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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

15 Oct 2001: Maharaj, Mac

POM     There were two questions I had the last time, we did one of them and that was when you and Madiba talked about the turning points in your own struggle, but from a conversation before just as I was walking out the door you had said the Nats could have got a much better deal if they had played their cards better. Could you elaborate on that?

MM     I have given you a note already, you have got a note on conversations with me at this thing that you gave me that has clear references to it. We were talking only in the context – that remark is in the context of whether De Klerk could have played his hand better and my view has been that having taken the initiative of February 2nd De Klerk really didn't have a vision which understood that he was walking into a new South Africa and how he should be positioning himself. So I've referred to that in those notes and you will find it there.

POM     How about his negotiators?

MM     I think the issue was not what came out of the negotiation at the table, the issue was whether there was a continuing life for De Klerk and the National Party in the politics of SA and the framework in which I've put that view is that De Klerk was constrained and could not speak for SA and yet there was an environment which could have enabled him to speak for SA, to try to speak for SA, and that's the context in which I'm saying they could have got a better deal, not around the negotiating table and the nuts and bolts of the agreement, but how they positioned themselves. It's not about whether they could have got a better deal in the formulation of the constitution.

POM     Now you have been in communication with Madiba for X number of years. Can you describe your feelings on meeting him for the first time?

MM     After his release?

POM     Yes.

MM     February 2nd when De Klerk made the announcement and February 10th or 11th when Madiba gets released.

POM     The 9th.

MM     I was in one of my hideouts in the country watching Madiba's release on TV. At the level of the country I was clear in my mind that enormous opportunities had opened up by the unbanning and by Madiba's release. The second element that was very strong in my mind was that the burden to carry this forward was going to rest solely on Madiba and Walter Sisulu's shoulders. I was very mindful and aware that it was such a loss to the country that Tambo was not around but I was clear in my mind that despite Tambo's absence from the frontline that Madiba had the capacity to move this country forward. My preoccupation from the underground was how in this changed environment could we ensure the security of Madiba. I had no concerns about what he would say politically. Even when within a week of his release he made the statement that De Klerk was a man of integrity, and this caused quite a bit of ripples in the democratic forces inside the country, it didn't cause me any concerns nor did it cause me concerns when shortly after his release, after going to Zambia and back and going to Stockholm and seeing Tambo, he then paid a visit to West Africa and made a statement reported in the media here calling for support for the National Party and De Klerk.

POM     Calling for support for the NP?

MM     And De Klerk. Because in my mind he was driving the process to the point where it was saying there must be some win/win formula in this negotiated environment. So you ask me what were my feelings. There was a fourth element that was preoccupying me at that stage which was that I had reservations in my mind about the tactics that the government would use. I felt it was outside of the government's power to control the emotions and support that would well up with Madiba's release but I thought that they would be playing some dirty tricks. So I was preoccupied with how they would allow the release, they would not try to stem the tide of some mystification and legends around Madiba but that they would systematically thereafter begin to undermine that, not by attacking him but I thought by attacking his immediate family. It's a scenario that I have said to Lusaka before his release. I felt that that was an issue that it was our duty to guard, not Madiba's duty. I thought it would put an unfair responsibility on him. I also thought at a personal level that he was released into an environment where his family relationship was going to be very, very problematical and again my overwhelming feeling was, OK, what can we do to isolate him from the worst effects of that, that arena? But I understood that he was so private at that level that he would not be party to and would not allow himself to be a party to allowing people like us to become involved in that. I felt very personally sad that with this moment in history having arrived and he being the pivot of this moment was going to have to fight so many battles on his own. So it's hard.

POM     That release in a sense was going to bring an awful lot of pain and hurt with it too.

MM     Yes. I have always felt sad about his life and that is why whenever I see him with Graça – the other night, Saturday night or Friday night, there was this Samora Machel thing, I went to Gallagher. When I left there I got home, I had gone and I had hugged him, I had hugged Graça and then I went back a second time because I decided to leave early, but when I got home I said to myself what I would have liked to have done was when I was introducing somebody from abroad to Madiba and to Graça was just to be able to say spontaneously what was in my mind, to say a thing like, "This is Graça Machel, the woman who has made it possible for him to be happy." I really think that. Her entering his life really, really filled a huge void in it and I feel so happy when I see them together and I see how he is towards her. It's such a nice thing that Madiba has had a chance at this stage of his life to have that kind of happiness.

POM     If you had to compare Oliver Tambo and Mandela, you worked for so many years so closely with Tambo and when you speak of him it's always like he was a wise man, gentle man. How would you compare and contrast them in terms of strengths and even weaknesses? That's one, and two, if Tambo had been in good health would Mandela have insisted that Tambo be elected President of the ANC and become first President of the country?

MM     I think Mandela would have insisted and I think Tambo would have insisted that Madiba become the President. Each of them would have been prepared to play a second fiddle role to the other. I think that the important thing is not the positions, I think that if we look at the tasks that faced Mandela on his release, (i) he had to drive the negotiation process to make it take a formal character and (ii) to drive it to a speedy conclusion. I think history will show that if we could have shortened the period some of the scars that we're still living with would have been minimised.

POM     Scars like?

