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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

12 Mar 2002: Maharaj, Mac

POM     We're talking about Christo Davidson.

MM     My arrest on 25 July was in Mayfair and the head of the team in charge of the arrest was a Colonel Frik Venter. As we went down the line I could see he was treated with the rank of a Colonel and somebody referred to him as Colonel, secondly they used to call him Frik and I got the impression that that was genuinely his first name. I wasn't clear whether Venter was his real surname because, remember, none of them were wearing uniforms so you couldn't see the ranks. But his behaviour showed that he was in charge. I gathered that he had, in the course of my detention, that he came from Pretoria from Port Elizabeth, that he was specially put in charge of this operation by the time they came to arrest me. That meant that command of the Vula arrest was taken over from the Durban office, C R Swart, and now located in the Pretoria office and that the team that was made up now was consisting of Natal who had accidentally arrested Mbuso and Charles, gone on to arrest Siphiwe and this indicated a huge issue. By that time they knew it was me and Slovo and then Ronnie Kasrils.

     All that made them take a decision to appoint a top level national team. I am not clear at that stage whether they realised that there was a link with Cape Town but shortly after Siphiwe's arrest they would begin to realise there was a link also in this structure with Cape Town. So Colonel Frik Venter was overall in charge and that was unmistakable as we went down. Even in Durban when I was taken he overrode the Durban command structures and ranks. He would be taking decisions what to do next on any matter. If he intervened and made a suggestion that was like an order and everybody had to fall in.

     So that's the background and the reason why I questioned Venter is that it may be his genuine name but I've never seen him feature anywhere in the amnesty process, anywhere. Now bear in mind Nieuwoudt and company, the killers of Goniwe, appeared in the TRC and various investigations and Port Elizabeth was clearly the centre from which most of the killings of people in detention were conducted and even people who were not detained but just wiped out like Nkonto, Sparks Nkonto and company. So PE had that record. So he had a record in the government's mind with this permanent removal concept of Adriaan Vlok. Remember the minutes that appeared of the National State Security Council around Eugene de Kock's file that there was a faxed message requesting the permanent removal of Matthew Goniwe? And the issue became what did 'permanent removal' mean? And Vlok and them at the TRC said 'permanent removal' did not mean kill. So the PE Security Branch Unit could call on Eugene de Kock to come from Vlakplaas to assist them if they took a decision with killing somebody and then they would be called to execute the task.

     When we come to Frik Venter's role it remains something that I keep now and then watching and saying he's disappeared, nobody knows where he is. But also in the team investigating there was then a Major Roelf Venter. Now he was the key interrogator, in charge of the interrogation team. In his team was a Warrant Officer Venter. Now that's not unusual in Afrikaans. Venter is a very common name, but I was not sure whether these are also at times cover names because when I was removed from Sandton via Piet Retief to Natal in my presence as we went down to get into the vehicle, in my presence they removed the number plate of the kombi and put on false number plates. I actually joked about it, I said, "So, you're putting on false number plates." And they said, "Well we do what you do." And I said, "But you don't need to do that, you control the state." So they said, "No, we know you guys, we're not taking a chance. You have been collecting information about our cars and our addresses." And I kept saying, are they doing this to me to build up a fear because they never told me where we were going and the next thing is I see I'm on the road going past Witbank and when they look at me and Frik Venter turns round, "Do you know where you're going?" I said, "No, I don't." "Do you know Piet Retief?" "I've heard of it." "Do you know the record of Piet Retief?" This is a town.I said, "Yes." He says, "Well I am sure you know that people who go to Piet Retief never come back alive." And I was saying, are they building a fear in me that I'm going to my death and therefore I'll crack up? So Frik Venter was a key guy.

     Now in this framework we come to Davidson. Davidson says at that stage he was stationed in the Security Branch in Newcastle.

POM     He had been in Newcastle and called down –

MM     And moved away and then came back. The arrests of Mbuso and them takes place in Durban. The arrest of Siphiwe, Pravin Gordhan, the whole corps, all the Natal arrests took place in Durban. Davidson simply says he came into the picture on Siphiwe but he could only come into the picture if Durban called him because he was not stationed at C R Swart. If you read his statement he doesn't say, "I was called to Durban to now join this team on what became Vula", would they have called him on Charles Ndaba's arrest? No. Would they have called him when Vuso Tshabalala is arrested? No. What would Mbuso and Charles have said in detention and torture that would have warranted contacting Newcastle? Only one thing would have warranted it, two bits of information, that Siphiwe is in the country, that Mac Maharaj is in the country. Siphiwe because his parents are from Newcastle, Mac Maharaj because he comes from Newcastle. In that situation you would want a Newcastle contingent to join your investigation. But he's absolutely quiet. Why would you call a Security Branch officer 300 kilometres away to come and join your Durban team? What are the special skills that he has and knowledge base that he had? And I am saying between Charles and Mbuso they pointed the way, that's the venue, and they at least spoke about Siphiwe being present. That's when the bells began to ring louder in their minds. But it is possible that Mbuso and Charles could have mentioned my name. Charles, not because he had met me. Mbuso had met me but would not know me as Mac Maharaj but Mbuso is the brother of Vuso and Vuso knows me as Mac Maharaj. So between the two brothers there could have been a breach of underground rules and conversations in which Vuso would be saying this is a very serious operation because Mac is here. So Mbuso could have had this information and under torture before he died could have said, when they said, "Well Siphiwe is here." Then of course the torturers would say, "And who else is here?" Susan and other names but in the end Mbuso could have said, "Mac is here."

