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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

07 May 2004: Shaik, Mo

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POM     Mo, you should just tell me a little bit about yourself; where you born, background, schooling, just the whole shebang of how you got to where you are today.

MS     Well I come from a very poor family, I'm coming from a very poor family. My Dad, maybe a little bit of the history here, my  Dad married what we would call a half white woman many, many years ago, and that marriage didn't quite work out for whatever reasons. One of the reasons I speculate is that my Dad was very dark in complexion and my Mum was very white in complexion and she was a very beautiful woman and I think many men must have had their eyes on her, and he, being a working class, well a peasant who became a working class guy, may have had difficulties in managing that.

POM     Where was he born?

MS     He was born in South Africa in Pietermaritzburg, but he met my Mum in Johannesburg and she lived in Kliptown, so that's where they met. She died in a car accident when we were very young.

POM     Were there four brothers?

MS     No, six brothers. I am one of those six; Salim, Faisal, Schabir, Yunus, me and then my younger brother Chippy.  Part of the reason of how she died influenced all of us in our lives because there was an accident and she was travelling with her sister who married a coloured guy, so when people reported the accident they said it's a coloured guy, so a black ambulance came. Then they said, "But no, this woman is white", they can't take this woman in a white ambulance. As a result she died as a loss of blood.  So that has been with us for a long time, it's still with us.

     As a result my Dad moved all of us from Johannesburg to Durban. We lived in Durban, very, very poor. He was working and he needed someone – I mean I was maybe 3½ years old at the time and my younger brother, Chippy, was, you can imagine, two at the time. So here was this man with all these kids having to work, he didn't know what to do with the kids.

POM     Six boys.

MS     Six boys, six boys, and all of us are just a step apart from each other. There was no TV in those days. So he then used to leave us and he asked the next door neighbour in a flat to please look after the boys while he's gone to work. Eventually my Dad married that person who used to look after us, she was really the next door neighbour girl. My Mum was from the Hindu faith and my Dad was from the Islamic faith, not that that mattered very much to us, and that's how I had a second mother. Through normal progression my Dad worked and then set up a business.

POM     What was he working at?

MS     He was an upholsterer. He used to upholster things.

POM     Was he working on his own all the time or was he employed?

MS     He was first employed in a shoe factory and then he set up his own business. You know how it starts with these informal jobs, so really moving from the second economy to the first economy, it was informal and then enough to open a business, open the business, got his brothers involved. And he moved us out of this very poor neighbourhood.

     My first memories were of our domestic worker, our nanny who used to keep us. Her name was Anna, an elderly black woman, and it was the time of those blackjacks, what they called the blackjacks. The blackjacks used to come to look for people with dompas, you know if they didn't have their card they would be arrested. So whenever the blackjacks came around Anna used to go into this absolute state of panic, hide under the bed. When we were little kids we all used to hide under the bed with her not knowing why we were hiding under the bed but we were all under the bed hiding, it was like a game. Whenever these guys come we all ran under the bed. Later on I discovered why, what is that.

     My Dad was, I think partly because of his marriage, partly because of his own poverty from where he came, was always inclined for the Black Consciousness so he got involved with the Black Consciousness Movement in Durban. He introduced us to politics at a very young age. So when I was in Standard Eight we used to attend, I think it was in 1974 or 1972, the pro-Frelimo rally. I think it was 1973/1974.

POM     Yes.

MS     When Mozambique gained independence and there was this huge rally in Durban and we all went to it. My Dad took us to the rally. I saw the brutality of the police and I started to identify with political issues from that age. And the normal activists went to all these meetings. In standard ten, which was matric, a group of us organised a few things; one was we would always write pamphlets against the celebration of what they called the Republic Day, but we also wrote a play which in a sense, I would say, predicted the kind of Soweto uprisings, but was about students rejecting apartheid, black students, and we were a group of guys who put up this show, went to Inanda Seminary, did the show there. Then later we matriculated, 1976, and went to university in 1977, got involved in political issues on the campus.

POM     This is in the university of ?

MS     Durban Westville. A very interesting thing, remember because I said my Mum was half white and my Dad was very Indian looking, when we would go – when my Mum took the child to register the birth, they looked at the woman, white, looked at the kid, a bit brown, and wrote 'Cape Malay' on the birth certificate. If my Dad took the child, they looked at the Dad, looked at the child, 'Indian'. And if my Mum and Dad went together they would say, 'Indian/Malay'. So I am one of the guys who got the Malay side. But I went to an Indian school. I grew up in a coloured area but went to an Indian school.

     This didn't bother me until we were in matric. When I graduated, the first in the family to get a matric exemption, so I was rushing off to university, got to university, University of Durban Westville, and all my classmates were going to the University of Durban Westville so that's a natural choice and what are you going to do, your parent's wish? You want to become a doctor? I will do the BSc, the first year pre-med courses, and I get to university and the guy says to me, "Yes, your matric results", and I give it to him and he says, "Your birth certificate", and I give it to him. He said, "Oh, your permit please." I said, "Why a permit?" He says, "You're not an Indian, you are a Malay. Your birth certificate says you are a Malay." I said, "Please, I'm Indian." He says, "No, you're Malay." So I go home to my Dad and I say, "Listen, Pops, I've got a problem here, I can't register at the university." He says, "Why?" I said, "Because I'm not an Indian." And he swears and he says, "You fucking shit, you're one day at university and already you're political, now you're not Indian." I said, "No, no, no, hang on, hang on. The problem is a bit different here." So I explain the problem.

     So anyway, again, apartheid affected me in a very real way. For me to study at University of Durban Westville I could only study a course that was not offered by the University of Western Cape otherwise I would have to go to University of Western Cape. In order to stay at home, because we didn't have money for me to go and live in the Western Cape, I had to register for a course that was not offered by the University of Western Cape and on that basis I got a permit. So I owe it to apartheid education that my first degree is a degree in computer science, because computer science was not offered in Western Cape and that's the only course I could do here. So I then registered for Computer Science and I had to do Computer Science. So I majored in Computer Science, so I hold that degree very proud because it is the way I got into University of Durban Westville.