MM     I think that the fragmentation and fracture of this society post-1990 went on, it was a downward spiral, its fabric was unravelling, and if we could have advanced 1994 by anything, every month counted how far down that spiral we were going. I think that the first issue then is that what would have been – that was one task. The second task was for the organisations of the liberation movement now to formally come into existence in a legal environment, to organise themselves and I think that was a formidable problem. Thirty years of being in the underground and illegal and just overnight when we didn't know when the negotiation process would conclude, had a huge urgency to it. I think that the third task was to ensure that both these things happened in a context of the international support against apartheid remaining unfragmented, in fact gaining greater momentum. The fourth thing which people haven't spoken about was to prepare for the elections. If you look at Reflections in Prison there is an essay there by Madiba in which he is discussing elections in the Bantustans in the context of Transkei, in Transkei and so-called independence, etc., and while he toys around with the tactics that would not make these so-called Bantustans spawned by apartheid to become implacable enemies of the liberation struggle. He does raise the question of the tactics that he used with the masses living in those Bantustans but he has no illusions that even in those Bantustans if you chose to create a legal vehicle to participate in those elections, he asked that question, had the time not come to create such an organisation which would be quietly linked to the liberation movement. He says to fight an election in that period is going to be to fight with one hand tied behind your back. So he says it's going to be a very uneven battle because they have the support of the apartheid state and they have all the patronage and support of the institutional structures created in the Bantustans. Now, dealing with that aspect what is clear to me is that Madiba was very much aware that he had to not just politically position the ANC to fight the election, he had to organisationally prepare it and he had to prepare it resourcewise and he knew that the resources that were needed were enormous if they were to level the playing field and he could not turn to De Klerk to say, "Let's go into this election with a level playing field", because De Klerk would not entertain anything about the state resources that were in his command.

     I think these were four tasks that he was challenged with and I think that given the close understanding between him, Tambo, Sisulu, if Tambo was around some of these tasks would have been attended to more speedily and not fallen solely on Madiba's shoulders. I think that one of the greatest weaknesses of that period is the insufficient organisational recreation on the ground of the ANC and its allies. I think Tambo would have been of immense help in that as well as in the international world. So he would have been of assistance all round but Madiba would have had a very world-conscious person with an intimate knowledge of the international community such that the recreation of the organisational basis of the ANC and its allies would not have been destined to fall solely on his shoulders. I think there would have been a very interesting development but from my point of view that's again the ifs of history, but when I look at where we are today I am convinced that if the elections had taken place and we could have concluded the negotiating process by 1992 and had elections early in 1993 this country could have been saved a lot of trauma.

POM     I want to go back to Buthelezi again. The other night I was going through conversations I had had with him and with the man who was the editor of Ilanga, Arthur Konigkramer, and Konigkramer in particular produced and showed me the documents that they had made as conditions for negotiations, the release of all political prisoners, most of the things that the ANC later laid out as conditions. They had said all these things must happen before we will - not only must there be the release of Mandela and there must be the return of the exiles, there must be this, there must be that, there must be the other, and that again, I know I've said this before but I'm never satisfied whether he answered that, the government offered all kinds of inducements to Buthelezi to take independence including throwing in Durban as the prize crown jewel to make it a viable, independent state on its own, and he said, "No, I will not do so. Mandela has got to be released, these things have got to happen", and that in a way he stood as a barrier. If he had moved and accepted independence it would have made the whole process entirely more difficult for Mandela and for everyone when Mandela was released. So he played a huge, he would think and many people would think, role at holding back the tide until in fact Mandela was released and yet he was turned into a pariah as the epitome of apartheid. After the 1979 meeting in London with Tambo he was targeted by the UDF and slowly became, or was made into being, the epitome of apartheid while he thought he was doing the opposite, holding the floodgates shut until Mandela was released.

MM     I'm quite sure, unquestionably, the refusal of Buthelezi to accept independence for KwaZulu-Natal was an enormous contribution not just to preventing apartheid rolling out its programme but actually for in favour of the liberation struggle. That was an unquestionable historical fact and I think that you will not find anywhere even in the essays Reflections in Prison anything in the essays of Walter Sisulu or Madiba contrary to that view. The problem with Buthelezi is that whilst he made that positive contribution and linked it to the release of Mandela the other elements of his conditionalities, e.g. ANC return of exiles, did not feature prominently in his propaganda at that time. I wouldn't question that they were demands that he put to the government, to P W Botha, but two things were happening. The one I think was that in carving out that legal space which aligned itself with the bones of the liberation struggle he found himself increasingly under pressure from the apartheid state and its security forces to distance himself from two critical elements of the liberation movement's struggle. The one was violence in which he increasingly became an opponent of the violent forms of struggle. The second was championing against sanctions. Once he began to move in that part it may have been interpreted as putting a protective screen around him because he was existing in the country under apartheid and it can be seen as just first, don't say I'm in support of violence, I need to protect myself, I agree with the aims of the ANC but I don't agree with its tactics. But from that he got driven increasingly both internally and internationally because internationally they said what about sanctions? And he began to oppose sanctions. Now these two things, from saying 'I don't agree with violence', moved systematically to 'I oppose violence'. Then from 'I don't agree with sanctions', to 'I oppose sanctions'.

