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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

14 Oct 2005: Love, Janet

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

POM     I'm talking with Janet on 14 October and we're talking about, really, the times in which Mac allied or backed up the allegations that Mo Shaik made that Bulelani Ngcuka was probably a spy. You were saying that Mac shouldn't have gone there, he should have had a better –

JL     No, well that's what I'm saying but let's just put it into context. Firstly I wouldn't dispute that there was an investigation that was mounted in the times of underground and that people, amongst those would have been Bulelani, were identified as having worked for the apartheid regime. And if Mo had said that that was the case I wouldn't have disputed it, not because I knew but because I would have accepted that he was saying that with all the bona fides that that is what happened under conditions of struggle when information and acquisition of that information has all the problems that go along with that, that there were both a lack of information, incorrect information, errors of judgement that contributed to not just Bulelani, certainly other people, I don't know how many but certainly I do know that there were other people, who were wrongly, in my view totally wrongly accused of acting for the enemy. I think there were also a lot of people who the movement was defended from who were very correctly identified as having acted for the enemy. But the conditions of working underground are such that you don't have the level of access to information to people to interrogate your facts and your data in those kinds of conditions that you have when democracy has been achieved.

     I think my concern is not that one says yes this investigation in the circumstances of the underground happened and supports that, but it's rather if you're going to say in conditions of democracy that certain findings were made in clandestine conditions, it seems to me that it's an error of judgement to do that without giving yourself also, and possibly the public, the benefit of what you can acquire in terms of factual information, verification, or not of some of that information in conditions post democratic transition. I think by asserting one without recognising simultaneously that there are very big limitations to that one, that you have in a way I think a duty to now reassess in conditions, if you like, of daylight. I think that that's problematic and I think to me it's a fundamental error because just as much as you've said, and I more than agree with you, that it was kind of outrageous that Hefer kind of assumed that in those conditions of uncertainty, insecurity and everything else, that they were conducting an investigation in the underground, certain things were overlooked as if one had an entire police force and an entire – you know what I mean, leisure almost to conduct it. Absolutely that's outrageous.

     But the fact of not tying to an assertion that there was that investigation in those conditions, I'm talking now about the decision of Mo and even the supportive moves of Mac to that assertion that there were those shortcomings does exactly the same thing in my view. I think that that is problematic. I'm saying that the assertion – OK, you're saying and I agree with you that for Hefer to have asserted that, look, things could have been done better, shows no understanding, no acknowledgement. Mo and Mac should themselves -

POM     Mo and Mac should have acknowledged that, themselves said we had limited information, limited access and in those circumstances –

JL     Yes, and so should have said before they went out with that information to the public, they should have stopped themselves and said – hang on a minute, we did have that investigation conducted, not necessary that they did, whoever, the movement, I'm saying 'we' in that broader sense, did have that investigation conducted in conditions of clandestinity and there were terrible limitations and there were mistakes. And they didn't do that.

POM     Yes. Now this is where it gets convoluted because there's a crucial period and there was this meeting of the editors on 24 July. On 23 August Mac went to Mbeki and he gave him the file and he said, according to Mac he said, "I think - this is what we have." Mbeki, he says, leafs through it, and he says, "What do you think we should do?" To which Mac said, "Well I think you with the powers that you have should put together a small committee that could go through all the state agencies or whatever and see whether the information particularly in the file of RS452, whether this is true or not." Mbeki said, "Hm, OK." He said, "Well keep in touch, let me know if there are any more developments."

