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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
02 Apr 2002: Maharaj, Mac
MM He described how he made the keys, I took my hat off to him. It was from a piece of iron and filing it and taking it and seeing where's the obstruction and filing that. He made his by observing the key from a distance, looking at that key and then going to the lathe and shaping it, a wooden key which meant it had to be so perfect that
POM What was interesting too was when he talked about his prison experience and how he said they lived as white prisoners, they lived in relative comfort.They had showers, beds, blankets, milk and they had records and they'd send the warder down a list of the records they wanted to play over the loudspeaker system in the evening. I said this is no Robben Island! This was not politics.
MM Politics reform!
POM - since we never have, your prison days, your days on Robben Island itself, maybe your trial, I remember you saying that five of you had informed and you didn't want him so that a statement that he had given could be introduced.
MM In the justice system you have one or two opportunities as an accused in a trial, or you make a statement from the dock, that one you're not subject to cross-examination. In our case they were keenly disappointed when they got wind that we were not going to go into the box. Earlier they had said to our defence that they have a statement by one of the accused, that one of the accused had in detention made a statement to the police that ran into about 113 pages and they threatened to use that. A number of us were intrigued by that because none of the accused had informed each other that somebody had spoken to that extent and clearly the prosecution was alleging that there's alot of incriminatory information in that statement. So in our decision, should we go into the box, we rehearsed the possibility that a number of us would go into the box and speak under oath and be cross-examined. We quickly eliminated that possibility when we realised that that was fraught with great danger and the danger really was around the implications of the Rivonia judgment. The Rivonia judgment, the court had accepted the argument that our campaign of sabotage was not directed at human life. Had they found us, the Rivonia trialists, guilty of directing activities against human life the possibility was that - Mandela and company had got away with a life sentence if a distinction could be made given that we were being charged as the people who had recreated the High Command of uMkhonto weSizwe and if a policy decision could be shown that we had now switched to also taking human life then not only would we get the death sentence, open ourselves to it, but future trialists would be open to the death sentence.
The state was alleging through one of the state witnesses that we had agreed and set up an execution squad. Now the judge might find against us even though we would say that was not true so we decided not to go into the box and none of us went into the box. We made admissions from the dock. Wilton Mkwayi opened up by saying, "My Lord, I am a professional agitator." Dave Kitson, accused number two, got up and said, "My Lord, I am a communist." So we acknowledged that we were involved in the underground and in the different forms of underground activity but that we were not morally guilty of any crime and we explained what we did by indicting the apartheid system, so that was how we handled it.
So that was the position there and the police's allegation was not that the person who made that statement had become an informer but that under interrogation he had confessed, so that was the gist of it.
POM You were found guilty?
MM We were found guilty. We were a bit surprised by the sentences because the judge was a Mr Justice Boshoff and he was an interesting guy because in the 1940s he was an advocate and he was arrested during the second world war.
POM You're saying the advocate had been?
MM He had been arrested for storing dynamite in his chambers on behalf of the right wing, the Ossawa Brandwag, now here he was a judge presiding over a sabotage trial. In the course of the trial when cross-examining one of the witnesses George Bizos and an advocate called Zwarenstein who was representing one of the accused, David Kitson, when they were doing the cross-examination of a state witness the issue of the relationship between MK and the Communist Party arose - now the evidence was pretty heavy against me on membership of the party and the Central Committee and when George tried to draw a distinction between membership of the Communist Party and MK and argued, the judge intervened during the cross-examination and said to Bizos, "But Mr Bizos, you know what these communists are. They don't allow the left hand to know what the right hand is doing." Now that sort of remark from the judge had led George Bizos, Joel Joffe, the legal team, to feel that I would be amongst the people who would get the heaviest sentence. At to the actual sentencing I got the lowest sentence. I got 12 years whereas Mkwayi got life.
Now against Mkwayi there was evidence of membership of MK, there wasn't of the Communist Party. People of the Central Committee who gave evidence for the state denied Mkwayi was a communist but he fingered me completely and one of the state witnesses alleged that the Communist Party Central Committee was dictating the policy of MK. This judge was a peculiar guy both in his background and in the way he handled the case and I just mention that in passing because for me the joke was when the lawyers came and said, "Do you guys want to appeal?" I said, "The others can appeal, I'm not, I'm quite happy with 12 years, I don't want to go and get 20 years!"
POM You were tried in Johannesburg, so they shuttled you to?
MM From Johannesburg, we were sentenced here in Johannesburg, taken to Number 4 Prison where we had been awaiting trial, made to pack up whatever goods we had and then moved by van to Leeukop Prison. We stayed a few days, I think we stayed a few weeks from 17 December to about 2/3 January, we were kept in Leeukop Prison. The three blacks were put in the black section of the prison. I don't know how the whites were housed but the three of us blacks were separated and each put into an individual cell, given a fairly rough time there, assaulted quite a bit during the exercise period, so much so that when our attorney Joel Joffe, using the excuse that he was coming to consult us on appeal whether we wanted to appeal whereas we had indicated we were not going to appeal, but he used that as an excuse to visit us about ten days later and we were standing in the corridor, the three of us, he didn't recognise us, he walked past us. It was when we met him he just said, "I can't believe it, what are they doing to you guys? You guys are looking completely battered and run down." We told him that we were living in extremely brutal conditions, we were being assaulted. He gave us a copy of the prison regulations in the presence of the prison officer.
POM This was denied of course?
MM Assault was not discussed in the prison offices because it was outside of the hearing of the prison officers but at the conclusion of his visit he called the prison officer and said, "I have brought a copy of the prison regulations. These are the regulations, the prisoners are entitled to it and I'm giving them a copy. Do you have a problem?" He said, "No, no problem, give it too them", and he stamped it, but as soon as Joel left they took away the regulations. He said, "You go to hell."
Anyway we were moved then, two of us were moved, Laloo Chiba and myself, and Mkwayi was left behind. We were moved by road transport to Robben Island. We got to Robben Island on the ship, we slept one night in PE jail and then we slept a night I think in George or Swellendam. We had picked up other prisoners, our transport had picked up other prisoners in PE. We went to Robben Island and then Laloo Chiba, myself and Masondo whom we picked up in PE were put in where I spent the rest of my 12 years except that, I think in October 1976, I was moved away from Robben Island and I was taken to numerous prisons en route to my release on 17 December. I was carrying my books and everything in boxes. I was moved to George prison, then I was moved to PE, then after a few days again they moved me to Kingwilliamstown, then I was put in Kroonstad, then I was taken to Leeukop Prison where I spent a period and then I ended up in Durban Central Prison from where I was released on the 17th or 18th.I think we were sentenced on 18 December 1964 and I was released on 17 December 1976.
POM Were you in the same block as Mandela, in the single cells? The conditions would you tell me again? How did you manage to get in contact with Mandela and Sisulu and the others? How you managed to make contact with the prisoners in the non-single cells in the section?
MM You will find much of it written about already if you look at the interview that I gave in 1977 in the Defence & Aid book on Mandela called The Struggle is my Life. I wrote the preface and I gave an interview on prison conditions.
POM What is that book?
MM The Struggle is my Life published by the International Defence & Aid Fund. It contained writings by Mandela and it contained a preface by me and it contained an appendix at the end by me on an interview that I did with the Defence & Aid person on prison conditions, the diet and all that, the working conditions. In response to your question I was saying that for whatever reason, and you can't find logic in the prison authorities, what they did, (a) they put Laloo Chiba and I in the same section as Mandela and them but you know it is shaped like a U that corridor. The left hand U as you enter, that wing was where Mandela and them were kept. I was detached from Laloo Chiba and Masondo and I was put on the shorter end of the U in a cell overlooking the yard. I was kept there for quite a few months. All the prisoners were working in the quadrangle, I was not allowed to go out to work, I was just kept in that cell. I think two or three months later I was then taken out of that cell and brought to the same side as Mandela and them.
