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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

25 Oct 2003: Maharaj, Shanti

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POM     Shanti, first of all, why don't you just tell me about yourself? I'll tell you a little bit of confusion I have from Mac, on different occasions he has said two different things and it could be that the transcriber didn't get it right. He said that from your father's first marriage there were five children.

SM     That's right.

POM     And that was three boys and two girls. And that from the second marriage there were three children, one girl, that's you, and two boys.

SM     That's right.

POM     And he was in the middle.

SM     He was in the middle

POM     He's always been in the middle of everything ever since. So why don't you tell me about just yourself, your earliest recollections, what you remember about growing up on Boundary Road, your Mum, your Dad, your brothers, your sisters, what life was like back then, that would be in the 1930s.

SM     It wasn't very easy because my Dad was more or less disabled. He had an accident and I think it was a tourist or somebody that knocked him, he used to ride a bicycle, and his ankle or something, and he was unable to walk. My father was a very tall man, a very tall man, very well built, he was almost six foot and he had to get special caps, he used to wear a cap, special size, shoes a size 10, he had blue eyes. We had a little shop, there were some tenants in the shop and they were not running it very well and eventually my Dad and Mum decided to take over, to run the shop themselves.

     So most of my memory is at the shop. My Mum was the one that did most of the work because Dad was disabled. Our shop was attached to the dwelling. So all my Dad knew was to get out of his bedroom, walk into a little room and then get into the shop. He used to hold the wall and go to the shop. It wasn't a very well paying shop or anything like that so we had not a very easy life but quite alright. Dad believed that his children should be educated.

POM     Now did all eight children live in the dwelling attached to the house?

SM     No, no, when they grew up – yes, at the beginning, yes at the beginning.

POM     So how did you all manage?

SM     It was a very big place. Yes it was a big place. If you go to Newcastle now the building is still standing there. It was built by my grandfather. The bricks were from his brickyard. My grandfather was a very notorious person.

POM     A notorious person? Tell us the story about him.  I've no stories like this.

SM     Yes. My grandfather, well I didn't see him at all, this is from Dad because Dad was seven years old when his father died and he had no brothers or sisters, just his mother. They had gone to India and 13 days after they arrived from India his Dad passed away.

POM     13 days after they came back from India?

SM     My Dad was seven years old. So my Dad virtually grew up only with his mother. I think before my grandfather left for India he had a very good friend and he had appointed that friend as a trustee.

POM     Yes, the Shaiks.

SM     Yes, Shaik. That's right. He had appointed him as a trustee so that when my Dad reached the age of 18 he should get everything under his wing. So whether he got everything or not I don't know but he got quite a bit of these things, the two properties that we had, the shop and the other property where we had lived previously when I was very small. I don't recollect that very much. I think there was another property somewhere in Newcastle, a place called Paradise, and some cows and things like that. But in any case my Dad took over and he was working at the Creamery at that stage, Newcastle Creamery. He was fit at that stage. Thereafter I know that he had that accident. The accident was in 1938 I think, 1937/38, and ever since then he was unable to move around freely.

POM     Would you have been regarded by your neighbours and other people in your community as being better off than they were, owing some property and having a shop?

SM     Well yes I think so but not that, I think moderately.

POM     Moderately, yes.

SM     Yes.

POM     Just going back, you say your grandfather was notorious. What made him – I know he got to India and died 13 days after he came back but that doesn't make him notorious so what made him notorious?

SM     Well my Gran used to tell us and other people around that knew my grandfather used to tell us these stories. My grandfather used to go to the court and listen to all the court cases. He was a very cheeky old man and his daily routine was to go to the court and listen to the cases and then he'd go over to whoever was in charge, what's his fine? "This guy here now, what's his fine? How much does he have to pay?" He's done something wrong, how much does he have to pay, what's his fine now? They'd tell him like he's got to pay so much and then only he'll be released. So my grandfather used to say, "OK, release him now." And he used to tell him, "Right, don't you ever do it again." And he was such a cheeky person that one day apparently he got angry with somebody, he put him into a bag and he was going to throw him into the river. Yes, and in India he had special permission to smoke dagga. You're not allowed to but he had a permit.

POM     Was he born in India?

SM     He was born in India.

POM     In India?

SM     He was born in India and he was born into, I think, from what I think, a very well-to-do family, because I know my Dad used to receive letters from his uncle to say leave South Africa and come over, because his uncle had no children. He said, "Come over, we've got everything here for you, we want you to manage things." Then just before that the war broke out, I think after that, and everything went quiet and we just lost touch. We lost touch with the people.

POM     So the stories you would hear from your grandmother, whatever, would they be about – did you hear many stories about India?

SM     Yes, some of it. I'll tell you one incident my grandmother – it wasn't an incident, it's something that was an ongoing thing. He had bought a merry-go-round, he won it at gambling.

POM     At gambling?

SM     Yes he was a gambler.

POM     Mac used to gamble at college so I guess this runs in the family.

SM     Yes, he won it and he used to give all – the old ladies used to come and tell us, we used to sit on the swings and have a ride. I know we had those long steel poles and all that, we used to often wonder and one day we asked my grandmother, "What are all these things?" "It's your grandfather's merry-go-round structure."

     When the first bicycle came out, that penny farthing, my grandfather bought the first bicycle in Newcastle. He didn't know how to ride it so he sat on that and he got two black boys to push him.

POM     So he was quite a character.

SM     He was, my grandfather was. But he died very young.

POM     Yes. Did they ever know what he died of?

SM     Dysentery.

POM     Is that right?

SM     In India, he contracted it in India.

POM     Oh dear. Yes. So when you were young did you and your brothers and sisters, did you consider yourselves to be Indian?

SM     Yes, yes.

POM     Like there was an Indian community, there was a temple in the community?

SM     Yes, in fact when my grandfather and grandmother were in India just before he died they brought back those big idols from India, huge idols. For those days it was really big and it was there when my grandfather died, it was at home, and then eventually after my grandfather died my grandmother donated it to the temple in Newcastle. Those were the first idols that were donated in Newcastle.

POM     Now how did she get on after your grandfather died?

