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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

13 Dec 2001: Maharaj, Mac

MM     - and not give up the instruments of struggle that we had developed. So he's got to bring the instruments of struggle to be aligned in support of negotiations, enough to turn round and say to the instruments of struggle, 'Your time is up'.This is the problem that Gerry is facing.

POM     So when he was still bringing people in from - ?

MM     When he was recruiting in the Free State the troops would come to … and he wanted her to get out of that heavy activity, leave it to a whole disciplined formation. So he says, "Mac is in agreement, ask …" Now that was a hell of a risk to my security and I wouldn't even protest to him because I understood he was problem and our job is take over those problems, you've come out, keep your focus, don't be distracted by these things. So that's the sort of problem that he was facing and what would be standing out in his mind, because he's never going to say one word at Groote Schuur. So you present any fact, any issue that he's around, straight away he's going to say, "Wait a minute, I'm walking into a terrain where I have to publicly condemn her."

POM     You could see his loyalty come right.I think what impressed me most having listen to him, seeing him and talked to him in Arniston, was again that strong voice. His voice is strong, the mind is strong. He may get details confused and questions and it may be because of my accent.

MM     Yes, he had the same problem with Gerry. When Gerry left he said, "Chaps, what was he saying?"

POM     Gerry who?

MM     Gerry Adams.

POM     Is that right? Because Gerry would speak with that Belfast accent which makes my accent sound normal.

MM     So he would be too polite but when he got out to the press conference on the steps with Gerry, Gerry of course was speaking … so that he was addressing the Irish radio and TV but it's a question he would answer first in Gaelic and then put it in English and on one occasion Gerry answers in Gaelic and Madiba says, "Would you like me to translate for the journalists?"All right, let's come back now.

POM     I just want to tell you when I talked about Northern Ireland he said, "Sometimes I'm given credit that belongs to other people and it was Mac who was there and it was Roelf", and I rang Roelf and told him that and he was very touched.

MM     But that's again the measure of the man that he would make sure that he draws people in. Now you go and tell somebody else that he acknowledged positively the role of Roelf, they would say why give him, why acknowledge that? You're just building him up. He's not afraid of that. He says, "No I'm not building, I'm just acknowledging a fact because if you don't acknowledge that fact you don't help the Roelf's to continue to remain in this new South Africa." So he hasn't got that smallness.

POM     I had a very good conversation with Fanie but the tape was stolen. I went back to the question of papers. Remember when you said you had papers from the ANC side and he had them from the NP side. He kind of vacillated but we reached an agreement and the agreement was that, "You show him what Mac puts on the table and I will match it." OK?

MM     Too shrewd. That will be a tough one.

POM     I said we will put it down paper by paper.

MM     I understand where his problems are. His problems are that he knows I know because he's told me. He's got every draft of the rough drafts because they had the capacity, they were government, like Groote Schuur. Here's a meeting going on, what's the joint statement going to be? You're not going to push when the meeting is over, sit down for three hours to write a joint statement. So Fanie would be busy drafting and showing to his principals - this is what looks like we should be saying in the joint communiqué. Then when you're working with the ANC team now, what's acceptable to you? Scratches, back to principals. Fanie kept every copy, every copy, but he still has a problem. "While I am completely loyal to Madiba and I can justify my loyalty to him I am not going to put on the table what was happening inside the National Party and the government." But then I had a chat with him and said, "What are you going to do? Why don't you write?" He says, "No, I can't." His problem is the stuff is there in his possession, what does he do with this stuff? So he says to me, "What I plan to do is to give it to a university archive for them to sort out and for it to remain there a long time. Same contradiction, what do I do to the individuals that were there in government and in the NP and in the security forces? Rather after I'm dead it can be opened hoping that by that time the individuals are fast asleep. He has got a clear view about FW.

POM     He was very good on Bop, very good.

MM     Oh, what did he say? Did he confirm my story?

