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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.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 Sep 2003: Weinberg, Sheila

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POM     Sheila, could you begin by telling me a little bit about yourself, your family and how you became involved in the whole struggle?

SW     My parents were both activists, from the thirties I suppose. They got married in 1940 and they were active in the trade union movement and then as things became more and more difficult - there were political structures like the Congress of Democrats and of course the underground party. My father was certainly involved in that, it was then the CPSA. Now I don't know much about those activities. It's quite possible that Mac crossed him in those structures. These were often cell based – even though you were active you might not know who was active in others. You might come across people in other structures not knowing that they were part of the party so to speak. I don't know how close they were.

     Certainly my father was a trade unionist. He worked for the National Union of Commercial Travellers and when he was banned in 1952 he was also banned from trade union activities so he lost his job and that's when he became a professional photographer and as a professional photographer – well he'd always been an amateur photographer so he always had his camera when he went to meetings and so forth - as a professional photographer he documented a lot of the history and the life of South Africa, the history being significant to meetings and functions and so on and then the life, just the way people lived and the things that happened to them in South Africa and of course he's well known for those photographs.

     My mother worked for the Garment Workers Union, that is she got a job through her half sister who was married to Solly Sach's brother. Solly was Albie's father, he was a trade unionist in the forties and he left the country when he got banned, which would have been about 1953 or so. So she worked for the Garment Workers Union and that's how they met, through the union. She became an activist in her own right. History has it that he made her join the CPSA before he would marry her, that was the conditionality, ante-nuptial. That's the story that they told. Whether that was so, well it could well be.

POM     It's a good story anyway.

SW     So that's the background of my parents. I was born in 1945, survived the fifties – I mean 1948 was when the National Party came into power. By 1950 things were changing quite dramatically. My parents always said that in the early days, the early days of the National Party government in other words, the interaction with the security police was very different because they were still under the influence of the United Party government, they were still gentlemen. They behaved well, they greeted, they were menschlich, and then there was a kind of change which obviously got worse and worse as the years progressed. I mean I remember they frequently raided and in the early days it was a very civilised exercise where they would look, they would put stuff back and they would avoid looking at personal letters. They were looking for specific political material and when they found that they would put it neatly on one side and list it and give you a receipt for it and so on. As things progressed it became a much more jackboot exercise, a kind of throwing things around.

POM     Was there a different generation?

SW     You know what? Often it was the same people, or my recollection is that it could well have been the same people who were under different orders and they changed and now that we're in government for this time I can see that that's what happens. You work for the government that you work for and you change according to that government's requirements. A job is a job in other words. The cops used to say that to my parents, that we follow orders, we do what we're told, before we didn't do this, now we do this. So I think, I mean obviously new cops came in and a new culture came in of human rights violations, a lack of respect really is what it's about. And of course the whole gevaar, (you understand those words? You do? Yes.) And then in fact rooi gevaar, red danger, the danger of the communists, the danger of the blacks, became the whole culture of white South Africa and that fear generated aggression.

POM     Now the danger of communism, was that a genuine fear in the sense that in the cold war era when most of the world was divided into one camp or the other, that whites here did see communism as a threat to their Christianity, that the Communist Party was in fact an agent of the Soviet Union and Soviet imperialism was going to swash across the country if ever the ANC/SACP came to power, they didn't differentiate much between the two?

SW     Yes. No absolutely, all those things are true, are very real – or were very real in South Africa. But it was part of the propaganda as much as the reality. I think that was the reality in the whole world. McCarthyism in America was very much the same culture, anti-communist culture and it was fear driven, it was driven because there were successes in the Soviet Union, experiments that were happening there that were moving the economy of those countries and the people of those countries were successful at least in that period. It was threatening to capitalist countries. So, yes, that would be true.

POM     So you grew up in this atmosphere?