SM     Well I don't really know but I know my father started work at a very young age, a very young age. As I say he worked in the Creamery and for his education, he was only Standard 1, but he used to read books like James Allen's books, all these very deep thinking books you know, Ling U Tang, all these people, they were his favourite authors.

POM     Mac talked about that, all the locals used to gather on your veranda and he would –

SM     Yes, in the shop, my Dad used to sit there and all the locals used to come and sit there. That was the meeting place.

POM     So this is where all the men of the community met to discuss the issues of the day.

SM     Yes you could say that.

POM     Right now they'd be discussing the Hefer Commission.

SM     Yes.

POM     Everyone with their opinion.

SM     I am quite worried now.

POM     I shouldn't have mentioned that.

SM     No, no, I watched it yesterday, I watched it. I watched it the day before yesterday, parts of it.

POM     Well you know it's not over until –

SM     I really don't know. At the moment they're making him as if to say, just making allegations and things like that because he was under investigation or whatever.

POM     We talk.

SM     But I know, I know for a fact Mac is not a corrupt person. He will never take a cent that doesn't belong to him. I know that.

POM     I know that too.

SM     And he was not liked as the Minister of Transport because there were lots of things that he did there that the people didn't like. They wanted to drive in BMWs and all that and he said, "What for? You don't need to have a BMW." You see those are things people don't like.

POM     Just going back, in the household your Mum would be running the shop.

SM     Yes.

POM     And she was also looking after you children.

SM     Looking after the children.

POM     Would the older ones be looking after - ?

SM     By now the older ones were quite big and they were working. My eldest brother was working. My second brother also was working I think. I'm talking about 1938/39/40. So as they started working and those days, you know, my eldest brother got married when he was about 21 I think. My Dad's friend had a quarry so my Dad had already spoken to this guy and as they came out of school they got the jobs.

POM     So they'd get a job working - ?

SM     Yes, but they looked after themselves too. They did give my Dad – and in a filling station too.

POM     Yes, so they'd begin in the filling station and then they'd work in the quarry?

SM     Yes. My eldest brother ended up as a blaster in the quarry.

POM     Aha. Now did Mac ever work in the quarry that you remember?

SM     No.

POM     He wouldn't have.

SM     Mac got through his matric and then he came to Durban to do his degree. So Mac didn't.

POM     At home how would the chores be divided up between, say, what Mac would do at home to help out and, say, what you would do at home? Or was it all up to, like in Ireland, the girls did everything and the boys kind of sat around?

SM     Yes, there was nothing much that – no home chores that Mac did besides maybe digging in the garden or something like that. Other than that it was more school and studies.

POM     Would you all play together, boys and girls?

SM     Yes.

POM     Mix, and with neighbourhood.

SM     Mostly the boys played with the neighbourhood boys and the girls with the neighbourhood girls. Yes. And we were at a mixed school.

POM     Yes. That's St Oswalds, right?

SM     Yes, St Oswalds.

POM     I always wondered why was it called St Oswalds? It was a Catholic school where they were all Indians. I was looking for an Irish priest out there some place saying there must be a missionary out there some place.

SM     At one stage I think it was, very, very earlier on it was – there was a teacher by the name of Mr Effray, he was a Catholic, Indian.

POM     He was the principal, right?

SM     I think he was at one stage, yes, because there were very few teachers there and then they moved on to this bigger school and the name stuck.

POM     At home what was, with such a large family both in age – would you play at home in the house or was there - ?

SM     Yes the boys were very fond of soccer, they would go out and play soccer. Soccer was a favourite game there. Well with me I was just at home because I didn't have very many friends.

POM     Why?

SM     Well somehow or the other, you know the houses were not very close, the homes were far apart and if I had to go it was meeting them at school. But there was one relative that I used to be very fond of and she used to visit me and I used to visit her.

POM     So how far would the next house have been to your house?

SM     About, I should say about – not very far, about 100/150 metres.

POM     Then the house after that would be about another 150, so maybe every 150 metres or so there'd be a house.

SM     Yes, 100 metres or so.

POM     When people were coming shopping they'd come in, right?

SM     Yes. Because we had the shop, you see, my Mum used to wait for us to come from school, especially me now, I come from school and I get into the shop so she goes to the back and she does the cooking, with the result I didn't even know how to cook because all I knew was school and the shop and Mac used to be in the shop too. Whenever Mac was free he was in the shop and my little brother also but the others were now quite grown up and they were working.

POM     Now were they still living at home?

SM     And my eldest brother was married so he lived separately. The second fellow was working in Alcockspruit and he wasn't living at home, so he was living out, and when the third one got married, he too. Now with my sisters, my eldest sister got married when I was three years old I think.

POM     Three years? Wow!

SM     Yes. She got married after she got through her – well at that stage there was only Standard 6 education there, so when she got through her Standard 6 she got a proposal and she was married and that was that. The youngest of course, the one that we're talking about, the second of the two girls from the other marriage, my Dad's other marriage, she was 11 days old when her Mum died and my grandmother was quite old and she felt she couldn't manage with a baby so there was another relative, maybe just a friend from India or something, because those days even if you were not a relative you sort of become a relative you know and she was childless. So she wanted the baby and my Dad said, "Well, my mother can't look after the baby, if you can look after the baby, fine." But they didn't get her registered. She was still my father's child. They wanted the child to be registered but my Dad said no, he said, "I won't take the child away from you, you're looking after the child, fine, but that's it."

POM     So what's your memory of your Mum? I know she was about four foot nine.

SM     My Mum was very short like me. In fact shorter than me. My Dad was very tall. It was just extreme. Very hard working. She was brought up on a farm. She was born in the Free State.

POM     That's right, I have that.

SM     She had birthright there which others didn't have. She came from a big family too, there were five brothers and several sisters, and my grandfather was very, very worried, he said, "Now my daughters are growing, who are they going to marry in the Free State? There's no Indian there." So he came to Ladysmith and he bought a farm, my grandfather. My mother's paternal grandfather was also from India. He was, well this is what I was told, more from royalty because he used to – you know like in India, I don't know if you've seen, well we see the pictures, I don't know, they put those riding breeches on and the Maharajas and the Maharanis they go hunting, he was that kind of a person. I was told he was from royalty but you know those days they just left the homes, whether they were lured or what I don't know and they ended up in South Africa. So my grandfather bought a farm and he did very well on that farm.