POM     Your entire story except in terms of details here and there, he added a little bit, retracted a bit but he said essentially what Mac said is correct so let's begin from that and then I will add here and subtract there. There are different perceptions. I'm not disputing the facts of what happened. What I got him to say, the night everything was taken I was so worried about, but I got him to say that he thought that Meiring was planning with Viljoen. Since then I've seen Viljoen who – that tape too – every tape I do around anything that involves you I will give back to you for comment on but I will go back to the person again … these are Mac's recollections and Mac's perceptions but Mac got it wrong, we're going to say every perception has been checked out and the detail has been checked and where there is a different version we put in the different version and say other people disagree and that's their version.

MM     What did Viljoen say? What did he have to say?

POM     He said that he agreed that they had come in at the invitation of Mangope to, he said 'for the weekend', to take him over the weekend until the Legislative Assembly met the following Tuesday when they were going to vote. He said, "There was no doubt in my mind that they were going to vote to participate in elections. I consulted with the SADF on that because most of the people in the higher ranks of the Bop military were SADF people but when I arrived my men, all 2000 of them, found that the armoury - the day before the AWB had come in in the meantime and created a spontaneous uprising by their action. Among the military we had no weapons. As a military man I said to my people get out, we can't do anything here." His spin on a couple of things was different but he's going to supply me with documentation. He said, "Listen I'm a farmer and I've nothing to hide." I went back to his 40,000 to 60,000 commandos, the story that Max du Preez did on the day that was changed after his party with Larry Schlemmer and Van Zyl Slabbert and Jurgen Kögl and whatever and he said he was negotiating with Thabo and he was trying to play the military strength up to give credibility to his bargaining position. But then we got into a conversation about – I was saying, "You're a General and you fight wars and wars should have objectives so what was the objective here? You were going to grab what territory? If you had not defined the territory you were going to grab what were you fighting for?" He said, "Well you're right."And I said, "How long could you have lasted no matter what territory you could have grabbed?" He said, "About six weeks but I had to play the cards I had so therefore I had to make the best of it, make the ANC or whatever more ways to negotiate with me than there would be if I said well I know I can win." He was very honest, a man I like. He's not trying to hide anything. He said, "Yes, you're right, all we could have done is destabilise the elections and we would have lost anyway. And I knew that, that's why in the end I made up my mind when I saw the AWB come in and we had all told Terre'Blanche, everyone from Mangope on down had said to Terre'Blanche, 'Don't come in', and he came in."

MM     They couldn't play their cards any more.

POM     He said, "If this is the kind of force I'm going to lead, with these undisciplined people behind it, forget it."

MM     I will become a jester figure.

POM     That's right. But to go back to Fanie, I want to read you the interview I did with him.

MM     So Fanie's presented a tough call.

POM     Yes Fanie is saying –

MM     Produce the rough notes from the ANC.

POM     He says you – when I go to see him again I want to take a piece of paper with me.

MM     That's going to be very difficult because where these things are lying I'm not clear. I've even moved three houses and each time I've been clearing up my rooms. I'm not like you. I haven't been keeping things for history. You know the story of my library, my libraries have been abandoned wherever I've lived in the world starting with Durban. I fled Durban. Who got my library in Durban in the fifties I don't know. In London I left on one day's notice. Who got my library in London I don't know. When I returned from GDR and I was in the underground here in 1962 I had a fantastic library. When I got arrested what happened to that library I don't know. When I came out of prison I lived in Durban and I had no library there because I was under house arrest and I was leaving. My next library was in Zambia. What happened to the Zambian library I don't know because I never went back to Zambia. In 1990 when I came out of my trial I never went back to Zambia. I don't know who's got it. I can't even find – I found a few rough sheets of what was left of Madiba's manuscript. Then post-1994 I was living in Muller Street and I arrived from Nyala, that bosperaad, my wife says, "There have been all sorts of intruders here." I said, "OK", gave up the house, went and got another house in Observatory, moved whatever I could, destroy whatever you can't. From Observatory I moved in 1994 to Hyde Park where I am, just before I got into government. Again, I moved from Observatory because of that problem of the election rule, that's the only reason. And both those places, by the way, Muller Street and Observatory, I bought. I borrowed money from a friend to buy Muller Street at R180,000. I only managed to sell it for R70,000. I bought Observatory for R350,000, a forced sale, because I'm now living in Hyde Park, I've moved, left the house empty and months later sold it, didn't recover the money.

