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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

21 Aug 2000: Maharaj, Mac

POM     This is on page 1, this is the interview of the 18th August 1993. I had a phrase, Mac, that said, "What do you mean by preparatory?"

MM     I mean by preparatory the series of engagements at a bilateral level between government and the ANC starting from the Groote Schuur talks where De Klerk had released Mandela, unbanned the organisations and now say we need to talk about a way forward with regards to negotiations. I regard all those meetings preceding the formal meeting of CODESA as preparatory.

POM     OK. The second is just to resolve the word in brackets, is I inserted "it's the country's problems". Did Mr de Klerk – ?

MM     That the trio should resolve it.

POM     Or the two of them should resolve it?

MM     I'm not aware of a proposal.

POM     Oh sorry, that the three of them should resolve it.

MM     I'm not aware of a formal proposal but this issue arose because as far as my memory goes in December 1990 the ANC met at a conference in Nasrec. We, in strategising the ANC, had looked at what proposals, what was the negotiating process going to be and we found that embedded in all the approaches from De Klerk was that De Klerk, Mandela and Buthelezi should sit down. We turned that down and in December 1990 we put up the proposal that there should be an All-People's conference, APC. We said it should be an all-embracing process drawing in all political formations, civics and cultural bodies. That was our counter-proposal which said the process needs to be inclusive, it cannot be just a few people sitting around the table. That process went on and led to CODESA where it was then agreed to narrow down on everybody, to all existing political organisations. That meant a majority of the 19 parties that met at CODESA were spawned under apartheid and apartheid structures be it in the Bantustans, the Indian Council, the Coloured People's Assembly and the white parliament. This meant that they had a vested interest and if you look at what happened in the final stages of the interim constitution, the composition of the executive, that is the cabinet, the proposal from the NP was that however the constitution came out the cabinet should be constituted of the three leading parties having a council within cabinet of three, De Klerk, ANC and IFP, who would be the final vetoing body. So once more the idea of the three resurfaced. So it is a consistent strand in De Klerk's thinking that if these three could agree and come to an agreement, problem solved, but he would put all three on an equal basis because up to that stage he believed that the IFP and Buthelezi would side with him and outvote Mandela. So that was the thinking at the time.

     As any point was reached where you could say De Klerk was now persuaded, there were shifting positions but De Klerk still entertained the troika idea in the back of his mind. But with CODESA the idea was that every party, and 19 joined CODESA, but within CODESA there was a tendency in the first round to say the key players are ANC, IFP and the NP and its government. We then evolved the concept of sufficient consensus. The IFP conducted itself in the first phase of CODESA by insisting that that sufficient consensus meant it must have the IFP support. So after adopting the declaration we found the NP wavering. It would imply at times that without IFP consensus we didn't have sufficient consensus.

     This process was resolved when CODESA broke down and the channel came in and it was resolved in the Record of Understanding. Now the Record of Understanding doesn't define sufficient consensus but because it said that the final constitution would be written by the Constitutional Assembly made up of the two houses of parliament elected, it made it a democratic process that would decide that. Two, the Record of Understanding went on to talk about disarming people who carry weapons in the public arena, fencing the hostels. It broke the alliance between the NP and the IFP. Then the process of sufficient consensus saw that with the ANC and the NP government and a few other minor parties supported it, there was sufficient consensus.

     Then when we came to the last stages in November 1993 the decision making process of cabinet, De Klerk tries his last straw, a council of ministers drawn from cabinet and when we finalised the constitution on Cyril's birthday that clause is removed and it simply says, "Cabinet shall function on the basis of seeking consensus but in the absence of consensus will decide by majority." That was when De Klerk accepted that draft constitution, it meant he had given up.

     I would say that the word there is not 'would' but could.

POM     Could lead, OK.

MM     'Our people' meant primarily the black people but it meant the democratic minded people, the democratic forces. Bear in mind that in the UDF, etc. although its base was the African population there were white people who were active in the UDF. The ANC would describe them, and when we say 'our people' we would be using it either to mean all South Africans but also at times to mean those in the democratic, progressive forces.

POM     "But it necessarily had a component in it when a person in the street would become disillusioned with the process." Should that be again 'could'?

MM     Could.

POM     OK, "could become disillusioned with the process." Why and why necessarily?

MM     Necessarily because a negotiating process arising after such a long and hostile conflict would parcel people into separate camps, lock them into separate camps, and negotiations would mean a give and take and a compromise. That would be perceived by elements in either camp as a betrayal of aspiration. Secondly, the NP government at the time was pursuing a twin-track strategy. It was talking but it was seeking to undermine the strength of the democratic forces and in that undermining process were two elements: divide the progressive forces, anti-apartheid forces, but secondly persuade them not to activate the masses and mobilise them to action. So that you demobilise, you try to get the weapons of struggle to be put aside and locked away. Now when you do that at a level of mass activity it's a major demobilisation of the progressive mass base.

POM     How did they hope to bring about mass demobilisation?

MM     By spreading particular versions both at the politics level but at the smear level. One could see that whatever one thinks about Mandela and his family, the government of South Africa was aware of a number of activities of, for example, Winnie Mandela, activities that could be used to taint the image of the Mandelas by putting out the stories at its timing because why didn't they arrest Winnie if they knew all this was going on whether from the Stompies or the others and security officers like Paul Erasmus had got very close to Winnie but they left that in abeyance not in order to make or break Winnie but in order to demystify Mandela at their timing and in the process of that to create doubt in the minds of the masses about the credibility and reliability of Mandela. So that too would spread disillusion within the mass base and people would say, what's this all about? Is it just horse trading around some secret door? That is why negotiations were often portrayed in the media as something happening in smoky rooms and that is why the ANC at the negotiating level will tell you the pain with which we constantly briefed our own structures throughout the country. Our negotiating forum team would regularly call almost every six weeks a larger forum of negotiation drawn from all the regions of the country where the leadership of the ANC would be brought together at that level and briefed so that they could go back and brief the local structures.

