in there. If you want I've got my copy at home and I can read it to you. It says quite clearly that we will not necessarily hold back if we were to suffer a few civilian casualties because the enemy had also been using that to restrain, the enemy did not respect they attacked in Maseru, they attacked in various other places. So Kabwe basically dealt with that whole issue and emphasised that if we really wanted to win this battle and the war we had to take military people on, military personnel, ultimately.
The problem actually started arising in that in 1986/87, I think it was 1987, we had people like Steve Tshwete and a few others that started talking of 'we need to take the white gloves off' approach and some of the commanders would then brief you see there was this whole question or debate around revolutionary terror as in Algeria and other places. All of us were quite clear that we would not wage any such warfare but some of the comrades then had discussions with some of the front commands and said we could allow some of those kind of operations. Remember at that time there had been operations already initiated in terms of the landmine warfare.
POM When did that begin?
AI About 1985/86. In fact at that time there was a campaign to start dealing with landmines and things like that. With time it became quite clear also that what had begun happening whilst initially there were a few successful hits, quite a few successful hits, with time the black population was beginning to suffer because invariably somebody would drive over with a donkey cart or something in the rural areas and as those casualties mounted it was then felt that we needed to start reviewing that and make sure that landmines were only used on military roads, that is like along the borders and things like that so it needed to be a much closer campaign.
Some of units inside the country started thinking, well, we needed to shake things up because the concept of carry the struggle to the white areas, that was clearly an ANC approach that up to that time the battle was being fought in the townships, it was being fought on the periphery but the whites were living comfortably. Now when the instruction was given to say carry the battle to the cities people interpreted that as bombing in the cities when in fact what was said was go and hit a police station in the city centre, don't hit the police station in Soweto because there you've got black policemen whereas the white policeman is sitting there pretty and he doesn't care two hoots if a black policeman is killed.
AI But some people muddied that and there were some command levels that gave some such instructions. That is when OR stepped in and said, "Hold on chaps, we're losing sight of our objectives here." The objective was carry the struggle into the white areas. It didn't say carry the struggle against civilians. He then instructed that a halt be put to this. Based on that discussion that was held at the PMC we, the Military Command, was also instructed to travel to all the forward areas and to instruct all the military front commands to send the message to all the comrades, and by then most of our units were entrenching themselves inside the country and there was a level of autonomy as well because of the long lines of communication between outside and inside. The instruction was quite clear that they were to desist from carrying out any operations against Wimpy Bars or anything like that and that the notion of carrying the struggle into the white areas was really meant to be against strategic and military targets, etc., and not just a random campaign in the cities.
POM But Mac says this issue became a matter of very heated discussions between you and him.
AI I never supported the campaign of hitting against civilian targets. In fact my units had always been under clear instruction never to strike at civilian targets. So I have never disagreed with that approach. I don't know why he says it was a heated debate. You see if there was finger pointing I would defend myself and say, look, I'm not involved in that but there were some members of the military that might have been involved in those things. So I don't know in what context he says there was heated debate about it because I never defended those operations nor did my units carry any of those out because when I was part of Special Operations we went to umpteen lengths to carry out very pointed attacks against military targets, against strategic targets. I am on record as having said to my units not to carry out any of those operations.
POM OK, this is a quote from Mac and what I will do is I will e-mail it on to you because that might be better but he talks about after he had this one heated discussion with Joe Slovo about this issue where Joe gives the impression that soft targets are still kind of on. He says : -
"At that time Rashid used to visit my home from time to time in Lusaka and one day after this decision is taken that it's wrong to hit soft targets Rashid visits me and he's cock-a-hoop, he's proud that our teams are carrying out operations."
AI That's nonsense.
POM "I said, 'Your chaps are carrying out the Wimpy bombs?'"
AI No, no, no, I'm going to take Mac on on that.
