About this site

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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

16 Mar 2003: Dingake, Michael

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POM     Is this Michael Dingake?

MD     Speaking.

POM     This is Padraig O'Malley, Michael. Am I calling you at the right time?

MD     Yes, I talked to Judy. No it's the right time, I said eight, just a little after eight. It's OK, first class.

POM     Or I can call you back a little later if that's more convenient for you?

MD     No it's all right, it's quite OK.

POM     So how are you?

MD     All right. And you?

POM     Mac talks a lot about you and sends his best wishes and regards.

MD     Oh great to hear about him.

POM     Did Judy fill you in on what I was doing?

MD     Yes.

POM     I am more or less writing a biography of Mac and in that regard I am also interviewing people who knew him or people who worked with him and he suggested that I should talk with you so here I am talking with you.

MD     That's right.

POM     I've read your book and enjoyed it very much, My Fight against Apartheid. You seem to have an incredible memory for detail in the past and I really enjoyed your account of going to boarding school since I was raised in Ireland and I'm Irish and was taught by brothers and priests. I know how they use that leather strap.

     So, Michael, maybe I will just begin with a few background questions. The first would be the why, the how and the when you became involved with the ANC and then with active resistance.

MD     Yes, I became involved with the ANC in 1952. Now the inspiration was the defiance campaign, defiance of unjust laws campaign in 1952. Now I was born in Botswana when it was Bechuanaland but in those colonial days there weren't schools here so my father had been working in Johannesburg and he knew of some school which was a boarding school in Roodepoort, in the area, on the Reef. I went to school there, completed my primary and then I carried on with my education. After secondary school, after high school, then I came to Johannesburg and worked in Johannesburg. So that's how I more or less got to be involved with the ANC.

     What was typical around this time, the main grievance among us as youth, black youth, was the pass laws. It was quite a big grievance and we were really harassed by the police, they could come at any time, anywhere, even at a job and ask for your pass and haul you into some police station. This I personally really resented very much because it didn't happen to whites, it just happened to blacks.  Even as students we were required to carry what they call school pass. Now you had to carry it, if you were found to be not carrying it then you surely would spend a night at the police station. These were some of the grievances and gradually of course I got to learn about the history of colonialisation and about the fact that the black people of SA were disenfranchised, people didn't have a vote as long as they were black. So the defiance campaign inspired me quite a lot. I had, while I was at school, at high school, I had friends who were closely associated or they came from ANC families but they were very much excited around that time because the ANC Youth League had just been formed.

POM     Just to ask you, Michael, would you think that it was the Youth League that transformed a rather conservative and moribund ANC in the thirties and forties to the instrument of revolution it became in the sixties, in the late fifties and sixties?

MD     Yes definitely it was the ANC that transformed the – I mean the ANC Youth League that transformed the ANC into a radical organisation. Now this came about specifically when they adopted a programme of action which was in 1949. Now the programme of action was the one that initiated things like the defiance campaign. Then immediately after 1949 when the SA Communist Party was banned in 1950 there were protest demonstrations, actually strikes, there was a one-day strike, I remember I was in Alexandra at the time and I participated although I was not a member at that time but as youth you seemed to be attracted.

POM     When you see people moving with signs you join.

MD     That's right. So one of the first activities really I got involved in, we did a lot of picketing and we were fighting with the police the whole day and bullets were whizzing above our heads. We didn't care, we were youth you know.

POM     Immortal, yes.

MD     But becoming a member of the ANC was really in 1952 when the defiance campaign started. You see now for the first time I felt at least now the ANC was doing something that demonstrated in practical terms that we would not stand these discriminatory laws and treatment as inferior people.

POM     So what function or role did you play from the time you joined up to the time Mac came back to the country in 1961? That would have been two years before Rivonia.

MD     Well I was based in Alexandra around 1952. Before then I had been in Sophiatown. I was based in Alexandra 1952 so after joining I didn't really attain an official position in the ANC until 1956 with the treason trial. Then I became really quite active. Well I had been active in mobilising for the Congress of the People which adopted the Freedom Charter. Anyway, in 1956 the Alexandra branch was divided into about six branches. I became secretary of one of those branches which was called Branch Six. From then on I played quite an active official role in the ANC. At one time I became chairman of the whole region which was not only Alexandra but it included the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, Edenvale and up to places like Dunkeld, Rosebank and those areas.

POM     You've got the rich northern suburbs.