POM     We will have to find a way –

MM     We will have to find some way. I'll have to sit down with Fanie.

POM     When I go back to him, he's away until the middle of January. He said, "I'm going fishing and golfing and drinking."

MM     What I'm going to do, what I think I will do in January when he's back, I'm going to set up a meeting just him and me. I want to sit down with him and say, look, how do we handle the history of this period? We've got records, we've got all sorts of interpretations which do an injustice because the interpretations that are made so far in the books are interpretations that are patchy but they are put as conclusions. What we need to do is to encourage a presentation of different viewpoints because each person was seeing things from different perspectives so you need those different perspectives to emerge and you need those perspectives to emerge as shifting over time because a viewpoint changes over time. Now, have an evening with him on that topic, convince him that that is what is needed, not a definitive history but a history that begins to show diverging perspectives all converging towards a single solution.

POM     In a way I think he was saying that to me. He was saying it's like playing poker, not that under no circumstances will I make it unavailable, but it was like, "I want to see what Mac has and if you show me something that Mac has I will match it."

MM     I will sit down with him and say to him that after we've covered this hump of the discussion, then I sit down and say, "I haven't got note by note of each chain but I have got a very clear memory of the issues around which we, the ANC, were shifting positions. Sometimes it may appear as if they were shifting positions to accommodate the government's position, sometimes they were shifting positions as postures, like the Viljoen posture. All the parties were posturing also so there were all those shifts. How do you and I, Fanie, collaborate to make sure that those perspectives come out in the clearest way because there is on record the most definitive statement and that is a statement by Madiba that we could not have reached 1994 without the co-operation of De Klerk. Now if that's the stuffing then we have to do the history in a way in which the public can see the shifting going on on all the parties' sides.

POM     That's one thing that Madiba was very clear on when I asked him about the relationship between himself and De Klerk. He might have had some personal differences but without De Klerk the transition would never have happened and he said in fact the three of us, that's the man from East Timor who won the Nobel Prize, himself and De Klerk had been invited to go to the Middle East and he said, "I decided that De Klerk could do a better job there than I could and I rang De Klerk and asked him to go."

     I think Fanie will deal and you tell him I'm the neutral avenue. Also tell him that his one rule that he's laid down that he never be quoted is absolute and complete. He understands that because I've now known him for ten years. But he didn't say under no circumstances, he was saying, "Well, Padraig, I want to see what Mac has and when I've seen what Mac has then I will show you the little bit of what I have."

MM     I think you would have detected that in Fanie there is, on Fanie's side, also a respect for me.

POM     Oh, immense.

MM     As I have indicated my respect for him.

POM     Oh he absolutely, the respect is there, no doubt. It comes through on the tape that was taken. So some guy in some township is having a good listen to Fanie!

MM     And it will be very different, for example, if you had a chat like that about his perceptions of Cyril. He would show respect for Cyril but he would, in his mind, be transmitting a message that says, 'this is a cunning chap'. I think with me he would come across more – he would say shrewd but straight, that's what he would say. I'm guessing but that's what I think he would say. A nuanced difference there. I think with Joe Slovo he would again have high respect that developed over time but behind his mind a remaining suspicion. Thabo, his view of Thabo would be different to what it was if you speaking to him in 1996 than if you were speaking to him now.

POM     A lot of people might say the same thing.

MM     But his view would be far more sophisticated in its presentation. You would have to read beneath it to see that.

POM     Well I have to go back and re-interview him on Bop all over again when he's back and tell him that, well, as I said, somebody in a township is listening to a tape of this man talking about the fall of Bop.

MM     All right I'll do that after January.

POM     I think that's completely negotiable.

MM     Let me take his number down.

POM     The only one who has the numbers now is Judy, Judy Drew. I lost everything. They took everything, every file I had but Judy has the numbers. I will tell her to ring you and give you his numbers so that can be taken care of.