SW     I grew up in a very different culture of course. I grew up in a culture where there were, I imagine largely smuggled, copies of something called China Reconstruct. It was a beautiful glossy magazine coming out of China. It was a monthly but it didn't come every month, in English, it was mailed and it would get intercepted from time to time but when we got it it was inspiring stuff, all these little red-faced Chinese children having a wonderful time in nursery schools and primary schools and so on. It was very nice. And stories about successful co-operative farming, well you know the stories, the successes of communism. It was a very nice thing and that was the kind of propaganda in my house. I remember China Reconstructs, there must have been similar stuff coming out of the Soviet Union. We were not Sinophiles, we didn't tend towards that but this is one thing that as a child I remember.

POM     You remember it because of the nice photographs.

SW     Yes, yes, beautiful, and these beautiful stories. There must have been – well I do remember some of the stuff, the stuff out of the Soviet Union was a bit more staid and more propaganda, although that other was also propaganda, it was more dull. We used to get children's story books with illustrations, drawings I remember.

POM     That would come through the mail? It wouldn't be intercepted?

SW     China Reconstructs I think came through the mail. Whether it was mailed in the west in London or somewhere like that, probably, but I do know that it was from time to time intercepted. But I'm talking about the fifties now. By the sixties that sort of stuff had stopped. But, yes, that was the sort of culture in our house, human rights culture and we were friendly across the colour line, we mixed freely, fairly freely given apartheid constraints and Security Branch constraints after a while, but there was also mixing across the colour bar. I remember being at school, I suppose being about 15 or 14 and some of the girls, it was an all girls school, and they became very excited because they'd been to their first mixed party, and I thought – well, that's very funny, because for me first of all gender mixing was not something one questioned, although I was at an all girls school because it was the local school, it wasn't an issue boys and girls, didn't seem to be an issue in my growing up, and of course there were mixed parties as in racially mixed parties. But these girls were all excited about having been to a party with boys at the age of 14 or 15.

POM     Now at the time you were 14 or 15, that would have been around 1960, was there any atmosphere of tension or fear in the house in terms of you being maybe under surveillance?

SW     Oh there was a lot of that. In 1960 Sharpeville there was a state of emergency, both my parents were detained for those three months of the state of emergency.

POM     Was it 90 days?

SW     No, no, no, long before the 90 days. That was 1960, it was a state of emergency which gave them powers, detention without trial. It was like – I remember at that time there was talk of concentration camps although they were detained in prisons but there was talk of their setting up of concentration camps to put people like us en famille into. Of course it didn't quite get as bad as that, so there you are, they weren't as bad as all that!

POM     Funny that, the Afrikaners having been put in concentration camps by the British.

SW     The Boers by the British, yes.

POM     Turn around and start saying –

SW     Absolutely, but you learn your lessons. You learn your lessons and we'd been through the second world war where as a country we had fought on the side of the allies against Germany but in fact the National Party has supported the Germans. They had opposed the war effort.

POM     John Vorster spent most of the war in a concentration camp himself.

SW     Exactly. That's exactly the case. So that was part of what would jump into their minds when they had to deal with difficult people like us. But in fact in real life they didn't really get there. They used the prison system for detention camps, they didn't ever set up specific political prisoner – apart from Robben Island which in fact wasn't because there were also mainstream prisoners on Robben Island I think all the time, those that were doing the trusty work and infiltrating the political and all those stories come through. But as far as I know there were always criminals on Robben Island so it in itself was not the same as a concentration camp.

POM     Now your parents were taken for three months you say?

SW     1960.

POM     Were you left on your own?

SW     My Granny was still alive so she stayed with us. She had always lived with us. So our lives were minimally disrupted really speaking.

POM     Did it make you very afraid: my parents, they're gone? Or were you already prepared for this kind of thing?

SW     I think there was a level of preparation in the family saying this is what our life is about and this is where this country is going and we do it for these reasons, for the betterment of humanity and what, what, what. Yes, I suppose there must have been worrying times as a child and as a teenager but obviously with hindsight you don't really recollect those things because you got through safely after all. I was never a worry-buddy anyway. I took each day as it came and dealt with it.