MD     Well you had workers there, domestic workers and other people who were living in those areas. So I was the chairperson in all that area. It was around 1958/59, it was before banning of the ANC, I was in that official position, then of course the ANC was banned in 1960. Fortunately or unfortunately I was not detained so I was appointed into the Emergency Committee. That actually initiated the underground work of the ANC. It was quite tough because people were not – you know we hadn't quite prepared for underground work and people were used to the normal methods, normal procedures of democratic organisation. When we introduced ourselves as new people who were running the Emergency Committee we ran into quite a number of resistance here and there but because we were known, we had been very active, people tended to be convinced that we were genuine. But it was quite an experience that.

     Now when the ANC was banned we burnt our passes. I led the burning of passes in Alexandra. I was the first to burn my pass in Alexandra after the ban, after the instruction went out. You see Chief Luthuli had burned his pass so we could go ahead and burn ours. I was the first to burn it in Alexandra and then of course the whole process escalated, it was all over and even non-members of the ANC helped us quite a lot. There was a bit of intimidation and people burned their passes whether they liked it or not.

POM     Some of the usual stuff.

MD     It was quite a big campaign to the extent that one of the ministers, I can't remember now, I think it was Sauer, it was around that time Dr Verwoerd was the Prime Minister and he was shot and things were really moving fast and the government was getting worried so Sauer, or one of the ministers, he was a senior man, I think he was acting in the place of Verwoerd, he called for the suspension of the pass laws. It was quite some victory although it lasted for a while.

POM     It was, yes.

MD     Now I was not arrested for burning my pass. Many people were not arrested because it had created an impact. I think instructions had gone around to the police to be cautious and not harass us and of course we had to reconsider, there were problems. If you were an African and didn't carry a pass there were problems besides working, to find work, the employers of course could be intimidated that anybody without a pass they should not employ and that sort of thing. So the organisation decided that, look, in order to carry on with the struggle we would have to go back to take the pass. But it takes them quite a long time. We were moving around without passes, it was quite a small victory.

     Now when the detainees were released –

POM     That's the treason trial? No? The pass law campaign?

MD     No, no. Under the emergency regulations. You know when the ANC was banned quite a number of leaders, a number of people were detained. It was March, yes, it was March and I think it was around August, September. Now when they were released then I was asked to serve in what was called the Regional Committee of the Transvaal. I served with people like Duma Nokwe who was the Secretary General when the ANC was banned and I served with people like Alfred Nzo, like Thomas Nkobi, like Squire Makgothi, (Squire is still around in Johannesburg), and others. There were people like Mahopo and those kind of people.

POM     After 1960?

MD     The end of 1960 and then 1961 and then of course you had towards the end of 1961 there was uMkhonto weSizwe which I joined initially.

POM     Now were you asked to join?

MD     Well let me tell you a story, as a member of the SA Communist Party and so we got instructions which were not quite accurate. We got an instruction that all members of the SACP had to be members of MK so we initially did and then later I was asked to withdraw, I was withdrawn because they wanted me to serve in the political wing. They needed people who were qualified in that.

POM     Who were you working with in the political wing of the Communist Party?

MD     I was working with people like the late Adolphus Mvemve. He had a pseudonym, John Dube, he died in exile by a parcel bomb. He was killed by a parcel bomb. I was working with, unfortunately some of the people I was working with are late, Florence Maphosho and he also died in exile. I worked with people like John Nkadimeng, he's still around. I worked with Joe Nhlanhla. Joe Nhlanhla was Minister of Security, he's now suffered a stroke. I actually went to see him last year. I worked with Josiah Jele.

POM     So you worked from Alex, right?

MD     Yes, in Alex at that time. Now of course things moved fast, a lot of exposure going all over the country. Then in 1962 I was co-opted in a new machinery which was called the National Secretariat.

     (Break in recording)

     I went to this hideout thinking he (Mac) would have just arrived and then I will warn him that he must quit that place, he must go away from this place because people we knew were being arrested. Now very early in the morning I got into my disguise, attire. I put on my cap as a municipal policeman, the whole suit, then I jumped into the train, I didn't go by car. I jumped into the train, I walked from Doornfontein station to where he was and as I was coming to the entrance, he had got a place, he was living somewhere in an outhouse at the back of the main house so there was a big gate and as I approached, although I was in disguise, the security man who was at the gate saw me and started signalling that I should go back, that the police were inside. Now I didn't quite catch what he was trying to tell me so I kept on approaching and he was waving his hands and saying, "Go away." So when I was nearer he said in a whisper, "Look, the police are here, your friend is arrested." So I had to walk away.