     Once he crossed that path his credentials on the ground began to be seriously questioned because in the meantime using that beachhead of the KwaZulu Bantustan forces on the ground were increasingly asking, "What are you doing with that power?" Across the board, stemming from that 'I oppose the armed struggle, I oppose sanctions', you could see on the ground a translation of that into the nuts and bolts of everyday conduct of the KwaZulu Bantustan. I remember his Minister of Labour, I'm trying to think of his name at the moment, in his first cabinet and there was a strike in Tongaat, Stanger – sugar cane workers, the Minister of Labour was quite a progressive looking chap, he intervened in that strike to speak to the workers to call it off, but he intervened by speaking to the sugar cane owners to grant the workers a better salary. Very good, he settled the strike. What he didn't do was to legitimise a forum for the workers with their institution to talk to employers to bargain and discuss wages. The effect of this was to monopolise the resolution of any such a crisis, not to empower.

POM     He was standing in the way of the creation of any institution that would empower black people.

MM     You had to empower.

POM     I want to go back to the first two because they're important. I've always been very open about it, very open with them – actually with regard to Northern Ireland that while I from a moral point of view would have no problem with the use of violence in SA, in fact would say that you had reached the stage of last resort, you were simply not listened to, you'd only one recourse left and therefore the use of violence was morally justified. I've never believed that with regard to the IRA, never, there have always been other avenues. I'm clear on that in my own mind and I know Gerry Adams knows it and – I see it in my books, I see it in my writing, I do not agree with, never have, with regard to Ireland. Here I've always made the distinction and that's why I make the distinction in even the piece I wrote, "Who Speaks for Who?" What if you believe Buthelezi morally opposed the use of violence, that his belief that violence should not be used came from his belief system?

MM     No.

POM     You don't? OK. Or that he was opposed to sanctions came from his belief that in the long run you were hurting, creating unemployment among black workers rather than improving their conditions, is that what you were in fact doing was dis-improving them?

MM     I don't accept that Buthelezi had a morally firm position on this. I believe that the aura of morality around these issues arose increasingly as he had to justify his opposition to sanctions and to the armed struggle. I think he has tried to create the position that he supports the original ANC, the ANC of Chief Luthuli. He knows that even in the conditions of 1964 Chief Luthuli came out in support of the Rivonia trials, that he knows that Chief Luthuli continued to be President General of the ANC even after Madiba had declared in Addis Ababa that MK was the military wing of the ANC. He knows that Madiba was arrested at Howick having come back into the country and gone to report to Chief Luthuli on his mission abroad. It's an arguable matter whether the Chief supported the armed struggle or did not. It is now in the record that a meeting of the National Executive took place under the chairmanship and presidency of Luthuli in Groutville, in the sugar canes in Groutville, Chief Luthuli's home because he was confined to that area.

POM     OK, yes.

MM     A clandestine meeting of the National Executive of the ANC took place which came out authorising Madiba to form MK but asking that it should be kept separate for legal and tactical reasons and that that meeting was followed up by a meeting of the Joint Congress executives the next day in which Chief Luthuli in his style, even though the ANC National Executive had taken a decision to allow for the creation of MK, put the matter afresh and told the meeting of the executives, "You Congress executives are meeting, this matter has already been discussed yesterday by the National Executive of the ANC, a decision has been taken in support of moving to the armed struggle by MK but I am freeing all my members of the ANC National Executive from the constraints of that decision of yesterday so that we here as Joint Congresses can discuss the matter as if that decision had not been taken." And that meeting again resolved in support.

     Now there have been people who have said Luthuli was against violence. Not true. Luthuli had reservations about the necessity of that move at that time and the debates that took place under his presidency and chairmanship agreed to allow for the creation of MK. The concern of Luthuli was not a principled one against violence. In fact he said at the joint meeting, somebody accused him of being opposed to violence, and his response was, "I am not a pacifist. You come and steal my chicken and then you will see where I stand." His questioning was: is this the right time, have you exhausted all political forms of action, is this an excuse for the hard work that you have to do to mobilise political opposition, is this move going to emasculate the necessary task of political mobilisation? That was his reasoning.

     Now Buthelezi moved to a moral position opposing violence and yet at the same time he consistently sought for greater policing powers in KZN and those policing powers gradually became policing powers for the IFP. What he showed was a tendency for hegemonic control of areas in KZN. He wanted to absorb everything under his leadership and when you look at even one month before the elections, our raid at KwaMhlaba Camp, those 5000 people had been trained with the knowledge of Buthelezi. The Caprivi people were trained with the knowledge of Buthelezi and they were unleashed against the UDF/COSATU on the ground. Now he may not have known, and he can still defend himself before the TRC saying, "You maligned me, etc. I was not party to these instructions", but the fact of the matter is incontrovertible that the Caprivi trainees were trained for violence under his lieutenant who was his chief man.

POM     That's who?

MM     The chap who got fired, what was his name? He kept on reinstating him, his PA.

POM     Powell?