POM     So your own involvement at 'a serious level' began? Or did you just gradually fall into it?

SW     Well there's a story which I have to tell which goes back to about the age of seven. There was what must have been a TIC conference, Transvaal Indian Congress had offices and a sort of conference room in the basement of a shop in downtown Johannesburg where Minty's is now, corner of Market and West I think it is. You went down the steps into this dungeon. I remember that it didn't have concrete walls, the walls were earth so it had just been dug out of the earth before they built the building. Anyway, there was this meeting happening in this place and the Congress of Democrats must have just been formed round about then and we had an organisation which we called the Young Democrats which were the kids of the Congress of Democrats. I was the youngest, seven, it sort of started at seven and they crept me in and it went up to the teenagers, mostly the teenagers, the children of activists. We together with the Basupatsela which was the ANC Pioneers as they were called in the Soviet Union, the same sort of culture, we were in support of this meeting that was happening, we were standing around the walls and the cops raided. This was early days so as was their wont they were polite and they knew their rights and we knew our rights and they asked names and addresses and they took one copy of each document. They didn't confiscate everything and they left, well left or they would stay and observe or whatever. But as they were doing this exercise of asking these questions they asked me my name and I told them. They asked me my name and they said, "Oh, are you Eli's daughter?" And I said, "I don't have to answer that question." So already at that age, which was apparently seven, I knew what I should and shouldn't have to do.

     I think that's really what life was about, behaving with an instinct in those kinds of circumstances and, as I indicated before we started, one of the outcomes is that my memory is really quite faulty, it's not – I don't remember a lot of the things that I did and interactions because I was more or less trained to do things and then forget them.

POM     Well let me see what the security people say about you. This is what the file says:- "From the correspondence there's no doubt that excellent relations exist between Sheila Weinberg in particular and Mac Maharaj. Mac Maharaj is also closely connected with Eli and Violet Weinberg who occupied positions in the SACP in Dar Es Salaam. The relationship between Mac Maharaj and Sheila Weinberg is of special significance because of Maharaj's present work (that's the IRPD) and Sheila's Weinberg's activities within South Africa. Sheila Weinberg's activities are of such interest that a special section has been included on her. From the Maharaj correspondence, Weinberg's correspondence, the following individuals are identified as their friends."

     I know that you were friends of Indres Naidoo, the folk at Rockey Street, and Prema Naidoo too. Did your relationship with them, was that the first kind of relationship with people in the SACP outside – how did that relationship develop and in what way? Can you remember, did you end up writing to Mac, to Indres?

SW     Look I don't recall writing to Mac I must say. That was at a stage, I suppose in the mid-sixties, the Naidoo household was like a centre. It was in the centre of town, in Doornfontein, and it was very convenient. You'd be working in town and you'd walk down there after work and there was a lot of socialising. A lot of it was about socialising rather than apparent politics and my participation was more on the social side than the work, political side.

POM     Do you remember Mac staying there when he came back from – this would be in 1962 when he came back from the GDR, he stayed with the Naidoos?

SW     I remember him from that period, the early sixties, 1962/63, must have been around then. My recollection is he may have stayed there for a short time but that he had digs elsewhere in Doornfontein.

POM     On Pearce Street.

SW     I don't really remember. He was married to Tim at that time and I don't really remember where it was. I do remember going there but I don't remember where. I think on the other side of the railway line from where the Naidoos are if I'm not mistaken. It's an area which is now derelict.

POM     So do you have a recollection of Tim, of Tim Naidoo – Mac's wife?

SW     Tim Naidoo, that was her name. She was never known as Maharaj for some reason.

POM     Is that right?

SW     Not by me anyway. I'm sure maybe some people called her that but I've always known her as Tim Naidoo and to this day know her as that.  She was MD's sister, MD Naidoo.

POM     M D Naidoo's sister and MD married Phyllis.

SW     Phyllis, exactly.

POM     Now Phyllis, was her name Welsh? Before she got married?

SW     Phyllis was David.