POM     He said, "Your friend is arrested"?

MD     Yes, you see Mac had come, he had arrived earlier and then the police had immediately (arrested him). I suspect, and I think Mac will confirm that, I suspect that he was given away by Piet Beyleveld. I think it was the two of us, there may have been someone else but I know the two of us knew where Mac was staying. So I had to turn a corner, a sharp corner and disappear. Mac was arrested. It was quite a tragic blow because working with Mac inspired a lot of confidence. He is a very great man.

POM     Who is he? Who is Mac?

MD     Mac Maharaj?

POM     Yes, who is he? Besides being too arrogant, he knows all the answers, can never admit to a mistake.

MD     Well Mac is a freedom fighter, somebody really wonderful to work with. You know I worked with many comrades but I tell you there are a few although most of the comrades were good and very committed, dedicated and so on, but you always have a few outstanding individuals. Some comrades you can actually put your head, your neck, on a block and say if I'm wrong you cut off my head. He was that type of man. I knew, I am quite a stickler, for instance, for time. I never used to have problems with Mac and he will tell you he never had problems with me. Even underground you had people when you had a meeting, you'd say we meet at seven and people will come at ten or so but we just used to be – I mean with Mac, if I had a meeting with Mac I knew if he said five to seven it would be just there, on the dot, there would be no question about it. If we had an assignment, a task to do, and we say it must be done by this day at this hour then it will be done. And a very, very pleasant person to work with. Very, very brilliant of course, absolutely intelligent with his – he's got a type of humour, he's always pulling people's legs and so on. He's just a wonderful character and I really enjoyed working with him.

POM     Did you get much of an opportunity to get to know Tim or was she not around then long enough?

MD     You mean Tim? Tim actually paid me a visit on Robben Island at Mac's request. Hers was one of the five visits I got in 15 years on Robben Island.

POM     Yes.

MD     No she wasn't around long enough but I found the two of them, I thought they were love birds, very, very interesting. Tim impressed me also as a very, very nice woman, very liberated and sometimes people consider Indian women are –

POM     Submissive to their men.

MD     Submissive to their men but Tim impressed me as a very – she also, I thought she was quite an intelligent woman and I thought they were going places with Mac. Actually I felt quite hurt, well you never know what two people - but I felt quite hurt when they separated, when they divorced. Now many people of course felt the same way with me when I parted with my wife. I divorced also. Now it was all as a result of the long separation. Once you part for a long time and you're still young and you come back to knowing –

POM     A very different person.

MD     Yes, yes, it is really heartrending. But I enjoyed their company, they were quite something to me. Then of course I found Mac on Robben Island.

POM     You were in the single cells together?

MD     In the single cells together.

POM     Did you have much communication with each other when you were there?

MD     We were there together every day. Now we were together in the Communications Committee which was responsible for communicating with the communal cell section and also we devised ways of communicating with the outside. Now Mac, for instance, was responsible for lifting Madiba's manuscript.

POM     For what? Oh yes, taking his manuscript out.

MD     Yes. I took Walter Sisulu's manuscript also but we were in the communications and we knew how to do these things. But Mac was in a number of committees, like I was on quite a lot of committees but this is the committee where we worked together. He had a way with a warder. If you saw Mac talking to a warder you knew something is up. He didn't talk to warders, exchange pleasantries and so on, it was a business when you saw him talking. He would be persuading or trying to suggest to the warder how he can co-operate with him and perhaps smuggle things into prison. He just used to amaze us. For instance he could get banned books into prison and of course not everybody would know that he had done that, only the few trusted ones like myself and of course people like Madiba and Walter, Govan and all those people. He was just fantastic, absolutely fabulous. He also, I think, was in the, yes he was, he was in the Legal Committee. You know in the single cell section we had quite a number of committees going. We had besides the Prisoners' Committee, Single Cell Prisoners' Committee, we had other sub-committees.

POM     And then you had the High Organ.

MD     Yes, but we had also for the general prisoners quite a number of organisations there, the PAC, the YCC, Unity Movement. We had the Liberal Party or ARM, African Resistance Movement. At one stage we also had Toivo ya Toivo who was Namibian. But the ANC of course had its own committees as well. We had the High Organ.

POM     That was Madiba, Walter, Govan and Raymond.

MD     Raymond and MD Naidoo when he was there. He also became a member but there was a little problem in the High Organ at one time, friction. I think people know about it now and there was a suggestion from the unit that there should be rotation, some other people should constitute the High Organ and I was among those who were in this High Organ at one stage and then of course it reverted back after some few years.