     When I recall, Mbuso and Vuso webelieve were arrested around 8 July. Siphiwe gets arrested on Thursday, I think the 11 July. By that time I am aware of surveillance going on around him because I'm living openly, I've come in openly. By the 20 I am now aware that I'm under 24 hour surveillance and I actually raise with Madiba on 22 July that, look, I have now information that three leading members of the ANC are going to be arrested. But by that time Siphiwe is already arrested. Who were the three? Mac Maharaj, Joe Slovo and Ronnie Kasrils. Those were the three names that the regime was considering arresting and the question was a political decision was needed. That is when I said to Madiba I will just stay normal. I wasn't sure whether they had got Joe Slovo's name because I didn't know that the disks had been captured, decrypted. But I said Ronnie Kasrils would be on the list. So we took a position, on my side I would live normally. If they arrest me it's too late now for me to make any further contact with any instructions because I'm under 24 hour surveillance. All those that I have failed to reach, if I am arrested I must make sure that it gets into the papers so that it will be a signal to all the others that I have not reached total cover.

     So up to Davidson. He is too easy … The information that I had when he was detained on 11 July, and I had gone down to Durban, is that Siphiwe was arrested on the road, his car was stopped, that Siphiwe certainly was put into a straitjacket at C R Swart that very day and certainly some force was used on him. Now if Davidson was already there –

POM     Davidson says he didn't arrive until - following a period of –

MM     Following from Vuso or following the period after Siphiwe?

POM     There's a period where Siphiwe was put in a mask and tortured and it's after that that Davidson comes.

MM     Right. By that time the mindset of Siphiwe is something that we can analyse because everything said that this man suddenly takes a decision, "Oh! I know Mac has got indemnity, Ronnie has got indemnity, there's a whole group of people got indemnity." Talks are going on, Groote Schuur has taken place, so I'm covered. They will have to be careful how they handle me from the point of view of killing me. But I also have no problem, they've got all the disks. Yes, I'm Siphiwe Nyanda. Yes, Mac is the commander. Yes, this is Operation Vula. Yes, these are the hideouts." And he simply collapsed at that stage. What I know for a fact is that they were moving me down to Durban – the day I was going down to Durban to rescue things in Durban was the weekend that he was being moved across to Jo'burg. The house in Parktown he certainly pointed out. The flat in Hillbrow he pointed out.

POM     Janet Love was there?

MM     No, no, this is another flat I was using. The garage in Rosebank where I was staying he pointed out because we rescued that Canadian couple, Janet and myself, before the police could arrest them. The first thing I did was Janet and I went to clean the place the up, we wiped the walls for fingerprints and everything. We briefed the couple to get out. Hardly had we left the police arrived. The couple were ready with a story and we had inserted an advert in a newspaper to cover my tenancy of that garage. That was in 1988/89. We inserted an advert and the legend was that I got occupation of that garage responding to that advert. So here was a teacher, a Canadian, working in a school, his wife working at Exclusive Books in the bookshop, openly saying, "Yes, we're Canadian."Who's staying there? Give these guys a description. "What do you know about him?" "No, we got this house, we had this space, we wanted more money so we advertised and he appeared. He's been a good tenant, good." The police leave. The police leave and Janet gets the chance to say, "Get out of the way now", and even says to them, I think she said, "Park your car, don't worry about disposing of your property. Park your car at a certain place, fly out." They flew out. Hardly a few hours later the police were back realising they had been misled. But the Canadian couple had played a bigger role.

     What does that say? It says first they got information of this place, possibly Siphiwe. They went to this place, Siphiwe had not said who the couple is. Having questioned the couple they went back to Siphiwe. Who is this couple? At that stage he says, possibly, "No this is a sympathiser, they were actually sent into the country to provide this role." Having got that out of Siphiwe they rushed back. Too late, the couple had gone. So Siphiwe is responding to the questions as they are put and telling them the truth but he's telling them in this, what will I do as an interrogator? As an interrogator and he was Siphiwe. So now, my friend, this game is over, you are now going to tell me the story from A to Z. We are no longer playing the game that we have to come and confront you, then you confirm. You now tell the story, so start. We want chapter and verse. Somewhere that happened.

     So Davidson's role, if you're now saying he was called into the Siphiwe team investigation a week after Siphiwe is arrested, it doesn't explain that when I was taken to Durban by Frik Venter and Roelf Venter, and I'm taken to C R Swart, the first person to walk into that room to question me is Davidson. He didn't assault me. His approach was, "You know me. I know everything about you. I know your parents, I know your brothers. I know Newcastle like the back of my hand. Now, you don't talk, you are in big trouble and we can use other means to make you talk. It's in your interest to talk." That's how Davidson enters in my life. He doesn't stay long in my life. He disappears. Partly he disappears because I have outmanoeuvred him, I have found my way into hospital. But the people who visit me in the hospital are Frik Venter, Roelf Venter, the other Venter, the Jo'burg team. They're the ones that are coming to me in hospital and not the Durban team. As far as I am concerned that establishes that the team that was in charge of me was in overall command of that investigation. They could overrule the authority of Durban, they could overrule the authority of Cape Town.

     I think between you and me the only enigma is when Gebhuza talked, when Siphiwe talked, did he tell them A to Z or did he - once you've started speaking you don't need force to be applied, the threat of force is enough once you've gone down that road. Maybe now and then force is needed to just push you over each little hump but once you've gone on that road and if his mindset was, oh, I'm not endangering anybody, in the sense of a long term endangerment, then the flood gates were open to his mind, there was nothing left in his mind that they had to squeeze out.

POM     Davidson said something very funny, it was that when they decided they were going to charge him … but he insisted that his bail application … so that he could actually be questioned on material …

MM     No, there's a problem there too. I know that somewhere after my detention they got the shock of their lives because the car in which they arrested Siphiwe had a concealed compartment, but it was also a car whose petrol tank was used to smuggle weapons across the border. It was a replaceable petrol tank. But Siphiwe had a rifle in a concealed compartment. They had found the tank but they had not found the concealed compartment with the rifle. They found that concealed compartment some years later after 1992 and they were stunned by it because they said, the talk amongst themselves, not to me, was, "Jesus! What the hell have you chaps been doing? You were supposed to have stripped that car and now you go back and you find another place. What sort of job did you chaps do when you searched that car?"