MM     What I would like to do is after January 15th I'd like to invite Fanie and his wife just to come and have dinner with myself and my wife before I then arrange a meeting between him and me. I think I owe him that because I've done a very nice thing today, I'm feeling very happy, very, very happy.

POM     What did you do today?

MM     I've just concluded this exercise. Mandela, Sisulu, Kathrada, Mbeki, his wife, Billy Nair, John Popela(?) who died in 1982 in Harare, his wife, Eddie Daniels, Toivo ja Toivo, I have traced Popela's widow last Friday, she is living in a village outside Zastron. I have just spoken this morning to Govan's widow, Piney, I am leaving on Sunday. I've got the royalty cheque for this book, I split it between all of them and I've sent them each one, including Madiba, his cheque has been delivered to his house. I'm going to deliver Govan's wife's cheque and I'm going to personally deliver to this one who the PAC have forgotten, their own President's wife. So I am giving them all a cheque for R8478, each one as their present. I just felt very nice. Even to speak to the President's mother and say to her, because we all assume she's fine now, she's looked after and everything, but to say to her, "I've got a copy of your book which your husband has autographed and leather-bound which I failed to give him before his death, the royalty cheque has arrived, his share is R8478, I'm coming to deliver it."

POM     That's lovely.

MM     Then I've consulted Kathy, Billy and others, and including Mrs Mbeki, I said the book sales will now tail down, it will no longer be that big amount, there are two comrades in prison who were part of that network in moving the manuscripts and helping to make the files, covers for concealing and everything. Nobody knows them, one lives in Botswana, one lives in Lenasia, the next round of the royalty cheque, whatever the size, I'm splitting between those two for their services rendered 25 years ago. Each one has said, "Fantastic."

POM     When I told people when you were on the course in Cape Town, the course for the week where you got taken out because you had to deal with Discovery, and I said, "Mac is paying for this out of his own pocket", they said, "What do you mean? Isn't the bank paying for it?" I said Mac wouldn't have the bank pay for a thing, he's his own man.

MM     This is my private thing.

POM     He's his own man, that's how he maintains his integrity. That comes back to one of the things we talked about the last time, about what's happened to integrity in government, where are the voices, where are the people who were prepared to stand up and say, 'Because I disagree with my President I resign, but I'm not criticising him, I just don't support what he says therefore I resign', rather than saying, 'Well I will hold on and keep the perks of power or whatever, say nothing'.

MM     Or make a noise about it so that I …

POM     Yes.

MM     My phones, I don't charge the bank. The bank doesn't pay for this. Even if I'm doing bank work but I'm not going to have a situation where my phone bill I have to sit down and say, here on day so-and-so I made the following calls, here are the calls to Discovery, here are the calls to India on behalf of Rand Merchant Bank, here are the calls from this and please pay those portions. I'm not interested. Only that phone is paid by the bank and if they want to do a check then we do. In a huge institution like this with 30,000 people we want to contain costs so we say, we had a decision at the Exco and with the staff, we've consulted them, in spite of the privacy issues we said let's get an agreement with the staff that we can monitor not the contents of the call but the destinations to which you were making the calls. Are you making private calls or are you making business calls? And if your private calls are above a certain limit then you will be asked to pay. We've got that agreement. With mine I just say, "Look at that one, you can monitor it, you can listen to the conversations, you can see where it's made to, it's business. Here it's all mixed but this, you didn't even pay for this call, it's my personal phone, I bought it, I pay for it, the account is mine."I personally believe it's necessary to do those things. If you don't do those things your own behaviour will walk into grey areas and once you walk into grey areas you're in trouble because in grey areas memory doesn't come back and help you which day you made which call to whom. That's why I'm so happy because I got the royalty cheque the other day and I said if that cheque remains in my account I am going on holiday, it will be used up, I had better make out all the cheques now and send it.

POM     They really must have been very pleased.