     But in that period – and then mass student activities, huge debates at university about whether we should be involved in the SRC or not. I was the militant one saying we shouldn't be involved in the SRC, we shouldn't legitimise these apartheid institutions. And then new thinking was starting to emerge that, no, perhaps one of the ways of advancing the struggle was to start the basis of mass organisation and we organised people wherever they were, whether they are students, whether they are workers, around rent issues, whatever. So the new thinking about organisation and organisation of masses is key in the anti-apartheid struggle. My brother Yunus who was also at university at that time.

POM     Now Yunus was younger?

MS     He's a year older. He also got involved in political struggles and was detained in 1980 as a result of the student boycotts. He was detained in 1980.

POM     For 90 days?

MS     I think for three or four months. You know when the 1980 uprising, the student uprising, he was one of those detained. They were looking for me. I was in hiding, not staying at home, all this. And then in 1978/1979 Yunus went to Swaziland and met with ANC people there and a unit was formed called the Mandla Judson Khuzwayo Unit, MJK, and the people who were in that unit were myself, Yunus and one other person who may not want to claim it now but he was a member of the unit, is Jay Naidoo. That's Jayendra Naidoo from Nedlac, not the minister, the other Jay, the young Jay. So arising out of that this unit was formed.

POM     Was this formed – was Yunus asked by the ANC in Lusaka to form this unit?

MS     Yes, via Swaziland.

POM     Via Swaziland.

MS     He was in contact with someone by the name of Judson Khuzwayo.

POM     Is he around today?

MS     No he died. Then after Swaziland he moved to Zimbabwe and he died in an accident. He was a terrible driver apparently. But the other guy in the unit who then came there was Ivan Pillay.  When Ivan was in Swaziland he then, him and Ray, took over the unit and then later was joined by Ibrahim Ismail Ibrahim.

POM     By who, sorry?

MS     Ibrahim Ismail Ibrahim. You know Ibi?

POM     Yes.

MS     He later was in charge of the unit. The unit was commanded from Mozambique where Jacob Zuma was. So Jacob Zuma in Mozambique, Khuzwayo and Ivan in Swaziland and us in Natal. So JZ knew of this unit from those days, I think from about eighties onwards. The underground work that we did was political intelligence in the beginning, keep sending political reports about our activities, identification of targets, communication skills, reading the mood, the general political analysis and engaging in mass action but recruiting people to join the unit.

POM     So did more people join the unit?

MS     Yes, yes, my God, the unit became huge in the end.

POM     OK, so this was not an intelligence unit per se?

MS     In the beginning no. In the beginning it was the three of us. Then the next significant development was in – of course there was the UDF in 1983, we were all involved in that. Then there was the big debate about whether we should participate in the referendum or not. Again instructions from the ANC to organise against that, so to consult the people inside the country. By 1985 there was Kabwe, the Kabwe conference. In preparation for the Kabwe conference the ANC leadership decided to send Ibrahim Ismail Ibrahim into the country to meet with underground units to get the views of the underground units and to take it back to Kabwe. So he came in in January 1985 and our unit was mandated the task of receiving him, protecting him and facilitating his contacts with everyone.

POM     But he was now underground in South Africa?

MS     Yes. So he was smuggled back into the country. Remember Ibi, I think, left in 1980 sometime and then was smuggled back into the country in 1985 and we were responsible for his protection and keeping him here. Of course I am sure you would know about the Ibrahim Ismail case. He was in contact with Helena Pastoors and Klaas de Jonge. Klaas de Jonge and Helena Pastoors were smuggling weapons into the country, I think my memory serves me right, using the Belgian diplomatic bag or something like that. They were under observation so Ibi was in contact with them and the police had no idea that it was Ibrahim Ismail Ibrahim. So when it came to six months and he had to leave in June and we were now trying to get him out of the country things just kept going wrong in (what is that place? Is it Nelspruit?) and then you go to –

POM     You'll pick it up on the transcript, OK, and you can just put in the names.

MS     We were trying to smuggle him out but each time there was something wrong. The courier was not there. And the third time we tried to do this it then became absolutely clear we were under observation because when we came to the spot you just saw cars coming out from the bush joining us. There was a roadblock in the front and all they did at the roadblock was stop us, "Your name please, your name please, your name, your name." Took the car's registration down and let us go, but we were followed then to the hotel. We found we were under surveillance and he was meeting Pastoors in the hotel room and without meeting I spoke to him and said, "Listen, this is over. We're under surveillance here. I am now removing you from here. You're going to break contact with this unit from Johannesburg. We're going to retreat back to KwaZulu and we will deal with the problem there."

     He agreed but when we got back it was then clear that I was now under observation and we had two flats, my flat was here in Overport, his building was there and we could see by a lighting system when we were in the flat, out of the flat. When I get in I will switch on my lights a few times, he will switch on lights.

POM     Ibi was there?

MS     Yes. So I could know when he was there and he was safe. We had a system. But in the same building where he lived I had a few other flats that we were using for underground printing of ANC material, etc. So we then discussed this, the surveillance was getting quite intense, and I said to him, "Listen, I think the arrest is coming, the bust is coming." They definitely know about me and the question is now whether they have identified him. He then received communication from Lusaka and received an instruction which was to change the nature of my life for ever. The instruction he received was I must be the decoy, I must not escape, I must be the one who takes the fall and while they are giving attention to me for us to prepare his escape so that he must never get caught. We accepted the decision, planned his escape and waited to act. What happened was when they came for me, they thought that he did not escape, but when they came for me he was already gone. Ibi felt this was a very difficult decision to ask, or to pass on, but it was a discipline of the movement so we did it. The consequence, the guy in the car who was with me when we were taking Ibi and was part of our unit, Shirish Soni, he was detained and I was detained and my cousin who had the other flat. She didn't know that we were using it as the underground printing press because we had an arrangement with her that we will pay the rent, all we want is one room in the flat and she can use the flat for whatever other purpose, so the police arrested her as well.