POM During that period did you have any communication?
MM No, well I could overlook the window and I could whisper to some of the prisoners working there and we could see each other. By this time Laloo Chiba had informed them that I was the one in that cell and I could get messages verbally in whispers coming through to me from the yard and I would do the same to them. So Mandela and company already knew that I was there and Kathrada who knew me well already told them who I was. So there was some communication going on.
In a month or two, or three months, I was then taken to the same wing as the rest and I joined them at work breaking stones and I was back into the routine but also I applied for study permission. They didn't grant me study permission for the whole of 1965. They only granted me study permission in 1966. Again, you can't find the logic because the condition for study permission was that you had to finance yourself and I had some money in my prison account but the permission for studies only came through in 1966. There was one incident that is not documented, that is that in 1965, towards the end of 1965 Wilton Mkwayi and I were called to the office upstairs one at a time. They said to me that Bram Fischer had been arrested. They wanted me to give evidence in the trial of Bram Fischer. This was how I learnt that Bram Fischer had been arrested, he had gone underground. So it was our first news that Bram had been arrested but the second thing was this proposal that I should give evidence. I had to think on my feet how I handled this question and my instinct told me that I needed to play for time to consult Madiba and Walter, so I parried their proposal by saying to them, "What do you expect of me? You know that if I ever went to court to give evidence I would only speak the truth." And Swanepoel proposed that they would be able to radically reduce my sentence and even whatever sentence I had remaining to serve they would ease my conditions. I parried that, I said, "I don't see myself giving evidence for the state." He then threatened me, he said that he had the power to subpoena me to court and every time I refused to give evidence they could sentence me for an additional five years at a time. That way he would make sure that I would die in prison.They said that they could come back to me in three weeks time and I'd better make up my mind.
POM Why did they want you in particular?
MM They wanted me and Wilton.
POM To give evidence against Fischer?
MM Yes. Wilton went in. Now I found out what happened when we got back to prison, to the cells, because I went straight away to report to Madiba and Walter. Wilton had the same proposal made to him and his response was straight, he said, "You can go to hell, I will not give evidence", and they issued the threats but he was serving life. So when I reported to Madiba and Walter I explained my rationale. I said, "I have parried for time and the reason is that I thought I should extract the maximum information from them." The advice that we agreed upon was that when the police came back I should continue neither to admit that I would give evidence nor refuse, that I should leave the ball in their court to force them to subpoena me. If they ever subpoenaed me we would use that occasion in the court not to give evidence against Bram but to use it as a platform to deal with the conditions under which we were living, but the key to it was not to agree to be the state witness and not to indicate that I was refusing. Now that was going to be a delicate act to play.
We then waited for the Security Branch to arrive. Wilton had already refused point blank but we were very clear what we were going to do, we were going to use the court room to publicise the treatment that we were receiving so that the moment I walked into the box I would use that occasion instead of answering a question I would just make a statement about the treatment we were getting. The police arrived, it was the same team, about six or seven of them led by Swanepoel but I got a shock because the moment they took me into this room instead of questioning me they blurted out the question, "Are you prepared to give evidence?" And I tried to parry. He said, "I don't want that nonsense from you, we know you. You are busy extracting information from us, so nothing doing, answer the question, are you going to give evidence or not?" So things went awry, I couldn't keep to my plan to parry and I had to say to him, "You do what you want, you go to hell. I'm not going to succumb to your question that says are you going to give evidence or not? That question I'm not answering, you do what you want to do." "You're going to rot in jail."
I was very puzzled by this reaction. I went back to prison and I said to Madiba and to Walter, "This is very puzzling." I couldn't work what had happened. A year later I found the jigsaw piece. In that intervening three weeks Indris Naidoo's brother, Murthi Naidoo, Indris was serving, he was due to come to Cape Town to visit Indris. In the meantime my former wife, Tim, had heard that during my detention I had smuggled out a note to Bram Fischer on toilet paper. It was headed, 'My Last Will & Testament' where I was going to attempt to commit suicide but I was giving my reasons and giving the information that the police had and saying what is the circumstance under which I am now going to attempt suicide because the state had now closed in on me in the interrogation room and they were saying that I had the list of all the full time MK and Communist Party cadres. Now that had allowed me to deduce who was talking in detention so I wanted to pass this information to say who is in danger and I also was saying who should get out of the way. And lastly I was saying this is my last will and testament because if and when I commit suicide I want this note to be used to prove that it's not me that's committed suicide but I have been murdered. Now that note apparently reached Bram Fischer before his arrest and it was kept safely. My former wife heard about this document and she demanded that she be given the document.
POM From Bram Fischer?
MM From Bram Fischer and from the comrades. So Murthi Naidoo was given this whole thing in its original form to deliver to my wife who was then nursing in Cape Town. When he arrived at the airport the security police were there and raided him and searched him and they found this entire document. Now in that last will and testament in outlining the information that I had now got as a detainee I outlined how I was enduring the torture and trying to extract the information and piece together who's talking, what do the police know, who's in danger, who's not in danger. So it gave a very good insight to the Security Branch how I was misleading them and they realised that I was doing the same thing once more. So when they came the second time they were equipped with that knowledge and that's why they behaved in that very funny way.
That's just a tailpiece.
POM Do you think your wife was set up?
MM I think that they might they were raiding people who were visiting us so that in the normal course Murthi was searched but there's a possibility that my wife was communicating with comrades in Johannesburg, tracking down where the document is and insisting that as my wife she be given the stuff and by that time the police had put it together that there is some mysterious document which she's demanding and which is on the way by courier so they searched the courier and found it. The plans of mice and men. So that's the story of that one.
I can't recall any other incident about prison conditions, prison treatment that is beyond what is not already in the public domain unless one went chapter and verse through Madiba's Long Walk that I was in the communications committee. I think it is there in Madiba's interview somewhere on TV how he, I and Wilton Mkwayi attempted to escape from Robben Island. I think it's not in The Long Walk but in some of the interviews that he did post-1992/3. We did attempt to escape and I've said so during some of the interviews.
Then about what I studied, the communications
POM Just to go over it, how did you how when you say you had been taken to the officeand then reported to Walter and Madiba, how did you do that? You didn't simply walk down the corridor and tell them.
MM By 1966 we were working at the lime quarry so it was possible to communicate at work, even though it was not permitted at the early stages. You know you were working with pick and shovel on this quarry face and you'd be working in little clusters so it was possible to move around and three of you work together and while ostensibly working you were chatting away. So that's the way we talked within the section. Gradually the authorities gave up on saying that you're not allowed to talk to each other at work. The rest of the prisoners, the communications committee, the techniques are so extant, so many, I must just look for some of the documentary films, interviews that were done when I was called The Scarlet Pimpernel, both were half hour programmes.
I think I have said on the record that from the day of my detention I had been trying to escape. I almost escaped from Marshall Square. Before I was due to escape we were moved to Pretoria Central, I was moved to No. 4 Prison Jo'burg, the present seat of the Constitutional Court, was foiled. Then I began to plan the same way in Robben Island but I consulted Walter and Madiba and Walter came and put a condition that the idea in principle of escaping was acceptable but that he would like me to abide by a condition that if I ever came to a point of actively moving into escape I would make it a point that I would seek to escape with either Madiba or Walter Sisulu, not both of them but one of them, and that I should not attempt anything without proper consultation because once one succeeded if we didn't act foolishly we would lull the authorities, conditions could ease and we might find it opportune to escape but that it was important that in any attempted escape I should make sure that one of them was with me, to escape with me because thereafter the doors would be closed again tighter and that I should not seek to escape on my own.