POM     That's your Mum's father?

SM     My Mum's father. That's it. And he did very well, the farm did very well. He died at a very old age, he was 98 when he died.

POM     Do you remember him?

SM     I remember him very well, very well. He used to smoke a pipe and towards the end he was losing his memory too so he had the pipe in his mouth and he was looking all over for something and I said, "What are you looking for, Grandfather?" He said, "I don't know where", with that pipe in his mouth, "I don't know where is my pipe." I said, "But Grandfather, it's in your mouth."

POM     So would you go to Ladysmith to visit?

SM     Oh always, they were very, I should say, anglicised in the sense that they would celebrate Christmas in a big way, because I think being in the Free State among the Dutch people, and we used to all meet at the farm, the whole big family.

POM     So all of you would leave Newcastle and go to Ladysmith?

SM     Yes, but sometimes Mac would stay at home but most time we used to go during December, not for the whole December or something but just for those two or three days because we had the shop. My Mum couldn't leave the shop for long. But we used to meet in Ladysmith at the farm.

POM     So this would be like a holiday?

SM     Like a little – yes.

POM     Did he have a farm with cattle and - ?

SM     Oh lovely, lovely, lovely. I can still remember. It's not there any more, they sold it, but it was beautiful. It was a lovely setting, beautiful hills, three hills, like a story, the house at the foot of the hill in the middle. When you walk in there you know those big, huge rooms, they give you that feeling that you're entering some place. There was another room there when all the visitors used to come during December, they used to just lay out all the beds because there used to be so many of them. And to enter that farm there used to be so many gates before you come to the main house and these little black children used to stand and wait for us to come to open the gate and then close it after we enter. And we used to always carry sweets or something for them so that when they open the gates we'd give them that. Then we'd get to the next gate and the same thing happened. Then you'd get to the next gate, but from the farmhouse, it was built in such a position that when you entered the first gate, and that was quite far away, they could see us and the moment they see a car coming they know they're getting visitors, my aunt would get the chicken ready and the vetkoeks and all that, busy doing – and the moment the car arrives you must know the table is all laid ready to sit and have something.

POM     Now you say they had people helping them out at their farm or did your grandmother - ?

SM     Yes, no, no, my grandmother didn't but her children. They were all grown up, the sons were grown up. The eldest son he had his own children too and they had other workers also at the farm. They used to plant strawberries. I still remember.

POM     So your mother had brothers then who were in Ladymith?

SM     Yes in Ladysmith. My mother had five brothers. The one brother didn't come to Natal, he remained in the Free State. At the moment, right now, his son is still there, he was a businessman, but his son married a mixed person, Two of my uncles married Indian girls while they were still in the Free State and because they didn't have permits and because they were not born there my youngest aunt was locked up. The moment my uncle took her to Bethlehem the cops were there and they locked her up because she was not allowed to be there. So there was a case and the case went to the Appellate Division and he won that case. So he left the place and he died in England, in London. He's got a daughter in London, she's married to a doctor there.  (break in recording)

     It's Divali today. I don't celebrate it.

POM     Yes, I saw that in the paper but it reminded me, I was telling Patricia, of what Mac told me about when they were on Robben Island, is that on Divali they would, the prisoners who were Hindus would get some sweets that the other prisoners wouldn't get. So when Divali was coming around the Hindu prisoners would tell every other prisoner, "Divali is coming up", so when the warder went down and the warder would say, "Mandela", and Mandela would say, "Hindu." Sisulu, "Hindu." So for one day everybody was Hindu just to get the sweets.

     But you said that your uncle, that would be your uncle, right?

SM     Yes my mother's youngest brother.

POM     His son is in – ?

SM     His daughter, she is in London. No not London, somewhere out of London. She is married to – he was a lieutenant in the army in London, Lieutenant John Spears, and she has got two daughters. One is a doctor and the other is also – something she's done.

POM     Do you keep in touch? Have you kept in touch with your uncles?

SM     We did, we did. My uncle is late now and his wife is also late, but we had lost touch with the daughter for a while but I've got a cousin living in the building here, my mother's sister's daughter, she went to London early this year and sort of – yes.

POM     That's neat, that's very nice.

SM     Very nice.

POM     Going to school, when you were going to school, now at that time you could only go to Standard?

SM     Standard 8, in my time.

POM     What age were you then?

SM     I did my Standard 8 in 1946, I was 14.

POM     Then you said? You were just telling us before we started that you went to - ?

SM     Then I started teaching.

POM     You went to work for?

SM     For the Department of Education. I went to help them at school and then somehow or the other, I don't know whether they got me appointed or what but I know I started teaching, I got an appointment later from the Department that I must report on duty.

POM     What age were you then?

SM     Now I was just over 14.

POM     You got a job as a teacher when you were 14?

SM     Yes. You see I was 14 because I didn't do Standard 5. From four I went to six. I skipped 5. I think that's it.

POM     So you were all very clever?

SM     Not really. Mac is. And my little brother, you should have met him, he's late. Oh, very intelligent. Cheeky too.

POM     Cheeky too.

SM     He was a teacher.

POM     He was a teacher. Now did he stay in Newcastle?

SM     No, no, he stayed here in Durban, he was teaching in Durban. His wife is still in Durban. He's got no children.

POM     So you were 14, you've left school because you can't go any further and then a couple of months later bingo! You turn up and you're a teacher.

SM     Yes.

POM     I think this is a great system. Who were you teaching? Were you teaching - ?

SM     The junior primary.

POM     So that would be what age?

SM     Six, seven, eight, nine.

POM     So when they saw you coming in they didn't say, "Oh we can beat her up."

SM     No they were too small. But when they had the matric classes there, my Dad said, "Well go back and do your matric", I said, "No, I'm not going to do my matric, I'm teaching here and I must go and do my matric!" Because now I was teaching at St Oswalds and not in the school where I was appointed. You see there was another school that had opened in Lennoxton.

POM     What was that called?

SM     That was Lennoxton Government Aided Indian School.