     Thirdly, the media, we had what was called the phase that Allister Sparks has called the propaganda war, the war of the memorandum. Every time we wrote to De Klerk during the breakdown in the talks we immediately called the media and gave them a briefing, told them what's in our reply, gave them an advance copy and sent our copy to FW.

POM     This would be after the breakdown of CODESA? OK. You've mentioned there and somebody else had been talking to me the other day about a relationship between Paul Erasmus and Winnie and that she gave a ring, his daughter got married last year, a ring that she had for years, to the daughter. Has anyone ever figured out what the nature of that relationship is?

MM     Well in the trials and all the evidence in the TRC processes, etc., was that Paul Erasmus had developed a close relationship but Winnie could just as well have answered – yes, I knew he was Security Branch but I did not confide in him. But the ring is a post-1994 event and one has seen people show –

POM     An act of reconciliation.

MM     - exceptional acts of generosity whether motivated at a personal level or were they motivated at a political level?

POM     These are just words here – page 1. You had political formations, I put in 'entities'. The next paragraph, just if you say the language is OK.

MM     Language OK, you asked the question, "Why did they sign then?" The CODESA Declaration, CODESA took place December 1991, the first meeting, at the Holiday Inn. The two judges had been appointed, Slabbert and Mohammed to be the co-chairpersons for that session. There was extreme pressure and everybody had to deliver on one thing: are we able to issue a declaration that sends a message to the country in our respective constituencies that, yes, we support a negotiated solution? The declaration, therefore, was couched after much bilateral negotiation, after much bilateral negotiation between the NP government and the ANC. I was not active at that stage but I came in just at the point of that conference and was in the organising committee and administration. That declaration was adopted. The only party that had reservations was the IFP but its reservations were of a form and character that we would say do not belong to this declaration. The declaration says we want a South Africa based on one person one vote, we want a South Africa committed to peace, we want a South Africa where there will be a democratic government. The IFP wanted into that declaration a firm commitment minimally on federalism but it actually wanted confederalism. We said that we cannot prescribe here. So the IFP put a reservation on it. All the others were sure that this general declaration was enough to take the process forward. At that stage they did not realise what the indications of this commitment for one person vote were because that commitment to one person one vote meant you could buy time at any interim stage but you could not buy time long term. Your constitution would have to be tested on whether it gave every person one vote. So the realisation of that implication, did it commit South Africa to a unitary state? It committed South Africa to a united South Africa. That immediately put paid to the ambitions of Bantustan parties of dismemberment of this country. So when they came back later on to fight hard on federalism we said no matter how much you distribute the powers between the different tiers, the commitment in the declaration is to have a united South Africa, a single political entity. You can wish for more powers but you cannot lead to its dismemberment.

POM     When you said "because of its composition many parties", which ones are you specifically referring to, talking about. In fact you needn't answer that because it speaks for itself. I used the words to reformulate the process in terms of setting up another forum. This interview was done in 1993 so what forum are you talking about there?

MM     This was an attempt by the white right and the black right to come together.

POM     This is not COSAG you're referring to?

MM     COSAG is there but COSAG did not ever acquire sufficient authority and critical mass to be taken seriously so there was constant talk that the AWB and IFP would lead a different process and the IFP behaved itself as being in this multiparty and not in it. The question was, where's your alternative? COSAG's authority was never taken seriously even by the media and the COSAG spokesman in the multiparty process was Bophuthatswana.

POM     Cronjé.

MM     Rowan Cronjé and another person, but Constant Viljoen's group was in and out, it was called the AVF, Afrikaner Volksfront. They thought that they were not given sufficient weight in the multiparty process to be critical players and so there was talk that they would constitute a separate entity provided that Constant Viljoen and Buthelezi and Mangope would go to that. Buthelezi's problem was if we set up another forum it would virtually lead to a unilateral independence declaration and there was talk then amongst them that they would assign a homeland for the Afrikaner so it would become homeland based and the problem with them was to dismember South Africa or not. Now Mangope would go for dismemberment, Constant Viljoen would go for dismemberment, but Buthelezi's agenda was through this process for all South Africa. It never reached a point where any formula emerged.

POM     You mentioned, it may just have been a slip of the tongue, at the beginning the IFP and the AWB, did you mean the - ?

MM     Yes because the AVF group came a little later. The Afrikaner Volksfront was an entity that arose a little later in the process. The AWB was already an organisation existing pre-1990.

POM     Yes, they weren't in –

MM     When they came to the World Trade Centre –

POM     They came through with tanks.

MM     They came through as the AVF and Constant Viljoen's argument was that he was not party to it and that the demonstration was hijacked by the AWB.

POM     The AVF were a front for the AWB?

MM     It included the AWB, it included Ferdi Hartzenberg's Conservative Party, it sought to include Jaap Marais' HNP and it sought to include the commandos who they believed had loyalty to Constand Viljoen. So in that right wing gathering of the Afrikaner parties the AVF with all these constituent members and at the World Trade Centre demonstration it was called by the AVF but when we said, "Look what you've done", Constand says, "I was ambushed by the AWB." So those tensions within them hadn't worked out because each one had a different agenda.

POM     "This disillusionment arises from many sides." Could you just elaborate a little on that?

MM     I think the disillusionment amongst the Afrikaner sectors is easy to see even in the light of just my comments. There was disillusionment even within the ranks of the ANC and this disillusion was that the table at the World Trade Centre has got an overwhelming majority of Bantustan parties. Secondly, look at what De Klerk was doing, the so-called black on black violence is going on. Thirdly, look at the release of political prisoners, it's still being started. Look at the indemnity process, it's being started. So there was a feeling even within the ANC that this was not good enough, that what would come out would be a disappointment and within the ANC there was discussion of different options as to how we could go forward. I am saying these were manifestations of disillusionment and lack of confidence that the negotiating process will deliver a democratic South Africa.