MM     Not Powell, an African chap, a Zulu chap. But Powell he knew about. These people were being trained by the SADF to do what? If you said it was to fight uMkhonto weSizwe then he had aligned himself fully with apartheid in that matter. He had gone past a moral position. A pacifist would not take that position. Bertrand Russell wouldn't say I'm opposed to your fighting and then turn round practically to create an armed force against one of the two who are fighting. So that's not the pacifist position which he would claim morally. Nor would that be the position of the people who trained the KwaMhlaba who were then taken in on the payroll of the KwaZulu Police to in fact be the advance guard of the IFP. He could turn round and say, "I had to defend myself because I'm attacked", but he couldn't turn round and justify the training of the Caprivi trainees by the SADF, whose training was inspected by his right hand man as training to assassinate, because this was not defensive training, it was offensive. So I am saying it's very questionable to me and that's why I am able to open up with an initial statement: I do not believe that he held that position from a moral standpoint ab initio, and I would say the same applies to sanctions because then at the London meeting there would have been no basis for a joint meeting.

     The joint meeting took place in the context that we shared goals and we shared the need to move together. Now he had opposed armed struggle, he had opposed sanctions and his obligation would be now at a meeting of the two organisations to put forward a viable strategy to achieve the liberation of the country. In the meantime what he was coming to report was that he was under threat from democratic forces and he wanted us to support him against the sort of events that had begun in SA. First manifestation of that was the Sobukwe funeral. He went to the Sobukwe funeral and the crowds attacked him. What he wanted was wherever he on the ground the democratic forces were opposing him and opposing apartheid, he wanted that opposition to him to be neutralised and we should say Buthelezi is right.

POM     Buthelezi is?

MM     Right. He is the right man. His policies are right. How could we say that without him putting a strategy of how to achieve liberation? So the breakdown started there. But what I recall of the background is that because, I was in London at that stage, is that Suzanne Vos had gone as the Sunday Times correspondent, she was in London, and while this meeting broke down, it was a quiet meeting, the Sunday Times of SA had an inside story of what happened. So Suzanne Vos was not IFP at that time but she was fully briefed by Buthelezi. Secondly, it was said that one of the first things that was done was that a report of that meeting was passed on to the apartheid government of what transpired which raised the question, what are you doing? We have a viable strategy. Your purpose of reporting to PW and the apartheid government could only be one thing, to show to them, "Guys don't hit at me, you and I, apartheid and I have a common interest in opposing the ANC."

     So that moral position I challenge. I think that there was a commonality between Buthelezi and the government and certain western powers, like in the Tory party, Aspinall and company, what's his name – Goldsmith, they funded him, forces in West Germany, the churches, they were funding because that commonality overwhelmed his vision and yet all of them who gave him support, the Aspinalls, were also feeding on his ambition that he would be the leader of SA. My view is, no, he did not have an ab initio moral standpoint against violence and he did not have it against sanctions.

POM     I know again we've touched on this and this is the question of Mandela meeting with him immediately after he came out, again I've gone through my interviews and he goes through a call from Mandela and the date set up to visit King Shaka's grave, and I've gone through the interviews with King Goodwill where he says it's a great honour to lay a wreath on King Shaka's grave because Zulus don't allow wreaths to be put on graves and this was a dishonourable thing. I would just say on a different level that we're arguing, I say Mandela comes from royalty, he knows the importance of tradition, protocol in these things. One of the nice things in reading his autobiography is how he attended to his duties in the Thembu royal houses while he was in prison, that I keep coming back to – could a bold, visionary strike by him, say I will meet Buthelezi and I will settle this and we will work together in common because we have a common oppressor, that that might have hastened things up?

MM     I think that that was what Madiba wanted to do. I think that was the basis on which Tambo had been moving too up to the 1979 meeting but even after the 1979 meeting Tambo continued to try and make overtures quietly to Buthelezi. Madiba on his release addressed the Kingsmead rally and took a bold move when he said, "Throw your pangas into the sea", at a time when his forces were not prepared to listen to him. On Buthelezi Madiba wanted to make a similar move despite the fact that when Madiba was released Buthelezi made no move to go to Madiba. He conducted himself on the basis that Madiba had to come to him. Madiba was ready to go to him but he found his forces on the ground extremely opposed to this.

POM     That's Harry Gwala in particular.

MM     Yes, but all over the country. The UDF had moved to an almost trapped, in principle position aligned with Black Consciousness, had nothing to do with the IFP, they are puppets, they're all sell-outs. They had experienced IFP on the ground. The forces on the ground had experienced all over Bantustan leaders, urban council leaders and they had set out to discredit these people. Buthelezi had clearly indicated a hegemonic desire that he not just be the voice of the ANC internally but with an ambition that that would mean that he is the voice of the ANC all over. He didn't say to Tambo, "I've got a strategy, non-violent strategy to mobilise the country and defeat apartheid." He said, "Even what you are saying abroad, sanctions, I disagree but at the same time I want you to acknowledge that I am the ANC in SA. From that position, therefore, I would tell you abroad what the ANC should be doing."