     It became clear in the first few days of detention that they knew – they were now looking for Ibi and wanted to find him. I was not going to co-operate and the deal was that as long as every day I hold out it's safer for him to escape and once that is done it's fine. I spent the first three weeks in detention and then my comrade Shirish just couldn't take it any more. I wouldn't say he broke, I would say that he was forced to disclose some things which led them to the arrest of Yunus because in the unit Yunus was Shirish's commander. I was not his commander, Yunus was his commander.

POM     I know this is difficult, you were tortured during that period.

MS     No, these stories need not be told you know, do they? I don't want to speak about it.  Bloody hell! Yes.

POM     I'll tell you why I'm asking, because I think it's very important for the next generation to have clear historical records of what people went through so that they can enjoy the luxury of the freedoms which they will enjoy. That they don't look back and say, "Ah, don't give me all that stuff." That they can hear it and hear the voices of the people. It is part of the historical memory bank and if you don't tell it and other people don't tell it there is no memory of it in the future.

MS     Sure, I agree with all that.

POM     We'll do it whenever you're ready, if you're not ready today whenever you want to share it we can do it. OK?

MS     Next question.

POM     OK.

LS     What year was that?

MS     June 1985.

POM     Would that be before Kabwe?

MS     It was before Kabwe. On 29 June 1985.

LS     Did Ibi make it across the border?

MS     He made it. We then spent from June till - (nine months) in solitary.  I know now why I never get into it, this bloody thing you know. This detention period was a turning point in many ways. (Break in recording)

     One of the Security Branch people decided that they would want to work for us and that's how it started. This guy was just so – he couldn't bear what happened. I mean he made his mind up that he was going to work for us. In the beginning I couldn't believe it, I couldn't believe that here was someone who really as a result of the torture decided he'd given enough so he crossed and that's how the unit started with intelligence work. There are a few points just before that which it is difficult now, but my Dad was also detained in this period. He suffered a stroke as a result of his detention. My Mum passed away during that period.  My Mum died. In fact I think she was the one who laid the basis for the recruitment of the guy because we were taken to the funeral in all these Security Branch handcuffs, and I think it was the funeral that really was the turning point for this guy, because this tragedy in his mind just unfolded. It was not only the torture, the older man's stroke.

POM     Your Mum.

MS     I think this was a cumulative effect on him. When we were released he then made up his mind, that's the end, he's going to join the ANC and he's going to do his part. Of course when we were in detention we developed a communication system how to smuggle out notes, smuggle in notes, even though you were kept in solitary. I remember the legislation allowed six months of solitary. I reached that six months on December 29th and the state then had to release me by law or they had to bring an application for a new detention, and they brought that application. But clearly by then Section 29 which was for the purposes of interrogation was then being used, in my case, for punishment. So beyond December I was kept for another three months and then the Review Board ruled that no useful purpose can be gained by any further detention. I was then released.

POM     Were you allowed at any time in this period access to a lawyer?

MS     No.

POM     Visitors?

MS     No, no, no, not at all, solitary.

POM     In solitary, solitary. So you spent nine months in solitary confinement. What did you do? What would you do with yourself?

MS     I went mad I think. I developed a programme in my mind and I would name ants, I would feed ants. Have you been in these cells? There's your cell, it's a room here like this with a toilet, there's a toilet, a basin, a bed, a concrete block here. On that side was a grille, window too, that looked at a wall. On this side was, concealed on this side, it had a door which you were let out into a courtyard, but it was a single cell courtyard. In the courtyard was the shower.

POM     Now was the door?

MS     Steel.

POM     Steel, so you couldn't see through it.

MS     Couldn't see through it. You had a courtyard just the size of the cell but the only difference between the courtyard and the cell was that on the top you had slots, the sun could come through, and the shower was in that cell. You spent 23 hours here in the cell.

POM     How did they survive? Oh man! That's until they give you enough shit to – let me see, where would they put you? Oh to Iraq maybe? This is the good news; they're making you ambassador to Iraq, OK.

MS     They sent me to Algiers. I was four years in Algiers!

POM     You'd already done the training. From the time you were a kid you were used to getting under the bed.

MS     Yes, man.  So, no, I survived by having a routine and the routine was essentially I had two books; one was the Bible and one was the Koran, because they had to give you a religious book if you asked for it so I asked for the Koran and then asked for the Bible and being good Christians they thought I was then converting and gave me the Bible as well. So I had two books and I read all the stories and made all the comparisons. As a consequence I read the Koran 18 times, nine in English, and I had a plan. The Koran is made up of 30 parts, that I will read a part a day, once in English, once in Arabic. The Arabic was transliteration. That gave me the kind of spiritual drift in my head, so I read nine times in Arabic, in transliteration Arabic, and nine times in English. I became an expert on the Koran, so much so that if I have a religious discussion I would be able to take on any Islamic fundamentalist on the terms of my understanding.

POM     You're definitely heading for Afghanistan.

MS     So that was the way. The reason why I raised the slots, because you didn't have a watch, you didn't have a clock, I learnt to tell time by the rays of the sun and how they were formed, because these were slots it became a time dial for me in terms of what time of the day it is. I made breakfast, lunch and supper an event of celebration. When it was breakfast another night had passed; when it was lunch it was half the day is gone; when it was supper another day is over. So I survived like that but I think also I became catatonic. I could sit for hours just rocking. I think that problem is still with me now, not that I rock. I could smell people, if someone walked past my cell and they were having yoghurt I could smell it. I could smell, I could hear very sharp because when they would come into the cell they'd have to clang these keys so immediately you know. If those things opened late at night you'd know you were going up for another gruelling session. I developed all these techniques in my mind and just being there it made me an animal rights lover.

     One day - you know the doors would never fit flush in a prison, and it's crucial that that door does not fit flush because that's your access, so if the door is so much above the ground you can put two fingers and get a note handed. In the hour that they would take you out there is the hour you would have contact because when you are here on this side no-one can make contact with you but when you're at the courtyard there's a door, a steel door, people walk past that corridor, you can whisper, talk to them, get something from them.