     Now when it comes to charging Siphiwe clearly they want to charge the Indians to paint the picture that this was an Indian group leading the Africans by the nose. This is what they did in 1964. In 1964 they were forced to charge Wilton Mkwayi with us, accused number one, of the high command, but our trial was made up of Wilton Mkwayi, David Kitson, John Matthews, Laloo Chiba and myself. Other people were brought separately to trial and what they were feeding to the newspaper was a bunch of Indians and whites leading the Africans by the nose. So they would separate the rest of the trials. In the Durban trial in the context of all the stories about cabals, etc., it was in their interest to try and put the trialists – look one of the chaps that was put on trial was Anesh Sankar, they had minimal evidence against him and his role in Vula was a very minor role. I never met this guy, he never featured in any of the key committees but he was one of the accused. The accused were: myself, Billy Nair, Pravin Gordhan, Anesh Sankar, Dipak Patel, then there was Susan, Katherine, Gebhuza.

POM     Is that Susan Tshabalala?

MM     Susan Tshabalala.

POM     Was she related to either Vuso or - ?

MM     No.

POM     Katherine was - ?

MM     Katherine, no, not related. Katherine Mvelase.

POM     Interestingly her name came up yesterday. I said her name came off the disks that to my knowledge had been unencrypted but they were also disks that were …He (Davidson) said they did. Then I was asking about the Vula papers. He made a phone call in Afrikaans and when he came back he said, "No, I was wrong on that. Neither Katherine nor Susan had anything to do with breaking up the encryption. We broke them ourselves. We had teams working around the clock at that point trying to unencrypt."

MM     All right, you can discuss that with Tim. I don't believe that he could have broken it unless it had been re-encrypted by Gebhuza because they he would not be using the encryption system we were using for external communications because that was a one-time pad system. If he had decrypted and re-encrypted for future reference by himself then using Susan he would have done that but he could not have used the one-time pad for that.

     By the way, you should interview Katherine Mvelase. She is here in Jo'burg. She comes from Alexandra Township. You'll probably find her from the SACP Jo'burg District Offices and I will make a search. You can also ask Janet Love, Janet would know where she is. That's a funny thing, why have I not mentioned Mvelase?

     As you remind me of these two names, Katherine and Susan were brought from outside, from the camps, these were MK soldiers. Very little has been said about the role of women in our struggle at that level of competence. It's almost as if Thandi Modise is one of the rare ones. But our group was very clear now we were bringing in women and men. But secondly I think at the back of my mind Susan clearly was Siphiwe's girl friend. Very strong. She came out of detention almost despising Siphiwe and she doesn't want to hear anything about him now.

POM     Despising?

MM     Siphiwe Nyanda. I've never sat down with her. What is it that happened in detention and before detention that made her lose respect for Siphiwe Nyanda? But very clear, she has no respect for him. I think I was unconsciously not coming up with this name, sort of as an unconscious as though to say I don't want a glimpse behind that part of life. But I think that she would be a very useful person to interview just to understand, at the very least, Siphiwe as a person. But I think that the police also had a conference, they initially wanted to charge him alone and separate my trial and make my trial look like only Indians to feed into the political propaganda that they had effectively utilised to create dissension inside the UDF around the story of the cabal. Now Natal was supposed to be the centre of the Indian cabal, Pravin Gordhan had come from there. Now here was a trial, me, Billy Nair, Pravin Gordhan. We don't want any prominent African in that trial. If there are Africans we are forced to put them in that trial let's use them as people who can be described as misled by the Indians. That would be the propaganda.

POM     When I have a transcript done I'll give it to you.

MM     What does Davidson say about me?

POM     He said very little. He said he had very little to do with you in interrogation at all.

MM     That's accurate. After the first day in Durban, and he was a person I could dispose of, by the time I was taken to Durban I had passed through Piet Retief, there was no fear that they could invoke in me. My relationship, I believe, with my interrogators was that I was holding the psychological cards. I had from Sandton said to them, "You guys be careful how you handle me. You'll be dumped by your political bosses tomorrow." Secondly I said to them, "You contact General Gerrit", the chap who was in command of Witwatersrand who had tortured me in 1964, Gerrit Erasmus, General Gerrit Erasmus. He was a Warrant Officer in 1964, small in build and therefore had an inferiority complex with his colleagues and he was my most sadistic assaulter. I wouldn't call him a torturer because he didn't know how to apply torture, he knew how to sadistically beat you up.

POM     This is not the man who you – the man who you said you respected his technique?

MM     No, no, that's Swanepoel, Major. This is the minion in their team but a chap who I could provoke to assault me in such a way that I would be unconscious. He had risen to General in command of Witwatersrand in 1990 and I said to my interrogators at Sandton, after they had assaulted me, I said, "You can go to Gerrit Erasmus. He failed to get me to talk and if you're thinking that you're going to get me to talk you're making a big mistake." The problem is that a day or two later one of them attempted to assault me again when I repeated this, he said, "No, you're right, we know that." I said, "Well if you know it then why are you wasting your time?"

     By the time I'm in Durban I'm in full control. I'm only analysing two things: how do I get out of this interrogation nonsense and what do I do about possibilities of escape. The first thing was, let me get a doctor and I found a doctor in the first or second day – no first day at C R Swart because when I said, when they made me stand and they were trying to question me, they said, "What's wrong with you?" I said, "My neck is killing me. You know (Frik Venter), you know you assaulted me in Sandton and my neck is in a terrible state. It was injured in 1964." Now downstairs was the office of the District Surgeon so they just made the mistake of taking me to the District Surgeon. They sent two young policemen, very young boys, to take me to the District Surgeon and that was it. That afternoon I was in hospital by five o'clock.