POM "And he said, 'Yes.' So I said - "
AI That is a falsification and a misrepresentation of my position. It's a question of what do you define as a soft target. To me a soft target is attacking military personnel. If he's talking about civilians I've never had that discussion with him nor did I defend that because in fact if you look at any of the operations and the operations that I have even spoken about at the TRC, I've not had to account for those kinds of things. My units have never carried out such operations so why would I defend that? In fact I was part of the teams that went to the front areas, being a member of Military HQ to instruct people to desist from any of those attacks. Maybe Mac is thinking about whatever discussion he had with Joe Slovo, I don't know where he's talking about I was cock-a-hoop about this.
POM Yes. Well what I will do is I will send it on to you anyway so you have the full text of it.
AI I want to correct that record, I'm going to insist, I'm not accepting what he's saying nor have I ever defended those positions.
POM Sure. That's exactly why I am bringing this up.
AI Part of the problem is Mac always had this problem about the military people and then he would ascribe it to anybody that was in the military command. I am saying to you that I know that there were some people in the military structures that gave those instructions. It's not something that the cadres simply did. I was not amongst those nor did I defend those.
POM He is saying, I think when you read the full thing, do you recall having a he used the words, "We had a furious debate. It put a huge gap between Rashid and me for years. That gap only closed in the recent few years because it's like an injury. Somewhere at the back of my mind - "
POM He wanted you to confront Joe Slovo and you didn't.
AI But why would I have to confront Joe Slovo?
AI They're the leadership, they're the NEC, they must sort those things out. It's not for me to confront Joe Slovo. I've never defended those positions. Look we used to always have long debates and things and maybe he's confusing things.
POM What I will do, Rashid, is just send it on to you.
AI I had long debates with Mac about this whole question about continued operations and where I've always been of the opinion that you can't sort of build pie in the sky, because part of Operation Vula, to me, was you couldn't just go for the long term objectives but then there's a vacuum in terms of continuing operations and I remember having a long debate with Mac about that. I've always understood that that is where there were these differences about the long term building because in my view long term building was very important and critical but we also needed to continue with ongoing operations. You couldn't do one at the expense of the other. Both had to be attended to. You see when Mac was involved in the internal building and what created the tension, he wanted me to reserve some of those vehicles for his exclusive use and I refused to do that. That vehicle issue, etc.
POM Yes, OK.
AI Because I had capacity that he wanted to use but I said I cannot reserve that indefinitely for their sole use and I think that pissed him off. But that's got nothing to do with soft targets, that's got to do with logistical matters and the support he required in my opinion was you can't build pie in the sky, you also have to test what you are building as you build because if you do not subject it to the stresses and strains of operational activity they won't withstand the first time you have a prick and one of your units cracks down and breaks you will then have a problem, which is ultimately where parts of Vula crumbled when they had the arrests of some of their key people.
POM Sure, the whole thing
AI The arrest of Siphiwe Nyanda, after the arrest of Charles Ndaba, the comrade in Durban.
POM The two of them were killed, yes.
AI And that is what I was trying to get across to Mac that as you operate and you subject your people, if you keep running around and having all these underground operations and things but you are not carrying out any operations you won't know whether you've built solid workable structures. That was my approach to life. All the time we had to carry the can. In fact when many of the units, I'm talking now of the other front commands, especially the military command could not sustain their operations. I, as Commander of Special Operations in about 1983/84 was approached by Military HQ at the time, Cassius Make and Joe Slovo specifically, and they came to me and said we want you to carry out pot boiling operations as well. I said to them, "But you're placing a lot of pressure on me because I have to carry out special operations which means operations with a lot of detail, planning, co-ordination and to do pot boiling operations - " And their answer to that was, "Listen you have the planning and command capability which many of these units don't have, so you've got to help carry us through", which is what we continued to do. But I was in a fortunate position because I used to send my units in, I created units that were able to sustain themselves and that were able to go into operations. In fact in those days many of the people even in Natal, when Natal was listed as the bomb city, the Natal Command always claimed it was because of the operations they carried out. It was not, it was because of the operations carried out by the units that reported to me. You get a sense of these tensions.
POM Sure, yes.
AI The point about it being we always had to continue. You see if there's a lull
POM It can't stop.