     One day a rat came into my cell and my first instinct was to pick up my shoe and hit the rat, but I stopped as I lifted the thing and I said to myself, here's the first living thing that has come into the cell not to harm you and you want to hit it. So I didn't hit the rat and I started to feed the rat, so he would come. I would spend hours just watching this rat sniffing, eating, growing fatter, but I trained the rat to come for food at a certain time so I would always keep part of my food aside and at a certain time in the evening put the food out and I know he's going to smell it and he's going to come and I would just see him eat and go away when he's bored or walk around. I named him, the rat. Ever since I think I just became an animal rights person.

     When I was released it was on the, I think, Sharpeville day and there were a lot of students who were arrested for protesting and they were brought to the cells and they knew that I was kept in there so students being students they were screaming my name and this and that. So I could hear them so I started to scream back. Then my cell door opened and this day I made my mind up that I am now going to start beating the Security Branch, just in my mind I said this is it, I'm not taking one more second, I'm not taking one more assault, I'm going to fight back. So I was standing on my bed ready to say, "Come, you mother fucker, let's do it." Now we're going to really go for it. And this guy comes in there and he says, "Get all your things." And I said, "Why?" And he said, "No, just get all your things, we're charging you." I planned for this moment for nine months. Nine months I planned this moment and when this guy said, "Get all your things", I didn't know what to do. I'm looking at him. He says, "Get all your fucking things." I'm looking at this guy, saying I don't believe this, I don't believe this.

     So I grabbed all my stuff and he took me upstairs and on the way he said, "You've been exonerated from Section 29." For the life of me I didn't know what exonerated meant, so I looked at him and not wanting to show fear to the enemy I said, "Mm." Nothing what exonerated meant. I said, "Mm, is that so? Mm. Thank you." What's exonerate? So I get up to the cells, come upstairs to the interrogation room and there was a police officer by the name of Lieutenant Robert Shaw, a very decent man, and he said to me, "Mo, listen, aren't you happy?" I said, "Happy about what?" He said, "You're going home. Didn't this guy tell you that you've been exonerated?" I said, "Oh, is that what exonerate means?" That's how I was released. I went home. Yunus was released on the same day and we went home.

POM     So you both did nine months in solitary?

MS     Yes, we both did nine months.

POM     OK. You're home.

MS     Came back and of course the normal debriefing amongst comrades, this is what happened, this is the experience, etc., etc., but clearly by that time we then became, not heroes, but had a respect for, why I don't know, surviving these nine months, or the torture. When were in detention we brought the case against the Security Branch officers for torture. They declined to prosecute but we did bring a charge against them.

     But then my concern was more taking care of my Dad. I felt that I robbed him of his life, that if I had co-operated earlier, that if I told them things, all his detention wouldn't be necessary and the stroke wouldn't have happened. So for a long time I felt responsible. But he was a wonderful man, he accepted things and they went wrong.

     In 1986 our intelligence then started to develop with this guy.

POM     Did this man come to you after you were released?

MS     In and after.

POM     In prison?

MS     In prison and after. In prison he was coming with, "Don't worry, this is what they know, this is what they don't know. Don't say that, don't say this, don't confirm that." So I had a sense of what they knew because that is the struggle in detention, what do they know, what don't they know, and how you resist as long as you can on what they know and then when you confirm what they know it's as if you are speaking, but never tell them what they don't know. But you need to get a sense through the interrogating what they know and what they don't know.

     Well as coming out of detention, the intelligence, this guy then he first came to me with a file. He gave me a file and I looked at it and I thought, "My God, this is a fucking set up. What the hell is going on here?" He said, "Take this file,  you've got two hours. In two hours I'm coming back for this file." I looked at the file and said, "Fuck, the only thing I can do now is photocopy this thing." So I got it photocopied, I went to a place to photocopy this thing and gave him back the file. I told him I'd photocopied it. He said, "OK." I sat with this file and showed it around to some of our close comrades and said, "What do you think?" And Billy Nair who was our political commissar at the time looked at the file and said, "Look, there's only one way out here. You've got to get to London, you've got to take this file to London and you've got to show them and if they confirm this then you're on to something. If not it could be a set up."

POM     Is this the Rashid file?

MS     Oh no, no, that came later. This was just a collection of reports about ANC people, agents' reports, etc. So we then indicated to Mozambique that Zuma must meet me in London and he did. By that time also we developed a way of smuggling passports. We recruited someone via a dear friend of mine who I lost about two months ago to then get us passports from Home Affairs. I could get a passport under a false name. We paid a lot of money for it. So I had a new passport, I was 46 years old in 1987 and I am 46 years old in 2004!

POM     You can do a reverse – what are those commercials for anti-aging? No aging. Which do you want?

MS     So with the passport and my name was Sydney May, I still have the passport Sydney May, and I travelled to London, met Jacob Zuma, Aziz Pahad, Joe Slovo, Thabo Mbeki. They then took this file to Oliver Tambo because there was a report in the file that dealt with the meeting that Oliver Tambo had with a priest and they went to him and said, "We have this report. We want to hear from you whether this report is true or not true." He read the report and he said, "It is as true as if it's the Bible." That is how the project was then named 'The Bible'.  He then instructed that all resources should be given to us, training should be given, that we must be handled only by Zuma because this is a major breakthrough in intelligence. And that's how it started.

POM     Project Bible.

MS     That's how Project Bible started.

POM     Anyway, we're at Project Bible. We're beginning.

MS     When I was in London I was then sent for, and you're right, I remember, I'm not too sure whether it was the first trip or the second trip, when Joe Slovo, when I got over there and we picked up …

POM     So you went back to Durban?

MS     Back to South Africa. Came back again.

POM     You got another file.

MS     Now we started to get files and I was then asked now to structure this thing.

POM     By the same source?

MS     By the same source.

POM     Who was working in?

MS     In the Security Branch.

POM     In the Security Branch, with access to, obviously, all levels of files. If he had access to the first file he gave you on Tambo it meant that he had top level access.