POM     So that was where your first appointment was, was it?

SM     Yes.

POM     So when you came to St Oswalds was Mac still there? He was matriculating? And his older sister was –

SM     Teaching there.

POM     What were the stories about him at school? Were there stories about him? Was Mac a loner?

SM     Well Mac, he was very intelligent, he held the record that no other student had held. He didn't have a second position in the school.

POM     He always finished first.

SM     Always finished first and there was one rival he had and they used to be always at each other. That guy became a doctor.

POM     Is he still around?

SM     Yes I think he is around, yes.

POM     Oh, I'd like to talk to him I'd like to talk to somebody who was at school with him, who remembers him as a student, what he was like in the classroom. If you can think of anybody sometime I'd really appreciate it.

SM     Yes. This is one guy, he's a doctor. I think he's in Richmond or Cato Ridge, somewhere there.

PAT     What's his name?

SM     Amand Rai Singh.

POM     How many students were in St Oswalds?

SM     In each class those days there used to be about 40 students.

POM     About 40. OK.

SM     Average 40.

POM     Were the classrooms like – would you have desks?

SM     Yes we had desks.

POM     Many of the classrooms might be better equipped then than some of the classrooms are today in some of the African townships?

SM     Yes, they were better equipped than the African townships.

POM     They'd be better then. I mean in many schools today they don't have – or the old schools children still sit on the floor and don't have desks and things.

SM     We had good desks, we had desks.

POM     Blackboards, chalks.

SM     Yes, maybe sometimes –

POM     A cleaning stick?

SM     Yes.

POM     You see I knew, it was a Catholic school. The leather, that's what we used to get at home, a belt of the leather if you didn't know the right answer. Who was Mac closest to in the family?

SM     At the moment?

POM     No, well he's only got you at the moment so he'd better be closest to you or else I'll have a real word with him.

SM     I phoned him this morning and he was still sleeping I think. I left a message with the maid but I think he phoned because my husband said the phone was ringing but I was gone outside.

POM     So growing up, in the family, when he was at home?

SM     He wasn't one that had too many friends around him but he was a bit, well according to what I think, he was a bit of a reserved person, he was a bit reserved.

POM     As a child?

SM     As a child he was a bit reserved. But he was very intelligent as I said, very, very intelligent.

POM     Now he used to get into fights with your Dad? I think everybody got into fights with your Dad. All the boys got into fights with him.

SM     Yes, yes, yes, because my Dad had his way of thinking and he had his way.

POM     I think he wanted Mac to become a teacher.

SM     Yes. You see, I don't blame my Dad, he was a disabled person and he must have thought – now this is all I can afford, but Mac had his ideas. He wanted to become a lawyer. He did his degree.

POM     Do you remember when he left home, when he went off to Durban?

SM     I was married. Oh, when he came to Durban? Yes I was married.

POM     Oh you were married when he came to Durban?

SM     No, no, let me think properly. I was married in 1952.

POM     Yes and he came to Durban in 1953.

SM     I got married in 1953 and that's the year he came to Durban.

POM     Yes. Now when you got married did you stay in Newcastle or did you move here?

SM     No, no, in Durban.

POM     In Durban. And did Mac visit you when he was - ?

SM     Yes he used to visit me and he used to visit me quite often.

POM     Did the Hindu religion play any role in your upbringing? Did you go to temple? Did your Mum go to temple?

SM     Well, uh-uh, we didn't go to temple. My grandmother used to. My Dad, I think, we got it all from my Dad, my Dad believed in truth is God and God is truth. That was him. I have never seen my Dad putting his hands together and praying. Really. We used to go with my grandmother to the temple on these auspicious days or something and my grandmother used to look after the temple, she used to go and clean it up and all that. So as children we used to go with her. That's about all. And up to this day I don't do any prayer besides meditation. That's all I do. I don't know, I think I got it from my Dad.

POM     And your grandparents on your Mum's side, did they practice religion? Were they observant?

SM     Well we observed all the auspicious days and things like that but we are not religious.

POM     I know what you mean, churchgoing, temple-going.

SM     Not too rigid.

POM     So Mac would visit you here when he was going through school?

SM     Yes. He didn't live with me. He lived in town. There were two of them sharing a flat or something like that.

POM     Do you remember who he shared a flat with?

SM     I can't remember.

POM     Now when you were growing up did you have any sense of, or did people in the community have any sense of being discriminated against or did you think that this is an Indian community and this is the way we live and we go to school and we get jobs and we get married and we have children?

SM     Well if I talk about myself, my Dad – I think he was not like any other Indian parent because when I met my husband it wasn't that I just met him, it wasn't a love marriage or anything as such. It was the principal of the school that introduced us and it was left to me whether I would want to marry him or not. That was left entirely on to me.

POM     That was unusual was it? Were arranged marriages still very much - ?

SM     Very much, very much. But in a way mine was an arranged marriage but I was given a say in it.

POM     Did your older brothers, were their marriages - ?

SM     Arranged marriages.

POM     They were all arranged.

SM     All arranged marriages, besides one, besides the second one. He found his own girl.

POM     He found his own? He got out there quickly.

SM     He was working in this quarry and he met somebody.

POM     OK, you were speaking for yourself. So you married on your own, a man of your choice and you moved to Durban. But the question I was asking, Shanti, is that did you have any sense – when did you first become aware of the fact that you were being discriminated against, that apartheid was affecting you?

SM     I think we were born with that so we didn't mix with white people.

POM     Well they weren't around you, right?

SM     They used to come to the shop.

POM     Oh they did?

SM     They used to come to the shop, they used to come to the shop, the people used to come to the shop. My Dad was called Blou Oog (Blue Eyes). I told you my Dad had blue eyes.

POM     That's very unusual isn't it?

SM     Well my Dad, if you put him in his younger days you'll never say he was an Indian. He had curly hair, he had blue eyes, he was fair in complexion. All the Dutch people around called him Blou Oog, and they were quite friendly. Those that used to come to the shop they were quite friendly with my Dad.

POM     So where would they come from?

SM     From the surrounding – I mean they used to live around because in those days everybody, Africans and whites and all lived in their own homes, there was no segregation as such. It came after.