POM     The irony was that the receptionist or the nurse was Pravin's wife?

MM     What had happened is that the District Surgeon turned out to be an Indian chap called Vawda. When I walked into the District Surgeon's room of course the police officer, this young boy, walked in, one of them, and one stayed in the waiting room. And I said to the District Surgeon, I'm testing him out, I say, "Doctor", I don't even know him from a bar of soap but I see Dr Vawda so that's Indian, "Doctor, I don't think it's acceptable that a police officer should be standing here when you have to examine me." And he says, he just took it as normal, and he said, "Yes, Officer, would you mind waiting in the waiting room?" And the officer didn't know how to handle this. I said, "No, because I'm going to tell you about the assaults that I've been going through under the hands of the Security Branch." Now this poor officer doesn't know what to do. And the doctor said, "Would you mind closing the door?" He leaves the room.

     Then when I discuss with the doctor and I tell him about my neck, etc., he says, "I need to get a top orthopaedic surgeon to examine you." I said, "Good." He says, "The top one is Domingo and the next one is a chap called, I think, Naidoo. Do you have a preference?" I said, "No, it's your call." He says, "They are top people." Now I know both of them are black, so I said it doesn't matter which one. What I have got in mind is that I must end up in a hospital that is not a prison hospital. It doesn't matter to me whether they put me at King Edward, McCord, Chatsworth, St Aidan's, I know all these hospitals and they're all staffed by black doctors and black nurses, African, Indian, coloured, so I'm convinced I'll make my way. He phones Domingo's office and finds Domingo is out of the country. So he says, "Naidoo?" Fine. He phoned Dr Naidoo, makes the appointment and sheer accident as soon as he phoned Naidoo and makes the appointment and gives my name, hours before I'm taken there it's the talk in the entire building that Mac Maharaj is coming to see the doctor and Pravin's wife is working in the X-ray department and she immediately rushes up and everybody knows her husband is in detention, Pravin. He's a pharmacist by profession, known in the medical fraternity. She is married to him. The first news reaches her and she says, "Good, make the arrangement at that door, I'll be upstairs. As soon as he arrives when you get him through the change room make sure that the police are out of the way." And when I walk into the change room who is there? Mrs Gordhan. But if it hadn't been her somewhere else down that chain I would have made contact because I did the same thing with the doctor. When the specialist came to examine me, after he started with the warder, when I described my condition, he'd already got a report, and I said to him, "Do you examine me in the presence of a security guard?" He did an unusual thing. Instead of saying, "Please leave", he says, "No, I don't mind him being present because you're a detainee and I want this thing to be open, I want to deal with you in a very open way." But I've already seen Pravin's wife and I asked her, "Is this doctor OK? I want him to put me into hospital." She said, "Don't worry." So she had sneaked through and told the doctor, "Whatever happens you put him in the hospital." So when he tells me, "No, I would prefer that the security guard is here", I knew I'm in hospital because he did not want an environment to arise where it is said I saw him alone. When the young officer takes me back to C R Swart by that time the doctor has phoned and says, "Do you mind being in St Aidan's?" The officer is sitting there and the doctor says, "Shall we get you a private ward or a double patient ward?" So I said, "It doesn't matter to me, ask the officer." This poor young officer doesn't know what to say. Billy has been in a communal ward. So the doctor says, "I think a private ward, you'll be able to guard him better." And the security guard says yes.

     Now I'm taken back to C R Swart, to the court, and that's when Colonel Venter throws his toys out of the cot. When the report is given that I have to be hospitalised in an hour's time when my bed will be ready, he kicks and he swears in Afrikaans, he says, "Bastard, I knew it, the fucking – something told me that once we allowed him to see a doctor this bastard got his way." He said, "I'm taking you to Pretoria. I'm not allowing you to be hospitalised here. I'm taking you to Pretoria and hospitalising you in the prison hospital." I said, "You'll take me? Right. You hold the responsibility." The specialist says I must be immediately in hospital, if anything happens in transporting me you'll personally take responsibility, I'm coming for you, I'm suing the pants off you." He realises he's lost control because the District Surgeon, top orthopaedic specialist, said hospitalise immediately, and he said, "I want to drive you back eight hours to Jo'burg, to Pretoria." Can't do.

     As soon as they put me in St Aidan's all the nurses knew. The first day I arrived there at about five, I'm put in my ward, two officers guarding me. They start off by trying to chain me to the bed, my leg to the bed. I said, "No ways." Next thing is about eight o'clock at night the nurses have come and whispered to me that Billy Nair, who's had a heart attack and gone through heart surgery, they say he's in Intensive Care. A little later by ten o'clock a nurse comes to me, "Listen, I'll take you to visit Billy Nair." I said, "Fantastic." They said just ask for a bit of exercise. "As a patient we believe for your treatment you need exercise." I said, "Sure." Ask for exercise, one officer accompanies the nurse, says I can't go and walk outside, it's ten o'clock at night. The nurse says, "No, no, we'll walk in the corridors and through the wards." Poor guy doesn't know what to do. The next thing I'm in the Intensive Care. "Oh is this Intensive Care?" The nurse says, "Yes, let's go in there", and before he knows what's what, she says, "By the way that's Billy Nair in IC." And I walk over and I hug him and greet him. The poor security guard doesn't know what to do yet he knows that this is another detainee. "And how are you? How's your health?" He says, "Listen you're not supposed to ask him." "Piss off man, this man has had a heart attack." The nurse says to him, "I tell you this man has had a heart attack and they know each other. Let him help him to boost his morale." So I sat talking to Billy.

POM     Do you miss those days, in an odd way?

MM     In an odd way, yes. But obviously there were moments in one's life that one can't forget. Also it was a moment when I felt I was on top of the situation.

POM     I was going to do something, but I'm looking at the time. I was reading- (break in recording)

MM     What did he say about the Vula papers?