POM     There were discussions about the different options with regard to the way forward, options like?

MM     Options like the Communist Party, journals like the African Communist discussing the Leipzig Option. It was saying that's the way this country should go, that's more realising that the aspirations of our people would be better met by that option, but the implication of that is that negotiations won't deliver liberation, so a disillusionment with negotiations.

POM     You're talking about trust, "It is better seen and can be understood as a culminating point in negotiations not a starting point." CODESA, again?

MM     Culminating, OK, that's OK the formulation. The next one Boipatong.

POM     But we're talking about the double strategy here or the dual strategy. Had the concept of a dual strategy to negotiate with the ANC on the one hand and on the other hand to destabilise you, weaken you, was this part, do you think, of the conscious strategy that had been thought out beforehand going back to the days of PW Botha and something that De Klerk 'inherited' or was it something that De Klerk developed with his Generals as the strategy they would pursue.

MM     There was, I cannot remember the exact period, there was a document that emerged as emanating from the National Intelligence Service about this dual strategy. The question was the technocrats and advisors particularly from the Intelligence Services because it would go back to PW Botha. If you go back even to Van Zyl Slabbert's meeting with the ANC and Van Zyl Slabbert returning to brief PW Botha, for whatever reason, opportunist or otherwise, the tape that PW Botha made of his discussion with Slabbert was where Slabbert says, "You are trying to pull the tooth out of this bulldog, your way is wrong. My way of talking to the ANC is to remove their teeth more effectively."There was great embarrassment for Van Zyl Slabbert when PW made public that tape.

POM     PW made it public? PW not FW?

MM     Yes. So the tension was there. Whatever strategy he adopted must be one that diminishes and reduces the power of the ANC. How do you remove the teeth of this bulldog? Now the Intelligence Service hopes to persuade PW, this is the time when PW began to evolve this twin strategy, to say yes we will talk to them, negotiate with them but we will be implementing a strategy which will ensure that they don't emerge victorious. Then when you have FW come into power it's now a matter of record that the Intelligence Service say that they briefed FW on talks that were going on with the ANC. FW at one time said, "You didn't have permission. What is this that we are meeting the ANC?" They said, "But Mr President when you came into government we gave you a briefing." He said, "I don't remember that briefing." They had deliberately couched the briefing in extremely vague terms that they were by PW Botha authorised to explore possibilities of engaging with the ANC, so whenever he says "I didn't know you had met the ANC", they said, "No, but we are doing that, we've got a mandate."

     Now what was happening there, they once more had to put before FW a dual strategy: don't be afraid of what we are doing, we are going to make sure that while we are engaged with the ANC it will not emerge in power. So I believe that FW was not the architect of the dual strategy but the dual strategy was put forward to also persuade him that this is the right way to go. As time went on the question arose all the time whether that dual strategy would work. So he closed his mind at best to all that was going on in the name of black on black violence because to him it was part of a strategy that would ensure that the ANC does not emerge in power. So it's not only what he was going to win at the negotiating table, it's also what they could not achieve at the negotiating table they would achieve by other means and in that sense I believe that FW moved into that mode of thinking as well without having been the architect of that strategy.

POM     Did he move into it in the sense that when he was appraised of it he more or less said to himself, I'll forget about one part of it, I will concentrate on the other strategy but I will close my eyes, I won't enquire?

MM     It's difficult to say at the moment because it has now come out in the Truth Commission process that FW De Klerk was a member of the National Security Council and it is now clear that he was present at some of the Security Council meetings where even things like the elimination of the Goniwes was recorded and where the Security Council took a decision that they should not put that form of blatant report before the Security Committee. What does that say? Don't put that blatant report in, we don't want to be grouped in the murder and the bloodshed. You do it but don't report it. That's the council, and as President of the South African Republic walking into this position that he is going to unban and negotiate he would be shrewd enough to say from my past experience there are other things that the state will be doing but I just don't want you to implicate me.

     The leader, one of the key persons in all this negotiating process, was Niel Barnard. From the first talks with Mandela in prison, in every place he was present right up to the 1994 elections and it is his group that were the architects of the dual strategy and he can argue that he articulated the dual strategy to win his principals to support negotiations because if he had argued it purely on its merits as negotiations he could argue that he could not have persuaded them. But that's to justify him. The fact is that he was central to all the processes right up to the 1994 elections precisely because he was the repository of the dual strategy and he was doing it on the basis that his principals could repudiate what he said.

POM     So he would have been one of the authors, or the author?

MM     Of the dual strategy.

POM     This is a question more of information, Leon Wessels was Deputy Minister for Law & Order under PW Botha and Adriaan Vlok was Minister for Law & Order and he would be chairman or director of the National Management Security System. What would he have known?

MM     Difficult to say again except that one thing we would know, that a deputy minister wouldn't sit on the National Security Council.

POM     He said that.

MM     Because also Roelf was Minister of Defence at one stage, Deputy Minister of Defence.

POM     He was Minister of Defence but I think he was Deputy Minister for Law & Order too.

MM     But as a minister he could have sat in some of the meetings of the National Security Council and the National Security Management System.

POM     He didn't become a minister until after Gerrit Viljoen – so he didn't become minister until – he was deputy minister before that. Then he became Minister of Defence and then of Constitutional Development. The National Security Council then was operating in a different way.

MM     In a different framework, beginning to shift. It was beginning to be an instrument that was becoming embarrassing. In fact when I was in Bophuthatswana for the removal of Mangope, the first visit before the removal, General Georg Meiring and I differed sharply as to what the South Africa defence forces should do. He was saying we should go out and stabilise Bophuthatswana and restore the police and Mangope. I was saying no, you cannot do so without orders from Mandela and De Klerk and he said, "I don't take instructions from Mandela, I take my instructions from the National Security Council." And I said to him, "General, are you sure you are really meaning the National Security Council?" And in great embarrassment he said, "I mean FW, my President", because I was saying to him this body was not supposed to be existing.

