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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.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 Mar 2002: Maharaj, Mac

MM     As I said, how do you write history and how do you interpret it? The next event that I can recall is that against this backdrop PW then agrees as State President and meets Mandela. Now the meeting is in this context, Mandela says negotiate, PW in public has said, "I'll release you if you renounce violence", and Mandela rejects that. Mandela says, "Negotiate." Mandela is engaging with Fanie and them. They are of course, as NIS, accountable to the State President. So a meeting takes place and a public photograph is released that the meeting has taken place. The issue of Mandela's release has now gone off the back burner. What has come up on the front burner is: PW, are you negotiating? And are you negotiating with Mandela or are you negotiating with the ANC?

     PW doesn't offer any explanation in the public arena but the next event that comes up is PW is removed from power and FW takes over. What is on record is FW – during PW's reign he used to say, "I will never meet the ANC", now you are State President what are you going to do? The record says he was given a briefing by the NI when he became State President. It was a matter of controversy because de Klerk says, "I was unaware of the detailed links that were going on." Intelligence says, "No, we briefed you, we were mandated to go and meet with the ANC, you were aware as State President." And Barnard says to me, he says, "Yes we gave him a very general briefing. The briefing may not have stood in his mind but we did brief him that we were continuing with contact with the ANC which had been initiated during the time of PW." So the Zurich meeting between NIA Deputy Head Mike Louw and Thabo Mbeki was a meeting that NIA went to clandestinely but authorised, mandated, not necessarily for that specific meeting, but mandated – NIA you can engage with the ANC and probe them. What were they discussing when they went to Zurich? They were discussing the possibilities of negotiations.

POM     Mike Louw, I know he's now retired, is he reachable? Do you have any idea where he is?

MM     He must be somewhere in retirement. Mike Louw and Maritz Spaarwater were at the meeting in Zurich. Now Maritz Spaarwater and Niel Barnard were intimately involved at the World Trade Centre talks under FW. So when you listen to the two versions, of FW saying, "I was unaware", Niel Barnard of course as a civil servant not standing up in the public arena but saying, "No, no, no, we did brief the State President when he came into power." The fact that FW keeps them as their key officers in the negotiating process suggests that whatever continuity of strategy there was, there was no such disjuncture that the new President said, "I can't trust these people who are in my own ranks at the World Trade Centre."

POM     That's why it comes back to being key to this whole thing. Just holding one against the other, getting hold of the complete minutes of the Tongaat meeting.

MM     The Tongaat meeting complete minutes copies were made, overnight they were in Lusaka but the problem is that once my arrest took place there was an order in Lusaka to destroy all records of the Vula operation for understandable reasons. They didn't want the enemy to capture it, they didn't know what the enemy had captured at home so they were destroying a trail in case there was a major trial coming up where these would be evidence. That's why I'm saying OR, why I want the diary, there would be no record of that but there will be cryptic notes. For example it may appear that he met me in Lusaka or it may appear in a very cryptic way that he saw us, Gebhuza and myself, on the eve of our departure from Lusaka. One of the problems that you guys have, particularly Patti Waldmeir's and even Howard Barrell in his manuscript, in his thesis, I'm the only person that he makes that remark about which is a qualification on what I'm saying, by saying 'if he can be trusted for what he's saying'. Why does he say that? Because there were certain people in the ANC saying Mac's operation was a maverick operation of his own. Even though the ANC issued a statement with my arrest saying that I was arrested and that Operation Vula was an ANC operation, the idea persists that it wasn't.

POM     I read an account, this isn't the way I intended this to go this morning but sometimes we just start talking and we talk, an account last night that goes back to the Kabwe conference where it stated controversial organisational and ideological differences and the emphasis on the conference was on the people's war and the seizure of power. So you've got Kabwe 1985, you have you go to the meeting with OR in 1988.

MM     Coming into the country.

POM     Then you have to get the leadership inside the country to –

MM     That's the meeting in 1986, yes.

POM     In 1986, OK. So really Vula begins in 1986 and he accepts that. So from one year now are you, at that point are you saying we need people to get inside the country in order to orchestrate – but this comes now to the Green Book, in order to put in place the political leadership, organs to orchestrate and give coherence to our different operations that often appear to be operating independently of each other.