     At that meeting Mac says he said, because it was on 23 August which was the day on which Maduna and Bulelani made their announcement regarding the prima facie case against Zuma, so when Mac came in at two o'clock he began by saying, "Oh, do you know that Bulelani and Maduna are going to make this announcement some time today?" According to Mac, Mbeki kind of feigned either slight surprise or gave the impression that it was news to him, but so what? So Mac after he left the meeting, it was just three and he turned on the radio and the press conference was taking place and he put a call back in to the President's Office, at his home, he was at a meeting so he didn't get him. So Mbeki returned his call at four o'clock and he just said, "Oh, that thing has taken place." And Mbeki, according to Mac said, "Oh gee, I must get a transcript." And that was that. And that made Mac (a) wonder, that he found it extraordinarily strange that a decision of that magnitude would have been made without consultation with the President. I asked Maduna this, I said, "Did you tell Mbeki beforehand?" He said, "Oh no, no, no, we never did." I've known Maduna for years, he came with Bulelani to Boston, but I find it not credible that a decision of that magnitude is made involving the Deputy President of the country, is made without the knowledge and sign-off by the President. It's just too big. Maybe I'm wrong but – nobody else –  anyway.

     That was 23 August, then he went public, on 7 September the story appeared in City Press. Mac says all he did when whatshername rang him, he verified that the investigation had taken place. That's all that he did. He didn't say he was a spy, he didn't say anything, he verified the investigation and he stood by the conclusions, he agreed with the findings because he trusted Mo. Essentially that was his information. My question to him was: why didn't you get back to Mbeki and tell Mbeki that you were going to go public, that this story was going to break on 7 September, he should know about it and in light of your conversation with him why didn't you get back to him again and say, hey, this story is going to break and I'm going to confirm it. I thought you ought to know. Mbeki might have said, I don't know, Mac I was just doing what you wanted. Mac's point is that sitting right there looking at that file Mbeki could have within ten minutes have ascertained whether or not Bulelani was a spy.

JL     I think for me, I don't dispute that, that he might have been able to do it and maybe he did it, I don't know. Mbeki I'm talking about. But the point that I'm saying is for me the first error that you say is that when you confirm that yes, there was such an investigation – I mean I'm talking now with somebody with Mac's usual ability to think forwardly in terms of the moves of the chess board, that you say yes there was an investigation and yes that was its conclusion, and then say – but do not forget that that investigation was made under conditions of clandestine da-da-da-da and all of that kind of stuff has to be reassessed. The fact that he didn't say that, I'm saying it's on the same plane and that was a mistake because what it then did was instead of enabling him to emphasise the fact that his role, why he even got involved if you like, was simply to confirm the fact that an investigation took place, that investigation at that time concluded – not to confirm or deny everything. It means that he lost in terms of moral high ground, he lost phenomenally.

     The second thing I think it was again an error, and you know I'm not saying this as something of hindsight because it's not something that I think was evident at the time, and again I think that in a different space and with lots of different other circumstantial things I think he's quite able to see that, is to ask himself the question: where does this take us?

POM     He would say then, and he still is obsessed by it, he says the question of his being a spy was never really an issue for me, my issue was the abuse of power that in my view the NPA was abusing it's power – he still gets onto it.

JL     I'm saying he's not somebody who's is new to communicating, he's not somebody who's new to persuasion. So you have an objective, you want to communicate and you want to persuade people to understand that there is an abuse of power – do you go about it stupidly or intelligently? And my question is, is this the way to do it, to personalise it in a way where you're not saying that – you know the NPA has a mission that is really very, very widely scoped, how does this feature as something that is picked out of the basket? That was only said long after this accusation hit the headlines. What I'm saying is you lose a level of ability to persuade and that's where, again, it's kind of like – yes, the fact that certain things are being picked out as focal points and certain individuals are being given a prioritisation that he wanted to highlight, it's without a frame of reference that he believed was the frame of reference actually the NPA had, but that wasn't what he communicated and I don't even believe up to now it's what has been communicated.

     That's where my second concern about an absence of judgement and I think that the movement of political agendas and things is not something he's, I think, familiar with. These are ropes that he's lived, he personified. There were a lot of very real, as I say, circumstantial things that were happening in his life at the time, changes for good, for bad, that I think were part of throwing him off kilter but it's kind of when you get thrown off kilter I think that contributes in a way that also is disproportionate to the mistake you made with the shortcoming, the lack of judgement or whatever it is.