I adhered to those conditions and there was an opportunity that arose where Wilton Mkwayi, Madiba and I were taken together to the dentist in Cape Town. I had previously been taken alone to that dentist and I saw the opportunity for an escape so I put the proposal and we now actively sought to get to that dentist and as it happened they put the three of us together and they took us there. But having got into the doctor's surgery, having got hold of a knife and all sorts of things to escape and having got the warders to remove our handcuffs and leg irons in the doctor's waiting room, I suddenly looked out into the street, it was on the first floor, and I became alerted to the fact that there was no movement in the street below. I had a feeling that we were being set up for an escape and that we would be killed. He immediately agreed with me that the escape should be called off. Then we called Mkwayi to make him privy and in spite of pointing to the lack of movement Mkwayi felt that Madiba and I were being cowards, we were chickening out. Anyway we took the decision that we were abandoning that escape. Instead of taking us straight back to Robben Island they took us to Roeland Street jail and they put us in a communal cell. He was convinced that they were putting us there because it was bugged, because they could not now understand why we had not escaped so they wanted to pick up what we are talking about. So they put us in a prepared cell, bugged. But as soon as we got into the cell I had a stub of a pencil and I went and collected some toilet paper and I wrote on it to alert them, Madiba and Mkwayi that, look, we are put here I suspect to talk about the failed escape.
That was the lastattempt because I realised that something had gone wrong, they had got wind of our plans and our thinking and that they were determined to kill Madiba using the excuse that we were escaping and came to the conclusion that an attempt to escape that way would be doing more harm than good because I was very clear that the lives of Madiba and Walter even separately were too important in my mind to the struggle.
POM When you were head of the Communications Committee - ?
MM I was not head, I was a member.
POM A member. That involved establishing communications with the outside? With the other prisoners in the general section or were you always segregated from the prisoners in the general section?
MM We were totally segregated from the rest of the prisoners and the purpose of the Communications Committee was to establish clandestine communications. We set it up with the rest of the prisoners. We had a disagreement in the Communications Committee about communications with the outside. We were divided because Kathy and I, even before the committee had been set up, had unofficially started working out ways to communicate with the outside and so when we were put into the committee we shared the information with the committee about what steps we had taken and there was an objection in the committee. Some members believed that our mechanisms that we were setting up to communicate with the outside were beyond our mandate. So we took the matter to the higher organ and the higher organ ruled that we should avoid
POM Within the prison?
MM We're in the prison. The higher organ of the ANC took a decision that we should not at that stage set up communications with the outside. We worked under that mandate for a few years but the reality was that outside of the framework of that committee individual members began to look for ways to communicate with the outside. No formal structure was authorised but in the course of time the committee disagreement resulted in a decision by the higher organ that we were not to communicate with outside.
POM Was the way of doing this through visits?
MM Visits and letters were the key way but over time I certainly, with the permission of the Communications Committee and of Madiba and Walter, set up communications with London because I wanted to get money from abroad because I realised that while I could do all sorts of smuggling with the warders I needed cash to be able to go into a higher level of bribing them for communications purposes and also the possibility of escape.A letter that I wrote to an address that I had in London that I recalled, a clandestine address and a false name, that letter, while I wrote an open letter because I knew that the warders would read it, I then used invisible ink to put a concealed message between the lines but in the overt section and the concealed section of the letter I put in certain blockages. I said, I suspected the warder would try to intervene, so I indicated to the London person that I would only authenticate each letter by a unique event and I would only use that event once, never repeat it. That way that comrade in London, and because I had lived in London for years, I would refer to an incident that we shared which nobody else would know, a mundane incident, to establish the authenticity of the communication. London got the letter and sent £100, the warder brought it to me and I got him to cash the £100 into rands and he got the money to me. I began to use the money.
POM Why did he not just put the £100 in his pocket?
MM Well the promise of a further £100 would be dead. If he took the £100 that's the end, he won't get more, but if he delivered the £100 he got a cut, then he would get a cut from future developments.
POM In a way it was quite possible to corrupt warders?
MM It was possible but it was dangerous. I tried to corrupt a warder once when I was taken to Cape Town because they were taking me to Cape Town for medical treatment, we were alone, he's got his boundaries and I decided to make a move to test him completely and I asked him for a newspaper to read it on the boat coming back. I didn't give it back to him because I knew that in the port we would be alone and he then asked me what's in it for him and I said I've got money for you. To prove it I said, "It's not a problem to prove it, you can visit me at night through the corridor." He reported me to the authorities. They called me in and they put the charge to me. I said take me to court, even if it is the prison court, and I'll defend myself, I'm not prepared to make a statement. One thing, while I appreciate the prison regulations prohibit me as a prisoner from having access to newspapers So in a way it misfired and you had to be careful because this time it was the warder's word against my word and in a prison court you needed corroboration even in a prison court. So eventually I didn't get charged for that offence but I got punished arbitrarily, I was deprived and I was demoted and my privileges were taken away.
POM Was this not one of these peculiar anomalies of for example, if you took a prisoner in and you took the same event to a policeman the court automatically ruled in favour of the policeman. But you're saying they required some form of corroboration of what a policeman was like?
MM We had won many cases in the prison court by defending ourselves and this one was a very simple one. Only the warder could say that I had done this. His would be a verbal account. He could not produce any money to say I'd given him money.
POM Did they not search your cell?
MM I approached him, asked him for a newspaper, offered him a monetary bribe. Nobody overheard the conversation, no newspaper was given to me, there was no money given to him and they found no money on me. Now I would have a field day cross-examining this guy in a prison court. I'd mess him up completely and he was not making any statement. So what would they do in a case like that? Get the warder to give evidence, allow me to cross-examine this warder and mess him up and simply find contradictions in what he is saying and turn round to the court and say that there's no evidence of anything that I've committed? Yes, they could still find me guilty but what could they do with that? Deprive me of my meals for six days, nine days? Instead of all that hassle they just said, "Right, we're demoting you, we're taking your privileges, we're denying you this and we're denying you that administratively", and finish.
POM Did you have to go onto the mainland? Or was that done on the Island?
MM On the Island.
POM But they would take you to the mainland to go for medical treatment, for dentistry?
MM Not always. Initially everything medical was attended to on Robben Island. When we demanded dental treatment beyond extraction they eventually considered that if we paid but they actually brought a dentist to Robben Island and installed a dental chair. Later on it was not worthwhile and for one reason or another they began to take us to the mainland. In the meantime, I told you that my hand had been paralysed for years, for three years, so over that I had to go to the mainland to the Roeland Street Red Cross Hospital for X-rays and for fitting of not that collar, I had firstly that collar then I had the American type of collar. So for that I was taken to Roeland Street Red Cross Hospital, I think three times over my 12 years. If you needed an operation, all minor operations were done in Robben Island, on the Island, two or three times. Kathy had a pile operation, that was done on Robben Island, Nazla had a pile operation, that was done on Robben Island and the rest of my treatment I was never hospitalised on the mainland, I was hospitalised in Robben Island in my cell over a period of time, not from the beginning. The relaxations were a little later, round about 1969/70.
POM Black Consciousness in the first essay in Reflections Madiba deals with this but how did they begin to manifest themselves? Did it lead to real tensions between - ?