MM     Sure.

POM     You're still talking about a seizure of power.

MM     It was war.

POM     It was war, OK. That's 1986. Then we move to the Gorbachev area and things start to change slightly.

MM     Gorbachev is already there when I leave.

POM     At what point do you move from saying our objective is the seizure of power to a point where you say go into negotiations? Where does the thinking change?

MM     No, that is a framework that is too mechanical. The framework must always be based on what I would call a simple statement, that the rules of our struggle were determined by the people in power and our strategy was predicated on how the people controlling power responded, what space they gave us. If they allowed us to wage a constitutional struggle even though we were denied the vote or a legal struggle in the sense that we were not sitting in parliament but we could pursue our objectives through non-violent, legal organisations within, it is when they illegalised us and they illegalised those forms of struggle that we chose to include armed activity in our structures and we pursued sabotage, not armed confrontation. Then close to Rivonia we began to look at the regime not acceding and closing the door to those demands which were in the MK manifesto to say we are engaging in this in order for you to agree to participate in a dialogue mechanism of resolving the problem. Then the regime says, "Oh no." Then we begin to explore, and then we begin to explore what does that mean in the South African conditions and the Vietnam visit takes place. There begins the idea that what we should be pursuing is a strategy of people's war and the objective of people's war is to seize power. Good.

     Now the possibility of negotiations arises. We analyse it in 1986 at the NEC when we hear that the regime is making overtures.

POM     To Mandela?

MM     No. That's a message that came through from Winnie, that she met Kobie and he said, "I'm prepared to release Mandela if we can find a face-saving mechanism." So we analyse this problem in 1986, in the context that we are pursuing people's war, and we say, yes, if the regime genuinely wants to negotiate we are ready, we'll entertain them, but if it is attempting a bogus form of negotiations, out, forget about it.

POM     In my interviews with Kobie, he was the most difficult man I've ever interviewed, everything was contradictory, everything was here, there, all over the place, he gives a different account of the encounter with Winnie on the plane that day.

MM     Good. I don't mind whatever the difference of account. The reality is that Lusaka had to address the question, the regime appears to be sending signals that are indicating that it is prepared to engage with us. What is our attitude? Are we prepared to engage in negotiations? We analyse the problem and say the signals appear very ambivalent but what do we say in the public arena? We say we're pursuing people's war, we reaffirm it. We are saying without saying that the overtures we receive at the moment are so ambivalent that we think that they are bogus. We say yes to genuine negotiations, no to bogus negotiations. That's our signal back in the public arena saying if you are making these overtures with devious objectives, forget, but if you are really serious your signals have got to come through more strongly.

     We then pursue, while pursuing people's war, we don't just abandon our strategy, we then consistently keep working at this problem, what is it, are they moving towards negotiations? We hear Mandela is talking to them. Well, it's reported. Mandela himself says, he says, "I got a message, what are you talking to them about?" And he says, "I sent a very curt response: I am talking to them about their talking to you."

     In the meantime as the signals begin to come stronger we say, how do we handle this problem? OR then with the leadership decide let's have a strategic perspective if negotiations were to come about. How do we begin to determine the content of those negotiations? And he goes and lobbies the frontline states, persuades them to agree to the draft called the Harare Declaration which contains the preconditions, the conditions on which negotiations could take place. It takes that document from a frontline state to the OAU, gets it adopted there. From the OAU he takes it to the UN to get it adopted as a UN perspective. In the meantime in preparing the Harare Declaration he sends the draft to me in the country and he says, "Please, urgently consult the following leading figures in the country", including Nelson Mandela in prison. "And I want a response", I remember it was "by Saturday morning", because the National Executive would be meeting on Saturday to finalise this document as a proposal we take to the frontline. But he also explains in the note to me, "I do not want it to be seen as an ANC perspective. I want it as a perspective that is going to emerge as the perspective of the frontline states and from there I want it as a perspective of the whole continent of Africa. So please consult."