POM     That's right, Phyllis David.

SW     Davids I think. Yes, I mean all those families were very incestuous.

POM     MD was a big shot in the Indian Congress?

SW     Yes. He was a heavy, as we would call them now.

POM     What are your recollections of Tim?

SW     Well I remember Tim from that period in Jo'burg. I don't know where they'd been or whether she had been with him or whatever. I just became aware of this glass-eyed man around there who was clearly busy, but I wouldn't really have known what he was busy with and I wasn't involved in it. I was there on a kind of social basis. We would eat and drink and play cards.

POM     Have a good time.

SW     Yes. It wasn't necessarily – there must have been political activities going on but I myself wasn't necessarily heavily involved in the politics around there at that time in the early sixties, I was still at school but I would spend quite a lot of time there. It was a nice social situation.

POM     So Mac gets arrested and sent off to Robben Island. Have you a recollection of that?

SW     I don't remember that at all. I don't remember his trial. Who was he tried with?

POM     Wilton Mkwayi, Laloo Chiba.

SW     The Little Rivonia I think they called it. I wasn't really aware of that.

POM     Indres gets arrested?

SW     Indres was more closely involved and I remember more of Indres's arrest and trial simply because a lot of it happened in the house and I was still spending quite a lot of time there. So I do remember more about Indres's events, or the events around his arrest.

POM     So he ends up on Robben Island too.

SW     And Indres I corresponded with all the time that he was there, probably – I mean in the early days there were so few letters but I probably got – I mean I've kept the correspondence, probably got 10 or 15 letters each way from Indres.

POM     But you've no recollection of corresponding with Mac?

SW     Of corresponding with Mac.

POM     I love it. This is directly from the security file. I'll read it again for you. "The relationship between Mac Maharaj and Sheila Weinberg is of special significance because of Maharaj's present work." This is when they go back and say – they talked about your correspondence, "that because of Maharaj's present work and Sheila Weinberg's activities within the RSA." Now it says, "From the Maharaj/Weinberg correspondence the following individuals are identified as their friends, Ivan Leslie, Peter and Jill Schermbrucker, Ilse and Tim Wilson (that would be the Bram Fischer people), Ruth Fischer, Helen Joseph, Ama and Shanti Naidoo and the folk at Rockey Street which include Murthie and Prema Naidoo",  and they go on and list other people. MD and Phyllis Naidoo.

     Now when Mac was in the IPRD, when he took over from –

SW     What's that?

POM     That's the Internal Political Reconstruction and Development Committee which was charged with establishing the political underground within South Africa. Were you part of the political underground in South Africa?

SW     Not that I was aware. But you see it operated sometimes on a cell basis. What I was part of in the early seventies was something called the Ahmed Timol Memorial which was – Timol had been killed by the Security Branch in 1971. He fell out of the tenth floor of John Vorster Square. A year later a few – once again round the Naidoos, Prema, because I think Indres was – maybe it was just after he was released and it may have been him driving but who knows where the driving comes from, I didn't, but it could well have come from outside of the country, from someone like Mac, but a few people got together and organised a memorial meeting for Ahmed Timol. His brother Mohammed was part of it, Prema and myself and – well Indres's wife Saeeda, so it must have been after he was released because – yes, whatever, and we held this memorial meeting successfully. I can't remember the details but a couple of hundred people attended in the Gandhi Hall in Johannesburg and we then sat down afterwards and said, well that was fun, we can't just let it go, we can't hold a memorial every year, what do we do? And we formed something called a Human Rights Committee which produced a number of bulletins, HRC Bulletins and held a few protest meetings. There was one about release Bram Fischer and a variety of activities. That was, I would say, in my life probably my main political activity.

POM     Now did that Human Rights Committee continue to work throughout the seventies into the eighties?

SW     The seventies. No, by 1976 we were banned, detained and harassed out of existence.

POM     Now you were detained?