POM     Adding to that, to me the mistake he made was that he set out in 2003 to prove that Bulelani was a spy.

JL     Exactly.

POM     He should have said – all I did was confirm what role, we carried out investigations, that's what I know and that's all I know about Bulelani because that's all I needed to know then and that's all I can say now. Instead of that he went about trying to compile information to prove he was a spy.

JL     And then my question is why? What was he going to achieve? And that's where – I'm just saying to you that for me in the big picture those couple of errors of judgement assume dimensions and proportions way larger and almost develop a bit of a life of their own. I mean if there is to, in my mind, be any way of making sense of the nonsensical really which is how one looks at these kind of things, that would be it, that would be for me – that's how these things - they develop a life all of their own.

POM     Now you will see a lot of this appearing in my writing, it's my words quoted directly. But what you say is you had one point and that is, absolutely, those two could absolutely go in. I address his errors of judgement, he made mistakes. First of all his friends said, "Don't go the way you're going to go. Don't do it Mac." I ask people why he did it and they say, "Well, Mac is Mac."

JL     He is Mac, he's headstrong and all that, but I do think that it happened at a time when a lot of things in his life were just very, very hard. I mean he was in an environment that was a little bit a fish out of water. I mean for me to be a central banker is almost akin to him being a banker. You know what I mean? He was really out of his waters in the truest sense of that notion. Secondly, he was in a situation where a lot of his commitments in terms of financial commitments, even before there were difficulties, I mean were not inconsiderable. Zarina's health, Milou's health, both of those things played an enormous role. Then I think just adjusting to having been so able to understand because of being at the centre of a whole realm of information, the centre of what was and still is to a large extent - having a gut feeling for political movement of issues. He wasn't there any more and it's a hell of a big adjustment to make. He had a lot more time on his hands probably than he should have and he's not immune to post-traumatic stress even though he thinks he is. All of these things at a particular moment when you suddenly get something hitting you from the sidelines, maybe not even you directly, but hitting people and issues and a legacy in a way that you feel so supremely unjust and unacceptable. Anger, even for Mac, does take a hold that even for Mac is larger and so, yes, you make those kinds of mistakes.

POM     What I also found, Janet, was, because I was interviewing him very intensely before this, when he was at the bank, and then when he left the bank this thing began to break and it was his entire focus, he became obsessed with this whole thing. It energised him, he thought he was back in the struggle. He was full of energy, he thought he was going to prove this guy was a spy. I remember coming to the flat I stayed in on the night of – it was happenstance, he was delivering something to me, and it was the day ETV did a programme with Gideon Nieuwoudt and whatever, Mac said, "You've got to watch this programme." I'm watching this programme and I'm thinking, "Gideon Nieuwoudt! Mac, he still doesn't get it." You know what he said to me, he said, "That guy, he arrested me in Vula, he brought his diary with him and showed me his diary where he made a note, 'Arrested Mac Maharaj'. He had a note on me." His whole – the relationship between somebody like Nieuwoudt supporting him was something. I said, "How do you know he's telling the truth?" "Why?" "Well Mac, he's a proven liar, he's this, he's that." "Not in my case. No, no, he's telling the truth."

JL     But really –

POM     The first thing you said is the important thing, which said that he should have said the caveat here is you've got to remember we carried out a lot of investigations on a lot of people at that time and we couldn't take any chances and so, God knows, all those findings should be reassessed – which he said to Mbeki. What he said to Mbeki on 23rd and his actions after that were not consistent. And he will say, "Well I only went to Hefer because I was going to assist him." I said, "Mac, you had set out on your own to gather other information to try to bolster your case." For example, they went to Hentie Botha, the guy who was Security Branch, he looked at the file and he said, "He never worked for us." He said that straight out, never worked for us. He said he might have worked for the NIA but he never worked for us. But he still is obsessed about it, he sees all the hearings going on now on the Scorpions as being some kind of confirmation of the things he said. But he raises a good point, which comes out in the end, who in the present system, who is - ?

