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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

19 Aug 2004: Ayob, Ismail

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POM     We are trying to get to the bottom of the puzzle.

IA     You see at that time, and possibly even now, there's a document that lawyer's sign before you visit your clients and I would imagine, I haven't seen one of those for many years, that we're going to discuss legal matters and that we'll keep confidential what we see there and that kind of thing. I'm not sure if it says anything about recording prisoners' voices. I would imagine there would be and if there is such a document then it's unlikely that I would put a tape recorder between the two of us and say I'm recording you.

POM     Would you still have to sign that on your way to see him at Victor Verster?

IA     I think I did. I think I must have signed it every time I went in because all lawyers sign that kind of document. It makes sense that you don't go along and have general visits or do all sorts of other kinds of visits apart from legal visits and legal visits are generally not limited in time or in frequency.

POM     Mac says the document he gave to you was in your handwriting.

IA     That's what he told me.

POM     Then it was either a document that was transcribed from your own notes that you had taken but you couldn't have –

IA     No, then it must have been dictated to me. You know Mac has never said that I gave him the tape recording of conversations, because that would make sense if it was this kind of thing. But he says it was in my handwriting which says that I must have taken it down as it was dictated to me. It's too precise that letter. I don't know if Madiba's original is available from the government archives because that's the letter he wrote to PW Botha, and how his letter compares with mine. That's one way of checking whether it is that precise one.

POM     Well he had been working for a long time on this. He mentions in his autobiography that he starts work on this, so it's a very precisely written, well typed, argued document. So if he dictated it to you it would have taken a long time.

IA     That's what I mean. It's a fairly long letter.

POM     Ten pages. So the length is right, that's what it runs to.

IA     I agree. And to write it that precisely, so it means it will be slowly dictated. How long does it take to dictate it?

POM     Very slowly.

IA     I don't know, I don't have a recollection of it.

POM     Is it possible that you did say, "OK, if you want this I'll record it or whatever."

IA     A lot easier for me to just pass on the tape.

POM     Just turn your tape recorder on.

IA     And then pass it on to Mac and say there's the tape.

POM     But you didn't do that, you transcribed it because you sent a report to Lusaka.

IA     Because Mac says it was in my handwriting. Does Mufamadi recall seeing this in my handwriting?

POM     He's one person I haven't talked to.

IA     Mufamadi, Jay Naidoo.

POM     No, none of them recall it. Collective amnesia on this whole thing. It's wonderful. Valli is no good.

IA     You know they're all excused but Mac says it's my handwriting. I have no excuse to have this amnesia. But it's there.

POM     It's there, so –

IA     And it certainly enjoyed reasonably wide circulation.

POM     It certainly did! But you would have given Mac a copy because - or else what you sent with Beyers Naude would have been –

IA     From what you're telling me is that Mufamadi had a copy.

POM     You made a copy for Sydney. You made a copy for Mac.

IA     Certainly the Photostat machine must have been working.

POM     Now you didn't know that Mac was going to be in town because he had only arrived from seeing Govan Mbeki the day before.

IA     In the Eastern Cape?

POM     He would have been seeing him out there, so then he came back.

IA     I never saw Mac that regularly. There would always be somebody else who would collect the papers. Mac didn't necessarily do it.

POM     So this might be, "I saw Ayob, saw Philip Ayob."

IA     Mac says he saw me?

POM     Yes. "I came back – on the way back from … on the 24th I saw IA. He informed me he had seen Madiba the day before and had sent a report to Alphonse. He gave me a copy of the documents the next evening. These were his transcripts of the meeting between Madiba and the two lawyers. I understand that the meeting … This was about two months – previously I had extensively debriefed IA about the circumstances under which he meets M in order to determine in my own mind the exact environment, circumstances, whether he would be prepared to respond, M would be prepared in a properly devised secret means of communication which could put M and Alphonse in direct contact and hence for Alphonse to get an in depth briefing from M."

IA     Who is Alphonse?