POM     Sorry, I didn't know this, there was a period when members of the High Organ would rotate?

MD     Yes there was a period where we actually put the original members of the High Organ aside because there was some misunderstanding. They were too preoccupied, we thought, with their petty differences so we decided we should have other people constitute the High Organ. I don't know whether it was two years or three years but that happened.

POM     So Madiba was – was Madiba still on it?

MD     No, no, it was a completely new outfit. I was in it, I think the other one was Billy Nair if I'm not mistaken. There was also Masondo, there was Mkwayi. I forget who was the fifth one, I think it was the four of us as I remember. Then later of course when things were, we thought we were controlling the situation then of course they went back to constitute the High Organ. I don't think many people have talked about it but I have seen some snippets to indicate that there is knowledge of the fact that there was a bit of tension.

POM     So who was the tension between, Michael?

MD     The tension was mainly between Govan and Madiba. There was quite a bit of tension. I sort of know how it started more or less. When I got to Robben Island in 1966 I was in the same unit – you see the High Organ, that group Walter and Govan, Ray and Madiba, they had units under them so that I was under Madiba with Masondo, with Joe Gqabi, four of us constituted that unit. Now what happened was –

POM     So how would the unit – yes OK.

MD     What happened was, now in this unit we at one stage discussed the feasibility of guerrilla warfare inside the country. Now Joe, who had trained in China, thought there was no problem, the terrain was first class for guerrilla warfare, but Madiba was not quite convinced, he had many questions to ask. He himself had had some training in Algeria and he read quite a lot and he knew what it involved to have suitable terrain for guerrilla warfare. The big question at the time was whether we could talk about different areas where guerrillas could retreat into. You had Botswana at the time which was independent and there was no other, Zimbabwe was still under Smith and then Mozambique, Lesotho – well it was independent but we didn't think much about it.  This was the discussion, it was around this and we were looking at this and Madiba didn't think the terrain was quite suitable. I think the other thing was to also while not saying we can't – well we also got to discuss the question of urban guerrilla warfare that we could resort to that but it had its own limitation also because not everybody was in the urban areas and the rural areas are actually even more suitable for that type of activity.

POM     Of activity, yes.

MD     Yes that type of activity. But we were also thinking about other political methods that are strategies like – you know this thing of the Bantustan was coming on. What do we do? Do we infiltrate some organisations in the urban areas, use opposition –

POM     In the Bantustans?

MD     - in the Bantustans or even infiltrate this so-called ruling party, but we mainly were thinking about opposition. Now some people resisted it, they didn't want to hear anything about it. Govan was very, very strong against this thing.

POM     Was he against or for guerrilla warfare?

MD     Actually I should have told you what then happened now. Now Madiba in arguing, when we argued this case of course he would ask a lot of questions and sometimes questions that really embarrassed Joe Gqabi.

POM     That embarrassed Joe Gqabi?

MD     Yes.

POM     Madiba would ask the questions?

MD     He would ask questions just for clarification to see conviction that, look, this can actually happen. Now he's a lawyer and you know how lawyer's get.

POM     I sure do.

MD     And Joe didn't quite like it and he reported, he was very close to Govan so he reported how Madiba was conducting discussion, trying to put him on the spot. Actually we in the unit also discussed it, we had also discussed it, Joe had raised it. I think Govan must have told him, look, why don't you raise it in the unit and so on? He raised it and Joe and Andrew Masondo were feeling very, very strong about it, the way Madiba was conducting all these debates on this matter. I wasn't as vehement, as strong as the other people. I wanted to show in the debate that, look, maybe the emphatic way Madiba was doing it could really annoy other comrades but I thought it was nothing wrong really to seek –

POM     Clarification.

MD     Yes, seek clarification from each other. But then of course I think it was raised in the High Organ.

MD     So I think this matter was raised and it was discussed and then the misunderstanding went on for a while.

POM     The misunderstanding was between Madiba and Joe Gqabi?

MD     Yes.

POM     And Andrew Masondo. It's Amos Masondo?

MD     No, no, not Amos. Andrew.

POM     Andrew, yes.

MD     And then of course this one was raised by my unit later when we restructured the units. I think shortly after that there was a restructuring of units and my unit became Mkwayi, Hennie Ferris, then Bengu. Now then Hennie Ferris was doing a short sentence and he was due to be released so he raised the question of what did we expect him to do outside. Now they were starting this Coloured parliament or whatever and he knew some of the people, even Hendrickse himself who was leader of this, he knew him, and he wanted to know from us what we expected him to do and he specifically stated that he was not interested in leaving the country. He wanted to stay inside the country and work. Then we unanimously in this unit agreed that we think he should find a niche in this set up.