     Now with Madiba, a simple birthday card from Buthelezi got a letter from Madiba, continually holding out the olive branch and nursing him. Buthelezi was saying, "I want you to acknowledge that I am the leader", and this is the explanation for his behaviour when Madiba is released. He did not even make a move to come to Madiba. He said, "You come." Now in the context that a whole lot of forces on the ground were saying, "Don't speak to Buthelezi, he is aligned the wrong way", Madiba would have been prepared to go and see him if he could give him the space to see him but Buthelezi was setting the space in such a way to say, "I want you to be perceived to acknowledge me as the leader. I want you to acknowledge that you are free today because of me." That complicated things. All these things about wreath laying and all are little side issues but at the heart of it is this personality. You see it when Buthelezi is in the government of national unity, you see it one year before Madiba is due to complete his term. Buthelezi turns round and say, "Mandela is a dishonest man. I think I can work with Thabo Mbeki."

POM     When did he say that?

MM     Over this international mediation.

POM     Oh yes, yes.

MM     He has constantly accused Madiba of dishonesty and reneging. It's a thing of 1993/94, the country has now got a coalition government. You've got a President who is seen as a unifier not just in SA but internationally, what political mileage do you get by questioning his integrity? Do you get a relationship of co-operation or do you get a relationship of fraction? And Buthelezi raises this issue but he raises this issue in the context that with the next President, Thabo Mbeki, that I will work better. That's the epigraph that he wanted to write on Madiba's life. He was writing Madiba's tombstone and that shows that he had not understood how Madiba's positions were satisfying a world craving and that Madiba would have a lifespan outside the presidency. Why does a person make a mistake of that magnitude? I've left the ANC government, I have reservations about many people in the government who are ANC. I don't stand up and say things that question their integrity. I constantly look for explanations to say I don't like this that's being done by the government but I can understand why they are doing it. But I don't want to write a tombstone for the ANC government and this is what Buthelezi did.

     The only explanation is this unfulfilled ambition that he was positioning himself for, which was fed by the Aspinalls that you are, and Thatcher, you are the right person to lead SA. He pitted himself on a losing ticket. That doesn't suggest a person with morality. It suggests a person with ambition for power. I think you and I understand it, that there are huge problems over morality and power, huge, huge problems.

POM     One thing that Sue had mentioned to me because she was present, and she said have you asked Mac about it, and that was the last talks in Cape Town with Inkatha and the Freedom Front.

MM     What about that?

POM     She said, "Ask Mac about those talks, a last attempt to - " That was the night she said she got Niel Barnard a cup of tea.

MM     Joe Slovo, Cyril and Fanie (van der Merwe) were singing La Paloma. Fanie started it which we changed to an adaptation of the song "Give me a Kiss to Build a Dream on", suggesting the IFP, Freedom Front would give us a deal. We were singing in the corridor. I'll have to refresh my mind about that.

POM     OK, we can hold it and get back to it later. One of the incredible things about how the ANC developed during the negotiation process was of reporting back to constituencies, getting feedback, bringing it in. How was that organised, how did it take place and how important was it, how important was the feedback?

MM     I think it was an incredible exercise because our structures were still in flux, being created, and through the Secretary General's office, that's Cyril's office, we organised what was called a Negotiating Forum where all the regions sent representatives to the periodic meetings where we would report to them what had happened and have discussions. It would last the weekend, and they would have to go back to the regions and report.

POM     They'd question you about what was happening?

MM     They would raise the questions. We would have sent written reports, they would discuss, they would come – I remember the Western Cape used to give us a hell of a headache because it had Johnny de Lange in the Western Cape team and Johnny would come, we had sent them an advance written report to enable the region to discuss at the branches so that when they came they could give us a feedback what the ground is saying. Johnny and the Western Cape region had an idea, I don't think they would – well they articulated it, they would say our mandate is to oppose this. We would be discussing and no matter how much you reasoned with them they were envisaging a federal structure which came with pre-mandated positions like in unions and that you could not have a decision against their mandate. We used to laugh, "Johnny, what are you talking about this mandate? Piss off man." And I remember sometimes we would say to him, "There is a suspicion that national leadership is not allowed to do anything unless your region agrees." It was like a vetoing power concept. We had to work through all that and that's where we came to put that under Valli and employed Hassen Ebrahim as the co-ordinator.

     What you had in this mechanism is regular meetings being held first to brief the people through the machinery, then to meet, all the regions come and sending reps, to meet and discuss issues, to even have the leadership outlining, the negotiating team outlining the positions they are taking, problems that are arising and how to deal with them. This became a big conduit with all the problems of keeping the entire organisation of the ANC and the alliance controlled. It was a painful exercise and I can think of no better mechanism in those circumstances. Had the branches and the regions been better organised already you might have avoided it but I would still advocate it as an ad hoc mechanism because it allowed speed of keeping into contact and it didn't make you rely on the media to transmit to your membership what was happening. It gave you your chance to give your perspective. It led to rocky times and fractious meetings but that's the name of the game.

POM     But a number of writers, including Patti but also Allister Sparks, said, and we talked about this a little, it was in both sides' interest to have CODESA 1 suspended when it was suspended, that you were having a problem with your grassroots or might have had a problem selling a deal reached at CODESA and the NP –

MM     Those percentage issues that were put on the table at CODESA 1, at the working group on constitutional affairs while CODESA 1 was waiting to be held, were positions that had been canvassed through the negotiating forum. If there were signs of unhappiness it was the fact that there were a substantial number of people in the ANC who had no faith in negotiations but that they were at meetings which took these positions and agreed to take them, it was cleared within the structures of the negotiating forum. That it needs certain people to feel that it was in our interest to have it collapse is a hindsight wisdom.