     Nowhere are we saying we've abandoned our strategy. The Harare Declaration essentially is saying it would be a wonderful thing if negotiations could resolve the crisis but in order for negotiations to take place here are certain preconditions which have to be fulfilled by the regime. When those preconditions are met negotiations can take place.

POM     How did the draft of – this comes back to – we'll just move in this direction today because I know where I wanted to stop yesterday, where we did stop. This from Jenkin again: -

     "In April 198-? I sent details of how it might be possible to set up a link with Nelson Mandela. During this period Mandela was meeting various government bigwigs to discuss his possible release and various scenarios for the future. He was also meeting leaders of the Mass Democratic Movement. Such meetings were closely monitored by the enemy so it was never possible to get the precise details of what was being discussed. Mandela realised the fragility of the situation and was reluctant to engage in any activities that could be interpreted as underhand. Mac, however, was convinced that if Mandela could be shown that a truly safe and absolutely confidential line to Oliver Tambo in Lusaka was available and was operated by Mac he could be persuaded to use it. Such a link could be set up by one of Mandela's lawyers who was allowed to meet him at regular periods to discuss particular issues. (That's Ismail Ayob). Mac had over a period of months debriefed the lawyer intensively in order to determine the exact circumstances in which the meetings took place. Mac had worked in the communications team in Robben Island and so he knew how Mandela would respond and what would be required to persuade him to participate in the scheme. The first step was to receive authority from Lusaka for the lawyer to disclose Mac's presence to Mandela. Once this was granted the lawyer would demonstrate to Mandela the method of camouflaging the memos. The method was based on one we had used extensively during the previous months, books, the secret compartments in their covers. Conny Braam had brought into her team a professional bookbinder who had devised a method of creating reusable compartments in the covers of books. These proved to be extremely effective and absolutely undetectable. First the bookbinder made these books for us in Amsterdam but because the demand for them was so great I had a few lessons from her and took back to London the skills and implements needed to create them on our own. I realised that if the lawyer could take one of these books to Mandela each time with a note concealed inside the cover Mandela could read the note and respond by concealing details of his meeting with the government in the same compartment. At first Mandela was reluctant to participate but when he began to grasp how it would work he changed his mind. The decision must be difficult for someone cut off from modern technological development for so long. Suddenly one day a message from Mandela appeared on my screen. After that message from Mandela it became a regular feature. In response there were long memos from Oliver Tambo in Lusaka. The two were now talking in confidence for the first time since the early sixties. I couldn't help chuckling to myself each time one of these messages went past when I thought how the regime's chief must be thinking they were entirely in control of the situation, they wanted to create the impression that they were talking to Mandela alone and that his responses were his personal opinions. Little did they know they were talking to the ANC sector."

     That differs a little from when you talked to me first about Ayob going in with a tape recorder in his pocket when he recorded –

MM     The difference is simple, because you are focusing at the moment on the technical methodology. When I came into this country my first point of call when I lost my records in Swaziland was to reach Ayob for him to find me people in the underground. So that was straightaway 1988, my second day I did surveillance, third day I went to his office. Now I used to meet Ayob regularly. That's not the sort of detail that I would be sending to Lusaka, that I met so-and-so this day and meeting that one and that one and I drive this car and that car. No. I don't think I even reported to them how I found people in the underground but having established that contact with this person that I knew and who used to be Mandela's lawyer, I then learnt from him that he's regularly visiting Madiba. I then debriefed him about the conditions under which he was meeting Mandela. The idea then came over a period of time that, hey, we are secure now and the signals are clear that there are talks going on between Mandela and somebody in prison. It's crucial that a link be set up between OR and him so that he can confidentially brief OR and OR can confidentially brief him, because I'm working from the assumption that whoever is talking to Mandela from the regime side, wherever he's talking anywhere and sending signals off to the ANC around the world, some place inside the regime is co-ordinating. On my side I'm clear the co-ordination must be in OR and in his head.