POM     OK language again. Page 3. "They realised later that that was an unachievable object.I think they only realised that with my detention." Let's talk about your detention, how it came about and what you were convicted of and how it came out during your detention that Mandela and Oliver Tambo were in communication with each other.

MM     My detention was the culmination, my detention on 25th July 1990 was the culmination of a series of detentions which started on 8 - 9 July 1990.

POM     This is Vula?

MM     Yes.

POM     OK, you're talking about Vula. Here you're referring to Vula when you say "your detention", I thought you were referring to your first detention.

MM     What they captured was communications in the hands of Siphwe Nyanda. Those were communications that I had given him, past communications and ongoing communications while I exited the country. Now in that to keep him in his position as Acting Commander in my case I had to give him these communications and there were references to even the communications that had gone on to Lusaka. Then immediately Madiba was released there was a communication reporting on my meeting with Mandela and the underground. All these were meetings based on the assumption that communications had been ongoing between Mandela and OR. The next thing is that on my detention they found in my briefcase a resolution of the NEC meeting of 20 July indicating what positions the ANC delegation would take at the Pretoria talks on 6 August with that pre-emptive strike and unilateral suspension of the armed struggle. So all that showed that here I was not separated from the Mandelas, in active touch with him since he came out of prison but that active touch presumed active communication with him before he came out of prison. And it's possible that in the Gebhuza communication there would have even been such a thing as the draft Harare Declaration before it was adopted in Lusaka, which had been sent to Mandela while he was in prison for a feedback from Mandela as to what he thinks of that draft.

POM     When they thought he was not in touch with Mandela, as I understand what you are saying, you are saying here we have Mandela nicely in his nice little prison garden and we are talking to him and he's not in touch with the outside.

MM     Except under our control, under the control of the South Africa government because they began to allow him greater –

POM     In the meantime you were talking to Thabo.

MM     In Zurich and London.

POM     Zurich and London and we have him pursuing his idea of the people's war, what this is going to bring about here is a split.

MM     And then the government is talking here to UDF affiliates.

POM     And they thought Mandela was being – how was Mandela being informed? How was he in touch with - what I'm interested in is when he was in Victor Verster how did the communication system work so that he could be in touch with OR and OR in touch with him?

MM     It's very simple, it's now not a matter of secrecy. When they moved him to Victor Verster already Mr Ismail Ayob was Mandela's lawyer and he was being allowed to visit Mandela at Mandela's request. Even before that the famous speech, Mandela's reply to PW Botha was smuggled out by Mr Ayob and put together. So that was happening throughout. That was a very elementary form. When he was moved to Victor Verster I got a briefing from Ayob's office. I then sent Ayob to visit with his wife Jamina, this time I insisted that both go to Victor Verster. Jamina, the wife, was to create a distraction so that anything, radio monitoring or bugging would not pick up what was happening and Ismail was under the table to deliver a very tiny tightly rolled piece of paper.

POM     He was under the table?

MM     Under the table, and he was to give a pseudonym that I had arranged with Mandela before that, a code name which was Zwengendaba. He was an African leader, a Chief in the period when colonialism came to our country. So he was to mention the name Zwengendaba and under the table pass him this piece of paper, rolled tightly into a little tube. Mandela then went with this piece of paper from time to time to the toilet while talking to Ismail and in that I disclosed that I was in the country and I was in a position to set up communications between him and Oliver Tambo. Ismail would be the key conduit, it even reached the point where he would have a concealed tape recorder on him when visiting Mandela.

POM     They never searched him?

MM     They would allow him because Mandela was behaving as if he was very open and what he did with the letter to PW Botha, he openly sat around the table with Ismail and he said, "I have written to PW Botha, I am going to read out to you my letter to PW Botha", and he read it out, the first ten pages and then he went on to say, "There are ten more pages of similar argument." That was all on the table. Ismail came out, went immediately to Johannesburg, I would head for Johannesburg, he would transcribe the tape and I would the same night put it on my computer and send it off to Oliver Tambo. Oliver Tambo would come back with a reply, I would get that off to Ismail. I would make it into a tiny strip of paper, six point type, a narrow strip, conceal it and say now in this concealed way you deliver it. I had offered Mandela other more sophisticated means but he felt that it would be unsafe to use any of them because I said I don't know what are the things you've got in your place of stay, do you have ball pens? What make? I'll give you an invisible pen, a pen to write in invisible writing like the exact ball pens that you've got with you so that it's just a swap over and you can use that for invisible writing. I said, tell me what your shaving kit is like, tell me what your mirror looks like, tell me all the objects, but he said it would be too complicated for me to handle that so let's keep it very simple.

POM     Did he ever use the invisible pen?

MM     He was too nervous.

POM     That's what you've just talked about, after the evidence they found in the Vula communications, "It came to my attention they found that they were not the same as they thought they were." Nelson had been in touch because he was then out of prison.

MM     In the Vula communications that they would have found from me to Gebhuza in Durban.

POM     To who?

MM     Gebhuza, Siphiwe Nyanda, would be such a thing as a brief report of a meeting that I attended where Mandela and others were present where we discussed what to do with the underground.

POM     This is after his release?

MM     After his release and while I'm still illegally in the country. For example, Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Raymond Mhlaba, Alfred Nzo, Joe Slovo would be having a meeting and I would be invited to come and participate in that meeting to report on what happened and what's going on in the underground and I would send instructions to say I've just had a meeting with this leadership and this is the decision. Now evidence like that showed to the regime that, wait a minute, Mandela is not just co-operating as they say, he is operating in intimate contact with all levels, all wings of the ANC, the military formations, the underground political formation and the surface manifestation of the ANC.