MM First of all there were political discussions. Within the Congress movement people, that's the ANC led movement, our lifeblood, we began to organise discussions amongst ourselves and those discussions led to exchanges of views with the prisoners through clandestine communications with the main cells and within the Congress movement there was very vigorous debate, very controversial issues, very heated debate on strategy and tactics.
POM For example in terms of strategy?
MM We began to study our own history of the liberation movement and clearly that study was aimed at a critical look at our history. A critical look meant through instances we had to question critically our strategy and tactics. For example, when the regime in the fifties, probably 1957/58/59, decided on the removal of Sophiatown which is now known as Triomf, it was a mixed suburb, demobilised the opposition to that removal and we put up the slogan, 'We shall not move', the sub-slogan 'Over our dead bodies'. In our study of our history some of us questioned the validity of that slogan, 'We shall not move, over our dead bodies'. The criticism at ourselves was saying on hindsight that slogan was not in keeping with our tradition of being honest with our people. We did not have the capacity, we were strategically not prepared to say we would live up to the slogan 'over our dead bodies' because we had built no capacity to defend our people. We said that that slogan was a wrong slogan. It contained a promise to the people which we could not realise. Obviously a slogan such as that would generate heat because there would be comrades who are saying, 'You are maligning our movement. That policy was right.'
Similarly on the Bantustans there was a heated debate amongst us whether the decision of the Lobatsi conference in 1962 which decided that with the forthcoming elections in the Transkei, the first Bantustan, we would boycott the elections. Now while some justified that decision of Lobatsi, some of us criticised that decision on the grounds that that decision was taken against the backdrop that we had decided on the armed struggle but that that decision fell into the trap of avoiding the political challenge of mobilising the people. The strategy for the Transkei elections actually handed the platform to the collaborators, it was a very heated debate.
The armed struggle, what was our strategy? Was our strategy guided by classical guerrilla warfare as waged by the Chinese or was it based on the Algerian model which was more terrorism? And if classical guerrilla warfare based on the Chinese, was it realistic that given the topography of our country and the state of development of the economy and its size, was that model which relied on capturing the rural areas and making it a guerrilla stronghold from which you would launch attacks and to which you would retreat feasible in our situation. Then there was an argument that some believed that we could follow the Algerian model which used Morocco and Tunisia as the security bases to which they retreated and from which they launched attacks and therefore there was a school of thought that felt that the independent states on our borders would provide that sort of safe haven and base and we argued, some of us, that that was not feasible in our situation. So the strategy to be following in the armed struggle and in the people's war had room for a lot of debate, a very, very healthy debate going on in the ANC structures in prison.
Again for socialism, what was our perspective as the Congress movement? Should we continue the alliance with the Communist Party? Why the alliance? Again, lots of room for debate. One arena of debate inside the ANC.
In the early years in our section there were always two or three PAC people.
POM Your section in the single cells?
MM Yes. And very early the group of Neville Alexander, the YCC were brought in and there was Eddie Daniels from the Liberal Party. So there was debate amongst all of us prisoners about how we should work to deal with prison conditions. Do we tolerate the discrimination that was there in our treatment between African, Indian and coloured or reject that discrimination and if we rejected it what should we do?
POM Did that apply to things like food?
MM Food, clothing, everything. Then a debate about the form that our struggle should take in prison and discussions about the structure that we would have, a formal structural debate between the ANC, PAC and the YCC and the Liberal Party, and SWAPO later, about issues of the general struggle or discussions but again vigorous discussion where we would tell the others about our history of the ANC, they would tell us their history. The debates were ongoing.
Then in 1976 I left Eric Molobi and Amos Masondo. They were kept in the other wing from us so we were able to communicate in writing but the initial communications were about who they are, what happened, tell us about yourselves and they were asking us about us. I left in October 1976. The influx of Black Consciousness took place in December 1976. I wasn't there at that time but very clear, very vigorous debates took place. These debates sometimes became very acrimonious where, for example, when Terror Lekota informed his colleagues in the BC that he was joining the ANC, some of his own members assaulted him in prison with a garden fork. That debate too. And Madiba's essay is the one in that collection written after I left prison on BC and smuggled out. It's written in 1978, a very good outline of the issues that were being debated.
So far of the people who have read that essay on BC they miss the crux of Madiba's argument which is that while he is sympathetic, unopposed to what the BC stands for, he was raising the question that post-October 1977 with the banning of the BC movement it was now facing its biggest challenge for the future. Now that it was declared illegal how would it adapt to operating in illegal conditions? There's the challenge that if they determine the way based on looking at the experience of all the other organisations in SA, besides world experience, they would find the right answer but if they didn't rise to the challenge they would gradually disappear. It's a very prescient statement and challenge because looking at post-1977 to the present it was the failure of the BC to answer that question.
Those were the debates going on. That's in addition to studying socialism and all the isms and the experience of the Soviet Union, of China, of Cuba, whatever we could lay our hands on, every part of the world. As I say in my introduction, we made every part of the struggle of every part of the world our own struggle. We were up in arms, we read everything that we could, smuggled in every information and tried to learn from it.
POM As the years went by Robben Island moved from being a very harsh place to, as routines set in
MM Things relaxed, things would tighten up, things would relax, food improved and they began to give some prisoners beds. They gave us a desk at which you stood and worked. Then six months later they gave us benches, then they allowed us to make our own bookshelves using cardboard. Then they allowed us to make a homemade draughts board, then they allowed us to buy a chess set, then they allowed us to hold a concert over Christmas. The next thing is they allowed us to have a concert over Easter weekend. Then Madiba, after I left prison, demanded permission to consult prisoners in the other section and they allowed them to have a joint meeting of the two delegations. They took us to cinema. They introduced radio taped music. In 1979 or so they allowed them to subscribe to newspapers, they censored the newspapers heavily and then a few years later they censored it more lightly and then something happened outside and they censored tightly by cutting off certain news items.
Then working conditions, they first had us breaking stones with a hammer, they moved us to the quarry and we were stuck there till the seventies. We demanded a change, they took us to collect seaweed, then they brought us back to the quarry. Then they stopped taking them out to work. They built a tennis court inside the quadrangle. First we began to play tenniquoits then they allowed us to build a tennis court. While I was still there they allowed us to be taken out on a Saturday to go and play soccer in the veldt amongst ourselves, just the 20 of us, and then they didn't allow us to go and play soccer.
So it kept changing but over the period of time the work regimen became easier, I think there was a steady improvement in the diet and there was a bit of relaxation but within the framework of the apartheid thinking that they could never concede to our demands, that against our demands and our action there would be a tightening of the screws, a loosening of one shackle and a tightening on another one. Never were they capable of relaxing conditions by saying, "Look chaps - "
POM To pursue relaxation of conditions is not to make demands for conditions to be made.
MM There was no easy answer of their strategy because I think it was correct to demand but when you didn't like a thing how do you handle it? Some things for example, right at the beginning they didn't allow us to go out for showers or anything so we demanded showers, so they took us at five o'clock in the morning and put us under cold showers. Now that's not pleasant in Robben Island but after a while we began to enjoy it and we began to show that we were enjoying it, even though we hated it. The moment they saw we were enjoying it they stopped it. They stopped the showers at five in the morning because they thought we were enjoying it. And at other times you showed you were not liking it and you put a huge resistance they wouldn't cave in. You went on hunger strike, six months later they would change, they would concede as aspect of your demand but they would tighten up on your visits or they would tighten up on your censorship, so while they would relax the overt brutality they would tighten up on the psychological brutality.
I think it's in the nature of struggle that we had to organise ourselves as prisoners and we had to pursue struggles even by launching hunger strikes. I don't think there's an answer that said if you had taken up a compromise position you would have gone further. The history outside of our society belies that.