POM     In that new party, yes.

MD     And work with the objective of building the liberation movement in the coloured community. We raised it of course, we took it to the other units.

POM     That's using the Labour Party right?

MD     Yes the Labour Party. Then we took it to the other units and it was discussed. They were the same group who thought no, no, no, we shouldn't have anything to do with these apartheid structures. Of course this did not help tensions because the same group, Madiba, Walter Sisulu and myself and people like Kathrada, I think Mac was still there, we thought – it had happened all over where you had revolutions, you couldn't just dismiss them especially if the people you wanted to represent were being misled. We had to find a way of winning them back somehow and constituting an opposition within that – it was a question of what sort of tactics should be used but that's really a background of what created these tensions.

POM     So Govan would have been one side of these issues and Madiba would have been on the other?

MD     Yes, yes. That's what happened. Anyway, Mac was very, very good on Robben Island. He and a PAC man by the name of Jafta Masemola they made a key for a cell which was empty. It had been empty for a long time. Now what he used to do was sometimes we used to collect quite some contraband and then we didn't know where to put it. Our cells were so bare you couldn't hide anything in there. You hid something and then if they came raiding they would of course find it. Sometimes we managed to steal papers, newspapers from the sick bay or even from the rubbish dump, we would sneak out and then collect these papers and before we really sorted them out and made press cuttings we had to hide them somewhere. So they made key for that empty cell so that we could open there because once there was nobody there the warders didn't open it and check what was in there. So we would bring this contraband stuff and put it in there. He and Jaftha made a key – I don't know precisely what he did, I think they used paper to fit in that hole but the material, the actual key I don't know where they could get it. I'm telling you, they did that because they did it secretly so we don't know. The next thing we knew these guys had a key and we could open that cell and hide this stuff in there. He was quite a guy.

POM     Sometimes from listening to him it seems to me that there came a point when the prisoners were running the prison, not the warders, particularly on things with regard to work, that the prisoners simply wouldn't work.

MD     Yes, yes. Now you know we worked very hard, the sort of team, the warders. The warders were really wild at the beginning and they really wanted to mistreat us. Now one of the foremost persons who actually took it upon himself to talk, to make them realise and know that we are human beings like yourselves and you shouldn't treat us the way you are treating us. He used to wheedle things out of them, the behaviour, how they had to conduct themselves. We used, for instance, to conduct classes, some of us in single cells were registered as students with UNISA and we used to have all sorts of classes, Accounting, Economics, Political Science and the warders at first tried to push us but they just couldn't. We refused to be pushed, not just stubbornly but by talking to them. Mac was one of those people who actually talked to some of these guys and said, "Look, you actually should improve your education", and it was interesting that some of them, knowing how educated some of us were, pretended. When a warder was sent into our section he was told you are going to a section of educated terrorists there and then they would pretend that they had degrees and that sort of thing. But some of them, we encouraged, some of them actually started registering with correspondence schools to do something because they found the education was really valuable. We knew things that they didn't know and Mac played quite a leading role in this sort of thing.

POM     Being there for so long, I know the warders were rotated, but over the years did relationships between the warders and the single cell prisoners improve? Did they lighten up some or was it always kind of a constant battle?

MD     You know in a way because of this rotation there was a constant battle but you wouldn't have warder there who could stay six months without changing. Even the worst regime that we experienced when we were there, the Badenhorst regime –

POM     Which one was that?

MD     Badenhorst.

POM     OK, yes.

MD     We called him 'Kid Ruction'.  He was actually sent out to Robben Island to put us in our place and he came there with a group of warders who had an attitude of really showing us who they were and who we were. Even those warders in the end they had to dance to our music. I remember one of the really hostile ones, terrible one, a brute, I forget his name now, maybe I'll remember it, 'Pollsmoor'.

POM     OK, I'll be sending you on a copy of the transcript anyway so you'll have a chance to look at it.

MD     He surprised us, after a while he actually brought us crayfish, he brought us some crayfish which we enjoyed very much and now and then he would do that. He had been quite bad in the beginning but in the end he was quite tamed. No warder would come into a ward and remain unchanged.

POM     Just a couple of other things, Michael, because I hope I can get back to you with a few questions. You're really very good, I think I must tell Mac that I've stopped his book and I'm going to do one on you instead! When were you arrested, when were you arrested yourself?