MM     The artists, you know how much artists have got for each of these, this auction work? I phoned the artists, I said, "Guys, one piece of art went for R2000, Madiba's went for R60,000. Now what do I do? One of you artists, three of your works were done, you did three pieces. Another one did only one." So I said, "Can we have an arrangement?" And I had a meeting with them. I said I'll take the total amount, eleven portraits were sold, sketches, I'll divide it by eleven, each one of you gets one eleventh per sketch. If somebody has done two sketches he will get two times eleven. And they said, "Agreed." I said, "I know it's painful because here you are, the best artists, you have three pieces of work and one of your pieces went for R60,000, you ought to get the R60,000. But", I said, "This is not the way I did this job so can we agree even for everybody?" They said yes. And I paid them.

POM     I think the same approach with Fanie – it's very important to me, Mac, to know that I am going to spend the next twelve months of my life completely absorbed in you. You're going to be my total focus.

MM     Is that what you're working on, a twelve month time frame?

POM     I'm going to work like hell, everything is set up with Sue, the Soros money has come through so I can pay her exactly what she wants. The Mott Foundation money has come through and when they deliver it, I don't know but we actually got confirmation last night that the Soros money had been wired to my university. That almost all goes to Sue. I said we begin officially on 15 January, that's when our contractual relationship begins and from that time on I will need access to you, I've got many more interviews to do, many more things to go back on but you must help me too. We've got to get Fanie, crucial.I've got to turn it from a personal recollection book into an historic book. That's one.

     Two, the Vula papers, we must find out how to get hold of. Now I talked to a man this morning again, because I keep in touch with everybody, and that's Christo Davidson and he has told me that he may be able to help me get hold of some of the Vula papers.

MM     Fantastic.

POM     He's quite prepared, it's not a problem, "If I can help you get hold of everything that you want I will do so." The people that I've talked to - Nyanda. I told you about our conversation. He mentioned a number of the names ofpeople who had been involved in Vula like Pravin Gordhan. You must give me a list of the names of the key people so I can interview them. On every key statement that you make in our interviews I am checking out for other people's accounts and perceptions so that we can counterpoint and my observations in between. So it's going to be a very unusual and creative book but I want to assure you it's the most important book of my life. I haven't come this long, this far, to do a sloppy or second-hand piece of work.

MM     Now, before I forget, I've been looking at my diary for next year. Has anything cropped up about the launch of Reflections in the US?

POM     I will find that out. I'll be back there tomorrow and I will let you know on Monday.

MM     What's happened is that already my diary, the spring in US is March isn't it? March, April?

POM     That's right.

MM     February, March, or is it?

POM     March.

MM     Already there have been things coming up here at the bank and I've just told my secretary to diarise them but tell them it's tentative because I don't know whether I'll be here.

POM     I will get a precise date and what I want you to decide on is whether you want the launch to be in Boston, which I think you should have because that's where the media are and that's where you'll get far more exposure, or in Amherst which is up in the country but the larger and bigger campus. If you're in Boston the President of the university is there but he's going to visit here in fact in March next year, whom I want you to meet. But I would advise the launch being in Boston.

MM     How will the Massachusetts people take that? Will they co-operate or not, will they be happy?

POM     I will say we have listened to all reasoned arguments and the wisest and the best decision is that it should be done in Boston and that's what Mac wants.

MM     I don't want to hurt whatshername at - ?

POM     Marcy. I will talk to her. What we will arrange is like you work out a co-operative theme where she comes down to Boston and we can even do two things there, one and the other, so that nobody will be upset about anything. I feel I pedalled your book around Boston and a man who does some pedalling –

MM     Is to call some shots.

POM     That's right.

MM     OK. The only thing is that my timing and availability to go to the US I need to work it out also with my family, with Zarina, so that she knows that she must not go out of town at that time.

POM     She must be there with you.

MM     She must be there with me? Oh that's very nice.

POM     Oh definitely, definitely. That's absolutely necessary.

MM     I'll have to make arrangements for your kids.OK, I'll get somebody to come and look after my kids.

POM     We'll book the kids in too. Let me work on a package.

MM     No but the kids are at critical areas of their school. I don't want them to come, I just need to get somebody to look after them. It's a critical period for the kids.

POM     So the papers you have I need access to. We have to get Vula.