POM     But Cyril is on record as saying, "I wanted to teach these guys a lesson." Was that just bullshit?

MM     Cyril's a negotiator.

POM     OK.

MM     Cyril is a negotiator and he's keeping his eye on who he's talking to across the table. Anything that he is saying there, he's got an eye on what its impact on the other side is and nobody leading the negotiating team was going to say, "Nats, you've got us in a corner. We are desperate for a solution." Cyril, maybe even today, would argue that had we strung out the negotiations a little longer we could have got a better package. I'm talking now, also from hindsight, I'm talking from the country, would it have been helped if we had reached a solution earlier. I say yes because I understand the problems, I think I understand something of the problems of governance that have arisen and the degree to which the fabric of our society had been unravelled.

POM     This comes back to the exiles, this huge influx of people who came back to the country. I would see them lining up, standing at Shell House or wherever as though they were looking for something, waiting for something. Jobs, you had pensions, you had thousands of people saying we're back and what are we doing now? We're hanging around, we're unemployed.

MM     My own view is that this was part of the problem of the recreation of the ANC on the ground.

POM     But what was the state of mind of people who returned? Were they frustrated? Had they unrealistic expectations? Did they come back to a SA that many of them didn't recognise, that was completely different than the SA they had left?

MM     Yes, we had spent 1962 – 1990 in exile. I told a story, anecdote, that I met some of the comrades who were living, I got a room at the back of a yard where people had given me a room in the front house. This was President Tambo's drivers, and we would sit – because I had been fresh from home, we'd sit and talk about home nostalgically and I could see the nostalgia in them and they would say, "Now how much does a pocket of oranges cost?" And I would tell them in rands and cents and they would say, "Put that in pounds and shillings." They could not understand anything that was put in rands and cents, but politically they had grown up in exile from a position that 'I'm going out to be back in six months', to 'we'll go back home one day, one day, one day', to them saying, "Guys we have trained so that we can go and fight, I want to get home." And the movement to come home did not happen. As they grew older the organisation would say, "You are the political backbone of this movement. You came in as politically conscious fighters, members of the ANC. We want you here in the camps to take charge of the young people who are coming out who have no knowledge of this." And they were saying, "I want to go home to fight." And they said, "No, but it needs younger people." And they said, "But I'm more highly trained." Now we say, "Yes you are but that's why you've got to remain the officers in the camp, you've got to be transmitting both the military knowledge and you are the repository of the political equation of this movement."

     So increasingly they were cut off from home and then we had been talking about escalating the struggle. The Vaal Triangle had opened up in 1984. All they had was news of our people being massacred, children fighting, and they were seeing children coming into MK. I remember there was a 13-year old boy who refused, in Tanzania, point blank to study. He said, all the time he just said one thing, "I have come to be a soldier, I want to go for military training." Oh God, please don't, you're 13 or 14, wait a minute, just study a little bit, you'll make a better soldier.Nothing doing. He wouldn't hear of it and finally in East Africa in exasperation they sent him to Angola. He was eventually sent for military training to Angola and Oliver Tambo is arriving and visiting the camps so they have a parade and this young boy is put to lead that group, that platoon, and there he marches past Oliver Tambo who is taking the salute. And Oliver said, and they tell him about this young boy, a tiny little chap in oversize uniform but he's in uniform and he's marching sprightly, taking his thing so seriously and OR said, "What's this?" And they all explained, this is an impossible youngster, he just says he's come for training and now he's trained he says, "I want to go home to fight." And OR had to call him aside and have a one-to-one and said to him, "Young man, you're right, but now that you've done your training I want you to take up some studies." And the chap says to OR, "No, I want to go home to fight." OR patiently sits with him and persuades him. And this is the environment.

     Comes 1990 we have not for solid, good tactical reasons ever been talking to the membership about possible negotiations. We have issued a statement in 1986, yes to genuine negotiations, no to bogus negotiations. But our commissars, what are they teaching the cadres when they say, "Hey, negotiations? Comrade we're not interested in bogus negotiations. It's all tricks. Genuine negotiations, yes." They say, "What does genuine negotiation mean?" Some commissar would say, "It means they must hand over power to us." "Oh fantastic!" That's the image you've earned now. Comes 1989, "What are these rumours we're hearing? Madiba is talking. Is he selling out?" When I went in 1989 to the NEC with the Mandela letter Tambo says to me, "You'll have to explain this letter." So I say, "How do I do it without showing that I'm from home?" He says, "No, you do. Have the meeting. I want you there, you're from hospital and because of the type of person you are the letter will be given out to all members of the NEC."

POM     This is the letter from Mandela to?