MD     I was arrested in 1965, 8 December. I had to leave, after Mac was arrested I was sent on a mission to Dar Es Salaam and I went on this mission and Mac was already in when I left. I had to come back. Now when I came back to SA, Johannesburg, in I think it was October, I found more of the people who were working with me had also been arrested. Now they were able to smuggle some notes to say the police are looking for you high and low and I think there was a price on my head at the time, "So you'd better leave the country because otherwise there are going to be lots of problems." I remember receiving a note from someone saying if the police get hold of you they'll skin you alive. So I left in February 1965. I was operating from Botswana, working on a route of infiltration from Zambia into SA. The police, of course, were still after me. Now we made a mistake, or the guy, Tennyson Makiwane who was in Lusaka, I don't know, we suspect that he must have been working for the police.

POM     That's Tennyson Makiwane, right?

MD     Tennyson Makiwane. He lured me into taking a train to Lusaka. He suggested that Moses Kotane, Oliver Tambo and so on they were going to have an important meeting there and they needed me as the main contact in Botswana. Now the only way I could get there, I should have insisted that I'd better fly but I was carrying a Botswana passport and we thought, I thought, that they would rather – it was the UDI at the time, I thought perhaps the worst that could happen to me was they could send me back to Botswana but I was mistaken because the moment they got hold of me they detained me under the state of emergency regulations that they had declared with UDI and after one month in Zimbabwe then they sent me to SA, illegally. They pretended they were sending me back here at Immigration but then the police took me to Beit Bridge and then handed me over to the SA Police so I was arrested in 1965. It was 8 December. It must have been the first week of January when I was sent back to SA. My case, trial was in May – no April, it ended in May. I was with Issy Heymann, we were in the same trial.

POM     But you were tortured?

MD     Oh yes, severely. I am surprised I'm still alive.

POM     Were you with Swanepoel?

MD     Yes.

POM     You were with Swanepoel.

MD     Yes it was Swanepoel.

POM     What did he do to you? He's the same person who tortured Mac.

MD     You know Swanepoel he didn't touch me. I would be lying to say he himself touched me but his squad, he had people like Erasmus, called Rasie, I think Erasmus gave evidence in the Truth Commission.

POM     Erasmus, yes. Gerrit Erasmus, yes.

MD     And then you had other people, I forget their names but I think I have some of them in the book. Now these were the brutes who tortured me. They started by beating me up until I passed out. They had been kicking, beating me and then I passed out, they threw some water. I think they got a fright when they thought they were going to kill me because there was already a letter that I had disappeared and probably was in SA Police hands. So after I had passed out then they didn't beat me, they just kept me standing, my back against the wall and they were firing questions. They tried electric wires round my ears. It didn't help them. I was standing there for 60 hours, no sleep, nothing, and I couldn't move.

     On the second day one of them came, Van Rensburg – there were two Van Rensburgs, one of them I think they called him Smiley, Smiley van Rensburg, he would come and he would say, "OK, I don't like what is happening to you. Can you come, let's go and talk." He will take me away from the interrogation, then he'd give me seat, we'd sit in some office and he says, "Look actually if you told me something. When did you join the ANC? Why? I'll go back and tell these brutes that this man has talked, leave him alone." Then of course I refused and said, "No, no, I'm not talking", and he would be very angry and would send me back and say, "All right, if you won't to talk to me then I won't help you." That's how they operated.

     I was tortured twice after that which preceded my trial. I was sent to Robben Island. Then they caught somebody, or the Botswana authorities sent someone who had been operating here, sent him back to SA. I don't know what had happened. The ANC maybe was slow in intervening. This man was sent back there then he told them what I had been doing here. What actually happened was I had not been working with Mac but I had left people here sort of stranded, people I had brought in and I had kept them in some place which nobody knew except somebody, just a single individual who worked with me. Now when these people started wondering and going to this machinery of the ANC which was receiving people from SA and passing them over to Lusaka and so on, then this man had got wind of what sort of operation I'd been involved in. So under torture he had told them that actually Mike is the one who had been working, bringing people inside the country and that sort of thing.

     So they took me back and I found Swanepoel there and this time he was alone. I found him with a loaded revolver on his table and he had put statements, there were two, the other one hadn't met me, but this one he had just put them on the table so that I could read and see that the game was up, somebody who knew me, who knew what I was doing in Botswana had been caught and I told him, "Look, I have no statement to make." He was accusing me of having given them all lies in the first statement that I made. I said no, so they hung me. Now I can tell you I had never heard of  -

POM     How did they hang you?