POM Study privileges?
MM Madiba won the right, the study privilege, even while he was awaiting the Rivonia trial with permission to study the LLB through London University. By the time he's moved to Robben Island and all of us joined together they put a restriction, we could only register for correspondence courses with UNISA and for pre-matric and matric studies we could do it through Rapid Results College, which is a correspondence college. Madiba insisted that he had been given permission to do the LLB London and that they could not take it away. They allowed him to do the London LLB. They then restricted us to an undergraduate degree. That restriction was in force until 1968 when I graduated and I applied for permission to do honours, it was turned down, but Govan had been granted in 1968 permission to do honours. In 1969 they turned down any post-graduate studies.
POM You were doing your degree through?
MM University of South Africa.
MM Bachelor of Administration. So I completed the B.Admin in 1968, applied in 1969. Govan had been given permission to do honours, and Neville had done History honours I think in 1968, but in 1969 when we applied for honours they brought a blanket ban, no honours and no post-graduate degrees. They tried to restrict what we could study. We had to keep expanding the area of study. In 1969 when I was turned down from doing a post-graduate course I decided rather for other reasons to apply for permission to study at the matric level, at the Standard VI level Afrikaans, at the matric level shorthand and art. I wanted shorthand and typing, they turned down typing. They gave me permission to study shorthand and art. My reason for that was an interesting debate with Madiba, we had no access to watches. I said if I get permission for shorthand it is inconceivable that anybody could be studying shorthand without a clock. They granted me permission to do shorthand, I registered, I paid the fees and I said, "Well, you've given me permission, I've spent my money." It was the first watch on Robben Island. And immediately I got a watch, Madiba was in the queue demanding a watch for himself.
I applied for art, again for various nefarious reasons. I don't think I'm an artist but I wanted to study art so that I could get the tools so that we could make more equipment to conceal things and I could get the tools to do odd things, painting, cartooning, and I began to use those to bribe warders. I'd do a painting and a warder would like it and would want it. Sure, you can have it.
POM You talked earlier when you sent the message to London for the £100?
MM We got hold of, through the hospital patients in the hospital were given milk and we grew to like it.
Any system overburdened with rules must become capricious and must leave other openings. Every set of rules creates a set of openings. It's a mentality that you have. Tim Jenkin in the white prison, Jeff Masimola (who's dead, from the PAC), myself had that sort of mindset. You were not allowed anything in your cell. You were not allowed to smoke, it was illegal. Where do you hide tobacco in your cell when they are constantly raiding you and searching your cell? I looked at the water bottle, they had given us a one or one and a half litre plastic water bottle, a sticker, a label on it, a tiny little label of the manufacturer. I looked at this thing and found, hey, it's gum, it's like a cello-tape. So I took that sello-tape and preparing for the day when they would catch me with tobacco, you smuggled in a little bit of tobacco, you rolled it up in a tissue paper to conceal it and then I took the sello-tape and cut it, that little thing, cut it into narrow strips and would paste it under the bars of the door. When they searched they would search everywhere, but here's an ordinary door bar, who would think that under this last piece of metal onto which the bars are fitted, just a few centimetres above the ground, one could paste and where would you get the stuff to paste? So you paste it in there.
But the mentality was, you saw a piece of wire at work, it's got no significance but I collected it and took it to the yard and hid it away. Found a piece of metal, rusty, collected it, took it, hid it in the yard. Why? Never know when it's going to be useful. It became the main thing to make the keys, that piece of wire, a tiny fragment of a hacksaw blade, pick it up, store it. In an environment that is bereft of everything, and that's how when they gave us benches I made a concealed compartment in my bench. Why did I make the concealed compartment? Oh, I'll stash the communications in there. But from stashing the communications the next thing an opportunity arose to smuggle in a radio, a transistor radio. That compartment became the place where we hid the radio.
In the 1971 raid that bench was in Laloo Chiba's cell for that night and they took the bench and they turned it over and looked at it inside out and they didn't find the radio. So sometimes you did a thing because of an immediate necessity. At other times you did a thing because you never know for what it can become useful tomorrow.
POM It was as early as 1971?
MM The transistor radio we had in 1971 and then the problem became batteries and then two people were arrested in the main section of the prison over a radio, George Naicker and Peter Mokane and they were put in a straitjacket and tortured and then they were brought to our section and as they were leaving, brought into the other wing, we managed to communicate with them and found out that it was over the radio.
To have survived all that until the raid in March 1971 when Govan had that heart attack, Madiba and Walter instructed me to destroy the radio for fear that its capture would lead to collective punishment on all prisoners, not just on the culprit. And all prisoners would cause a problem between members of our organisation but between organisations. We destroyed that radio. Up to the time I left again we never managed to get another radio in.
POM What you would get on that radio would be in Afrikaans?
MM In Afrikaans and English, SA radio stations, FM radio stations carried state broadcasting.
POM What the state was saying, not the state of the country. It wasn't for your education, if you were doing history you were being taught history through
MM Through the text books that they allowed you.
POM That they allowed you to have.
MM But then we would use that as a basis to smuggle in other titles because at the university courses they would also have a recommended list of reading and we subscribed to the state library, which is the only library they allowed us to join. I remember one year I received a parcel of books from the state library which the authorities had now, when it came from the state library they gave it to us, the walls of the wrapping were wrapped in newspaper, somebody at the state library realised where they were sending it too and smuggled in a newspaper. Then you began to smuggle in books both through the state library, through other means. Now and then you got caught. We had got Nehru's biography and they wanted it and they searched all our shelves and they couldn't find it and used that as the cover and pasted it, glued it on to look like so you've managed to smuggle in Nehru's autobiography, we want it. And Kathy comes and says, "Chaps, what do we do?" He says, "Let's give it to them because they're going to keep tearing the place down and they'll find other things." And I said, "But if you give them the book they'll see how we camouflaged the covers." I recall in the end I think the authorities got so frustrated through that whole day's episode that by late afternoon when Kathy gave them the book, with my agreement after a lot of debate, it didn't strike them that we'd made a false cover.
That's it for today.
MM Still not done. As you can see my diary is in a mess. I'm working on Oliver Tambo and today I've got Sisulu's biography being written by his daughter-in-law.
POM You must do it.
MM Here's another one. David Harrison, BBC News.
INTERVIEW P O'MALLEY WITH MAC MAHARAJ ON 8 APRIL 2002
POM Mac, when you were in Robben Island how did your relationship with Walter Sisulu and Madiba develop? Did they in a sense become your mentors, or mentor you in some way?
MM Obviously when I got to Robben Island in January the Rivonia trial had taken place and given the background of Madiba and of Walter Sisulu I looked at them as my leaders and when I got to Robben Island in 1965, January, I was put in the same section as they were in the single cells and by the time I joined them at work and the more we got opportunities to talk and converse with each other I developed a very close relationship, I like to think, with both of them. We had a common comrade and friend with whom I had worked in the underground and that was Kathrada. I was in a unit in which Kathrada was the head in the underground and therefore they were aware of who I was and something of my background and so we immediately got on as comrades. But I have written in the Defence & Aid book on Madiba's writings called The Struggle is my Life, in that one in the preface I have described Madiba as being a person who you took a bit of time to become really close friends. You were friends but I believe that really close friendship took a bit of time to develop with him. I attribute that partly to his ability to maintain a distance while being very close to and appearing to be intimate with people of his background and I say it takes a bit of time before you can cut through that in your developing relationship.
POM When you say 'of his background'?