MS     Yes, let me spend a little time about him. He was a Security Branch officer and they would have access to the library, or the filing room, and he would go and remove a file, not signing for it, just removing it. He would then bring the file to me, we'd set up a safe house for him where we had all the facilities, photocopying, everything, but he would come, I would meet him, we would photocopy the files, he would take it back, we will have the copy. I then had to organise the entire system from photocopying it. No-one had to see this guy other than me, no-one could handle him other than me. That was the rule. Once I got the file I would then pass it on to our unit and then, of course, I had to start recruiting people to now work full time for the ANC.

POM     So the unit at that time consisted of yourself, Yunus was in it too?

MS     Myself, Yunus was in it, but then Yunus was becoming a trade unionist so we said, fine, I will then handle the intelligence side of it. We had a guy by the name of Shaheen Bawa, he worked in London, he was our contact in London. We had to get things to him.

POM     Then from him in London they would go to?

MS     To Zuma.

POM     Zuma in Lusaka. OK.

MS     Aziz would also be involved in the transmitting of this thing.

POM     Now was Aziz in the intelligence section in London?

MS     Well, yes Aziz was in the intelligence section but he would then receive our stuff, I would always meet with him to give out stuff, make sure that they got it, etc. I forgot to tell you one other thing, maybe it is important. In December 1986 when they arrested Ibrahim in Swaziland, they kidnapped him in Swaziland and brought him back.

POM     Sorry, they arrested?

MS     Ibrahim Ismail. They went to Swaziland to grab him. They kidnapped him and it became a famous case just with the kidnapping and brought him back to South Africa. They came back for us, to re-detain us, so released in March, by December they came to re-detain us. But because we had developed the intelligence link we knew they were coming for us so Yunus and I were not at home when they came, but they took my younger brother, Chippy, and they kept Chippy for about two years.

POM     Two years?

MS     Yes. Two years. So we then from that period, from 1986 to 1989 I lived full time underground, or working for the ANC, organising the intelligence section. So for three years I lived moving from place to place, full time underground, going to London, taking reports, building the structure.

POM     How would you get a report out? Like if you got a file – were you still in contact with this one source?

MS     Still one source. He will get the file, we will then process it. In 1987 when I went to London I was sent over to East Germany for training and so I was then trained in East Germany on the organisation of intelligence, some military training but mainly concentrated on organising how we should organise the intelligence. The East Germans were very, very impressed that we had in fact developed such a level and had such a level of knowledge of the working of the Security Branch. They believed and in fact made the recommendation in the party structures that I be removed from the country, that I shouldn't handle the source from the country. That was a great risk. I rejected that because there was no way that was going to happen because the recruitment of this guy, because he walked over to us, was based on a very personal experience and if we removed that personal experience there was no way that we would have got the level of access that we had because there was a bond between us and there was body language that I could read him, he could read me. Every time he brought a file he didn't know whether I was turned or I didn't know whether he was turned, so when we met the first few seconds, the first minute was very, very tense because you had no idea whether he was turned. When you go in there you think, "Fuck, if this guy turns, this could be a set up, it could be a trap", and he had the same in his mind. So when we get there we're looking at each other and then of course we would read each other's body language and then we would both calm down and get down to this thing. But it was very, very intense, always, every meeting in the first few seconds.

     I then started setting up the intelligence unit, recruited many people from the Mass Democratic Movement who would then be full time, part of the ANC Intelligence Unit.

POM     Can you give some names of people who were in the unit?

MS     Yes. Sandy Africa who is now the Deputy Director General of the South African Secret Service, he was in the unit. Claudia Manning who is now with the Development Bank of South Africa, she was in it. She would have featured in Mac's Vula. Selina Pillay, she is also a member of SAS now. Kamilla Naidoo, the younger sister of Jay Naidoo, who is a lecturer at UNISA. Clifford Collins, he is also in SAS at the moment. And a whole range of people and each of them really – Sandy was in charge of political intelligence, Shaheen in London was in charge of our technical intelligence. So we then started to establish now almost a full fledged internal organisation.

POM     And Project Bible is specifically (this is Project Bible, right?) and it is designed, its purpose is to try to find people who are in your movement, who are agents.

MS     Yes, that was only what we would call the counter-intelligence side of Project Bible, because that had now started to develop. We were specialising in political intelligence, economic intelligence, counter-intelligence. The counter-intelligence side was to detect who were the people from the ANC, the UDF and Mass Democratic Movement working for the other side.

POM     Did you ever make a request of your source to, if he could, get you files on people in the MDM who might be involved, did you make specific requests of him, say, "This is what I'm looking for"?

MS     Yes. The way the Security Branch organised their files, for example S126 was the ANC file number, the UDF had a file number, COSATU had a file number. They had a permanent file number in Pretoria and a divisional file number in each of the divisions. Individuals also had permanent files and divisional files so we could access the files from him to say, "Pull this file, we want to see it", and photostat it. That's how essentially we built up that data base of these 800 odd names or 800 not actually names, they were code numbers.

POM     Where would you get the code numbers from?

MS     From the actual reports.

POM     OK, so you would get a report that would have a code number?

MS     It would have a code number, say source – alright let's forget RS452 but whatever. There was RS something and on the front page it will tell you the code number.

POM     Now is there a code number for the handler ?

MS     The handler is named, it could be a police officer or if it was NI, it will say NI or MI, which is military intelligence. So we would get on the report, we would actually study the report and then say based on this report what is the maximum information we can get from this, not only in terms of how they work, not only about who the source is, but what are the structures within the police force. Because through this we started to identify other people for recruiting. If reading the report we got a sense that this guy is bullshitting, the handler is bullshitting his superior and we will work out why is he bullshitting, is it because the more reports he sends the more money he's getting and therefore say, listen there's a weakness in this guy here, we can recruit him on money. And like that we were able to extend our recruitment from one guy to about three or four other people.

POM     Would you pay some of these guys?

MS     Yes, we paid them. My man was getting paid and we gave him the code name of the Nightingale. So it was the Nightingale, it was the Owl, it was the Sparrow, those were the three that I specifically dealt with. And these reports are coming, we would take sometimes four files a month. So we were building this huge data base in terms of who were the agents.

POM     Now is this when you came across the file on Rashid?