AI It also gives the enemy the breathing space to hit at you and my approach was to continue to build but also continue to grow. Invest in the longer term growth but invest in ongoing growth because the ongoing growth allows immediate growth and mobilisation of the masses. We can argue about the extent to which you need to do one against the other. There was a view sometimes that we weren't investing enough in the longer term growth and everything went into the pot boiling, the short term objectives. My attitude to that was that's for debate for those PMC people, etc. As Special Operations I did my bit, I carried out my mandate and I used to have these kind of debates. In fact it was those debates which led to those heated arguments you're talking about because I then said to Mac, "You see there's a problem with what you're doing and at any rate I'm not willing to reserve capacity."
POM I get very clearly what you're saying, it's that you can't start building long term structures and then in the long term suddenly call them into play whenever that is and it's never been tested. You might find, my God, all those structures are wrong, they don't work, they're this, they're that, they're the other. It's like assembling a football team, the best in the world, and then saying we're going to hold you on reserve for five years and then you're going to play a game but during those five years you're not going to be able to practise.
AI And everybody has become old in the process.
POM One day we say, OK, it's time to play and they can't walk.
AI That's the thing. I'm saying you've got to subject people to the stresses and strains in the real terms. There's no theoretical basis for it.
POM Did you recruit your own guys?
AI Yes to a large extent, or we would take people from the camps and then infiltrate them back into the country.
POM And they were staying in?
AI Our approach was pretty much to hold the units inside the country. In fact, if I may say, some of the most successful units ever built, and here I'm talking military units, were some of the units the Dolphin Unit which was under me and who I personally recruited, trained and they survived. In fact they continued to operate all through the years from 1981.
AI All the way through, carrying out operations and even after the ceasefire in 1990, the Groote Schuur Agreement and things like that, and subsequently when the train battles and warfare started and we had to create the self-defence units, it became my responsibility to continue to arm the people inside the country. Mac was dead set against that. He said we were crazy.
POM To arm people?
AI He said it wasn't a workable strategy, etc., but my approach was we had to do it, we had to defend our people and we did. In fact during that time, I will tell you, we continued to bring weapons into the country from outside. How else were they going to arm the people? We did. It was a requirement I had and I did it. But I had my own way of operating. I didn't share information with anybody, I simply made my units do it and planned carefully and made them work and nobody got arrested in that process through all that time to the point where until 1993 my units continued to arm the masses through various structures that had been created at that time and only after the elections in 1994 did we then take the weapons and hand them in.
POM We need you over in Northern Ireland at the moment. The IRA have to go that extra step and they can't.
AI Well I could contribute about the entire approach to that. Remember I was Chief Negotiator from the military side and I'm not talking about the people that came there once in three months and said, OK we agree with these approaches. On the day-to-day basis it was myself and Mo, who is now the Chief of Military Intelligence who negotiated the integration of the forces.
POM Could I interest you in that?
AI I'm willing to do it.
POM You are? Thank you.
AI In fact Roelf Meyer often said to me, "Why don't you help?" So I said, "Listen I'm not going to go and people know of my background, they know my history, they know where I come from and my negotiation ability. I'm prepared to help but I'm not going to stick my nose in there if I'm not asked to stick it."
POM We'll have you over there in a couple of weeks.
AI In fact at the time, there was a very tenuous negotiation between the ANC and the Nats about the whole question of handing in the weapons and things and we took a very principled position. We made it quite plain that until there was a democratic order in place we weren't going to hand those weapons in.
POM You could be a big help but I'll get back to you on that.
AI Whatever I can do to promote peace I will.
POM I will definitely come back to you on that and maybe on that note since my time is just about up and I've kept you a very long time and I appreciate it, I really do, we'll call it a day but just for the moment. Just what you've said is something that I will, when I come back in about three weeks, I'll get in touch with you about. They're really stuck. It's like something they know they have to do but because of their own historical background, their own baggage in terms of history, it's like they can't I was going to make the analogy with PW Botha, he can get to the Rubicon and they can look at it but they can't jump and they have to and they know it.
AI Well it takes enormous will on both sides in recognising that you need to move forward in the interests of peace.
POM Rashid, thank you for the time and I will get back again to you. Say hi to Esther and maybe we can all get together some time just for a soft one.
AI We'll do that.
POM Thanks, bye-bye.