POM     I'm conscious of the time.I won't say the story was so funny but since you'd said, or recounted last week, that is the entry of Ronnie Kasrils into Vula because I had just finished going through Armed and Dangerous again and there is a slight disjuncture between your account of his entry and his movements and yours. If you could just tell it the way you told it the last time, we'll edit it down. It was just so funny.

MM     We'll see how we'll use it at the end. I don't think that the purpose of any writing should be to destroy a person.

POM     But it's funny.

MM     The question of Ronnie joining the team was settled.

POM     You were looking for Jacob Zuma.

MM     I had recommended that they give us Jacob Zuma knowing that Chris had been earmarked from the start of Vula for Cape Province and knowing Natal and the problems in Natal also I thought that Jacob Zuma was the right person. In my meeting in Moscow with OR, OR explained to me that he could not release Zuma. He was one of the few Zulus in the leadership and by that time he was heading the ANC Intelligence section and he had just been brought in as head of ANC Intelligence, so he could not spare him. The upshot of that discussion was that he and I and Joe Slovo agreed that he would release Ronnie Kasrils. So in Lusaka Joe Slovo, Ronnie and I, Joe Slovo had obviously told Ronnie already that he is selected. By this time OR had his stroke. Whether OR called in Ronnie, as he said, and spoke to him I don't know but I know that Joe Slovo was certainly one more person and that I am introduced to Ronnie in Lusaka as having been informed by Joe Slovo. That's where we discussed that I had been at home all this time, that Ronnie has now been selected to join me and the team at home, and I had already stipulated that if Ronnie is to be sent I don't want him to go for any further training. My view was already very firm that all the training we were receiving while at a rudimentary level was useful, I don't believe that the application of that training could be taken further by more intensive training abroad, we needed training on the ground to come to grips with the realities here.

     So the first issue that arose was how then we were to prepare Ronnie's legend and how we were to prepare his entry and within what time frames. From my point of view it needed to be done tomorrow because there's no further training. We agreed to meet within a day or two where Ronnie would have thought through and mooted some proposal about his legend of disappearing and how he would enter the country. When we met him next time we tossed around and concluded on a legend which would be that he was going to go to Vietnam on a visit and that it would be reported that he's met an accident in Vietnam while travelling around Vietnam seriously injured and therefore hospitalised. We thought that we would be able to find a convincing legend on that basis because he would have to fly to Vietnam, through Moscow and could disappear anywhere on that route and Vietnam being so remote an outpost it would be possible to sustain that later.

     The question of entry home became problematic and became quite a tussle because the mechanisms that he was advocating were very complex and required enormous support structures. Finally I challenged him by saying that you've got forged passports, you've used them for travelling in and out of Swaziland, do you have any that you can use for SA? And he had. I then said, "Fly into Jo'burg airport." He was sceptical of it until I said, "But how am I here? I do two things. I cross on foot otherwise I fly in and out of Jo'burg airport. That's how I do it." He insisted then that if it was to be by flying in that the critical question was who would be there to meet him and the condition he put in that discussion was that I should personally be there. I found that very difficult because I found that completely contrary to the underground rules. Here was a person known outside coming in, he could lead to us and there were we, a network inside the country, up to that stage undetected by the regime. So any element that would bring instability and detection would come from that side, from his entry, rather than from our side and our protection should be to protect first the network and then secure his entry. But he insisted that I should be there. He felt he wouldn't be safe unless I'm there. And we agreed on it.

     Part of the agreement was that he would give me the day he would be coming, the airline he would be coming and the time of arrival so that I could ensure that there is surveillance and protection at Jo'burg airport. As it happened we knew he was coming in through, I think, Austrian Airlines, the last leg of his flight was going to be from Vienna and it would have probably been Vienna or Egypt, he could have taken a hop to Egypt and come in on Al Italia. We didn't get the precise date. We got the airline as far as I recall but we didn't get the date and time of arrival. This meant that we had to go to Jo'burg airport two or three days running, taking the enormous risk of my own exposure to receive him.

     The second thing was that in the arrangements we had said that he would have to find his own way by public transport with those courtesy coaches to get to Sandton Holiday Inn and that he would find under his door that night a message saying where and what time he should be at some other spot the next day. That such a message would be put in if conditions are safe. If conditions are not safe, if we have detected detection of him and any danger signals then in the absence of a message he should simply get out of the way to Botswana and live there quietly while we re-establish contact to get him in safely.

     We see him arrive, we see him go to Holiday Inn, we see that everything is safe and we slip a note to him that the next day, I think it was about 10 – 11 in the morning, he should find his way from Sandton by taxi to Hyde Park and then he should walk down Jan Smuts Avenue heading towards Randburg. If you are heading from Hyde Park to Randburg he should walk, it's a dual carriage highway, and he should walk on the pavement on the right hand side. That is the pavement where the traffic was coming in the opposite direction. This would help him with regards to any surveillance and it would help us if we detected surveillance how to get him away because any surveillance by a vehicle would be moving down the opposite lane, any surveillance by foot would be very easily detected because it's a gentle downhill. After about two kilometres walk he would come to a spot where he would see a Wimpy Bar across the road. Now this Wimpy Bar is situated on a hill so that when you're in the Wimpy Bar you're looking out into the whole road with a broad view. So in that Wimpy Bar he would find a person and make contact with him.

     But again he had stipulated that I should meet him, so it became my job to meet him. I didn't want to expose him to others so my surveillance of him, my own security was very limited to people. I think Gebhuza was in Durban at that time and I didn't want people to know it's Ronnie Kasrils. But as I drove down on the opposite lane and came up in different routes I saw that his walking behaviour was such that it already looked like a person who feels he's doing something shady, constantly looking over his shoulder. There are none of these shop windows, it's just bare veldt besides there and a few buildings, deep recessed buildings, houses, etc., and some office blocks, but none of them with windows on the pavement that he can use and this James Bond thing where you look in the window and you can see the back and you're not turning around. But here he was constantly looking over his shoulder and I came to the conclusion that this was becoming too risky. So I drove on the lane on his side, coming up towards him. I was alone in the car driving, drove up in the car and pulled up directly next to him and leaned over, opened the passenger door and asked him to jump in. He was taken aback and it's only when I talked to him that he began to recognise my voice. I said, "Get in, get in! Don't waste time."