MS     Yes. On the Rashid file there was a source by the name of NP395. His code number was NP395 and he infiltrated the Botswana machinery and the plan was, what we read in the reports, was to bring Rashid – first what they did in one of the meetings, they took a glass which Rashid touched and they brought it back and identified the fingerprints.

POM     Now he touched the glass in?

MS     In Botswana. The guy made Rashid drink –

POM     This is MacKenzie?

MS     Keith MacKenzie, yes. So the glass was taken, Rashid was identified. Then the strategy was to bring him into a kombi which had explosives in it and then they were going to detonate it. When we discovered this I rushed off to London and said I need to see Joe Slovo.

POM     In London you met with?

MS     Joe Slovo, Jacob Zuma and Aziz Pahad.

POM     Was Mac at that meeting?

MS     I met Mac after that meeting. That's when I first met Mac in London, yes. So anyway the rest on that is history because because of this intelligence Joe could then call Rashid and say, "Listen, you guys have been compromised by this source that you are meeting." So when the plan was for him to come to Botswana, Rashid was there but didn't meet him. He said no, they want to meet him in the hotel, he said in the kombi. When he got to the kombi they said, "No listen, we'll take you to Lusaka for urgent consultations." He said, "Yes, but I've got to go back." They said, "No, it's OK." So they took him back to Lusaka and then he realised he's in shit, and that was based on those reports that were given.

     What Zuma did just in terms of organisation, so we had our units here, at least three of the women that we worked with were sent from us to the KGB via London for training. So I went to GDR, three of the women who I worked with they all went to the Russians to get trained. So we developed this sophistication by now being able to recruit people inside the country.

POM     Would this include Sandy Africa?

MS     Was it Sandy? It was Kamilla, Claudia Manning and Selina. No it didn't include Sandy but it included the other three. They were sent for training to the Russians, brought back into the country. We could see their expertise now also coming to bear on the matter. Zuma on the other side, London was the receiving depot. When I was in GDR I was trained in photography so we would then make microfilm of all these reports. The reports we were given, they were translated into English, put into our computer data base which we used in order to make analysis, comparisons, etc., so we had a data base that could do that, it was called Q & A, we used Q & A to do that. We would then print Q & A database, take a document photograph of it, send these films over to London, London would print it, send it to Lusaka, Lusaka had a processing unit that will then process in terms of the hints and clues that we gave.

POM     So when you say 'process' you mean they would do a follow-up?

MS     They would do the follow-up. They would do the follow-up investigation because many of the reports would say A met B in Swaziland and exchanged the following numbers, the contact numbers, etc. So you know A is a source, B is the guy – so you could go to B and say, listen man, you know you met so-and-so, who did you meet and what is the name? But of course in doing the counter-intelligence investigation Lusaka, Zuma's side, had to be very, very careful about how they pass on this information because it could come right back to the Security Branch that they are infiltrated and they had no idea they were infiltrated, no idea at all. In fact when Vula broke and when they discovered that they were infiltrated, they appointed our man as part of the team to find the source. So that was a remarkable thing because he was then part of the team to find the source which allowed us to contain the damage. That is why even after Vula broke, even after they knew they were compromised, they could not find the source. There is nothing more damning in an intelligence organisation to (a) first know you're infiltrated and (b) not to find the source. That broke, in my opinion, the back of the Security Branch because they knew, factual, there's their reports and they can't find the source and that really hurt them because then they had to remove, go closer into a laager, who do they trust, who they don't trust? We called it the 'virus' approach. By then discovery that they were infiltrated, the virus came into their system and they were now at each other and then it started to have a real tension in the thing. Anyone who had contact with Mo Shaik was then suspected to be the source, so much so that I think in the Sunday Times just after Vula, I think in 1990 –

POM     Just after Vula broke?

MS     Just after Vula broke in the Sunday Times the headline was, "Hunt for Seven ANC Moles". And in the Sunday Times article they were saying that the Security Branch is hunting for seven ANC moles who have infiltrated them and their handler is one Mo Shaik that they are looking for.  So this was very damaging for them. There were so many of these cases, Padraig, so many. At the end of the day –

POM     Can you give me – OK take two things, let's use Bulelani first. Now this file is given to you, you take the file and you assess the information you have, right? You come to the conclusion on the basis of the information that you have and your analysis of it at that time that he is most probably a spy based on probabilities. By the way, I must send you on something, or maybe you have it, is that George Tenant in early March or late February went to Georgetown University to defend the CIA and its intelligence gathering methods and he gave a full talk and it was all on that intelligence is based on probabilities. So it was like rehearing but you had said at the Hefer Commission it was rather than it being … of course that's the way you do intelligence rather than the way you've kind of outlined it here. Probably people said, "Well, what do you mean? It's only about probabilities."

MS     Exactly.

POM     You come to that conclusion. Now you send that to London with your assessment. From London, where Aziz would have access to it.

MS     Well no, not necessarily Aziz. The access was given to Shaheen who was our person there and he would send that to Jacob Zuma.

POM     OK. Now at that point what happens?

MS     Well I was told that further investigations were done which raised all these questions but none of those guys came forward with that, none of them came forward. My job was not to say what investigations other people did, what investigations I did which we presented at Hefer, and you have copies of that don't you?

POM     I'll get them from Mac.

MS     There's a submission file which outlined our case in regard to that and the actual reports are there and everything.

POM     So other assessments were carried out on him?

MS     Yes.

POM     Can you write down the names for me?

MS     Of the people?

POM     Yes. Give them.

MS     You want to get me in more shit already? I'm in deep shit on this.

POM     I want to get you absolutely clear, that's what I want to do.  You can put things in a book that you can't put other places. That's what you can do. The best thing is never get mad, get even.

MS     OK, get the file from Mac. Right? In the file we allude to the fact that other investigations were done. I don't have that information, there's nothing concrete I can say here, there, there. Who would know about it? People?

POM     Who would know what investigations were carried out?  So this is what I'm interested in. These investigations are carried out now? Information comes back to you to say your conclusion has been verified and let the structures know that Bulelani Ngcuka is probably a spy, that everyone is to avoid him, have no contact with him, that everybody in Vula – whatever. What I'm saying is isn't the cycle that after you made your analysis and it went through to Lusaka, does Lusaka come back to you?