     So, I raise this question, correctly as Tim says, that hey guys, it's not part of my mandate, my mission, to set up links with Mandela but now it has become feasible and I have got various ideas how it could be done but some of the material will have to be done by London and sent in. I haven't got time to sit down and make book covers. I haven't got time to make an invisible ink pen. I haven't got time to make a pen that has a concealed compartment in it. I'm too busy, I haven't got the technology here. You're sitting in a freer environment. So I send all sorts of ideas, then I say it may be an invisible pen, it could be the book cover. They are now busy working on that. What are the technical resources we can provide with Mac that he could utilise? And they are free to come with new ideas. In the meantime events are moving. What I want is OR's mandate to say yes, incorporate this function in your mission. That's the heart of the problem. And you can extrapolate from the events that I got the mandate.

     Now Tim thinks he sent me a reusable book, concealed compartment in a book. He thinks I'm using that. No, I'm not going to tell him what I'm using. I'm not going to tell him what I now – how I practically sorted – you sent me a Makarov pistol, you sent me a Scorpion urban warfare automatic rifle, you sent me an AK47, I'm not going to report to you that I shot Padraig with a bloody AK47. That's not a detail for you, and if I'm reporting that kind of detail I will be dead tomorrow when they catch me. The technique is all out. So I wouldn't be reporting that on day so-and-so I've now done reconnaissance on Padraig and I think that what I'm going to use is a Makarov but when Padraig is dead I say, no I used a Scorpion. Nothing. He is working on the assumption that I'm using the reusable book cover. He doesn't know that in my debriefing of Ismail Ayob, and when I sent the first note to Madiba – I told you the story of how he kept missing his pocket?

POM     No.

MM     The first was a note where I said now disclose my presence.

POM     You gave this note to Ayob?

MM     To Ayob. This is all Lusaka has said. If you can do it securely you have authority to open those links. And I'm saying I'm already linked but without disclosing. So I have a feeling that Madiba, what he is disclosing to Ayob, he is very conscious that he is disclosing it in a position where the regime is eavesdropping. On one of the occasions I meet Ayob and I'm meeting him with his wife Jamilla I used to go to his home in Fordsburg in the evenings, late at night, so I'm sitting there and Jamilla used to be always worried about my welfare, "Where are you living? You rock up here at one in the morning", and she would always say, typical Indian woman, "Food." Straightaway go into the kitchen to rustle up a meal.

     One evening we're sitting and chatting like this and I'm talking about how is it going. He says, "I think I can take Jamilla along next time I go", because Jamilla, his wife, says, "You know you keep going to meet Mandela but you don't take me." He said, "But he always asks about you." So I say, "Hey, this is fantastic, can the both of you go?" What crops up is the possibility that the prison authorities will allow Ayob to pay a visit with his wife. By now I have worked on that basis and I'm telling them the room is bugged. "Do you meet him in his lounge?" He said, "We usually sit in the room", I think it was a lounge cum dining room and therefore they sit around the dining table. What I'm checking is, what are the points which in that room a bug would be installed? What are the points where a camera would be installed by the regime to monitor such visits by Ayob? And I say, "Now, interesting possibility." To open the contact I have a code name with Madiba which was agreed to when I left prison, 1976. Question: does he remember that code name? He had allocated me the code name of an African chief who had led wars against colonialism, a chief called Zwengendaba. He said, when I was leaving prison, "If I get a message whether in a letter written by anybody or any visitor who comes and in the course of ordinary conversation drops the name Zwengendaba then I will know that that person is in touch with you and therefore I'll treat the conversation in a different way to decipher what is this person saying while talking about family problems." So I say but this is bloody 12 years ago, will he remember? So I say OK, I'm going to write a note, roll it into a very, very tiny piece of paper that can be hidden in his clothes lining.

POM     In Ayob's ?

MM     Ayob's clothes. I want you to go to the next visit and take Jamilla with you. I want her to be the distraction of the warder who is supervising and taking care of Madiba. That's Gregory. I want her to be the decoy to draw attention even of the cameras, listening devices. I don't want these people to foul up this operation and I say, "I want you to sit, describe where you normally sit, where does Madiba normally sit on this table", and I said to him, "From that position what I worked out is under the table, ram this concealed pocket which cannot be seen by a camera, while you are having your normal conversation with him I want you to introduce the name casually of Zwengendaba. Then under the table I want you to pass this note into his hand." It's going to be tiny, tiny piece of paper, typed out, narrow column like that and rolled. Easy for him to conceal, ready for him to take out without appearing to be doing anything unusual and easy to just put into Madiba's hand under the table. But I say the key to his receiving it and knowing how to conduct himself is that you should use the name Zwengendaba. You should be saying, by the way, if he's raising a legal matter or problem about Winnie and the children, "Yes I'm handling it", and in the course of telling him what he's doing he should say I've also seen Zwengendaba and discussed the matter and after that touch his knee. Then if Zwengendaba's name has clicked with him he would know, hey, there's a hand trying to give me something under this table.