MM I think he has an ability from the way he was brought up in the Xhosa royal household to be friendly and appear to be open with everybody but at the same time he has the ability to put an undefined distance. In that preface I say that it took a bit of time to really become friends more than just comrades.
With Walter the position was the opposite. Walter is a very special type of person because his sense of caring comes through immediately and I like to think that my relationship with Walter developed very, very quickly in prison and that that mutual relationship was reinforced by a particular characteristic of Walter and that is that he has an unobtrusive way of encouraging you to pursue your ideas however much they may be outside of mainstream thinking. He doesn't put you down, he doesn't react to any ideas that are outside of the box by simply dismissing them. His approach is to question you very gently but very systematically and allow you the space to develop your ideas. I found that very, very stimulating with Walter and that combined with his sense of caring and concern for one's welfare created a very, very close bond.
So with the two of them within a period of two years of being in prison I like to think that we became particular friends and that friendship has endured right through. That does not mean that we well it actually means that we could laugh at our foibles and laugh at each other. That is why both of them when they meet me even now individually and together we start off by saying and describe me as a very troublesome boy.
POM Well it looks as if they're not far off! You said at one time that you learnt a lesson from Mandela, and this is just in the back of my head, that you were a hothead and would approach warders in a certain way and Mandela took you aside and said, "Listen, if you want to get what you want - "
MM "Come to terms. Pick your words." Yes, that I've written as an anecdote in profiling Madiba in Reflections in Prison. You will find that anecdote set out and I even go on to say that after that he was saying to me, "You are right on the issue and you're right to take it up but your problem is that we are living in an environment where the prison rules are in favour of the prison warder. So what happens is you get into trouble and because you are hot-headed you use the wrong word and that gives an excuse to the warder to charge you for things like disrespect, etc., and insubordination." He said, "Rather pause, count to ten, take control, pick your words, and then you can become even more cutting in your responses but leave no opening to be prosecuted." Of course in recounting this in the book I do say that what it has done to me is that I don't know when I'm really angry and when I'm pretending to be angry. I recounted that anecdote in the context of trying to give a pen picture of Madiba as a personality. I say that that self control was not natural to him, it was something that he cultivated and I think that the key elements to his cultivating that and mastering it for himself is his ability for introspection, to look at himself. But the story stands. I think I learnt a crucial lesson from him which I would now extend when I look back at my life to say that it is absolutely correct that in debating one must be forthright, one must be vigorous, one must support one's views strongly but I would add another rule and that is that you should never carry your argument, formulate your argument in such a way that you humiliate the person you are debating with. You may win the argument but you may leave a wound which makes it difficult to bridge that communication gap.
I think the other day I heard Madiba at some place say that you can only be granted your integrity if you do not question the other person's integrity. So it's a sort of guideline that in conflict situations it is important that you don't say things in a way that will humiliate the other party because at the end of the day the purpose of that dialogue is to resolve the conflict and you don't want merely a formal resolution, you want the content to be resolved around which you are disagreeing.
POM Now that's something that you would have learned on Robben Island?
MM On Robben Island and continuing into my experience into later life.
POM So in your life prior to Robben Island you would have been more aggressive?
MM Very aggressive, very aggressive.
POM Pushing your argument.
MM Often pushing one's argument vigorously one seeks to destroy not only the case of the other party but destroy the other party and I think that I have not internalised that lesson adequately even after I came out of prison. I think that I'm aware of that problem only now in my recent years.
POM The relationship between Mandela and Sisulu, how did you perceive that?
MM I have once described the state of our movement in the early sixties by creating the analogy of a football team. I think I was writing from prison to a friend in London who had been a comrade and had become quite disgruntled and in his disgruntlement he was picking on each individual comrade in the leadership and talking about that individual's weaknesses. I had to find a way to respond to him in prison so I wrote a letter that would get past the censors and I then said that if we look back at the individuals that he was highly critical of they were all part of the soccer team. The crucial issue in victory in soccer is that you should have the eleven players, that they should be competent not as all-rounders but that they should be competent for the position in which they were allocated to play in the team and that at the same time these eleven individuals were able to work together, in spite of their individual weaknesses, as a team. I actually believe that the leadership that we had before Madiba's arrest in 1962 was a soccer team that was outstanding, not because each of the individuals in the leadership were not open to criticism for individual major weaknesses but for the fact that they had allocated roles to themselves in that team which suited the capacity of the person and that they function together as a cohesive team. So Walter and Madiba in my view are amongst the individuals who were critical to the success of the team and what is clear is that the history of these men, these two guys together, has been one where they could debate, disagree and yet work together with the highest confidence in each other. I am actually of the view that no major move was even entertained by the one without confiding and discussing it with the other. That relationship between the two of them has endured from the time they met.
Walter, typical of his style, was always prepared to entertain and listen to ideas coming from Madiba. He was always prepared to arrive at a conclusion even if he still had reservations about a particular view being espoused by Madiba, and at the bottom of it it meant that the two had the greatest regard for each other's perceptions of strategy to tactics. Now this is an unusual relationship because Madiba was a university graduate and Walter Sisulu had Standard IV education and that Walter Sisulu was always, some way or other people gravitated around him, he had this ability to draw in people with far superior qualifications, a Masters in Philosophy, a mathematician like Oliver Tambo, a university graduate like Nelson Mandela. All these intellectuals worked together and Walter, the Standard IV, was there amongst them and he had this ability, had Walter, to draw into his team people with far superior formal intellectual ability and yet all of them whenever they came to electing somebody they elected Walter. He was elected General Secretary of the ANC in 1949. He came from this group so he has this remarkable ability and therefore whatever the disparities in opportunities that life had given them they were able to work together in a sense of equality. I've tried to ask Walter what was the secret of that and his response has been that he enjoyed the debates with them and secondly he's always been confident of the correctness of his position. So he could take on a Mandela who says we won't work with the communists, because he would take them on not just at the convoluted, theoretical thing but at the bedrock of his thinking he would say, "The function of the ANC is to unite the people who are opposed to the system into the broadest and deepest unity against apartheid. Now you guys are saying to me we must not work with the communists. I don't agree with that, don't agree." And he would be prepared to lock horns in that debate without any sense of inferiority because of their superior education and articulateness. That's a remarkable ability but I think it lies on Walter's side as the secret of these two people's relationship.
From Nelson's side I think it was the determination, the willingness to grapple with ideas even to a point of stubbornness but with a deep respect that what Walter was bringing to the table was a very deep human understanding of the human psyche.
POM So in a way you had two men, because this comes across in Madiba's autobiography, you often come across the phrase, 'Everyone disagreed with me but after hours of debate I convinced everybody'. It's kind of a constant refrain. So you had him believing in the correctness of his position and you had Walter believing in the correctness of his position but rather than it ending up in some acrimonious fight
MM It was an actual firing of intellectual ideas and debate but that could only be possible if the two had a deep innate respect. There wasn't any sense in Madiba that Walter is uneducated. A very easy mistake to fall into. And there was no sense in Walter that Madiba is exploiting his superior academic training to try and overcome in the debate. I think that was a crucial element in their relationship.
POM That's just one aspect. If you had to contrast that with ANC politics or the ANC of today, are those qualities there today among the members or have people when they disagree with each other attack as much the other person's personality as their arguments?
MM Well, no, it's quite close. I think that there are many layers to this question of the level of debate but we must not exclude the effect of having to operate for decades from an underground environment and particularly from an environment of an illegal and clandestine armed struggle as well as enormous repression against any form of overt struggle. There is an in-built tendency in that environment to push you to strategise and discuss and plan in secrecy, to do it in secrecy because you can always justify your position to say you don't want the enemy to know what you are thinking. Post-1990 it was a similar environment in that the strategy and tactics you would pursue in negotiations with the enemy, those strategies and tactics could not be discussed in a way in which it would reach the enemy so it put a certain set of constraints in how you debated.