MM     Two things I'm going to do. The papers, the official ones and my knowledge of what goes behind them. Now the knowledge of what goes behind them may not be able to be substantiated with notes but the official papers, the critical papers, that I will start tracing. Secondly, the Vula papers, even what Davidson will produce will be an incomplete bit, but I am going to start working on trying to track them down even from people like Tim Jenkin.

POM     On my way back I can go through London and see him.

MM     No, he's in Cape Town.

POM     He's in Cape Town?

MM     He's in Cape Town, he's working in Cape Town. He and his wife settled down in Cape Town so I will contact him in Cape Town and see what he can pull out and what he can decipher because there's no way the stuff that is still enciphered, there is no way that we will be able to retrieve the encryption codes because the encryption codes were based on books and the books used to change every two months. Now I've tried it with the Island to try and say can we remember even just which books so that we could run every one of them whenever we can't decipher. We can't remember. The basic thing, it was done in such a way that we would walk into a bookshop and all we needed to know is that are you buying an edition of what is available in a shop in SA and you just buy a novel, even if it's a novel you didn't read but it's a sixth edition printed by Penguin, published on a certain date, we'd say, "Right, can we just cross check whether it's exactly the same edition, same paging." That's it, done. So that's where the problems are going to arise.What else can I do? I will start –

POM     There's a young woman who works for me, her name is Caryl. I've already taken the risk that the money was coming through so I hired her. She will be at your disposal.

MM     Such as checking facts.

POM     Yes, but if you need to trace things.

MM     I'll just be able to say find it, you'll find it here.

POM     We need to make lists of things that we need and then after I read them I have to come back and ask for your comments as you said there are the official documents and what you thought are behind the documents.

MM     What we will do with Caryl - when is she starting with you?

POM     She has started. I will have her call Maria. In fact if we ring the house right now I can get her number. Should she deal directly with you? I want to cut out intermediaries. If I e-mail you stuff does it still go through Maria. Fine, that goes directly to you and that's absolutely confidential and I can ask any kind of question?

     I know I'm repeating myself but this book will reveal more. I've already conceptualised it. I want to talk more about your earlier life and things that influenced you. I've a host of questions. No point in going through them today, but pose questions about what influenced you early in your life that led you into the struggle and how you came into it with such passion. I want to put everything in perspective. I have people doing background on Newcastle, where Newcastle is, was Gandhi talked about in your household? Was Gandhi one of the guiding influences, a household name that people used to talk about? Gandhi leading a march over into the Northern Transvaal. What were the influences that made you reach the various points of departure like leaving home, saying I'm going to be a lawyer, a teacher. When you get to the University of Natal how you became involved, what led you to become involved and the way you did become involved? When you went to London and what London was like in those days. I'm trying to remember who was the Prime Minister then. That was in 195-?

MM     MacMillan.

POM     MacMillan, the man who talked about the winds of change in Africa. OK, which is kind of ironic. What state the Labour Party was in, what led you to join the Communist Party, whom you met, who influenced you. I've got to see the intellectual, I've got to trace the intellectual development of your mind as well as not just your physical activities. Do you understand? What influenced your actions in the context of your own development and we've got to move through every country. I think one of the people I should interview (well I will draw up my own list) is Shubin. I will draw up a list of the people that I will tell you I'm going to interview and I'll only show them extracts that, again, will require verification by you, not what they say, because I'm a writer so I've got to maintain my integrity and not say well Mac's going to write his own biography, whatever. Within the parameters, you tell me what's off limits so I know how to develop around it so that it's a whole document on its own. The deal of the programme that they did on you, the TV programme, 'The Scarlet Pimpernel', I've got to get a copy of that. I'll transcribe it.

     A lot of it becomes just paper work, then we'll work the interviews around the paper work and then I'll have Sue do the editing. I don't want it to become Sue's – Sue is so possessive of you.

MM     Is that so?

POM     Oh yes, possessive in a very positive sense. I have to say sometimes, "Sue, I'm doing the writing, you're doing the editing. OK?"

MM     All right. It means I have to give my house a spring cleaning.