POM     So there was no segregation around you when you were growing up.

SM     Yes, although there was no segregation there were separate schools. Right? There were separate schools. We didn't intermingle with the children as such, besides them coming to the shop.

POM     Would they mostly be poor white people?

SM     Well mostly the poorer white people, yes.

POM     So when then did things begin to change, when you kind of said something's wrong?

SM     When Mac was here that's the time it really got us because Mac was in Durban and he was quite involved selling the New Age paper, I don't know if he told you about that.

POM     Oh yes, he sure did. Did he sell a copy to you?

SM     Yes we used to have it.

POM     Did you pay him every week so he could get his commission?

SM     I don't remember, I don't really remember. He was very involved and people used to even come and tell my Mum that, "Oh, Mac is not studying, he's doing something else but he's not studying." And my Mum used to get very worried and, I don't know if Mac told you, one day she actually came with my brother to see where he was and what was he doing.

POM     So what happened that day?

SM     Well they found him in the flat.

POM     They took him to task?

SM     Yes they did.

POM     Just something coming into my mind. When did he first meet Tim? Tim was also at university.

SM     Yes, that's where he met Tim, at university.

POM     Now would he take her round to the flat to visit you and your husband?

SM     Well you see I only came to know Tim after he left South Africa, he has gone overseas, and Tim also went overseas. Both of them went overseas.

POM     They went to London.

SM     Whether they went together or whether they went one after the other I don't know but they met there and I know he wrote from London and he told my Dad he's interested in somebody and he wants to get married. So my Dad, well Tim is Tamil speaking and we are Hindi speaking (both are Hindus but the language is the difference), so it wasn't heard of that a Hindi boy marries a Tamil girl. But my Dad was very broadminded. He felt if they are interested in each other well it's his life.

POM     She came from a family, her brother was quite famous – MD Naidoo.

SM     Yes MD Naidoo and MJ Naidoo.

POM     MJ? Oh both of them. I keep coming across all these Naidoos. Naidoo, Naidoo, Naidoo, who's who? So the two of them were brothers. Then it was MD who married Phyllis who I'm going to see tomorrow. But were they considered to be from a better off family or did they just think themselves that they were better off?

SM     They were quite, I should say they were quite well off. I don't know, I don't know the background but I know they're educated people.

POM     So when did you first meet Tim?

SM     When she came with Mac from overseas.

POM     That would have been in 1962?

SM     Could be in 1962 or so.

POM     And you were still here in Durban?

SM     I was living in a flat in Warwick Avenue.

POM     You were teaching still at that point were you?

SM     Yes I was teaching.

POM     And you had, you said it was two children?

SM     I had two children. No, wait a minute, I was teaching and then I was expecting my second one and I gave up for a while. I think when he came, I don't know whether I had gone back to teaching but I did go back to teaching.

POM     Who was your Mum's favourite? Or did she have a favourite?

SM     It's very hard to say. I think she liked both of them, all of us.

POM     Well I know she treated you all alike. I get this real sense when Mac talks about her that he was spoilt silly.

SM     Yes, she spoilt us all.

POM     She spoiled you all!

SM     Spoilt us all. As I say, I didn't even know how to cook. When I'd go to bed at night she'd bring – you know I used to always get cracked lips and I know while I am sleeping I can just feel somebody putting the lip ice around my lips.

POM     Is that right? She must have been an extraordinary, loving person.

SM     She spoilt us all. She'd do everything for us.

POM     When you heard of Mac's – when did you first hear of Mac's arrest?

SM     You see, I was living in a flat in Warwick Avenue. I think Mac had just left my place. I can't remember very well now, but I know there was a big bang at my door late in the night, they wanted to know where is Mac. "Open the door, where is Mac?" We said we don't know where he is. That was the first encounter with the police.

POM     Was this in 1962 now or in 1957?

SM     I think it was 1960. No, no, wait a minute.

POM     Or 1964 when he got arrested?

SM     1964 he was arrested? I'm talking about when he just came from England this happened because I know he left my place, him and Tim, and from what I know is that the moment he arrived in Johannesburg or somewhere and there the cops were around the car.

POM     That would have been on 6 July.

SM     And they took his wife in also, Tim also in. 90 days and 180 days. They took Tim in for 90 days I think. They took him in for 90 days and then they extended it to 180 days.

POM     Did you get word from Johannesburg that he'd been arrested, because he had been going under a false name at the time, Solly Matthews I think?

SM     We got the message very quickly that he was arrested.

POM     So after he was arrested – now in the period from when he came back from England to the time he and Tim were arrested she had come back to Durban to do a refresher course.

SM     Yes, she was a nurse at St Aidans Hospital.

POM     At St Aidans, that's right, the same one that he was in later when he was in Vula.

SM     Yes.

POM     That's the same hospital.

SM     She was the matron, the night matron.

POM     The night matron there. And then he'd come to pick her up to take her back to Johannesburg, or they were making a trip to your parents. He talked about the trip, that he left the parents one day on the fifth and your Mum said, "I think you're involved in politics", and he said, "No, no, no, I'm not." And she looked at Tim and said, "Is he involved in politics?" And she said, "No." Then the following day they are arrested.

SM     Well we didn't know how deeply he was involved at the beginning. The only time, as I say, we really knew is when that knock was on the door and they came looking. They used to harass me at school the Security Police, they used to harass me at school, they used to come to school and find out – ask me if I had got any message from Mac, where is he and things like that. You know when his son was born I was living in Chatsworth and we had a sort of a corner lounge suite with a little table there and a seat here and the Security Police came. They sat, one guy sat there and the other guy sat here and there's the table there and Mac had sent me a card telling me that a son has come in the family, with a picture – not a picture, I think it was postcard and the postcard was kept there and they asked me questions and they asked me, "Did you hear from Mac?" I said, "No." "When last did you hear?" You know questions like that, "When last did you hear?" I said, "Look it's long, I don't know." They asked me so many questions and as they walked out and I just said to my husband, "Do you know what? That card was there."

POM     And they never noticed it, right?

SM     They didn't pick it up.

POM     What year would that have been?

SM     Milou is 21 now.