MD     Well they handcuffed me then with the handcuffs and some rope, there was a pipe, central heating, some of these pipes – they just, my bound, handcuffed hands, they then tied me on this pipe so that I barely touched the floor. I could only touch the floor with the tip of my foot. Now it felt like my limbs, my arms were going to break. It was the most brutal torture I had experienced or had ever heard of. Later I ran across a Namibian fellow who also had been tortured. Now apparently he had been hanging for longer than myself. Although my wrists were cut even now you can see a bit of a mark here on my wrist, the handcuffs, but that one was really – it was worse.

POM     Even than the electric shocks?

MD     I don't know, I didn't talk to … I found him in one of the offices as I came in from my experience.

POM     For how many hours were you left hanging?

MD     About six hours. I'm telling you it felt like it was a whole year and they had an African cop there watching over me and he was also quite a remarkable thing to behold. He really enjoyed watching me suffer there to the extent that he asked me a very, very stupid question, you realise this poor man really doesn't know what is happening, he is saying, "Ja, you know you think you can remove the government. Do you know who the government is? You can't do anything with the government. All you can do is to kill the police, to kill us and you are terrorists. The government, you can never touch the government."

POM     This is an African man saying this?

MD     An African man, poor fellow. Honestly. And when I actually asked him, when I said, "Look, all right I'm going to make a statement. Can you go and call",  because Swanepoel had left this man to watch over me. When I told him, "Look, can you go and tell him that I'm prepared to make a statement?"  So he said to me, I think Swanepoel was Brigadier at that time, "Why do you waste the Brigadier's time?" And he left me hanging another 50 minutes or so, he wouldn't go to say to this man, "Look this man is ready to make a statement." So cruel that was.

POM     How did you psychologically prepare yourself to deal with torture?

MD     Now first of all we had this impossible instruction to everybody once they started detaining people under the Sabotage Act, they said, "Don't talk, you rather die." Told everybody, this was a general instruction to people to say don't talk. Then of course I had to condition myself and interesting, one day I was – it was before I went underground, one man gave me a booklet by I think Julius Fucik, Report from the Gallows, the Czech. I read that book and read it over and imagined the sort of torture this man underwent and I was really working myself psychologically that I'm going to resist. The problem, of course, is you say I'm going to resist and I would rather die but this fellow – sometimes I think they kill people by mistake. They really don't want to kill especially if they think you are important, you've got information. They really work on you that you in the end make a statement.

     Now, for instance, when I made a statement I must thank my mental constitution for all this because in spite of so many days standing there and questions being fired at me I was also thinking and in a way analysing what they really knew and what they didn't know and perhaps how I could lie my way through. Now when I actually broke and said I was going to – I don't know, something just happened in my mind to say, well, what's the point really of resisting, these people know everything, because I think that's the idea. They drive you to a situation where you say that and then when you start talking of course you have to be very, very careful.

     Now I remember I told this fellow who was actually dozing off, that day he was alone this fellow watching over me and he was dozing off and I said to him, "Look, I'll make a statement", and he got up and he said, "Ja?" So he immediately gave me a chair. All right, sit. And he gave me paper. So I said to him, "Look, where do I start?" And he said, "From the beginning." No before that, after I had sat down before he gave me paper then I changed my mind immediately, I said, "No, I'm not making a statement." So he said, "Stand against the wall." So I went back there and of course I was really exhausted and I said, "All right, I'll make a statement." So I sat down and I said, "Where do I start?" He says, "From the beginning when you joined, why you joined." That of course gave me a big relief because there was nothing I had to hide about when I joined and how I joined and so on. Somewhere in the middle when I was talking about the background, he said, "All right, you can sleep." Now I had started, he knew now I would not be able to stop. Now then he said I could sleep. You know I didn't sleep even though I had been standing and hanging there for 60 hours.

POM     Six zero?

MD     Yes, if somebody was telling me this I wouldn't believe him, I would say, "Go to hell", but 60 hours I'd been standing but when this man said you can sleep, I didn't sleep. I'm telling you there was no sleeping, nothing, because I now was thinking now how am I going to lie through this. You see my brain was working, all cylinders, and I couldn't sleep. I was able to write a statement which was lies but lies that they believed at the time.