SW     I was banned, house arrested. Mohammed Timol was detained for some time and then house arrested. I can't even remember, he went into exile because of the house arrest. I chose not to. So, yes, it was about four years from 1972 to 1976. That's our activity, the HRC, the Timol memorial and the HRC, Human Rights Committee activities. So that was really in my heaviest activity. I mean I was imprisoned before that. I was detained in 1964 in relation to the Communist Party arrests but I hadn't been a member of the party and there was nothing they could prove on that. There was a provocateur who was making reports which were, I suppose, somewhat exaggerated but they couldn't use that as evidence and I wasn't charged then but I was charged later. What happened was after I was detained my parents shifted me out of the country and when I came back the cops came for my passport and my mother, my mother was quite a stroppy person –

POM     Sorry, when you were detained?

SW     I was detained in 1964 for two months or so.

POM     Now during that period what kind of interrogation – were you in solitary confinement?

SW     Solitary confinement throughout.

POM     Did you receive visits from your parents?

SW     No, no, no, absolutely no contact at all. Solitary confinement apart from the Security Branch. I wasn't, again the interrogation would take the form of them marching into my cell and saying, "Are you prepared to answer questions?" And I would say, "No", because that was my training. There would be, I mean in that time I became quite disoriented. You know solitary confinement is in itself a form of torture and so on and there were times when I would work on myself to persuade myself to engage them. At least it's somebody to talk to, but as soon as they walked in and they asked that question my knee-jerk response was no. And that was over the two month period that I was detained.

POM     Did you have any reading material?

SW     The bible.

POM     That was it? You and the bible in the cell.

SW     Yes.

POM     How did you keep, during those two months, how did you keep your sanity?

SW     Well as I say there were times when one became a bit destabilised but on the whole I slept a lot, I walked a lot.

POM     Did you work out a routine for yourself?

SW     Yes. I did what prisoners do. I made playing cards out of Beechie boxes and played a lot of solitaire. But as I say I slept a lot of the time too, I developed that as an escape.

POM     Would they leave you days on end before they would come and see you?

SW     It was random. I don't recall. It wasn't like every Thursday or twice a week or whatever. Every now and again they would come, probably at least once a week.

POM     Warders, did you see warders every day?

SW     Yes, the food was delivered.

POM     Did you talk to them? Did they talk to you?

SW     They were under instructions not to engage and they were fairly obedient about that. There were one or two that engaged on a fairly kind of flippant level but mostly there was no communication at all.

POM     Were the interrogators male interrogators?

SW     Yes. And there were regulations around prisons and even police stations because I was mostly in police stations but the Security Branch overrode all of those, as in marching into the cell as two men with no female escort or anything like that. Those sorts of things happened but there was never any – I mean apart from that no, what shall I say, bad behaviour, I didn't experience any bad things happening to me on that level. Yes, so I was detained, I was released. That was now the first Fischer trial. My father was part of that trial. Well he became number three accused. Ivan Schermbrucker was the number one accused.

POM     This is the Bram Fischer trial?

SW     The Bram Fischer trial, first Fischer trial. When I came back from overseas the cops came for my passport and my mother, being quite stroppy, she refused to give it up. What had happened was we had given it to my aunt for safe-keeping and my aunt had gone to Cape Town on holiday. So instead of explaining all of that and saying we'll get it back, we'll get the key, you know, she just said, "No", and they thought that I was going to use it again and they went away and a couple of hours later came back with a warrant for my arrest. It was on a Friday and they charged me with furthering the aims of the ANC in that I had painted a slogan. Now that was something that I had done in fact as part of a cell. So I had done that thing of painting that slogan but clearly this provocateur had made more extravagant reports because the only insights I had into my interrogation in the period of my detention was when they would accuse me of writing other slogans around town, slogans on walls, which I hadn't participated in. I'd only been out on the one outing. Anyway they charged me with that and eventually I served a six months sentence. I was sentenced to 18 months in the first court and we appealed and I was then sentenced to six months which I served. That was in 1965.

POM     Where did you serve the sentence?