POM     At some point in this whole process, as told you from very early on, from the time I was talking about Aids, I would like to interview Zarina and that would be about, again, the work, because one of the two crucial things I want to be able to set out so a reader can follow will be how you set up the communications system and how it became unique and how nobody could break it. That we have to talk about - you can't conceal from me on the one hand and give on the other because that means you're lying to me and you're lying to yourself.

MM     Hey, what have I walked into? What have I let myself in for?

POM     You've let yourself in for one hell of a book and you're letting yourself in for all the extraordinary information that you have, insights that you have, not just on the past but on the current – all taken together, all honest, what we were talking about last, two weeks ago, what people are afraid to say now, not that I would quote you saying Madiba has gone back to the NEC. I would find different ways of saying that without ever using your name or whatever, but I cry, I cry when I see what's happening around me in this country, the denials that are still going on, the voices that are not raised, the fact that nobody – you mentioned to me that Kader thought his job was at stake and I am surprised that Kader hasn't just said, 'I quit'. He may kind of say, the famous Lyndon Johnson phrase, "It's better than I stay in the tent rather than outside the tent I can do more", but if everybody takes the same attitude simultaneously then there's nobody outside the tent. You always have to have to have somebody outside the tent because that's a critical part of the development of society, critical thinking of democracy.

     So what you have let yourself in for is if you made a decision about me you have to take me as I am. If you read a little bit more of Biting at the Grave –

MM     I finished that.

POM     Then you understand me, you understand me. That's the kind of writer I am, that's where I come from and that's where I will write and approach this project, with totality. You are entirely, next year I'm going to drive you mad. OK my friend?

MM     OK.

POM     We'll have to go back to Madiba again because I want to check things out with him. In fact I made a separate copy of, not just the Chess Player, the first three parts, and I had Caryl run it through the computer and wherever Madiba's name came up I had her mark, mark, mark, the whole book was full of marks, marks, marks, all done in purple. Purple, you are purple, OK? That's our code name for you, you're purple. But then I need to go back to him, or you need to go back maybe and say, "You know, Madiba, remember this account, I'm reading from something", when you're having breakfast with him sometime and say, "Padraig is doing a book on me and it's going to outsell your book, Madiba, for the first time." It's going to sell more in India. Some of the checking may be better done by you, since I won't have the access, so you could just check things off or you could say, "Oh can you give a different explanation. You must add here, subtract there, you must do whatever." I keep repeating to you that we are not just going to produce a work that is your recollections or perceptions of events, we're going to check, cross-analyse them against other people, go back to Cyril.

MM     So how do you conceptualise this thing, Padraig? Clearly not a biography. Clearly a mixture of history, first cut of the history through my eyes and then through other role players around it.

POM     So where they have different perceptions of events than yours I will include their different perceptions. Where their perceptions are the same then I say, verified, verified, verified. Different perceptions and then I will use my mind as the analytical person to say I've had four different versions of the same event and that's where I come in, put the four together and try to explain to the reader how somebody can have four different perceptions of the same event. That's where my mind comes in. We move through each period of your life both physically and we set physical backgrounds and then we set the contextual background, the operational background and then we put in the interviews in-between.

MM     How do we make it manageable in terms of length?

POM     I have 700 pages.

MM     Is that what they offered you?

POM     Yes I still have that from them and they are still interested. Struik are ready to do an agreement on all the other books but Penguin wants to keep their hand in. They said if it's shorter that's up to Sue, that's where Sue comes in and says cut this, this is repetitious, cut that that's repetitious, you said that before, you said that there, you said it in four places. That's her job. My job is to get everything down, to get you going, your mind going, keep your mind fresh, to get the documentation. Mine is to write and use my abilities, I hope that you saw in the book that I wrote, on how to interpret, how to phrase, how to bring things, different accounts of things together and make them understandable to the reader so the reader comes away with an understanding of the complexity, the enormous complexity of something that in the end appeared to be very simple. And you're a great story teller. I'm going to find – I found Philip Powell, I've located him, he's at Bristol University, I told you that. Now I have a number, I will go right there and find him if I have to walk all the streets of Bristol. That's the kind of researcher I am. I hope that is what you want.