POM     So he was quite, this is one of the questions that De Klerk in his biography kind of glossed over, Mandela was aware of Vula, he was aware that the underground structures were still in place and in fact their capacity would be enhanced and not run down and that if negotiations perchance did fail that it wasn't going to be caught in a position of saying, oh we have no fall back position.

MM     No.

POM     No fall back position. you were preparing a fall back position?

MM     No we were not preparing a fall back position. This was a debate that took place at that meeting with Mandela when I was present where the idea what is the underground support to do because we would like to discuss with the underground before Mandela's release. What happens when Mandela is released and negotiations start? What is the role of the underground? Some argued that it was a form of insurance policy. I disagreed with that view. I said an insurance policy would put Mandela in an indefensible position vis-à-vis De Klerk if De Klerk challenged him. I said there was a different role, we had to legalise the ANC and build its legal structures after 30 years of being in the underground. There is nothing to panic about but without revealing our people in the revival and restructuring of the ANC this underground would remain as a cohesive force generating that revival. The military formations would remain but they would enhance the capacity of the marshals at our rallies because we protected Mandela at these rallies, not the regime. People who queued at any one of those rallies, it was the marshal's structure as an overall structure to protect him even when he addressed the rally at Kingsmead in Durban but within the marshals how did you give them the paramilitary discipline? You used underground agents to be hidden into that marshal structure. And I said, "We have legitimate structures which you, Mandela, can answer if De Klerk were to challenge you, and you will say Mr De Klerk, yourstate is not protecting my forces, my people, they have to protect themselves and for that I am maintaining a structure which your forces cannot detect because if I allowed your forces to detect them I would give them the chance to destroy my protection."

     So it's not insurance, it's to enhance this mobilisation for negotiations. Mandela would say, for example, if he had such a discussion, "Do you want me to negotiate with you and when we arrive at a solution I cannot carry my people to support the solution? Surely you want to negotiate with me on the basis that my people who have been (fighting) for 30 years would support the solution and for that I need a viable and cohesive organisation and I need to mobilise the people so that they are abreast with what is happening and will support the solution because I'm negotiating with you, De Klerk, on the basis that you would deliver your forces to support the negotiated solution."

POM     Now were you at that point, Vula was - the underground structures that were operating, were you still importing arms?

MM     Oh yes.

POM     Creating arms caches around the country so that even after the signing of the DF Malan Agreement the underground were still going ahead and doing its duty.

MM     The underground had to be there in readiness to defend our people against the violence that was ravaging our country.

POM     This comes back to maybe the question of that when the violence did break out in the townships the SDUs were set up and a lot of the SDUs got out of control and created more trouble for you than protection for the people. Why were the underground structures not used more effectively during that period?

MM     Two reasons, one, the SDUs emerged from the peace forces at that time. The Peace Accord had been signed and the Peace Accord acknowledged that the South Africa government was not defending the black communities and now recognised that the communities could set up their own protection units and defences.

POM     The government put its signature to it?

MM     Yes it put its signature to it. Oh yes. The difference is that the government was supposed to legitimise the army, the self defence unit but it never provided the arms, legitimate.

POM     The government was supposed to provide the SDUs with arms?

MM     To licence them.

POM     To licence them.

MM     But it never did that so we had to provide the arms. Why they were not more effective is because the underground still existed not just under the Vula structure but in all sorts of other structures that were being run from Lusaka at different stages of cohesion and lack of cohesion. The arrest of Vula had seriously disrupted its methods. I had been arrested but so had more than 20 other people, key people on the ground. Yes, Gebhuza was arrested. Ronnie was not arrested but Ronnie had only come into the country in February so he had hardly been in the country for two months when he had to leave the country again. He really didn't know who were the people in the underground structures. So it left us out of contact with each other, but key people of the 20 who were arrested were people who were on the ground in touch with the others. You did not have a structure that put down in one place all the information of who's who and who's in which structure and when you disrupted those communications, that cohesion fell through. And it's in this context that the SDUs began to be built up.

POM     There was a vacuum.

MM     Yes, there was a vacuum. Thirdly the violence, this third force violence, the so-called black on black, was seriously destroying the leadership of the communities. You had community organisations losing their political leadership all the time and you had newer and newer people coming in because the idea of the SDU was that it operate under the political guidance of the community leadership in that area. But the political leadership was being denuded in that violence and therefore the maturity at the level of that leadership was diminished. So it was not just the SDUs that got infiltrated and turned round and they became maverick, but in area after area the political leadership that survived grew younger and younger and more propelled towards just answering violence with violence irrespective of analysing and saying that what looks like black on black violence, behind it is the state manipulating it. Those are the realities and it was a state of violence that swept this country that was just unbelievable. That is how the effectiveness of the SDUs can be explained.

POM     Or their ineffectiveness.

MM     Yes, their ineffectiveness.

POM     You just raised a point there that I was going to ask you in a different context that is relevant now, about vacuums. After reading Reflections of President Mandela and his colleagues speaking from Robben Island, the first time the book has been quoted, it struck me – one of the things that struck me was the marvellous sense of cohesion and solidarity on Robben Island and in a sense the more the authorities tried to break you the stronger you got, not the weaker you got. And then I asked myself, somebody's made a big mistake, from the very beginning they should have sent all of you guys to a different prison all over the country, they shouldn't have allowed any of you to communicate with each other.

MM     They would have run into a different problem. If they had put us dispersed in different prisons throughout the country we would have been escaping by the dozen. That's the other side.

POM     Today it's easy to escape.

MM     They had to make a trade-off. Their argument was if we put them in all these prisons even the normal criminal sympathises with them and our capacity to hold each one in different prisons and secure would be beyond our capacity. The task was easier to put them in one place, put them on an island and maintain tightest security. Even if a fishing boat came within a certain distance of Robben Island there were the police and there were the helicopters.