     So he jumped in the car, I took him to this hideout in Rosebank, the garage, not the one where the trap door is, the garage with the Canadian couple, said to him, "Now look, Ronnie, we live in this garage. It's got a shower, kitchen, all the basics of life, nothing luxurious." An old car garage converted into a bed sitter, a kitchenette, a toilet and a shower and opening out into a back yard, garden. I said, "The front house is occupied by a foreign couple." I think I must have mentioned the Canadian couple. "But they don't know my identity but they are comrades whose job is to secure us renting places, but they don't know our identity and we stay away from them so that if anything ever went wrong no intimate relations can be established to have existed between us", and, as I've explained earlier, I'm just a tenant who had responded to a newspaper advert. I might have even said that they were members of the Canadian Communist Party. I said to him, "Now relax, you've travelled, you've been living under some tension. Here you can relax, be in the garden, everything is there. I'm going out on work, I'll be back later in the afternoon."

     When I come back in the afternoon the couple in the front house are excited. I don't think they are doing anything wrong. They say, "This is fantastic", they had been leading a very lonely life. I never sat and even had a meal with them but here they said, "Here's this comrade and he's Ronnie Kasrils, the Ronnie Kasrils." I said, "What do you mean? What do you mean? What do you know about him?" "No he told us"' "When did he tell you?" "No, he's been sitting with us, we've been chatting for hours." Completely contrary to the rules. I go into the garage and I'm already fuming over all this whole build up and I'm due to have a discussion with him, "Why didn't you communicate the information to us so that we could do the operation meeting?" And when I walk in I find tins of mussels open, empty, he's eaten. Now these were not in the storeroom. I said, "Where did you get that?" He's excited, he says, "I've had a wonderful meal." "But where did you get these mussels from?" "No, I went out and shopped."

     I said, "Sit down, Ronnie, let's discuss."And I put my criticism, my observations. I said, "I'm making these criticisms that you're now living in the real world of danger, in a real underground. You're not living in Angola, not in Lusaka where you have the government shielding you. Here you are in the belly of the enemy. You are a specialist MCW, you're going to be training other people. How do you handle this? Let's talk about the principles of it. What's the principle in how you came in? I don't want to fight with you.This risk to take charge of receiving you at Jo'burg, but I've taken it, it's a great risk to the structure because if I get caught and I break down under torture I reveal the network. You get caught, you reveal me. Firstly, you didn't tell us the day you were coming, you didn't tell us the time of arrival and you forced us to go backwards and forwards. Secondly, I picked you up in the road because I felt that your conduct was indicative that you were concerned about something. So rather than wait for you to go in the Wimpy Bar and extend the danger I decided to do something by intercepting you quickly. And I bring you here and I brief you and as soon as I go away out you go as soon as the neighbours arrive, you go and talk and you tell them that you're Ronnie Kasrils. Here's all the food, yes it's bread and butter and cheese and tomatoes, but the first thing you think about is your own stomach, you don't think about the security of this place which is my personal hideout. So it's not known to people and by walking, even though you're disguised, what you're doing is you're endangering us, you haven't even reconnoitred, you haven't asked me for a briefing as to what is the way to conduct yourself in this environment. If underground operatives do it this way and you teach them, what happens to the structure? Within days it's gone."

     That was a very harsh discussion but the next thing after we discussed that quite harshly and the issue that arose was personally so critical of him, I then said to him that in the light of the situation the plans were that he should now go down to Durban and there he would meet Gebhuza and a fairly viable structure, command structure, political, military, properly constituted military committee and properly constituted political structure, a very good intelligence network, a good propaganda network and a widespread network. So I said, "Now, the idea is that you go down to Durban and you work in those structures for a few months. It's the best way to acclimatise you and get you to grips with the problem." OK, he was very happy because he used to be in Durban years before he left the country in 1964/65, so he was very happy with that prospect.

     But then he raised the question of how he was to go down to Durban. I said we'd provide him with a car and he would drive down and he immediately began to raise questions about firearms and escort. So I tell him, "Again, let's go back to your underground rules, you've got a British passport, you're a tourist. Your legend is you're a tourist. How do I give you an illegal Makarov pistol? If you are stopped at any roadblock and they search you, a pistol contradicts the legend of this passport. That's out." And he could not comprehend that at times I would be travelling with no firearm. I said, "But you can't use it. Once you do your legend and have other things on youthat undermine your legend." So his fallback was, "What about an armed escort?" I said, "Where are we living? We're not living in Angola. We're here, there's no space to be moving around in convoys and armed escorts." He found it unacceptable. So I said, "Look, I'll be meeting you there. I'llbe on the road." So he said, "But then somebody must be with me in my car." And the upshot was that I offered him Janet Love. I said, "I'll give you a driver. It'll fit your legend. She's white, you're white. You look like a couple and she has got a legend also that she's a tourist from abroad. She's got passports so she's a tourist, you're a tourist. You've met up and you're travelling as a couple." He was very happy with that when I said Janet would be there.