POM     That's the code name for Tambo. He talks about, "To do this I would need your authorisation to disclose my presence to M but ensuring that the enemy do not pick it up, that that simultaneously with disclosure I would have IA show M the camouflage compartment." Now you did actually take something in to him?

IA     No, no, he showed me how to secrete messages, written messages, into the cover of a book. That was one.

POM     Then you would leave that with Mandela?

IA     I think there was also a pen. Anyway the attempt to turn the two of us into spies I think failed because Madiba wasn't going to have it. He said, "What more can they do to me?" So he wasn't going to spend time trying to glue messages into the cover of books.

POM     But some did go in and out, a couple did. This didn't begin until there was a trial run and then that was at the end of May and then there was June when one or two things went in and out and then in July Mac left the country to go to Moscow and he didn't come back to the country until after Madiba was released.

IA     OK.

POM     So we're only talking about a very short period, the system had only been set up when –

IA     I must tell you that I look forward to reading this because I will find this fascinating. You've seen a lot of people and I don't think there's been anything published before around this particular period.

POM     No, nothing.

IA     How much of Mac's book does this cover?

POM     Vula?

IA     No this particular –

POM     It's a chapter.

IA     It's a whole chapter?

POM     Communication with – well there are two chapters because that's spread all … the document got to these guys and it got to Mbeki and he said Mandela is selling out and then it got to Harry Gwala and he said, "I'm not seeing Madiba, nobody must see Madiba." What's very interesting about it is Mac dealt with this early on and when he went to Lusaka in 1977, after he was released, one of the ideas he put forward in one of his first meetings there was that there should be a 'Release Mandela' campaign and it was vetoed.

IA     Vetoed?

POM     They said, "No, no, release the prisoners but don't put Mandela's name." There was a suspicion at that time and then OR asked him on 16 December, the day MK roused him up and he was on his way going to London, he said, "No, no, you've got to come and talk to a group of the comrades and I want you to talk about Madiba in prison." Because there was a rumour going around that Mandela somehow had been secreted out of Robben Island, taken to Lusaka, met with Kaunda and had been one of the fathers of the Lusaka Agreement. So the suspicion of Mandela selling out was always an undercurrent in the movement from early days. Mac had to tell these guys he'd seen Mandela in that prison, there's no way he can get out of Robben Island.

IA     I think he would have told me that he'd been to Lusaka.

POM     What it says is, it says something about what you said in an earlier conversation we had, and that is that Winnie, the movement never embraced Winnie because Winnie was different, stood out, did her own thing, but Mandela was the same. Mandela would say, "I'm a loyal and disciplined member", and then go ahead and do what – you know.

IA     Certainly the negotiations that started in prison between the government and Nelson Mandela was his own initiative. I think the government tried to exploit this by moving his colleagues away after his illness, or moving him away from his colleagues because then they could talk to him alone. I think you would have picked up by now that there were different levels of resistance to Mandela talking to government. I don't know whether there was a single person who supported him in his discussions in prison.

     But coming back to the suspicion of Nelson Mandela and saying leave him, don't let him come out of prison, there's also the other possibility, one of two explanations. One is that let him sit in prison, he's going to cause problems if he comes out. The other one is to build him up as an icon, the Free Mandela campaign, and everything around the campaign for liberating South Africa, the other important component was the Release Mandela campaign. So it was nice to have somebody in prison. I'm just throwing out a thought.

     But I've also said to you that Winnie not being embraced by the movement, Nelson Mandela didn't have to do anything special in prison. He went in there as a leader and he stood head and shoulders above all others, but when in prison Winnie was the only wife who built up his reputation against all odds. It was always Winnie Mandela speaking on behalf of Nelson Mandela. All the others were disciplined members of the organisation, they had leadership position, they had stature, they had credibility, but not one could build up a husband as she did.

POM     So I will have to reach a version here, some kind of an agreement on how this document, these documents got out. Mac says they were in your writing, or would have been a copy in your writing.

IA     He says, "It was in your handwriting."