I think the same environment partially operated post-1994 in the government of national unity. Again there were constraints setting parameters within which you could discuss so that you could strategise how you would try to operate in that government of national unity. I think that's the objective environment which constrains debate.
The second thing is that when you come to power you have a great need to deliver because you're in power now. I think the larger error, the source of diminishing debate, is a sense that political leaders fall prey to, that when they have decided on policy there is a deep reluctance to re-examine that policy because, of course, in the struggle against apartheid you needed a broad strategic perspective and any setback was not a setback that forced you to rethink your strategy and your vision. So you come from that background. So I say political leaders have a sort of tendency not to re-visit their policy especially under pressure.
The next element is that with the transition from Madiba who rose to a world status, for anybody to succeed in his shoes there would be a tendency to close around the successor and to look at the trappings of what builds him rather than the content. So all these events conspire to militate against debate.
And lastly, once you are in power you are committed to a process of engaging with people, the masses outside your political formation because you need to draw them into the process of owning the policy, of owning the processes. So a political organisation leading that process then cannot think in exclusive terms and say this can only be discussed in our ranks, because whatever you discuss in your ranks when you're a mass organisation is going to filter through to the others outside of your ranks. Adjusting to those circumstances is not easy. I myself from time to time found myself putting artificial boundaries, saying, "Oh no, no, this I can't discuss in public, I must discuss it in the ANC." And then when I two, three weeks later reflect on it I realise that it is not an issue that is so secretive and there's nothing wrong with debating and discussing even before the public because after all that way if the debate is well structured and carried out with a sense of responsibility that you are seeking genuine answers, then that debate before the public is actually a way to get the public to be engaged in the issue. But of course they are not seeing it that way. You may do what I do from time to time. No, no, this I can't discuss, because you are at the same time wanting to be protective of the organisation and that's not a cheap desire. It arises from a fundamental premise that it is the organisation that is going to carry you through to the transformation that you need in this country.
POM If there's one theme that I see running through threads of conversations in the twenties and thirties or forties or fifties or sixties or seventies or eighties into the nineties it is the ANC's insistence on unity, unity of the organisation is like
MM Yes, a holy grail.
POM A holy grail and very often things are sacrificed to maintain that unity. That unity is seen just as you described it, that's the holy grail. In the longer run as politics evolve in this country is that a good thing or a bad thing?
MM I think the pursuit of unity is a very good thing provided that you don't allow that to generate into unity for unity's sake. The unity that the ANC has pursued is in the context of a belief that the people make their own history but that to be able to make that history they need to be conscious actors. But that implies that you weigh things and you make judgement calls and you re-visit judgement calls. The danger is that when you have reached democracy and you remain the only cohesive socio-political force to move it forward, how do you adjust your practice to ensure that the debate takes place in a wider arena because you need to pull everybody together. You are now not just a leader of your own members, you're now not just a leader of the oppressed but you are a leader of all society and you need to draw them in.
POM What happened with the ANC's policy with regard to AIDS, especially on-line last week, an extraordinary response to the judgment of the Constitutional Court.
MM Well it's a matter of great concern because the point about it is that the facts are so clear. There is a pandemic.
MM And to keep arguing in the framework that he has argued when the evidence says that in spite of the fantastic programme you have based on the premise that HIV causes AIDS there is a demobilisation going on in society which prevents the energy of society being mobilised. Now surely, one keeps asking, it's possible that whatever reservations you may have as an individual you need to understand that the time has not arrived to pursue those reservations to a conclusion. What is important and what is needed for social movement to take place is to get on top of this pandemic. So having stated your positions and the relationship of poverty, fine, but now why pursue the argument rather than concentrate on the mobilisation that's needed.
POM But the argument is being pursued with language that is highly emotive, the opposite of what you said, confronting and accusing individuals of private agendas.
MM Well that's the point I'm making. I'm making the point, don't conduct a debate in a way that humiliates who you perceive as your opponent, they are needed to participate in the process that you want to conquer this issue.
POM It would seem to me, and I know we keep coming back to me, but somewhere it will be central because by the time all this is finished there will probably be no South Africa.
MM You are raising a genuine problem but I have tried to couch it to say the language, the style in which you conduct the debate must not close the door to people changing their minds and must not close the door to people being participants in the process of change and in this particular instance it's conquering this pandemic, it's changing people's sexual behaviour. You can't change that if the message is confusing. But more important you will not win allies from people who disagree with you if you have so humiliated them.
I agree that racism is a problem and remains a problem in this society. I don't think we can get rid of three centuries of conditioning overnight. I myself have to call myself up even though I'm black from time to time whether I'm not being racist in my thinking vis-à-vis other blacks, let alone whites, but that's because I accept that we've been conditioned that way. So a charge when made closes the doors to others to interact with you in a constructive way where you can impact on their thinking. It comes back to the point, don't humiliate because the labels tend to humiliate us, they fix you in a box and even when you want to step out of the box in which you are you can't. Whichever the party is required to step out of his or her own box, leave the space for the person to step out of that box. It's not easy in public debate and politics to stand up and say I was wrong but unless that is said you are setting no example of how to build that unity.
POM Do you not think that the Constitutional Court gave the President the ideal opportunity to use space, that with dignity he could say, 'Above all this is a society of the rule of law, the highest court in the land, the centrepiece of our constitution, has made a judgment and I as President respect the judgment.'
MM There are many openings. If you have a frame of mind of unity in action you will find the openings but there are certain danger signals. When the ANC Youth League now condemns the Constitutional Court in a way that questions the integrity of the court, I think there's a responsibility on the senior leadership because the Youth League went public in its statement, both privately and publicly to correct them and to tell them that the senior leadership disagrees with the way they have put this. That's the message that's needed.
So I am saying the opportunities to retreat with dignity you can find always if you've got the mindset that says I'm retreating for a particular good reason, and the reason is it's militating against the unity needed so that there is a singular message about the change of sexual behaviour.
Now if the message is not taken up you begin to become defective on two counts. You are failing to unify, you are sharpening the divisions, and secondly you are failing to set the example that at times it is better to retreat and take a step backwards than to still try and march two steps forward. So it's always necessary to know that you need sometimes to take that step backwards. How and where and what opportunity you use to make that step backwards is easy to do if your mind says yes, I need to take a step backwards, and that's the problem I think. The hope for a step backwards on this AIDS issue is not materialising and so every effort to march two steps forward without that one step back is creating greater disillusionment and therefore greater impediment to that united campaign that you need.
POM What I found, and I know you don't want to criticise your President, but what I found quite frightening is the language that was used in the response. It was somebody lashing out with both fists, looking for any target to say that somehow there were enemies out there trying to destroy the ANC, the state, the people and indirectly attacking the decision or the competence of the Constitutional Court or the right of the Constitutional Court to make a judgment on a matter of this nature. The language was extraordinarily inflammatory.
MM Isn't that the point, Padraig? The point is not about whether I'm ready to criticise the President or not criticise the President. From my position of retirement I'm saying to pursue the argument in the fashion in which it is being pursued is counter-productive. I am not saying that the Constitutional Court is infallible but that's the nature of human institutions. What is important to recognise is that it is a fundamental building block of our democracy that actually distinguishes us from many other democracies. We have not just paid lip service to checks and balances in a sort of mechanical way. We were innovative in developing the SA constitution and living in a constitutional state and it is important to realise that we are actually rebuilding the fabric of our society. So respect for institutions is crucial. That does not mean you will not disagree with them but you state your disagreements in a totally different way if you are a leader leading a process.