POM     Yes, so that would be the beginning of the 1980s. Yes.

SM     Yes.

POM     So when did you know he was deeply involved? With the knock on the door and the security people came in?

SM     Yes. My husband used to tell me that this guy is involved in politics but I never used to believe it.

POM     Were any of the family able to go to his trial?

SM     My mother. My mother went there all the time, even when the trial was in camera.

POM     Is that right?

SM     She used to be there. My mother used to go there.

POM     Who would she stay with when she was there?

SM     My little brother took her. I really don't know, I can't remember who she really stayed with. But my little brother took her. Whenever she went my little brother took her and even Robben Island my little brother used to take her.

POM     When Mac was released he stayed with his brother.

SM     My little brother. Yes.

POM     He talked about that. Did you ever get to visit him in Robben Island?

SM     No, unfortunately I didn't get a chance to go and visit him there.

POM     So when was the next time that you two got to see each other?

SM     Well after he came out of prison. Yes, after he came out of prison.

POM     Were you able to write to him when he was in prison?

SM     No, no, because he was only allowed so many letters and I used to give my mother, my mother was more – I felt she was first.

POM     Yes. So when he came back to Durban and stayed with your little brother were you able to – would you visit him?

SM     Visit him but he was only allowed so many visitors at a time.

POM     Was he changed?

SM     I don't think so. He was still the same Mac but looking a bit older.

POM     Was he as reserved or - ?

SM     No, no, no.

POM     That had all gone?

SM     I think that reserved part was only when he was growing up.

POM     Oh it certainly went some time because he's certainly not reserved now and hasn't been for years.

SM     Yes, yes.

POM     You couldn't talk politics in the house?

SM     When he came out?

POM     Yes.

SM     We had to be very cautious because people used to hang around all over, whether the place was bugged or not I don't know.

POM     Then he disappears again.

SM     Then he disappeared. Then he disappeared.

POM     And when is your next contact?

SM     The next thing we got a call, my brother got a call that he's in Mozambique I think and he's alright.

POM     Yes. And the next time you hear from him is when?

SM     Vula.

POM     Is Vula?

SM     No, no, during Vula.

POM     So when is the next one. He's in Mozambique, that would be in 1977. Then he went to England and he hooked up with Tim again and then he went to Lusaka.

SM     Then he met Zarina.

POM     Then he met Zarina. He met Zarina in?

SM     In Mozambique.

POM     Mozambique, yes. Then he disappeared again, underground.

SM     No, well you see one day I got a call from him from somewhere in Germany. That took me by surprise. He says, "How are you?" and all that and I said, "We're OK." Then he says, "Look, wouldn't you want to come to Lusaka for a short visit?" I was shocked, I said, "What is he talking about now?" He said, no, he's phoning from Germany but, "I'll be there." He said, "Look I want to discuss something with you." I said, "Well I'll ask", (my husband is known as Lucky, in boxing, Lucky Maharaj), so I said, "I'll ask Lucky and see what he has to say." He said, "OK, talk about it and I want you to come over." I told Lucky, I said, "Look this is what Mac has to say. What do you say?" So he said, "OK, let's go." So we went down to Lusaka and we spent a few days with him and then he told us, he said, "Look I want you to come here and be with us." I said to him, "Look, I am doing studies." I was doing some studies. I said, "I'm in the midst of it. Now what am I to do about that?" Then he says, "Don't worry about that, just go and tell them that you're going to be off for a while and you'll come back and resume it or something like that." I said, "What is it all about?" He said, "No, Zarina is always out and I am also always out. I want you to be with the children." I said, "OK." I mean if I can't do it for him now then when will I do it? So we sold most of our things but we took one ton of things to Lusaka.

POM     One ton?

SM     One ton. We shipped it, we sent it by rail. Not rail, road. A container. We went to Lusaka, we were there for almost a year and that's the time he was here.

POM     That's when he was in Vula?

SM     Vula. Yes.

POM     So that would have been in 1988. Wow! And was it during that period that Zarina had her accident?

SM     Towards the end.

POM     While you were actually there?

SM     I was there. I was there. I only left them when she had – she was out of hospital and all that, because I had to come back to school. I had to report otherwise I would have lost my job. I was there when she was in Harare in hospital and then I think it was somewhere in December, or January I think, I'm not too sure.

POM     December they airlifted her to –

SM     December/January. In the meantime Lucky was gone for his neck. He was in Moscow.

POM     Who was in Moscow?

SM     My husband, for his neck. He had a problem so he was in Moscow.

POM     And they could do nothing for him there?

SM     Nothing. They were going to operate on him eventually. They said that about 20 years ago there was a case like that and it was successful so he was quite fed up. He said, "Look, I want to have it done. Let me have the operation." But they took him into the theatre and I think his heart rate fell and they had to wheel him out. His heart rate fell to 38 and they didn't go ahead with the operation.

POM     How did you find Lusaka? It must have been a big change from Durban.

SM     Oh very big. I didn't think that South Africa would be like that because when I went to Lusaka those high walls and the bottle pieces on the wall there and the things that we went through at night, people jumping over the wall and coming to steal and things like that.

POM     This is in Lusaka?

SM     In Lusaka and it never used to happen here. I said, "My God!" and we used to see things that we didn't see here, but it's happening here now. In Lusaka we used to wonder, we used to see the people working on the sites but the whole day there is food cooking, pots of food, and I used to tell my husband, "But when do they really do the work?" You see them gathered around, they're eating, the food is being cooked, they're being served. I think they only work for a few hours. Now it's happening here also, they only work for a few hours. Production is very low.

POM     Yes. Did you get to meet Oliver Tambo?

SM     Yes, yes.

POM     Who did you get to meet? I'd like to hear just your opinions of the different people.

SM     Oliver Tambo, wonderful person, wonderful. Very soft spoken and very nice. The first time I met him he actually kissed me and I said, "Oh my God, I was never kissed by a black man." I mean we don't mix up like that. We are not mixing up like that. But he was wonderful. A very nice person. I met Oliver Tambo. I met Joe Modise. Joe Slovo was in and out.

POM     Did you meet Joe?

SM     Yes.

POM     What did you think of him?