MM     To PW. He says the letter will be given out to members of the NEC, a discussion will start and I want you to do the textual analysis that you made at home to convince people that there was no sell-out. And indeed at that NEC meeting, Tambo had had that stroke in the meantime, Slovo had to put the letter, or Nzo. Speaker after speaker attacked Madiba. Joe Modise was the leading attacker, "Ah, Madiba is selling out. We've got to instruct him." I let the discussion go on, attending to the discussion, started doing a textual analysis and I recall when I finished the textual analysis Modise was the first one to stand up and change his position 180 degrees. He says, "Gee! Mandela is fantastic. Nobody has defended our movement so well. Full marks to Mandela." This is 1989. If your NEC has come to its meeting thinking that Madiba is selling out, what were your membership thinking? And how many of that NEC went back to the ranks to explain it that way? No, they didn't know how to handle this thing. So chaps in the camp were asking, "When do we go to fight?" Don't worry we're going. "What's this about negotiations?" Don't worry.

POM     In this context, this is the Mandela letter to PW in 1989, this is not the one that was read out in the stadium? No? This is the one in 1989.

MM     The one about majority rule principle, accommodating white fears, equality and peace. The Mandela letter to PW Botha. Now I'm saying then suddenly, boom, February 2nd the unbanning is announced. Slovo is on record that he was passing through Moscow or somewhere, they were heading for Stockholm, and this thing comes over, comes racing to tell them at the airport. They are stunned. Sitting there getting all these reports and analysing they are still shocked that this move has taken place. How much more your membership? And then there are voices saying sell-out, sell-out, it won't work, and here these comrades come back. It's an alien terrain. The country is different. Politically they are almost like demobilised, you don't know what to do. Whereas they were being trained as guerrillas to go into guerrilla territory and take the initiative and good leadership politically, here they were now standing in a queue. "What are we supposed to do?" What are you supposed to do? You don't know what to do. Whereas when we were coming out from prison in the worst years I had no question what am I supposed to do. It didn't matter where they bade me, it didn't matter where they banish me, if they put me in a bloody desert a chap would say, as one chap did, "If they ban me and prohibit me from addressing gatherings", one chap says, "I did it." He was a musician, took his guitar, sat under a tree and kept singing freedom songs. He says, "I'm not addressing meetings, I'm singing." Completely different culture from this atmosphere of 1990.

     So they were standing in queues, "Please somebody tell me what to do?" And you tell them what to do, they came from 30 years of everything being done for them now, although it was meagre in Lusaka, you're not well, there will be an ANC kombi that will come round, pick you up, it will take you to the clinic. No hurry, it will take its time, it's a whole day. Nobody was saying, "I need to go to the clinic. Jesus, I'll thumb a lift, I'll find my way there." You needed clothes, I'll wait for the handout. You needed food? I'll wait for the food to be delivered. It was a disabling environment, disempowering environment and so they come here. So when you said, "Comrade, go to your village, start organising the ANC." He says, "Where's the vehicle? Where's the money?" When we came out of prison we didn't say, "Where's the vehicle, where's the money?" So there was a disjuncture caused by a variety of things that led to a shock in the system to them and with the leadership looking at this queue saying, "What do I do comrade?" And the leadership saying they're just asking for money and they're asking questions, which way? But the leadership itself is uncertain which way things are going to go. So you say, "Comrade, wait, wait, come back next week, come back in two weeks time." They never said, "Guys, here there's a huge battle going on, go and organise the ANC, go and spread the word, get things moving, because the chap would say, "What word must I spread?" So you would say, "What do mean you don't know what word to spread?" He's says, "Is negotiations going to succeed?" The leadership chap says, "I don't know." But that was not the question that they were seeking answers to. You had to say to them go and mobilise, organise so that they are able to change their lives and they are ready to take in, to support whatever moves take place so that the negotiations deliver a result.

POM     Now did that take time to get that message through? Did it get through?

MM     I don't believe it got through adequately because I believe that we went into the 1994 elections relatively unprepared. It may sound a very harsh statement but I've made it before, that while some were absorbed 24 hours in negotiating others were supposed to be organising the ANC and getting it ready to govern but instead of doing that they were busy writing pieces that it won't work, so they were debating other theses and constantly there was an undertone, sometimes fairly overt, that said negotiations won't work, we have to go back to insurrection so they wanted to spend their time preparing for insurrection.

POM     There is a terribly irony here as I would see it, that in a way young people left the country, were trained, were in camps, were ready to go back home and fight but time wasn't ready, they stayed in the camps, all their needs were taken care of, in a way they were unempowered. Then you bring them back into the country and even though they're trained to fight they can't spread empowerment because all they know how to do is to use a gun.

MM     And your political lessons, the political training you got was basically just to hold off the opposition, to believe in the cause and the organisation. How much political training were you getting on how to be an organiser? There was more and more organising for arms. Of course that's putting it fairly simplistically and therefore it misses the nuances of some of the training, etc., but that's basically the point.

POM     You're talking about two different constituencies, what role did rolling mass action and mass mobilisation play in the negotiation process?