SW     I was in The Fort for a while but mainly in Barberton Prison which is where the Fischer trial women were being held, in Barberton. I served the bulk of my sentence there.

POM     Again, was it solitary? Were you in a cell on your own?

SW     No. Once one was serving a sentence completely then the power of the Security Branch was to an extent removed although you were still – in the prison system they denied that there was a category called political prisoner but in fact you did get different treatment. You were kept isolated from ordinary prisoners on the whole although in The Fort conditions were slightly different and more difficult for that isolation. I was not isolated from common law prisoners in The Fort but in Barberton as political prisoners we were completely isolated. The African women prisoners would bring the food, put it down outside the door and then disappear and then they would open the door and we would bring it in. There was absolutely no contact but it wasn't – we were together as political women.

POM     Were you one or two to a cell?

SW     There were, I think there were three single cells and then two communal cells. We shifted about. We had a level of –

POM     You could communicate with each other?

SW     Oh yes, yes, and you could – by agreement amongst ourselves we moved about so you might want to share with somebody for a few weeks and then you get tired of that somebody, you negotiate and you go into a single cell or you share with somebody else.

POM     This is not like the rugby guy who has gotten into all the trouble, Cronje?

SW     Oh yes? Oh yes. No there was no – nothing like that. We were all white women in fact.  Those were the white women. That's something that South Africa maintained was racial segregation throughout the prison system. Even the politicals were separated except on Robben Island where the blacks were more or less kept together, blacks of all colour, but the whites were always separate.

POM     So you get out of prison?

SW     I was released from prison in 1966 in June/July 1966 and a period of inactivity in fact mainly I think because – you know the organisations had been banned, MK was still finding its feet and there was internally very little activity. As I say, it was about 1971/72 that I then became active again.

POM     Then this lasted until 1976.

SW     Yes. Then I was put under house arrest. Five years to 1981 and then another junior banning order without the house arrest but other constraints.

POM     So you were under house arrest, that meant that you could work?

SW     I could work. I was allowed out of the house from seven in the morning to six in the evening and on Saturdays from seven to one and then from one o'clock on Saturday through to seven o'clock on Monday I had to remain inside, well in the property.

POM     Were you restricted to the number of visitors?

SW     I wasn't allowed any visitors except for a bona fide doctor or priest.

POM     No visitors at all?

SW     I wasn't allowed any visitors myself but I was fortunate in that I was living in a fairly large house and I had, I suppose you'd call it a commune running so those people were allowed visitors so I was never really constrained and I think that's how I managed to survive that period. There were times when one became a bit stir crazy. You know Sunday evenings were particularly tiresome and certainly as the years drew on I sometimes did naughty things like going out on a Sunday evening. I got caught once, I was charged and got a suspended sentence. That was life, there was a level of surveillance but it mostly relied on self-policing, the house arrest method and I had a young child and I wasn't politically active. I was approached from time to time. My parents, well my father died in 1981 but my parents were in exile. My father left in 1976 and my mother in 1977 so in that period I – no, it was actually later, 1983 was the first time I went out of the country to visit my mother after my father died. She became quite ill. There was already by then - now with hindsight you recognise some sort of thawing of relations between the ANC and the regime.

POM     In 1983?

SW     1983. I had applied for a passport endlessly and been refused and eventually I applied to go to Tanzania to see my mother and I was given a passport which was valid for Tanzania only, it's a very special thing, for ten days. Of course the Tanzanian government wouldn't recognise a South African passport so when I arrived there I was met by the ANC and facilitated into Tanzania.

POM     When you were writing to Indres Naidoo during 1972/76 –

SW     No, you see I think Indres was in prison from 1962 to 1972.

POM     That's right, yes.

SW     So he was out by then and probably gone into exile. I certainly wasn't writing to him in exile. That was the time before. I think in answer to your question, I think the Human Rights Committee must have been part, could have been part of what Mac was facilitating.

POM     He would have been still, 1972 – 1976, he didn't get out till 1976.

SW     Oh didn't he? OK, so that was later.