     That is the note which Madiba picked up and now he realises, shit! I'm sitting with a hot potato here. I don't know what is in this note but Mac is bloody well in the country and he's in touch with Ayob. So he's got to conceal this, so he tried to put it in his pocket under the table and keeps missing his pocket because he's become nervous. Now with all this going on it's Jamilla's job, knowing what is happening to keep the conversation flowing because at moments like that, the unexpected, people just become paralysed and my instructions to her in the rehearsal is, "Any casual conversation, just keep it going as if nothing abnormal has happened. You see your husband becoming nervous, just keep the conversation going. You see Madiba getting nervous, keep it going, no interruption must take place in the flow of conversation."

     When they come back she reports to me in the presence of Ismail, that these two men were shitting in their pants now. Madiba was missing his pocket, three four times to get the note, and then she says in the course of that discussion Madiba went to the toilet about four times. Now ostensibly he was having stomach trouble. Not true. He was going four times because he doesn't want to sit in the toilet too long but he's trying to read this note so that he could equip himself. And the note is saying I'm in the country, I've got ways I can offer you techniques for communication with OR, you choose, you know your circumstances best. I can give you an invisible pen, I can have a book moving in and out. I am told that you have an ability to access videos, I can put it in a video cover. So I throw all these possibilities but all professionally designed. Amongst them I say is a swap that would take place as he and Ismail are sitting, Ismail would write a note and just put his pen down and carry on talking and Madiba would write a note, like he's taking notes, and put his pen down and next thing as they carry on talking Ayob would use Madiba's pen and Madiba would take over Ayob's pen and these would be identical pens both with concealed compartments so that by that time what has happened is that the message has been swapped. All those things were outlined for Madiba.

POM     When you say 'concealed compartments' is the message in the compartment so thatthey are swapping messages through the compartments in the pen?

MM     Yes. Madiba has put his message into this pen. Ayob has put my message into Ayob's pen and all that's needed is the pens are swapped and then after the visit is over Madiba in his relaxed conditions can dismantle this pen and find the note. It could be a note, it could be a tape because it's possible to have a radio in a pen like this. It's possible to have a transmitter in a pen like this. With London's resources I can get that anywhere. I can get it from Moscow, I can get it from Berlin, I can get it from Cuba and I can get it from the markets in the west. But I put all these proposals to Madiba saying you choose what you would be comfortable with. In the meantime I also said to him that Ismail Ayob, I've reviewed the procedures of Ayob when he goes on the visit, how the prison authorities treat him. I can put concealed in Ayob's briefcase a tape recorder and I can conceal the switch. Now that I don't tell Madiba. I said, "I can also have your conversations recorded safely, you just talk but they would be recorded by Ismail Ayob. You don't say this is going to OR. You have that choice."

     So what Ayob does when we review his circumstances, I said test it out, go on a visit, take the tiny tape recorder with you, see that you can control the switch as you're talking. We go through all these procedures in preparation visit after visit and when I send the note with the offer Madiba's response indicates, and it's a verbal response but coded, indicates, look, too sensitive. "I am under such stress here that I wouldn't want something elaborate. I want a very simple mechanism", and none of it must throw the burden on him to do anything. Then I said, "Fine, tape recorder is going to do the job."

     So effectively the main means was Ismail's visits and his tape recorder. The possibility of slipping direct notes and receiving direct notes, full stop. Tim Jenkin and them sitting in London who had sent me a book cover, I think he thinks it's the book cover that's working. I'm not reporting to them what is being used. All they're seeing on their bloody screen is here's a message from Mandela to Oliver Tambo. Next time they will receive from Lusaka a long message from Oliver Tambo saying please send this to Mac to send to Madiba. So they're seeing the communications flowing in bulk and they are assuming, he's assuming, it's his book cover.