SM     Very, very nice person. There was another guy by the name of Ronald, and Flo. Flo was a Malay girl, she was married to Ronald. I think he's somewhere in Swaziland now. I don't know if they're in Jo'burg, I'm not sure. They came to visit.

POM     Got you, sure. I have his name. Yes.

SM     Ronald and Flo, they were wonderful too. The few people that we met were really good people, very nice people. But even there we were just – very few people knew where Mac lived and it was just that circle and not more than that.

POM     So was it an isolated part of Lusaka?

SM     No, no.

POM     Just like any other house around it with lots of glass on top of the walls.

SM     Not only his, everybody's.

POM     Did people in Lusaka keep security guards outside at night watching the place?

SM     Yes, yes, security guards, dogs.

POM     But that was common for everybody?

SM     No it was common for everybody. I think Mac, the organisation, I think he had to have security because there was a stage when they said that they were fearing for their lives because they had bombed some house or something there that belonged to ANC members. I know we had to sit, take turns to sit at night during that period.

POM     Who would that be?

SM     My husband used to sit for a few hours and he goes to sleep and then I sit, then Mac comes on and then Zarina. Like that you know.

POM     Now where would Zarina be? Was Zarina travelling at that time?

SM     Zarina was working for the United Nations I think so she had to go out now and then. She had to get out of the country. She was at home too.

POM     So he was here in Vula and then the next thing you know is – so you come back and then up he pops again and he's in more trouble.

SM     Yes. Oh God. Mac. I hope this is the last of his troubles.

POM     Who is he? Who is he?

SM     Who is he?

POM     Yes. Who is he? Just look back knowing him from the time he was your, not your littlest brother but your younger brother, all the way through his life.

SM     A very dedicated person. You say who is he? But what do you really mean?

POM     Like who is he as – he was very dedicated to the struggle. He gave his entire life to it.

SM     Yes he gave his life and that is the sad part of it. That's the saddest part because I always say, I tell my husband, I said, "You know, he did so much for the country and yet they haven't even acknowledged him one bit." The other day I was listening to some award they were giving out to the people that did something for the country and I told my husband, I said, "His name is not even mentioned." And yet he did so much. He forfeited everything. He left his parents, he left his family, his own family, his home got broken because of that. It's sad really.

POM     Do you ever bump into Tim these days?

SM     Yes I do sometimes, I do. She used to come and see me here, I used to do a little bit of sewing for her too.

POM     Is that right?

SM     We have a good relationship.

POM     Was she very broken up after - ?

SM     I think she was.

POM     I get that feeling from just people that I've talked to that she took it very hard.

SM     She took it very hard. She did.

POM     Because she gave a lot too.

SM     She did. She was very dedicated to him. When he was in Robben Island she did a lot for him. When my brother couldn't go, my little brother couldn't take my mother she used to take my mother to Robben Island and she did not miss her visits. She was there all the time. She even saw that he gets his books in time to study. Tim, I mean she's not with him but I must be fair. She did do a lot.

POM     Was she arrested again before she left?

SM     No she wasn't arrested but what I was given to understand is that they gave her a 24 hour exit, she had to leave the country in 24 hours or something like that. I'm not sure but this is what I heard. She had to leave in a hurry, leave the country in a hurry.

POM     So today does Mac keep in touch with you sufficiently? I keep telling him that he doesn't keep in touch with the people – like he told me to see all these people and a lot of them were involved with him in Vula and other things and he hasn't rung them for years. When I go to see them they say, "Oh tell Mac to communicate."

SM     He's too busy.

POM     Mm, yes.

SM     He's too busy. He leaves everybody.

POM     He's too busy getting into trouble.

SM     Into trouble, I don't know. He's too busy. It is unfortunate that I can't just go up to him because my husband is not well and I can't just go off to him all the time too.

POM     Does he manage to come down here to visit? He and Zarina, do they do that more often now?

SM     Yes, but for a while now they haven't come. It's a while now.

POM     Is that since all this trouble started? Because Milou hasn't been well either. That's another thing.

SM     Oh, that's a big blow.     

POM     Do you think Mac shows his - is he a man in that he never shows his emotions?

SM     He doesn't.

POM     You never know what's going on inside the head. You don't know whether he's feeling hurt or whether he's –

SM     Every time I ask him about his son, "He's alright, he's alright."

POM     He's never telling that it's killing him. Because for a while he thought, being Mac, that he could cure Milou himself, that he knew what was wrong. Oh we've had great fights over this you'll be glad to know. I tell him, "You don't show your emotions." I have been telling him, we got one day into talking about Tim and I said, "You know she did an awful lot for you. She must have loved you an awful lot."

SM     What did he say?

POM     He wanted to change the subject right away, that's what he wanted to do, but I had him in a corner so he wasn't getting out. I said, "You know, Mac, there's a lot of just unfinished business. You're getting old so why not pick up the phone and give her a call and say – do you know what? I remember us and I remember all the things you did for me. I am sorry things didn't work out but I want to tell you I remember."

SM     I don't know, but you see I don't want to ask Tim or get into any of their affairs, even Mac for that matter, I didn't question him or anything about it because he had already met Zarina. But I was told, given to understand that they had parted amicably, very nicely, I don't know.

POM     Well I think they may have parted but he was doing the leaving if you know what I mean. I think she wanted –

SM     What a friend was telling me, she was very broken up. A friend told me that.

POM     I said to him write her a letter because she might be gone one day and you might be gone and you'd think, I'm sorry I didn't do that. I'm really sorry I didn't do it when I had the chance.

SM     True. But I don't know what was the reason.

POM     Well everybody changes when they're in jail for that length of time. One person still believes in him completely and that's Madiba.

SM     Oh I'm glad because I was talking to Zarina the other day, I said, "What does he have to say because he held Mac in such high esteem, what does he have to say?" She told me, "No, Mac doesn't want to run to him for every little thing but he knows what is happening and he is with Mac all the way."

POM     That's important to him. I think that's the one thing that would keep him going, but Madiba won't last for ever either.

SM     That's the thing, that's it.

POM     You can't have just one person in the world you know.

SM     It has to go on.