POM     So this report that they're talking about here would have been written in 1980. This would be still during a period when you were under house arrest.

SW     Yes.

POM     So they have down here that your activities are of such interest that a special section has been included on you.

SW     It's something that I've suffered from all my life in fact, that people believe I'm doing things that I'm not. To this day nobody will believe that I'm not a member of the Communist Party, for instance, which I'm not. So that's interesting, that's a different period. But what I'm saying is anyway that the Human Rights Committee must have been, well you see history and hindsight, it could have been facilitated by the ANC as part of their internal political structure pillar but I certainly wasn't in contact with anybody.

POM     Why do you say there was a thawing of the relationship between the ANC and the government?

SW     Even by the earlier eighties? Well I think one of the indications is that I then got that passport and in fact not long after then my mother was quite keen to come back, she'd left on an exit visa, so the government was refusing – well first of all the ANC was refusing her permission to come back but quite soon thereafter they cleared her to come back and we started making applications here for her to come back and they were consistently refused.

POM     Why were the ANC refusing her to come back?

SW     Security. My mother was a serious security risk, but by that time things changed and I suppose they felt that she was less of a threat. For many of the years in exile there was very strict ruling not to communicate with your family if you were in exile. You were forbidden from communicating with your family. It was a hardship for a lot of people and people like my mother who was I suppose maybe less disciplined she used to write letters, mail them to London and then somebody else would re-envelope them and mail them here. So she was writing to me all the time that she shouldn't have been doing so. That was an ANC discipline which was correct because – I can't remember what she said in those letters but I'm quite sure she gave away, she might have mentioned names of people, you know, all sorts of things that as an underground movement you really shouldn't be talking about and that was why there was that constraint.  So, where were we?

POM     1983, your mother comes back?

SW     No. I went to Tanzania in 1983. Before that we met in Zimbabwe once, that must have been about 1982 or so.

POM     So then in the latter part of the eighties you were - ?

SW     1986 we met in Mozambique and 1988 I went back to Tanzania. My mother really wasn't well a lot of that time and in 1988 I again got a passport to go. I had these kind of short-term passports from time to time.

POM     Now you said you were under second banning order from - ?

SW     From 1981 to 1983. In 1983 by decree all banning orders were lifted. That was definitely, you see that was part of the reform process, the tricameral parliament was 1983. So clearly there was world pressure on the South African government and they were undertaking this reform process. So, yes, in 1983 I was unbanned, I think it was July, and in August there was the launch of the UDF which had already been active. The launch was only an event, the UDF was already well under way by then although I hadn't been part of it. That was my first activity, to go down to Cape Town to the launch of the UDF. Then of course I was active in the UDF in JODAC, the Johannesburg Democratic Action Committee which was the white body affiliated to the UDF.

POM     Then came 1990.

SW     Yes, then came 2 February 1990 which was quite a remarkable day. It was on that day, obviously the announcement was made of the unbanning of the organisations. I immediately at 12 o'clock, as soon as the broadcast was over, in the firm that I was working in we watched the broadcast and then we bought these crates of champagne and went into the streets of Braamfontein and bust them open, it was wonderful, plastic cups and champagne in Braamfontein.

     I phoned the Department of Home Affairs that I had been in touch with endlessly to try and get my mother back. We'd been in delegations to the minister and we'd had applications to the courts and were constantly blocked and refused. She'd gone on an exit permit and an exit permit is a one way ticket, finished. But on that day I phoned my contact in the Department of Home Affairs and I said, "Well what now?" and she said, "Make an application." So within weeks my mother came in, in April 1990, within weeks we were working on her re-entry and she came back to South Africa.

     So, yes, 1990 was a great turning point. But I wasn't in contact with Mac in all those years. I don't remember when I next came across Mac because in 1990 was his Operation Vula.

POM     1988 – 1990.