     We made arrangements that we would meet outside the last toll plaza on the way to Durban which is on the outskirts of Durban, called Marionhill, but on the route I said our paths would criss-cross, I would overtake them at times just to see everything's all right and then slow down and they would go ahead but we should not talk to each other or do like we know each other. So we would not be travelling one behind the other. The last time I saw them was at the Harrismith filling station. I had pulled in there and found that they were already there, obviously they were filling up, relaxing, it's an open garage, restaurant, other facilities. I saw them there, I filled up and decided I should leave before they did. I should not be in front of them to see how's the terrain. Before I reached Tugela Pass or after Tugela Pass, either before or after, it's now very open flat terrain, it's the Natal Midlands, you're out of the Drakensberg, and we can see ahead on that road, on that dual carriageway, for kilometres behind you and in front of you and beside of you. No trees, no forest. I'm getting tired, feeling sleepy and decide I'll park on the open road, on the shoulder. They obviously had to go past me. It's so isolated and bare that they would see me and that even if they stopped with concern there would be no risk, they could see whether there are cars behind them, they could see whether there were oncoming cars and they could investigate and that way I would be up.

     I dropped asleep comfortable thinking I don't need to set an alarm or anything and I woke up late in the afternoon, hours later and nobody had stopped. So I looked at my watch and said, "Good God, three, four hours have elapsed."By now we should have been in Durban. I speculate what's happened, have they been arrested? Have they had a car accident? Are they in hospital? What has happened? So I drive back on this dual carriageway all the way back to Harrismith trying to see whether anything untoward has happened. Then I drive back now on the highway on my side, on the side that they would have been travelling and I return to the spot where I had fallen asleep. No sign of accidents, no sign of any untoward activity. I say to myself, "Bastard, they passed me and they didn't even see me." And if they saw me in my vehicle then I'm even more worried that they didn't bother to stop to check. But now Marionhill is 230 odd kilometres away so they are supposed to be standing waiting there in a very open car park with no restaurants, nothing, it's at the toll plaza. The sort of cars that stand there are somebody who wants to go to the toilet or somebody who wants to stretch their legs because they're tired, but you don't have a car standing there for three, four hours unless it's broken down.

     So I now break the traffic rules, speed, am in a hurry to get to Marionhill because it's the next point I'll find out whether there's danger or if something has happened. I get to Marionhill, it's already dark. There's no car there. Now I'm worried about their safety. So I push on to Durban and I go to Mo Shaik, the security guy, the intelligence guy, "Mo, anything unusual, any signs amongst the Security Branch something is happening?" He has his ways to check, he says, "Nothing, Security Branch are going on as normal." Then I say, "Have you heard from Janet?" because Mo and Janet were in touch. He says, "No." No pager messages? No. Those were before the cell phones. Now I say to myself, the house where we were to accommodate him was – a Dutchman had come in and had hired a place. I didn't know the location of the house, so I say, "Is it possible that Ronnie has gone there and that therefore he has made some independent arrangements behind my back with this Dutchman?" That's the only shot I've got, there's no other place where do I find him. If Janet has acquired a pager in Durban I don't know her number to send a pager message to signal to. So in that desperate situation I turn to Mo, "Do you know of a foreigner who is occupying a clandestine house and that house is unused?" "Oh", he says, "Yes, I think there is a house like that. A foreigner, possibly a Dutchman." I said, "Yes." Oh yes, the following address.

     So I go it's there after eight at night, eight, nine. I'm taking a chance, I'm exposing myself and in the underground rules what do you do when a stranger walks in and you're hiding, you've got a safe house and a stranger unknown to you walks in and says - has a couple arrived here? Your first suspicion is that these are policemen.Anyway I take the chance, I go there and because I know something of his background I ring the bell and I ask if I can come in and I sit down with him and I spend a few minutes talking to him establishing my bona fides. I then say to him, "Has a couple come through here?" And he says, "Yes." I said, "Where are they?" "Don't know, they went out. I think they've gone to a restaurant." I said, "Do you know a pager number for any of them, where I can reach them?" He says, "Oh yes." So he makes a call on the pager to Janet to call him back urgently and Janet after a few minutes calls and he hands the phone to me and I say, "Where are you guys?" She says, "We're at the beachfront in a marvellous restaurant having a lovely meal." I said, I am now really angry, "I want you to be here in half an hour." "Can't we see you after?" I said, "No ways, you come immediately." And they come. I take them in a separate room away from the Dutchman and I say, "What is this, this conduct? You seem to be unconcerned whether something has happened to me. You seem to be living in a world where everything is running smoothly. Did you ever think that I might have met an accident? We were supposed to meet at Marionhill. I'm not there and maybe you waited for a long time. Don't you think, wait a minute, he's arrested or he's in an accident, he's in a hospital, and if any of those thoughts hit you would you be sitting and eating in a restaurant? Wouldn't you see danger coming to you?" Another bit of discussion. Of course Janet felt shameful and it transpired that all that happened is that they didn't even notice me by the roadside. They had been so interested in chatting with each other and Ronnie so excited to be at home that all the antennae to tell you to look for danger and unusual signs were forgotten.

(Break in recording)

MM     This is the article on negotiations.

POM     Is this the article written by one of your people or did they have extracts from documents by Niel Barnard or somebody else?

MM     As far as I can recall most articles in Sechaba were unsourced with regards to the authors. I think the editorials were written by an NEC member, the editor was Francis Meli. So you'd also have a look at editorials on this question of negotiations, the feasibility, the practicality, the gauges. That would be the sort of article in which reference would be made to the apartheid government's strength and in that reference they would then say, if they quote anything from the apartheid side, they would say where they got that from, what is their source for arguing that this is the regime's strategy.

POM     That's Sechaba?

MM     Yes. So first you'd be just looking for the ANC or the Sechaba writer's analysis and within that analysis when you see that the apartheid regime has got a double agenda, has got a dual strategy or that the regime wants to engage with us in a bogus way because it does not intend that the end product should be an open-ended one, that it's agenda is, while appearing to talk to us, it's aim is to undermine us. Now that's the context in which an article might pop up an analysis and in that analysis there would be some sourcing. So by looking at everything written on the question of negotiations you will then see whether an article was published saying this is from a document of - it may be a document of the Broederbond, it may be a document of the National Intelligence Service.