JL     There's no clearly defined line in law which says that this case has no place anywhere else but the Scorpions or that case has no place anywhere else but the police. If the law is contravened then the way in which that's investigated is dependant on factors that are kind of judgement calls rather than – you know what I mean – laid down set things. So, for example, you'll find that there are some aspects of organised crime that still involve very much the police, the Crime Intelligence Division, the Police Commercial Crimes Division, etc., etc., and yet people assume that organised crime, abalone for example, is definitely the Scorpions. There's no thing to say which way it goes. So if you lay a complaint, a charge, for that matter at a police station about whether it's abalone or it's about somebody committing perjury or somebody evading a privacy or giving away a document, I mean any kind of thing, it can go to any authority to pursue. The difficulty at the moment, and I think that's partly because – and that to me is what is not really being so far – I mean I haven't read any or gone to the commission obviously so I'm reading the press, but what hasn't emerged from the press reports of this commission as one of the big difficulties is the fact that it isn't clear where things go so you get a level of unnecessary territorialism, you get a level of duplication, a level of unhealthy, almost competitive, practice, competing interests. Whereas if it was clearer, and I think that would – it seems that that's underneath the logic of some of the proponents of saying well the two should be merged, but it's not coming out clearly, it's much more blurred and I think it doesn't necessarily say one way or the other that they should be merged. If you locate the problem merging might solve the problem but it also might not and it might create other problems. I think you've got to address the problem and look for solutions to the problem. I don't think that problem is one that's been clearly located, which is where do certain things go, why is certain organised crime in the house of the Scorpions and why is some other organised crime still in the house of the police? How will they get their acts together?

POM     The CIA – the 9/11 Commission is a classic study in territorialism and … of information.

JL     Absolutely. To me it's not a question that if you lay a charge that it's the Scorpions who can deal with it.

POM     What I'd like to do, if you don't mind, is I'd like to send you the chapter which is really completed so I can almost send you the draft now except I've got to add a sentence and there, I'd like you to look at the chapter and to review it. What I want to do –

JL     I don't want to in any way give an impression of differing with your opinion of the polity of Hefer's outcome. I suppose my a priori problem or concern would be the terms of reference of the commission in the first place. I mean how do you start a commission with the notion that it's not clear who's making an accusation and what the content of the accusation is? And then there's somebody else who is the accused who kind of in a way has to prove that any accusation made by anybody which makes a suggestion is actually not true. You've set yourself up – you set up a commission that I thing has the most blurry and –

POM     He narrowed it in the end to say the accusations specifically by Mo, allegations by –

JL     That was a completely arbitrary narrowing of it because – and that's what I'm saying, the terms of reference were on the one hand I think so amorphous that you had to know it, but I think that before those terms of reference were even finalised that's where the narrowing should have taken place. Then you had to be clear that if you were going to have run a commission on this sort of basis that you had to actually have a clear cut accusation or allegation or whatever it is that somebody could answer. So who was doing the answering? Was it Bulelani who was doing the answering or was it Mo who was doing the answering? It was never very clear. So I'm not disagreeing with your concern about the polity.

POM     It's better to read the report. Read my analysis or whatever and –

JL     It's how it was set up in the first place.

POM     I'm trying to put it in the context of the silence in the country, it was a great television trial, it became the Mo and Mac Show. It was heartbreaking if you talk with Joey. She talks about going into Woolworths in Hyde Park with her Dad and how people would recognise him and it embarrassed her. She said, "I felt embarrassed for him." And at home, the tension in the home, and all the anger that he couldn't take out outside was being taken out inside. Milou was completely broken down, her mother wouldn't even – wasn't able to go near the stuff, and she was trying to cope, again as a kid, she was trying to cope and keep her mother and her father and her brother, whatever. Oh my! You know.  It's only now as he's aging that – he's very proud of Joey. She had a car accident two weeks ago – she could be dead. My God! And Milou, there's nothing he can do about Milou, I try to tell him that. Again Mac being Mac would not talk.

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.