MM     Well just as you have people like Madiba who are ageing there are one or two stragglers still alive in London who played an important part in my life.

POM     Would you put their names down, and numbers if you have them, now, because I will go on my way back through London. You have to call these people and tell them what I'm doing, do you understand? I can't just approach somebody and say I'm writing about Mac and here I am.

MM     They're probably going to be visiting SA any time now, I hope I'll see them before I leave for my holiday. The one person who is still alive, Patsy and her husband's name is Vella and the surname is Pillay.

POM     Now this isn't the Pillay who works for Valli Moosa is it?

MM     No.

POM     That's a separate – he was in Vula, right?

MM     Oh that's Ivan Pillay. She's a London person.

POM     You must go through your mind.

MM     I'll start making those notes.

POM     And the same thing in the GDR. I will go there, I will talk to people there. I will go to Russia, I will talk to people there if there's somebody important to talk to, plays an important role, besides Shubin. Will you tell Shubin that this is what I'm doing?

MM     The other one is dead, Markarov.

POM     You know what I will do, I will have all the archives done in Fort Hare. This is what they call – I've never watched a game of basketball in my life but I read about games I don't watch. It's called a four court press. You're getting down to serious, serious business that demands – this is your book, written by me but it's my book as I see you. You must understand that and you can't say - well Padraig I disagree with your interpretation. I'll say, Mac, this is my interpretation, I'm the writer. You can say afterwards that O'Malley got it completely wrong, he screwed up, like Patti Waldmeir screwed up on all kinds of things. The more things I check out the more things I see this is wrong, that's wrong, events seen as authoritative.

MM     The trouble with Patti is that her work is a journalist's work. She just wrote away as a journalist, she wanted to write something, publish it at a particular moment in time and her research and interpretation was completely bound by the impressions that were sitting in her own mind and she just looked for facts to verify the impressions rather than facts to challenge the impressions. So it was very typically a journalist's work.

POM     You see I will approach things in an entirely different way. Everything you say to me I'll say that's just Mac's statement, now I've got to check it out.

MM     OK, all right. I see more what I'm letting myself in for.

POM     And I will write, over Christmas from Boston, a long memo detailing all the things we need to get hold of and as I say people like Christo – he told me before, he said, "I think I can help you get hold of some of the Vula papers", and I rang him today because he's been sick and his wife has been sick and just before I came here I talked to him and said I will be back to see him in January and I want to talk about Vula and he said, "No problem. If there is any way I can help, anything."

MM     He should be able to tell you where the other policemen are.

POM     Yes. And I think he's quite willing to do so. Again, you've got to go by your instincts.

MM     There's a chap, you must ask him where he is, a chap called Roelf Venter.

POM     He was an interrogator was he?

MM     Yes.

POM     That would be Durban?

MM     No, he used to be in Johannesburg.

POM     This is the man that you talked about who was the - ?

MM     He was one of the key interrogators.

POM     You talked about the one who you gained an admiration for, that was one of the extraordinary passages.

MM     No, no, not this one. This is from Vula time. The other one is dead. He was from the 1962 time. But this guy he's got his amnesty from the TRC and I think he, last I heard a report that he has left the Police Service but he's become very religious. At least that's the claim he's making.

POM     The same way as Adriaan Vlok, he's gone totally religious.

MM     Is that so?

POM     I think genuinely so. I've interviewed him now and was looking for the cracks. Is this man being sincere or is he such a terrific actor that he can get away with it every time? I use, when I – again I'm suspicious of people that I interview, I build in questions that are checks and balances so that I can look at the transcripts, look at the same responses over a period and see what are the nuances or the differences.

     So you must think. I will send you a long memo and in January we're down and running. I will go anywhere in the world where it's necessary to go. I'll go to India, I will go to Russia, I will go to Germany, I will go to London. I will do anything to make sure that what you get is what you deserve. But more importantly I am a writer and I want this book to be picked up and not only bought but I want it to be picked up and people to say it's a brilliant book. That's what writers like, they don't care about sales, they care about the product. Like an artist.

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.