POM     So we're glad to have met you.

SM     I don't know if I was of any help.

POM     Oh you were indeed, yes, you were. It's just I'm so glad to meet one of his relations. You're the only person I've met and if there are other people like nephews who know him or nieces. I always found I would talk to people in different parts of his life, like a man named Vella Pillay who is in England and Paul Joseph and Daso Joseph.

SM     They are all his colleagues.

POM     They all said how wonderful he was with children. With children. They didn't say he was wonderful with adults. They said he was kind of arrogant and this, that and the other but with children –

SM     With children, especially when he came from England he was quite different. I think that opened him up, going out.

POM     Yes I'm sure.

SM     I know my children too, they used to love him.

POM     Would he just play with them?

SM     Yes, yes. I remember – was he going that time to England? Something like that, he was going to go I think and he came home and my eldest daughter was about 1½, something like that, and he'd take her and hold her legs up and swing her and she would just enjoy it.

POM     One last thing, are your children living here?

SM     No, I lost both of them. I told you.

POM     I'm sorry I'm a bit deaf so I did not –

SM     I'm also deaf. Yes, I lost both of them. I lost my eldest daughter when she was 25 years old and I lost my baby within a year, within that year when she was 20. My eldest daughter was married to an attorney, that case is still open because she was having some problems and then they said something which didn't seem to be true and they had that – what do they call that after death? Inquest. When they had the Inquest and the magistrate told me, "Mrs Maharaj, this case is not going to be closed, it's going to be open until further evidence."

POM     When was this?

SM     We feel it was her husband, her husband was an attorney. And the little one was coming from Johannesburg and on that straight stretch, Van Reenen's stretch, she lost her life there.

POM     Oh I'm so sorry.

SM     My eldest daughter would have been 49, my baby would have been 43. That's when my husband didn't go back to work. He couldn't take it. That's life.

POM     Very sad. Just looking back, just to get a little snapshot of how – an image in your head of your Dad, what image do you have of him?

SM     You want me to describe him?

POM     No, no, not describe. Now if you said if I asked him, think of one thing about your Dad that you remember most, what would flash into your head?

SM     Let me see.

POM     Would you say, 'Oh I see him there sitting on the veranda talking to - '

SM     Oh yes. Yes, sitting in the shop with all his friends around him. That's an every morning image that.

POM     Every morning he would be holding forth.

SM     Yes. He was the centre of attraction there.

POM     He was the centre of attraction. So if you have one memory of your Mum?

SM     Yes, my Mum is the one that used to run around and serve the people, make the teas. Well people knew they'll get the tea there. I'm sorry, I haven't even offered you – let me just go and get something.

POM     No, don't worry, not at all. And one memory of Mac growing up.

SM     Mac growing up. Let me see. He used to give the teachers a rough time too. He gave the teachers a rough time. There was one particular guy, he used to really give him a rough time.

POM     Oh I think this is a guy that he used to play soccer with.

SM     No.

POM     No? Somebody else?

SM     No, no, this was a teacher, actually the Vice Principal I think. Yes.

POM     Then he had this favourite teacher, you must have known him too. He talks about him.

SM     Who's that?

POM     Francis, AJ Francis.

SM     Oh yes, yes.

POM     Who was the alcoholic.

SM     He was an alcoholic.

POM     But he was the only teacher, Mac says, who inspired him. So after Mac left and when you came to Durban, then you'd ceased teaching in – you left St Oswalds then and then did you continue teaching here?

SM     I resigned because I didn't want to teach. That wasn't my – I didn't really want to be a teacher but I was just somehow or the other channelled that way. When I came back to Durban here another teacher that taught with me he knew that I was teaching and there was a vacancy in Durban so he got me to get it and I had nothing to do and I started teaching again and that's how it carried on. But then I did my matric. When did I do my matric? In 1986 or 1987 I did my matric and then I went to do my -  when Mac called me to Zambia I was doing my M3.

POM     Your M3 is?

SM     Teacher's diploma, one of the teacher's certificates. I had a licence to teach. In those days the old teachers had licences to teach.

POM     I find it very funny that – how your Dad and Mac used to fight over Mac, your Dad wanting him to become a teacher and saying all the boys would chip in and help out if he became a teacher and Mac said, "No I want to be a lawyer."

SM     You see that part of it now used to be when I was in Durban. They used to have that fight.

POM     OK. They began to fight once you left. But then when he was in England, when he left in 1957 and went to England, he ended up teaching. He used to teach very disturbed children because he learned that if you had a BA that in post-war England where there was a shortage of teachers, if you had a BA you didn't have to have any other qualification, you could right away become a teacher and he ended up teaching. I always say to him, "Isn't it very ironic that the one thing you fought over with your father that you'd never become is really the first thing you ended up being."

SM     He told my Dad, he said he wants to do his Bar at Law in England.

POM     Well he got there. Anyway, thank you. Maybe when we come down here again – does Lucky ever go out at all or could we find a place to go and have dinner? I'd love to do that.

SM     No he doesn't really go out because he doesn't even sit and have a proper meal. It's his throat, he can't swallow very well. I'll see if he's awake and I'll ask him to come and meet you.

POM     That would be nice. But if he doesn't that's OK.

SM     He's been all over the west, before I married him. He was a professional boxer and he used to go on the ship and jump off and then stay in America or England. He's been to most of the western countries and when I met him he was very westernised. Now he's very Indian.

POM     And you learned to cook?

SM     He cooked our first meal.

POM     Oh he cooks everything, I forgot.

SM     But I do cook now. Sometimes yes, but there was a time when he used to do the cooking every day. Now he wants to do the cooking but I feel that, no, I mustn't worry him too much to do the cooking because he's got a problem. But sometimes I leave it because he likes to do his own, pasta and things like that. And he's a vegetarian now.

POM     We're all becoming vegetarians as we get on in life.

SM     Are you a vegetarian too?

POM     Well I'm just about.

SM     Really? And you too?

PAT     Yes.

POM     I didn't start out that way, Irish meat and potatoes and a bit of cabbage. That was it.

SM     Let me see if Lucky can come and join us and then I can get cheese or something.

POM     No, no, don't even bother about it.

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.