POM     Why did Madiba reject the pen exchange? It sounded to me like an extremely effective method.

MM     In his way, instinctive, you have been sitting in prison for bloody 25 years, this bloody pen – and he's confirmed it, he works from the premise that he was bugged. He says even the tree in the garden they had proof that it was bugged because he says he went out with the people under the tree and subsequently learnt that there was a bug in the tree. He thought he was going to a safe place to talk to Kathy and Walter. So he realises he's bugged. You have this possibility that there's video cameras and you say, "Where are the video cameras? They must be in the lounge, they must be in my bedroom. Are they in the bathroom? Are they in the toilet? Go and look. No." He's already seen ghosts in this thing. I have to be sitting somewhere, opening it, it's finicky and it's going to be technology that I don't know how to handle. Those are the problems that are sitting in Mandela's head and he's saying, "I'm not that technical a person." His imagination tells him there's going to be some complex gadget and his response is, "Yes I will communicate, I need it, but please not an elaborate thing."

POM     So you've got to run. A question I'm going to leave with you: there are bugs, there are cameras, there are all kinds of surveillance techniques, he doesn't know even Gregory – Gregory could be nice to him for the purpose of just watching him. So why would Ismail Ayob manage to walk through?

MM     He walks through because they were devising how he walks within that environment, how he operates. I can walk up to you when I walk in and say, "Hi Padraig", and I've given you a note under all the surveillance. OK. My question is, have I debriefed you, Ismail, enough about the environment and the conditions.

POM     But the tape recorder in a briefcase. They don't say let's have a look at the briefcase? They don't?

MM     They would do the cross research and assume that this was part of his lawyer's gadgets. They wouldn't assume that he has a way of switching it on.

POM     But this is the question I want to leave with you. You are so meticulous about the way you go about things, why would you make that assumption that you would assume that they wouldn't know (a) this is a tape recorder and –

MM     No, what I have done is that I have asked him what has been happening in your previous visits. You are a lawyer, what is in your briefcase? Show me and I find it. There's a dictaphone which every lawyer uses for his work. I say, "When you go there do they start examining your dictaphone?" He says, "No, I never use it when I go to Mandela, it's in my briefcase." So I said to myself, "Oh that's fantastic. So if you took it out and put it out there openly then it raises suspicion in case there's a camera, but if you left it in your briefcase and I could work out a triggering device on the top of your briefcase, juston the top, on this handle, if I could work out a trigger device to switch on that tape from here so that nobody notices that I've switched on a tape recorder what would make these cameras tell them Ayob is taping?"

POM     I've gone into many jails, including the Maze, and one time I sneaked in a tape recorder. I did it because the guards were slack, totally relaxed, and when I had dinner with the senior personnel I began to play my tape recorder. They went absolutely berserk. Now you're looking at a situation where I'm a security guard with the most guarded prisoner in all of SA and I open your briefcase, I see there's a dictaphone there. My first thing would be, well you can't take that in, rather than saying – well, that's a dictaphone.

MM     Yes but you're not putting yourself in their shoes at the moment because they too had to begin to treat him as if they trusted him, because if you bug me now you're not going to start treating him as if you've got suspicion. You are trying to persuade him to agree to your framework of thinking. One of the things is that you want to use him, his release, in such a way that you could split the ANC between the external and the internal mission. Now to do that you have to behave with him that while you've got all these things concealed, unknown to him, that you're behaving with him in a very relaxed way. In the circumstances do you tell his lawyer who's been visiting him regularly, "You, strip search." No. You tell him to go ahead. If you want him to continue communicating and you want to pick it up on your bug, that's what you want. My position is different. I say, tell me the routine, anticipate the environment, and I work out that the first note can be slipped under the table. Of course I can't guarantee that there's no video camera under the table. I can't guarantee that. That's my chance. Would they have caught that in putting the camera – they said to themselves, this man, if he has a suspicion that we are recording, what will he think of? There's a tree outside so you go to that tree, your own garden and swimming pool, and start talking near the tree.

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.