MS     Lusaka came back to me via Zuma saying, "Yes, we have seen your report. Work on that basis, that you are correct." Work on that basis that you are correct. Now at that point nothing to counteract what you have said.

POM     Now at that point who would you inform?

MS     My responsibility was to inform first and foremost JZ, Zuma, and as far as Vula is concerned – now remember under Vula there was a bit of a complication. When Vula was set up there was a huge debate about whether we should fall under Vula or not and this matter was then discussed between Jacob Zuma, Oliver Tambo, Joe Slovo and Mac where Zuma was saying, "No, our intelligence unit must not fall under Vula because if anything happens to Vula we will get bust", and history proved him right. On the other hand Slovo, I think, was arguing that they need the intelligence for the safety and security of Vula. Oliver Tambo then agreed that while we must not be formally integrated into Vula we must be able to find a method between Mac and I to pass on intelligence for the safety and security of Operation Vula. So as a rule if Mac and them were to meet anyone they will come to me and say, "We want to meet so-and-so, what does your data base tell us about them?" We will then do a data search and wherever we have suspicions we will say we suspect A, B and C, don't meet, be very careful if you meet, etc., and in that contact is how, when I think he wanted to meet someone in Natal, Bulelani's name came up. We said we had reasons of suspicion, don't meet with him, and that's how it was.

POM     So you've identified and it's confirmed by Lusaka that Bulelani Ngcuka is probably a spy, does Lusaka then take it to inform other people in the movement who might come in contact with Bulelani?

MS     No, as a rule no.

POM     What happens? You've identified him.

MS     You identify him. This is solely within intelligence, partly because remember that the ANC suffered setbacks when they would inform people that so-and-so is an agent, we suspect so-and-so to be an agent, the enemy started to do that. They started to spread disinformation that people are agents and that created a huge problem. As a rule intelligence didn't do that, as a rule. We were very strict about that, not to release things to anyone outside of intelligence, except of course where we believed operations were now being compromised. So I would meet, for example I met with Dullah Omar and Trevor Manuel in Cape Town because we had these reports coming from someone here in the UDF, we don't know who the person is yet but maybe if you read these reports you would come to an understanding. And they started to formulate in their minds of people who they may have suspected.

POM     So would they know? What I'm saying is who in the UDF would have been informed that Bulelani was under, not under suspicion, that the movement had concluded that he was most probably a spy?

MS     From my side, no, I didn't inform anyone. I don't know who Lusaka did inform.

POM     That would have been their responsibility, not yours.

MS     Not mine.

POM     Your responsibility was only specifically in relationship to Vula.

MS     Correct. Specifically in Vula I would inform, not outside of that. Because remember we were dealing with life and death here. If there was any indication that we were running an intelligence operation from inside the country they would have killed us. If they had found us we would have been dead.

POM     Let me read you this. This is where I have Mac saying that I'd give a name and say, Mac this is the way I think you should deal with the first part of this. This is part of the interview I did with Mac before this whole thing broke. He says:

     "Mo's unit was able through its analysis to identify possible enemy agents who were planted and sometimes could identify the person who was operating abroad. Sometimes blah, blah, blah. But that information only came to me when it had a bearing on Vula, it was sent by Mo, via London to Lusaka for analysis. My mission was to accept operational information that would enable Vula to function securely."

     Now, my insert:

     "Intelligence gathering from sources within the security forces was fraught with danger. There was the question of securing copies of documents from security force files, of trying to access the reliability of the contents of documents prepared by security force agents, of trying to piece various items together to establish the thrust of the information being sent to the Security Branch and other organs of security apparatus and what it meant for Vula and the manner in which it could work and plan its operations. There was, as you can imagine, one overriding consideration when any information came our way that suggested that a comrade might be an apartheid agent we always erred on the side of caution. We forwarded all information on the comrade and the intelligence unit's evaluation of that information to Lusaka. There was never a question of saying we are sure so-and-so works for the regime or even of saying there is fifty/fifty chance that they work for the regime. Even a thirty/seventy, and twenty/eighty chance that you might be an enemy agent was sufficient to have you classified as a probable spy, a comrade to be reported to Lusaka, watched and never as far as you could ensure have access to information that might imperil others. For Vula the stakes were even higher. Any mistake would be fatal."

     (Break in recording)

POM     Do you know how many people have done nine months of solitary confinement and come out sane? You don't have to answer that, OK. We won't go into that part.

MS     What hurt me the most was the singular success of this man who for his own reasons through confronting his own concept of humanity, said, "No, I am doing a job which I hate for the other side. I have seen their brutality, I have seen what they do to human beings and I will not have any of this", and make a conscious decision now to cross over. Not too many people, you know the courage it took from that man to do what he did. What hurt me the most about Hefer was these unsung heroes, and they were heroes. Their work was rubbished, it robbed them of their piece of the fight history. To go back to him now and he looks and he says, "So what we did was wrong?" "No what you did was not wrong but it comes across like that." So having just to reaffirm to him that his decisions and his conscious choices were the correct ones despite whatever humiliation we would have gone through in the Hefer Commission. He is still my hero. I mean I don't know too many people today who would do what he did, the Nightingale, and we had a codeword for him, the Nightingale sings beautifully. He really, I wish one day that the ANC will acknowledge him.

     And I have thought about writing a book about this man, Of Heroes and Villains, I wanted to call it. I think we now know who the villains are. I think we just don't know who the heroes were. A remarkable man, a remarkable man to have made that decision, to say, "No. Each day I took my life under risk by taking this file. I'm hearing what I pick up and sending it to the other side." We suffered, we had our people to claim us as heroes, we were fighting a moral struggle, we were identified out there. He was not. Each day he was subjected to the taunts and, "Why are you working for the Security Branch? Are you mad?" And he couldn't tell a single soul that he was more ANC than many of the ANC people who claimed themselves.

POM     This is who now?

MS     The source, the Nightingale. Because he really was ANC. I don't know whether Mac told you about the one operation where they discovered, the Security Branch discovered, the party underground house in Chatsworth and the Security Branch team moved in there waiting to find who is coming.