SW     Yes, but I wasn't part of that. I really don't remember when I next saw him. These kinds of reports are interesting. It's always dogged my life, as I've indicated, that people say things about me in order – I think it's got to do with enhancing their own interest and activity, like, as I indicated, the provocateur in the early sixties who was making these reports to the Security Police about my activities which were not true or which were exaggerated, shall I say. There was an element of truth but large exaggeration.

POM     He wanted to get a pay raise by submitting the reports.

SW     Well yes, you see people like that are under pressure to submit reports. They're getting paid after all in some way or another and they have to produce so they produce. As I say there's an element of truth, it's a colouring, it's a filling in of the lines. As I say that's dogged my life because apart from the HRC as I always said that I only worked hard for that banning order, I earned it. There were many people who got banned out of the blue without being really active. In the early days people who may have been active in the forties but hadn't been active from the mid-forties through to the fifties and suddenly they were banned because they had then been associated with certain organisations and people, so they got banned.

     There's an example that I like to quote of a girl who lived down the road from us, she was slightly mentally challenged. She had been in Italy during the war and had suffered from starvation basically so that her brain had become slightly under-performing. She coped but she wasn't very bright and she developed a crush on my brother. She must have been 18 and he 20. No he must have been 18 and she 16, it was that teenager time. So she was always hanging about our place. I don't think she really understood what was going on in the political arena but this kind of politics was going on around there and she got banned just because she was hanging round. She suffered a five-year banning order which, I mean I then lost touch with her but, I don't know, it impacted on her life. Banning orders that prohibited you from leaving Johannesburg which was a huge constraint on a person's life, from going into schools, from publishing houses, there were a whole lot of different aspects about it but, yes, that was the kind of person who got banned for no reason.

     As I always say, I really worked hard, I was the secretary of the Human Rights Committee for four years and we worked really hard and I believe we achieved a lot at that time.  One of things I'd like to do is write it up or have it written up as a short history.

POM     Sorry, one of the things you'd like to do is?

SW     Write up the Human Rights Committee, the activities and the story. I think it's worth recording but it's on the back burner, it's there. I should live so long to do it.

POM     I'll come back to you and I'll record you just on the HRC so you get it down and then you can look at it and say, OK, this is what I'll do.

SW     That would be great.

POM     Thank you ever so much.

SW     Well I hope it's been helpful.

POM     It has, it throws light on the way in which the Security Police – I mean your name figures quite prominently in these files.

SW     You would need to touch on Mac. Maybe I'm not remembering it correctly but I doubt that I could be that wrong. I was never very close to Mac. As I say, there was this social thing at the Naidoos and I was around there.

POM     That would have been when he was undercover because when he was with the Naidoos he was acting as though he wasn't political at all.

SW     Yes.

POM     Not into politics.

SW     And I hadn't the sense necessarily of any political activity because I was there to drink and play cards.

POM     Indres was mad at him at the time because he thought he should be politically involved and he didn't know that he really was but he was underground and had to act as though he wasn't. Thank you, really, ever so much. It's been very helpful.

SW     My pleasure. Good luck with your project, it's quite a big one.

POM     That's a promise, if you're interested, on the HRC.

SW     Yes, I don't mind. As I say my memory is not that great. It's a project that would require talking to a whole lot of other people as well. There is an archive. I was very careful about keeping every piece of paper and it's in a sports bag and it's still there. I checked on it a couple of years ago. So it is a project which I hope to do as well as the one of doing something with my mother's writings, letters, etc. My father's life I'm working on and that one, it's something that is finished I think because there are so many different aspects but we're working on a film, a Dutch television company is working on a film with the theme of ten years of democracy but looking at Eli's life looking back and forward. So it's his life, what he fought for, my life, what I fought for, and then my son's life and what he continues to fight for. He's in the NGO sector fighting poverty which is not what I'm doing in the ANC. According to my son he doesn't believe that the ANC is fighting poverty and whilst I do believe the ANC is fighting poverty it's not winning the battle.

POM     It's not. We all agree on that. Especially COSATU.

PAT     Part of that poverty -

SW     That's my son's position absolutely. All right.

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.