     I will tell you, for instance, when they asked me about people I had been working with, now I knew that certain of my committee had – or I had a strong suspicion, very, very strong, I knew Hlapane had actually given them a statement. Then I was suspicious of John Mavuso so I then target this and said, "Well people I had been working with, John and Bartholomew Hlapane", they knew I had been working with them. John Mavuso I had co-opted just before I left so they knew I was telling the truth. Then they wanted me to involve Albertina Sisulu, I just refused, I said I had never served with her in any committee. Anyway Swanepoel was not quite satisfied but he said he accepted it. As he boasted, "Actually you know you're sitting like a … We know everything, here in the country we know everything about the ANC. We merely want to know about what you've been doing in Botswana."

     Now in Botswana after my experience in SA I had really organised such a structure that it would not be easy to penetrate. First of all I had not recruited a number of people. I was working with one man. One. The arrangement we had about people coming from Lusaka and so on was such that not even the police who followed me every day, I couldn't lead the police to these people. I'd worked it in such a way that it was not easy for them and they didn't know Botswana to that extent. I could tell them of a cattle post that didn't exist and so on. That's why when this man came and said I was doing this job they then brought me back from Robben Island where I was already serving.

POM     They brought you back from Robben Island to?

MD     Yes, this second torture or when they hanged me it was the second.

POM     You were already sentenced, serving 15 years and they take you back and they torture you again?

MD     Yes, yes. 1967, they took me from Robben Island and tortured me. Yes.

POM     When you look back on the torture - ?

MD     Now you asked the question how did you manage, I had really conditioned myself reading this book by Julius Fucik and also getting reports of what had been happening to people who had been arrested and they had tortured Looksmart Gudle to death and there was Isaac Tlale they almost tortured to death. Now they wanted him to talk, make a statement which would incriminate many people and they wanted his wife to go and convince him that he'd better make a statement.  So before she went to see Isaac Tlale we talked to her and they were very, very smart and although we said, "Look you tell them you are going to persuade him." So when she got there of course, a very, very wonderful woman, to see her husband you don't and in such language that the police didn't even – they had one policeman I think standing by to listen but she made it … that look, no making statements about and incriminating other comrades.  But the husband told her what had actually happened to him so I knew what was happening to people in detention and I had really conditioned myself that come what may I wouldn't now - 

     We heard also stories about Piet Beyleveld. Piet Beyleveld when he was detained before he was actually taken to Pretoria to prison even the papers, the papers reported that the interrogation of Piet Beyleveld had started in his house. I think for six hours the police were asking questions in his house. Now then we got hold of some story, now I can't remember, I think it was Bram. Bram suspected that the reason why this was happening, he said the police couldn't have been searching the house for so long, they must have been interrogating him and he feared that – you know there was the unit that used to meet somewhere, some place in town, I think it was Hillbrow, which had some listening device. The police had established themselves somewhere nearby. Now what used to happen was Piet had, I can't remember the woman, but he had an affair with this woman and then sometimes they used to go there, not for meetings, just the two of them. Now from those devices the police must have got the news that this fellow was having this affair and apparently they threatened Piet to say if you don't talk we'll tell your wife what you were doing with so-and-so. We think that is what brought Piet right there.

POM     Did he give evidence against Mac, can you remember?

MD     Piet?

POM     Piet, yes.

MD     No I don't think he gave evidence against Mac. He gave evidence against me and Bram.

POM     You and Bram, yes.

MD     No, he gave evidence against – first of all Bram was in one case where there were a number of them like Ivan Schermbrucker and the other people, a whole unit, if not a unit, a unit of the SACP. He gave evidence there. Actually one of the reasons why people said it was because Piet in that trial mentioned me, he mentioned my name. I was operating underground and the police were looking for me. But in that trial Piet gave evidence and he gave evidence in my case, he gave evidence in Bram's case. I don't think he gave evidence in Mac's case.

POM     I will leave it there for this evening. It's been absolutely terrific talking to you. I will get to Botswana and I will get to see you. OK?

MD     OK. When is that likely to be?

POM     I don't know but I will make it happen. I will send this transcript – Judy who does the transcribing is going to England for three weeks on holiday so it'll be about a month before you get a transcript and you can go through it and amend it or correct the mistakes or whatever and I will go through it and if I have more questions, if I can I will call you again.

MD     Right.

POM     I have in front of me Mac's copy of your book inscribed to him, saying, "To Joey, Milou, Zarina and Mac with special affection from the lime quarry days." I see your face on the cover and I want to see what the face looks like. I imagine you so I have to see you.

MD     OK.

POM     Thank you for the time and we will be in touch again. God bless now. Bye bye.

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