POM     Let me ask you Mac, how would you differentiate between an article you might find like that and one that the security people used regarding Tongaat where they were supposed to be - where you had commissioned papers on different aspects put forward, prospectus put forward, what you think, let's create papers for open debate. Now even if there was a sourced document –

MM     No, the differentiation is very clear, the apartheid regime was under pressure to negotiate with the ANC to resolve the SA crisis by peaceful means. The National Intelligence Service, Niel Barnard in particular, put forward an analytical framework and was a champion arguing, yes let's negotiate with the ANC. In that context they were the think tank, they were part of the think tank saying if we are negotiating what are we negotiating about? How do we achieve our objectives? Namely, we still support the concept of white rule but we have to find a way to justify white rule in the context of a democracy.The details of that engagement, it is now recorded I think by FW and PW, that PW was aware and met Mandela and that at that meeting the people present were (aware of the talks they were) having with Madiba, that Kobie was having with Madiba.

     From what looked like a casual meeting at a hospital, I think it was Vlakfontein, that he dropped in on him, Madiba in his autobiography says he realised that this was not a normal visit. Now from there Madiba asked for a meeting again with Kobie and was taken to Kobie's home and this is where a committee came out and the committee consisted of Niel Barnard, Fanie van der Merwe and I think one other. Kobie would not attend all the meetings, this was like a sub-committee engaging, it could even be Mike Louw of NI. We'll have to check that, maybe Patti Waldmeir will refer to that.

     Anyway, here's a continuous engagement starting with Madiba. In the meantime PW in the public arena is saying, "We'll never talk to the ANC." Business leaders who are coming to meet the ANC are coming under enormous pressure. The Dakar meeting in 1987 is under huge glare. Fanie, Cloete and the chap who joined the DA (from Constitutional Affairs) Jordaan are dismissed from government. Jordaan who retired in 1999 from parliament and was the DP representative, these two chaps were top senior civil servants in the Department of Constitutional Affairs. The press reported that they were making clandestine visits to Zambia and in the course of those clandestine visits had met individuals in the ANC. They fired these two people from the civil service. So PW was saying, "Never! I would never talk to the ANC."

     But in the meantime Madiba had written to PW based in part on his discussions going on with Niel Barnard and company and telling Niel about that. "I want to write to the President urging him to meet me to discuss this question." It culminated in a meeting. Now behind the scenes inside it would be Niel Barnard who would be providing the motivation for meeting Madiba, meeting and going along with the strategy to engage with the ANC.

POM     In my interviews with Barnard he says that very clearly. He says that if you ever got your hands on the annual reports we had to make to the National Security Council at the time advocating meeting with the ANC, we had to engage.

MM     Now the basis here. They would have to provide the analytical framework and justification for meeting with the ANC to persuade the President that this was a course to pursue, heedless of what the NIS was saying. A strategic paper from them would be of a different status from what we were doing at Tongaat. In Tongaat we were saying here is a conference, in order that that conference has a structured discussion on a particular topic, you, Siphiwe, because you have a certain viewpoint on the way forward in this country, would you put up a paper putting a coherent set of arguments for whatever viewpoint you have so that the debate that flows thereafter takes place within an introductory presentation.

POM     But one could argue that Barnard knowing PW, being his protégé, could bring him around to engaging with the ANC and must provide him with a strategy that PW would look at and say, 'Hm, I like that strategy', but using the paper he writes not as an actual strategic document as to the way he would engage but using it as a way to convince PW that he should engage.

MM     If he's using it to convince PW and PW becomes convinced then PW has adopted what you have put opportunistically to me and PW, you're Niel Barnard. You've argued opportunistically how do I persuade Mac? But when Mac says I am persuaded and I am the president of the country, obviously what was a discussion paper from you has been absorbed as my strategy. When you present at Tongaat you must look at the resolution, not the paper presented, and you must look at the purpose of the conference, the main topic.

POM     This is something we'll have to revisit because I understand the distinction we've talked about before, is that if Barnard wrote such a paper it was adopted by PW, then FW inherited a strategy that was already in place.

MM     He takes over.

POM     That was already in place.

MM     No, what he does, he doesn't adopt. He makes it a policy. From an input to the development of policy he says that I agree with, that is the approach we as the government will now take. That's a very different ball game.

POM     Now, how does one document the secondary?

MM     The secondary one is extrapolation from the historical events. That is the normal way in which history is written. It takes whatever is available in documentation and it does primary research around the key players, the key players being government, the political parties and the leaders of the political parties. They're the voice. Then you look at what did he himself do in the public arena. He made an offer to Mandela, "I will release you if you renounce violence." Knowledge of that came out with the Mandela response. That was read out at the rally.

POM     That's PW?

MM     Yes. PW saying, "At the moment the strategy that I'm pursuing, I'm ready to release you but you fulfil the precondition of renouncing violence." Madiba, nobody knows this, but Madiba sends out a message which is read out by his daughter at the rally on the Rand and he responds and he says, "This is what you asked me to conform to, this is my response." Now you can read from that what he's asked. Never had a statement from PW but you have a statement from Mandela. I think there was a statement from PW also in parliament. Now that's a strategy.

     But PW then shifts because he now meets Mandela and he meets Mandela in the context of a letter that Mandela has written, saying, "I am not negotiating. I am urging you to be party to resolving a crisis in this country and that crisis will be resolved by you, the government, meeting with the ANC and negotiating with the ANC." He says, "I understand you have reservations about meeting the ANC. Your reservations are (i) the ANC's resort to violence, (ii) the ANC's relationship with the Communist Party, (iii) the ANC's relationship with the communist ruled countries, (iv) the perception that the ANC wants a violent revolution." And he argues in that letter the whys, the merits, etc., how it came about and how … if you agree to talk to them.

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.