POM     In a sense it was probably one of the biggest mistakes the regime made.

MM     All oppressive regimes have made that mistake. Invariably they put them in one room, so did the British, they put them in the Maze. Because by its nature an oppressive regime is a minority sitting over a majority and its survival depends on how many from the majority it ropes in into its tangled structures of power and privilege and patronage to serve as their foot soldiers. If all the whites became prison warders what privileges would they enjoy? That goes back to the Roman times and the slave eras, slave rule was the same.

POM     This again is just evidence, I think we dealt with that. This is just language here.

MM     Right. When I say "happened" in that way it's OK. Yes there were factions.

POM     OK. But there never… the Freedom Charter and tried to taint the ANC with a communist label but those were never the basis on which the ANC could be split. Why? Page 3.

MM     Because even when you read Mandela's essay in Reflections in Prison you will find that (a) there was a paradigm. I think it is – who was the famous chap who was brought to trial by the Nazis? Ernest Heilman, the Red trial under Hitler, kept in solitary and asked to defend himself and given a lawyer who was provided by the Nazi regime. It could not be done in that way. Not Heilman, it's the other guy. But he says in that record, Georgie Dimitri, he kept a diary of the trial and he dealt with his preparation every day for the trial and he said his best way to prepare himself for the next day was to read the Nazi papers. If they said that Georgie Dimitri, the accused had performed badly then he knew he had performed well. If they praised him for the previous day then he knew he had made a mistake. Now, communism in South Africa occupied that position but secondly on the positive side, all our ANC leaders were tested by … the Communist Party was the first non-racial political party, organisation in this country. It was the one place they could feel at home and not feel that colour counted and gradually it proved its worth, the Communist Party, showed that it was standing closely side by side with the others in the struggle and became a trusted part of it irrespective of whatever reservations you may have had, you knew that as individuals you would be trusted.

POM     I will ask you a side question on that and I am sure you've been asked it before. I'm jumping ahead but I'll jump ahead and jump back. You went to the GDR for training and you visited the USSR many times.

MM     Quite a few times.

POM     In all of your visits did you ever get any sense that something's not working here, in fact the regime that is helping me is an oppressive regime and in many respects may be even more repressive than the regime is in South Africa? That they execute their opponents, they send them to Gulags, there is no freedom of speech, no freedom of association, there is a pervasive censorship, there is no democracy.

MM     Sure, these questions arose, even from the time of the Spanish Civil War. Darkness at Noon, communist rule.

POM     Arthur Koestler.

MM     Sorry, you're right.Arthur Koestler.

POM     My favourite, one of my all time favourite books.

MM     1956, the Hungarian – it stripped away communist … I got to Britain in 1957, the British Communist Party before Hungary had a membership of 34,000. I arrived in Britain in 1957 after Hungary, the British Communist Party was down to 19,000.

POM     What was the name of the military leader in Hungary?

MM     … Nagy.

POM     He was the Prime Minister, right? The military guy – because in Ireland I remember we'd get little snippets on the radio and it was like all tuned in and to plead to the West, "Please come, come in and help us, help us."

MM     And then there was Prague Spring, Czechoslovakia.

POM     1968.

MM     1968. But if you ask me from direct experience , in 1961 I had a very special privilege of travelling and living as an ordinary person in the German Democratic Republic. What I saw in the GDR in 1961 was extremely encouraging because the signs of repression were not easily visible. But I returned to the GDR in 1978 and you could see a change going on and a change for the worse.

POM     We were talking about when you were in the GDR.

MM     Certainly when I look back, by the eighties I was becoming concerned about the governments in these countries and particularly in the Soviet Union. So it's not a secret, after all when Vula was set up obviously one of our first thoughts was to get assistance from the Soviet Union and I looked at the communication systems that we had been given by the Soviets and I rejected them all. So we developed our own, we really developed our own from nothing which was outside of any help from any socialist country. The team was made up of two people in London and my wife in Zambia. We devised and developed a communication system completely independent of what the Soviet Union gave us. One of the Soviet Generals had offered me a satellite communication system that would depend upon beaming from within the country to be picked up in Moscow and decoded in Moscow and then passed on to the ANC, politely I never took it up. Having developed our communication systems, sure the Soviets assisted, we took it into the country and they knew I was coming, Shubin in his book - but I never discussed my communication system. After being in the country on one of my visits to meet Oliver Tambo and Joe Slovo in Moscow, Shubin came to me and said, "Mac, we have reason to believe that you've got a very effective and speedy communication system. Could you share it with us?" And I said to Shubin, "Really no hard feelings, but when you give us your communication systems you're not giving us one that is undiscovered. You're giving us one that is used by your forces which has probably been captured by the western powers and you are reserving for your own use one that is not yet captured and you wouldn't share it with me for fear that any use by me may lead to its discovery and therefore give enemies of the Soviet Union, the past regime - "I said, "Isn't that true?" He said, "In principle yes." So I said, "Now, you expect me to give you one that has not yet been caught, developed at a hell of cost by us. No, it can't work that way. I can't give you a communication system that is working for us and it's our only secure communications, to give it over to you because in return you would not give me a safe communication system that's not yet caught." But I would not divulge the communication system. I am saying that's not the mindset that says I am completely at home with what you're doing.

POM     I mean also in the sense that when you would walk around Moscow or see ordinary people in the street or look in shop windows or whatever, did you ever say, "Gee!"?