POM     Yes, this is Kevin?

MS     Yes. And we then, Mac and them, Vula wanted to plan a hit to kill or to blow up the place and I said, "Hold it, hold it. It's a good idea but the consequence will be that they will then discover that they were infiltrated and they will start searching for the mole and we can't afford that. So let's manage this problem differently." And we did and the way we did it, we said OK, we have sufficient knowledge now how the Security Branch works so what we're going to do is leave them there. They're going to end up frustrated and then they will say, "OK, who owns this house? Who rented the house?" So let's use the time to prepare ourselves. So what we did, we went to the owner of the house and said, "Listen, in about a month the Security Branch is going to come to your house and say, who rented this house? We want you to say this person." We went to that person and said, "Listen, you're going to get detained. When you get detained you're going to say that person." We went to this person and said, "Listen, you have to go into exile and we're going to plan your exile days before they come so be ready to leave." And we planned this and it worked like a gem. They got frustrated. They went to the owner and the owner said this person. They arrested this guy. They said to him, "Listen, when you are in detention we will speak to you." I had to prepare him for detention. It was sitting here and give him a few smacks and say this is when you're going to say this, and we will reach you in detention. Our Nightingale made contact with him in detention, slipped him a note that everything is OK, your story is perfect, you're going to get released soon, just don't break. And it worked.

     Those successes where we could now even play with the Security Branch on their own terms as absolute professionals, I think that shocked them. And when they discovered them, because I think Mac and them wrote this as a report, when they discovered when they got the Vula stuff, they found how sophisticated our intelligence was. That's a reason why I get a lot of respect from the other side even today because they knew that we were professional and we did what we did under very difficult circumstances and managed intelligence.

POM     Is this man still working in the security forces? Is this the guy you refer to?

MS     You want to speak to him?

POM     Yes.

MS     When are you coming back?

POM     When I can speak to him. If you set it up I'll come up from Cape Town. There will be total anonymity and everything.

MS     OK, let me check with him. He wants us to write a book about this.

POM     OK, I would do that. As I said to you, don't get mad get even.

MS     OK done, it's a deal.

POM     I don't know how you didn't get off that stand –

MS     I've heard your story about Gebhuza. It's not true. He didn't break. I want to talk about that. He didn't break. He did what anyone would have done in the circumstances. He was confronted with an overwhelming, but overwhelming, boom, there's no way he could not take responsibility. He made a calculation that I would be safe and that I would be part of Mac's team in clearing up. And you've got to know this, Padraig, but when you are in detention and when you are confronted by death you are calculating only one thing; what do they know, what do they not know, and I can calculate that if they don't know about Mo so-and-so that those guys will be cleaning up. So he didn't break. I know Ronnie's views on the matter because in the immediate aftermath of Vula when he was on the run, Ronnie was trying to convince me that Gebhuza sold out then, broke down and confirmed too many things and this and that and he calculated correctly that those of us who were not caught would be able to do the damage control. So the rule, confirm what they know, don't tell them what they don't know. He didn't tell them about the sources we were running.

POM     Now would he have known about Bulelani?

MS     Gebhuza? Did Mac share the information with him he would have known that Bulelani was suspected. Yes he would have known that.

POM     And Ronnie would too coming in as Mac's successor because he was going to run the Natal region.

MS     Yes.

POM     I must ask him. I've gone to Ronnie.

MS     Did he say he didn't?

POM     No, I didn't ask him this but I will.

MS     I had a house where these guys would come to, underground house and we'll have their news, we'll have a discussion and in and out. I had two wonderful colleagues and my ex-wife who would really take care of these blokes. They would get a meal she'd prepared. In her own right she was a very good cook. So people got used to her food, a good cook, and if they wanted a good meal they'd come there, she'd lay out the meal and feed them all. One day the dog's food was boiling away and Ronnie having the kind of avaricious appetite that he has –

POM     I know!

MS     He comes home and my brother Yunus is there, he said, "God, we're hungry, let's get something to eat." And they see this pot there and they have the first round and the second round and Yunus says to him, "But Ronnie this food is a bit bland for Soraya's cooking, Soraya is good cook." And Ronnie says, "Yes it is a bit bland but it's quite nice in any case." Then Soraya just walks in at that point and says, "Now who the hell is eating the dog's food?"

PAT     That's a great story.

MS     Don't tell me about Ronnie and his bloody food. Now will you phone me then?

POM     I will indeed.

MS     Who told you about the torture though? Did Mac?

POM     No. I figured.

MS     How?

POM     Because I watched every single moment of Hefer and I watched every single facial glance and movement of the body. I watched everything. I picked up and after Mac - the whole question of torture I've been studying it since the early 1970s. I've been working in Northern Ireland for over 30 years, since 1972, 32 years. I picked up in 1971 the Brits did a sweep of internment and twelve people disappeared for about two weeks, three weeks. There was no sign of them as they were accounting for people. It turned out that they had taken twelve people at random and they were not connected with anything at all, they were just part of their sweep, and they had subjected to them to a battery of psychological tests, torture tests. They conducted field experiments on them but they hadn't got real human volunteers who didn't know – they tried out all these tests of deprivation, the helicopter treatment, all of that stuff. So ever since then I've studied and talked about the impact of what torture does to people and the consequence of it and the relationship between torture, a complex relationship develops. I went back on all of that after looking at Mac's stuff and what he had gone through because I want the reader, again, to get an understanding of what torture does to people, what torture is. They don't know what it is. You know? I always find it incredible that.

MS     What they did to me … you can do this. It's documented.

POM     Is it documented on the charge sheet?

MS     It's documented in, I think, Amnesty International has also documented it now. You know Father Smalgaliso Mkhatshwa?

POM     Yes.

MS     You know about his torture?  Maybe you should speak to Yunus. They brought in a doctor who –

POM     I will call you. And thank you, and you're a good man and no-one can take that away. You see you have something they don't have. You know. Thank you.

MS     It's been a pleasure. We'll do it again.

POM     Thanks.

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.