POM     There are either just one of two possibilities. You either listened to Mandela dictate the whole thing to you or you recorded him.

IA     Or I recorded him.  Yes. It's too precise, the language.

POM     Given that there are numbers on it like the Nelson Mandela document, like a Nelson Mandela 19/4/89 MM and then the 7/4/89, which one runs to nine pages, one runs to five pages. Alphonse, that's OR's, message which you took to Mandela, so you brought in Mandela a five page letter from –

IA     I did it both ways.

POM     So you would take?

IA     I would take messages in and take messages out.

POM     What would he do? Hand you a message?

IA     Yes. There would be little pieces of paper.

POM     Little pieces of paper. What would be the difference between him handing you a copy of his own document?

IA     Nelson Mandela?

POM     No, no, because it's in your handwriting. Mac says it's in your handwriting.

IA     Yes he said it was in my handwriting. If it was in Nelson Mandela's handwriting you wouldn't have a problem.

POM     Looking for the document.

IA     It's a long time. You don't think it might have been in Nelson Mandela's handwriting and Mac thinks it was in my handwriting? You know, again, you have a primary memory where the contents of that letter were important.

POM     Mandela could copy things?

IA     He had time. He didn't have carbon paper but he could have repeated it a second time. He had time. But isn't that possibly the simpler explanation?

POM     That he just simply handed you a copy of it?

IA     He gave me a copy, because now that you mention it Mac used to give me pieces of paper, little ones, which I took in.

POM     Well if Mac was giving you little pieces of paper to take in –

IA     Why didn't I bring out paper as well? I think I did. What Mac thinks was my handwriting was probably Nelson Mandela's handwriting.

POM     A copy of the transcripts.

IA     I don't know. Logic tells me that it might have been in his own handwriting.

POM     When you were taking in to Mandela it would be a five page letter, you say here – was it on the table?

IA     No I don't think I would have given it to him openly. It would have been possibly reading it as part of the documents that he was considering or looking at. Whenever I went there there would be many, many things that I would discuss.

POM     So your table would be full out.

IA     Not full out but I mean there would be documents around and papers around and for one of those personal messages, whether it was one page or five pages wouldn't really matter, that would be part of the documents that were on the table. So that wouldn't be difficult. I'm thinking, wasn't that letter in his own handwriting, in Nelson Mandela's own handwriting? That would make sense to me and at the end of a meeting simply pick up all of my papers and included in those papers would be this paper and this particular letter would be in there. Conversely when I'd arrive there would be letters from Mac or Tambo and that would be left behind because he would have his own file because he had matters to discuss. It wasn't that he would come and welcome me to that meeting without any papers at all. I can't recall how often I saw him but I saw him pretty often, every few weeks. So he would need to make notes on the things that he would want to discuss with me so there would be a file with him and there would be a file with me and at the end of the meeting we would take our respective files back but if there are papers left behind with him or papers left with me –

POM     But he says again down here, this is another one he sends on – that he had sent on 26 April, then he sends one on 27 April and he says to Tambo, "Since you have the IA transcript I shall not send this to you."

IA     Isn't the IA transcript just loosely used for having delivered Nelson Mandela's own letter? I was taking in letters from Tambo and Mac will confirm it. Now, again, whether it was Tambo's handwriting or whether it was Mac's handwriting I have no recollection which it was.

POM     Of letters going?

IA     Going in.

POM     If they weren't small, if it was five pages and it came over the transmit Mac would reduce it to –

IA     So it could be Mac's handwriting.

POM     Messages going in, some of them would be yes.

IA     But I can't tell you whose handwriting it would be in or whether it was even typed. I can't tell you that.

POM     OK. I think we have reached the end of where we can get on this. I'll write a version and send it to you and I will send it to Mac. It will be like a technical committee and reach a consensus, like a clause in the constitution.

IA     I have the right to edit what you're giving me?

POM     No, no, I'm sending you a copy.

IA     I give no-one the right to edit what I say.

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.