MM     I never walked around Moscow because in all my preparations even in the GDR, except in 1961, all my subsequent visits, preparation for Vula, I would stay in a safe house isolated from even the South Africans training in the GDR, foreign nationals. I would not visit the universities because I didn't want even ANC people to know that I was preparing to go home. I never went in training, but that's no excuse. The reality is that already by 1989 I remember being at a meeting, just a social, with Alexei Makarov, Joe Slovo and myself and saying, "What's happened here? We don't have a sense that this economy is going right." But worse than that in 1989 or 1990 when I was doing my turn around to go out illegally and come back legally there was a slip-up in my arrangements in legally going out so that in Moscow I would have time to rest and change my appearance and draw my gear before I would collect another passport that I had stored here and reappear via Britain and conceal the tracks that I had been living in the country illegally. There was a slip-up in that my flight from Delhi to Moscow, the message that reached Shubin to meet me under a pseudonym was for the next day and I arrived a day earlier. I arrived a day earlier and at the airport there's no Shubin. I got myself out of that airport without a visa and I went to Shubin's office, I went to the ANC office where Sonny Makanye was and I phoned Shubin and Shubin said, "Where are you?" I said, "Send a car to pick me up quickly." "Where are you?" and I gave him my address, he nearly fell off the chair. He races and collects me, "How did you get in?" I said I bribed my way. He said, "But, Comrade, that's impossible." I said, "I'm sorry, your airport is leaking, your security is collapsing." So this state that was existing as a viable bureaucracy was beginning to crack and Shubin and I had a big laugh.

POM     You bought your way in?

MM     I bought my way into the Soviet Union. They said it's impossible to do that. And of course we laughed by saying, "Oh man, you're so used to underground ways of doing things you got away." And Shubin said, "But the reality is it means that there are officials working at the airport who are bribeable." I said, "Exactly, a twenty US dollar note got me through."

POM     Shubin himself was not aware of - ?

MM     He wasn't. I think it was a very big shock to him. Two things, that my security had been jeopardised but secondly that, good God, it is so easy to bribe your way, that they had woken up that there is this corruption going on but was it so extensive that an unannounced person could arrive at the airport and just get through with a twenty dollar note? That told you things. Sure we had debated perestroika, Slovo had written the pamphlet 'Has Socialism Failed?' We had lots of debates. I said, "Does it go deep enough, does it answer the question?" So these were ongoing debates amongst ourselves. I think even Slovo carried on the debate but so did the others in their own minds. I think that the evidence that the socialist experiment had gone wrong was being acknowledged but where did it go wrong, how far back into its roots does that wrong track arise, has been a debate. In all the breaking up of the communist world, always the ideals of equality and justice and an egalitarian society pull you in one direction and in the other direction when it was the Kruschev letter disclosing Stalin's crimes, then you said wait a minute, good God – before that it was not Stalin, when it began Stalin was corrupt but where is the original we spoke of? It was the debate while you clung to the ideal of an egalitarian society. I think by the 1990s also the signals were there that the socialist countries were beginning to take positions in Southern African, in Angola, etc., which were more aligned to their state interests rather than the interests of the world, the desire for an egalitarian society. And so as a liberation movement we could begin to feel the pressure but the Soviet Union was engaging and not disclosing to us what were its levels of engagement with the apartheid state and the west.

POM     That it was engaging with?

MM     The western powers and the apartheid state, because surely the Soviet Union was in diamond dealing with De Beers. It's no secret now. But in the earlier years –

POM     Harry, do you hear that?

MM     - would discuss it earlier. Soviet's do you support the boycott? Yes we support the boycott. But are you selling South African diamonds? No we're not selling South African diamonds. We discussed with the People's Republic of China, are you trading with South Africa? No we're not trading with South Africa. Are you trading via Hong Kong and Macao? How dare you raise that question, we are not dealing with them.

POM     Did you ever get a sense of, like the Sakarovs of the world, being detained, sent to the Gulag?

MM     The Sakarov case was an important case because it was different from Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn very quickly you could see here was a mystic whereas Sakarov was a respected nuclear physicist and a person who whatever he said, even if it didn't strike your gut and say it's right, you felt that it's jarring, you could not dismiss Sakarov as a person who was not a thinking person. Whereas with Solzhenitsyn even though he did a magnificent exposure of the Gulags when you saw the man on television you saw a mystic there.

POM     I don't believe he's made ten public appearances in the US since he got there. He lives in a sealed up – in fact he lives in a Gulag. I tell you that because a friend of mine happens to be the last person who was released from Gulags and he now lives in Boston and he has fascinating stories of how to survive and how they survived.

     "There was enough evidence to suggest that that tactic would not work because the South African government while it had agreed and was talking to Nelson in prison believing that nothing was coming out of those discussions." So they believed that Nelson wasn't – either they weren't serious when they were talking to him or - ?

MM     The point is that Nelson made it absolutely clear and that is very well put in his letter to PW Botha. Madiba had isolated what were the key obstacles in the apartheid state mind for talking to the ANC. What are the obstacles? Violence, alliance with the Communist Party? So he isolated the key issues, concern about majority rule and white minority privilege. Key issues, and the letter is devoted to those three arguments but not in a way that shows he's going to back off. He explained the genesis of violence and put the responsibility at their door. He never said I'm going to renounce violence, but he certainly traced it in such a way that says you pushed us to violence and therefore you can get us to stop violence if you do the right things. The alliance with the Communist Party he defended it vigorously by even invoking the second World War, the British, the Allied alliance with Stalin. And he says, "If you could do it why can't I have an alliance with the Communist Party? Which self-respecting person would dump their ally just like that?" And on the question of majority rule and domination he didn't repeat his speech from the dock about he's fought against white domination and the fight against black domination, but, he said, the trick is going to be how to marry the principle of majority rule with concern for minority fears and concerns. He didn't call that second one a principle, he said how do you address those concerns and bridge these two issues that the principle of majority rule were the concerns of the minority. Later on in his argument he comes back to say, "However, if you do not accept the principle of majority rule you will never have peace." Now that letter is a stark statement of not just a defence, it's an aggressive position to say these issues that you raise as obstacles are just non-issues if you think that we're going to back off from them, that it is possible to talk about white fears and concerns while marrying it to majority rule.