MM     Oh I think it played an important part. I think it played a very important part in (a) preventing the country from descending into anarchy and (b) presenting at the negotiating table for De Klerk's negotiators that whatever agendas you may have had and perceptions of the ANC you cannot ignore the reality that it is the mobilising force in this country and it is capable of –

POM     In that, given the difficulties you've talked about and setting up branches and whatever, COSATU was the key element in history of bringing people out on strikes, a history of being able to mobilise its membership, what role would they have played in – I remember the stayaway, the two-day national strike or whatever, and I found a certain irony, it was in August/September 1991 before the Record of Understanding and ANC claiming a 90% stayaway and government claiming a 30% stayaway. I thought of it the other day when there was the two-day strike on privatisation, you've COSATU saying 90%, and I thought things never change. What role did that play? I know, Derek Keys who was then the Minister of Finance, went to De Klerk and he went to Mandela and he said, "You boys better get your act together very quickly because the country is broke and you're going to have no country to rule, no matter which of you win you're going to have no country to rule because there will be nothing left."

MM     Yes. I think that's the role that one was alluding to. COSATU's role was very significant because in the state of relative disorganisation of the ANC COSATU and its unions had a structure of shop stewards with a background of activism and once the word got through that the ANC was calling for this, that the ANC is indistinguishable from the leadership of COSATU, they are all one, the amount of work that you had to do normally in mobilising the resources that you had to put in were short-circuited. Remember it was also not because the COSATU organisation needed to be so hot. The fact is that we had come out of the eighties where COSATU/UDF would have to call on something without doing all the hard work and there would be a response. So people had got used to that and whenever they got this call they were ready to respond and often where the response was weak it showed not that the people did not want to do those things, it showed the weakness of the state organisation of the ANC and of COSATU and of the Communist Party and of the UDF and the components of the UDF. They had all taken a huge bashing in the late eighties, an enormous bashing, but out of them all the most cohesive that remained on the front line was the COSATU forces.

POM     Some people say that the beginning of the end of apartheid, some people say when did the process become irreversible? I ask that question of everybody I think. Another one was, when was there an action taken that set in motion, a small action that set in motion this trickle of events that then grew into a stream, that then grew into a river, that then became a sea, became a massive wave and many people say that when PW Botha allowed for formation of black trade unions in 1976 (was it?) that that was the date for blacks to begin to empower themselves.

MM     That's a difficult debate because there had also been a school of thinking that was seeking to manifest itself in SA which said, forget about the liberation struggle, the normal development of economic forces in this country would force the end of apartheid. We opposed it because it was disempowering. It made history simply something that happens autonomously but the reality is that the Wiehahn Commission which came to the legalisation of unions for Africans was a commission instituted by apartheid to meet pressures that it was meeting in the economy and it was an attempt at a pro-active step that would serve the economy but tame the working class because the idea was that they would grow up not as previously tolerated by the regime but now told 'we're your friends', no conflict there. Economic issues, wages, you can bargain but see the apartheid state as your benefactor. It was too late to meet that because of the political mobilisation that had taken place. So black unions grabbed this space because they were already … so there was no chance for a sweetheart union to emerge, not to say that the regime held back because when the regime saw these unions emerging post-1973 and moving the way they were moving the regime sought to infiltrate them and influence them, the regime sought to create rival organisations using Inkatha to create UWUSA. You had the FOSATU and the PAC unions coming up. Even within so-called Black Consciousness, different streams. You had the grouping that was more close to PAC that was involved against FOSATU, the forerunner of COSATU and Cyril Ramaphosa was originally part of that.

     So there were natural tendencies of different groupings with different ideological perspectives but there were also efforts by the regime and its surrogates to create unions which would not move into the mainstream in the direction that COSATU eventually eventuated. COSATU's own formation was not an easy task. Tremendous debates preceded that while FOSATU was in existence as to what was going to be its alignment and there was a huge debate about so-called workerists, Alec Erwin and company were supposed to be workers who in the space that they were occupying as a protected mechanism, that's the best explanation they can give, tended to say stay away from the political struggle, concentrate on the economic struggle.

POM     You still have two federations, COSATU and – it's still there, Cunningham –

MM     Yes Cunningham and company, NACTU. The point is that the workerists were saying forget about the political side, stay away there, concentrate on the economic stuff. And he said, "But that's nonsense", and I would say, "See that as a tactical manoeuvre because they are living under a reign of terror and they just want to protect themselves." They are not saying no to politics, they are saying as a union we will concentrate on the union issue of economic struggle so that they cannot be prosecuted politically. As long as they don't turn round and say we oppose the political struggle it's OK, we'll find a way to go. So when COSATU's formation came the issue was: what is its perspective and mission statement going to be? And there were huge debates inside the party. Non-unionists seeking our advice outside, what should we do? What position should we take? And we said, some of us said, don't take a frontal fight against the workers, take a sideways position. Don't worry about your mission statement not being exactly the same as SACTU's mission statement but open the space that while you're focusing on the economic struggle you are aligning yourself and conscious of the larger struggle. That's how we went.

     I don't know whether you may study which looks at objective processes as against a study which sees things in political/economic terms where the role of people comes into play. If you looked at it purely as an objective process irrespective of what people did and how they felt, not COSATU, but the Wiehahn Commission Report would be a significant development because it did not immediately lead to the formation of COSATU. COSATU is a formation of 1983/84. The Wiehahn Report is late sixties, early seventies which says legalise the unions, but it did open the space.

POM     Maybe I should stop because we're just at 1.15.

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.