     So Nelson showed to them that you had to do this and when they were making their overtures to the ANC abroad, again they found the ANC very, very amenable, but its amenability again was showing South Africa belongs to all, that these concerns you have can be met, can be accommodated if we can talk about a common interest that we have. So this effort to try and split and probe was taking them nowhere, yet they were clinging to it. They would say, oh we're talking to so-and-so abroad, this is a more amenable person, no we're talking to Madiba, he's a non-communist and he's more amenable. Then others would come and say, but we've met Oliver Tambo, he's such a nice guy. They were trapped by their racism because their first statements when they met us, even at Dakar, was to say they were surprised to find that we were human beings. That's a racist attitude. To simply say to me after you've met me, to say, "Good God, I didn't realise you're a human being." It tells me what prejudices you were holding. You shouldn't be shocked whether brown, black, white, yellow that a person is a human being. All are human beings, we all have the same instincts and everything. So that surprise is only a surprise of the person acculturated to a racist way of thinking which does not see the persons of colour as human beings and it's a degree of a shock that they exclaim it to your face without realising the implications of what they are saying. I used to make a joke of it after Dakar that every time I met a delegation from South Africa I got used to saying, "Guys please, when we end this meeting don't tell me what a human being I am, I don't need you to testify that I'm a human being."

POM     This goes back to the Record – where you had talked earlier about trust isn't something that is there, it's something that is the culmination of a process not the start of the process. You said the repairing had nothing to do with trust of lack of trust yet the supposed trust that emerged between Cyril and Roelf has become the stuff of myth almost, that they developed a special relationship and trust between each other.

MM     Let me amend what I said about culmination, trust being the culmination.

POM     Page number 4.

MM     I think culmination is wrong. Trust can arise in different degrees in the middle of a process, it need not be at the end of the process. I think the real issue with Cyril and Roelf is not trust but respect. I think they respected, they learnt to respect each other, and I think that's more important than the issue of trust on further reflection.

     I remember a graphic statement by Mandela in prison to the Commissioner of Prisons, General Steyn. He was raising the question of our treatment in prison and he gave the example, he said, "General, even if we were to fight each other to a standstill and reduce South Africa to ashes let us be careful as Generals on opposing sides that we don't lose respect for each other. I may not agree with what you do but I have to respect you as a General to the end because if I lose my respect for you or we lose it for each other when South Africa has become ashes we will still have to sit and meet even if it is to negotiate a truce or to accept a surrender." And he said, "Both those acts would only be valid if we still respect each other. So don't treat us in a way that will foreclose on the future." So I think respect is more important than trust. I think respect a General or a political opponent and say I don't agree with him, but he is an effective political leader on the other side, he's an effective General on the opposing forces.

     So every time I go to Durban and I think what I'm going to do the next day, one of the critical things I will be doing is that while I've decided what I'm going to do tomorrow I must not finalise it, I must ask myself, but wait a minute, this is what I plan to do tomorrow, Padraig is my opponent, how is he thinking what he's going to do because he's a shrewd General too and he would be saying tonight what is Mac going to do. That is a measure of respect but if I didn't bother what Padraig is going to think and do tomorrow I don't respect him as a General. I don't want to know what he's likely to do. I don't have to bother whether he's setting an ambush and I'm likely to walk into what I think is right but I'm walking into an ambush because Padraig has anticipated what I intend to do. I think Roelf and Cyril came to a point of respecting each other and I think the trout fishing story was a one-off event, itnever happened again.

POM     You're saying it never?

MM     It happened only once and never happened again.

POM     A good story. Sounds like an Irish story to me. Spin a good yarn. We dealt with the dual strategy. After the Record of Understanding did De Klerk finally throw in the towel on the dual strategy?

MM     I have said that the penultimate day before the Record of Understanding is where in my view Madiba rose to occupy the psychological high ground over De Klerk over the negotiations of the release of McBride and others. De Klerk's backing off continued the next day at the Record of Understanding over the fencing of hostels where he backed off on that one. I think that from two points of view, reaffirmation of the Constitutional Assembly to write the final constitution and the concrete decisions in the Record of Understanding which led the IFP to react with total distrust of the NP thereafter created a situation where I think De Klerk was not on the defensive. He had lost the initiative. He was a man who had a reputation from 2 February of pulling white rabbits from a hat at strategic moments but there were no more rabbits left to pull out. That does not mean that he may have just given up and caved in but I think he moved in the end to support the briefings given by Roelf Meyer when brought to cabinet as a negotiation process. He gradually more and more bought the reason that Roelf put and supported it. I think that is true of the final decision in cabinet whether to support the interim constitution or not. I think that the Delports …So De Klerk had moved but he had moved because he had no alternative, not because he wanted to. He never moved in his heart to support it.

POM     A lot of people that I've talked to are very hard on Delport but was Delport not really carrying out the instructions of his boss? That is FW told him to stick in there and don't give an inch, don't roll over and make a bargain. Whereas the people come down hard on Delport and his intransigence, he was being intransigent at the instruction of his superior. You say that Viljoen would have had more finesse? He was following strategically what De Klerk told him to do but he was doing it by - his manner and method of doing so was closing doors, not creating space for further manoeuvre afterwards.

MM     That's a key problem, the difference between him and Gerrit. I'm not sure which way Gerrit would have gone but Delport by his nature was wrong for that job.

POM     The wrong person.

MM     The wrong person, the wrong personality. Yes he was ill, he had laryngitis that day, etc., but he never thought how do I manoeuvre myself out of this thing here such that the process will have to go on? But the process doesn't go on by putting – let me put this scenario: if this door was closed and there was a venomous snake in this room and we had a long stick what would be the correct thing to do? That snake can kill you.

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.