Now I think at times there is an unconscious process at work here. In social change it's very easy when you come to power when you are not in power the imperative of unity is overwhelming because the state that you are challenging controls all the resources. It's got superior organisation, it's got financial resources, it's got an infrastructure and it's got trained people. What are you as the oppressed? You've only got numbers. Now you therefore need to broaden your unity so it's an in-built drive.
But when you come to power the debate is influenced by one of two assumptions. The one assumption is that the clash, the conflict, that generated the struggle is going to grow sharper and if that thesis stands then your responses are to keep sharpening that and use now the new-gained power. But the other way is to say, oh no, these conflicts are there but now that we control power we need to exercise it in such a way that those who support the opposite view are neutralised, are brought into the mainstream. They are isolated into little pockets of cranks. Now you can't achieve that if your focus is on a narrow argument of a scientific question.
That scientific question that is lying at the bottom of what the President has raised around AIDS must assume that the body of scientists are the ones on whom you have to rely how to move forward today. They may themselves come across further insights, further discoveries, which may repudiate their current thinking but you cannot move forward except by relying on what that fraternity is saying.
It's a fundamental problem because if you don't move that way then you are saying there is no such thing as a body of scientific knowledge because even our understanding of the universe today is built on a series of hypothesis which appear to be verified by what we are observing as we sharpen our capacity and instruments of observation but that doesn't mean that's the end of the story. We had to live with the idea that the earth was flat and then came along evidence to show that it was round and that became accepted in the scientific fraternity and we had to live on that hypothesis. Then we had to live with the idea that the earth is not the centre of the universe. Then we had to come to a concept of the galaxy but even there it rests on the concept that time is manmade.
Now are those things a developing understanding of the universe and nature? Nothing is sacrosanct in science but who are the people at the cutting edge of that? The cutting edge are the practitioners of that science and you have to work on those premises. So I think the whole question of knowledge and how it is managed and created as a resource in society is a philosophical question but the implications, if you don't learn by that knowledge, are very, very serious because you are flying against the body of knowledge that society has accumulated not just in you and me but in previous generations. So you can put the question but you cannot allow the question you have put if you are a leader of society, if you are a political leader, to now become the issue that dictates your response.
POM By rejecting you are in fact creating a basis of chaos because there's nothing on which to build.
MM Or confusion, total confusion. And you're closing the door to your retreat because the retreat now becomes a personal one. The retreat is not based on the knowledge that we today have, this is what we need to do. It removes it, it's mixed knowledge almost as if to say knowledge is separated from fact and it is not. Science has shown that fact is an essential part of arriving at knowledge but an accumulation of fact is not enough to be called knowledge. I think that the thesis that in social change the conflict sharpens after you've gained power and now are sitting in power in a democracy with the opposite view to say the conflict is there but you now have to manage it.
So yes there are deep issues of concern. They are not unique to SA but on the AIDS issue I think that the political leadership should be constantly asking itself: are we mobilising the broader section of our people to ensure that the behaviour change that is required is achieved? It's not a question of winning an argument, it's a question of changing a behaviour in society and that's not going to happen if the messages are confusing. Even if I may be right in my particular scientific hypothesis I'd better ask myself whether by the time my hypothesis is established what has happened to society. I think that there are real problems there.
POM To go back to Robben Island, what were the lessons of Robben Island that you took with you when you left that shaped your future development and role in the struggle?
MM Well I left with a deepened understanding that social change is not something about the order that was required in overthrowing apartheid, it was not something that can happen spontaneously and automatically. It needed an organised force that would lead that process and that force I saw as the ANC. Secondly, I left with a deeper conviction that the cause that we were fighting for was correct and that the success of that cause was overdue. It was out of sync with the rest of the world. Thirdly, I left with a deeper conviction that victory would only come if we constantly kept the people behind us and as part of us. The result is all the debates in the pursuit of the armed struggle from Lusaka revolved around arriving at an understanding of what we meant by people's war and that understanding was positive because you can't talk of a people's war except if the masses are involved. And lastly, I had left with the conviction that there were powerful forces supporting the continued existence of white minority rule internationally and that the struggle was going to be an extremely difficult one and what it required of us was to give of ourselves, everything of ourselves. So I left prison with the deep conviction that I was in the right organisation and I was required to keep soldiering on without reservation.
POM How about in terms of camaraderie, conviction, eagerness to help others who were in less fortunate positions on the Island than you were? Was there a cohesiveness on Robben Island in some way, not I don't want to use the words 'think they were special' but did they behave in a special way? For example, when you eventually got to Lusaka and began to work in Lusaka did you ever look around the people you were working with in Lusaka and look up and say - and this is the way they act. Gee, this is not the way we behaved on Robben Island. It's as though it's a different culture or a different ethos.
MM I wouldn't like to create the sense of caring and solidarity that grew up amongst us prisoners as a special category. I think in every human endeavour nothing succeeds like working together with people. What I had gone through, Padraig, was I had gone through detention and torture, I had seen comrades who appeared to be invincible go into detention and collapse. I had seen comrades who looked very frail physically go into detention and torture and come out stronger. It made me very modest about assessing and judging people. I had seen comrades in prison behave selfishly and I had seen others behaving selflessly. But what I had come out with through that experience was a faith that if you gave the right leadership a sense of caring and solidarity and concern for others would prevail. That is I came out with a stronger sense of faith in humankind's humanity and yet humankind is capable of the most ghastly evil and also that evil that it is capable of in a mass formation. So what it told me is that the good, the bad, the evil and good is there, the potential for it in everybody. The job of leadership is to create the environment and constantly ensure that one's good comes out and the evil does not.
So how we related to each other, how individuals conducted themselves in the end came back to a problem which says don't answer a problem by saying, oh my comrades are all bad. Answer the problem by saying, am I doing the right things to create the environment for the good in them to come out? I think that's where I stand from my experience in prison from a philosophical point of view.
POM The third comparison, that would be you worked for decades mostly with OR. How would you compare or contrast him with Mandela and Sisulu in terms of the leadership?
MM All three are different individuals but what I saw in OR was that in his own style he had mastered the techniques to address the same problem, how to get people to bring the best out in them and work together. OR had refined the technique of presiding over a meeting of 40 people, very strong willed people, but he had mastered the technique of steering the meeting to the point where when he intervened to summarise the consensus of the meeting he was able to string the conclusions in such a way that he virtually named each one for something that they had said in the debate to make them feel that what you had said was part of the consensus that he was putting over even to the point where he would cite you but his conclusion would be against what you were saying but he had the technique of making you feel part of that consensus. I think it's a particular skill that he honed because he had to deal with a different set of problems and it was inescapable that either he stood or fell by getting those skills. We were in exile, a movement crushed inside the country and sitting in exile with very little prospect because our borders were far away with intervening countries and sitting there almost in despair because you had no point of contact at home that was reliable and in that situation disgruntlement, a dissipation of your forces was the real challenge and therefore what you needed was the capacity and the skill to bring them together and in spite of all the hardships to hold them together with a vision. To do that you had to make every person feel that that person was important to the struggle. So even at the leadership when he presided over a debate you had to have the ability so refined that you were able to bring them in always to a step forward and never allow the process to degenerate into recrimination, despair and despondency. OR developed and sharpened the skill to an extraordinary degree.
Yes, when you look back sometimes you would criticise him because you would want as an individual for him to move forward more decisively, to take two steps forward, but you never could criticise him even when you felt unhappy with the decision taken that it was not a step trying to move the movement forward. So your disagreement would be to say, oh he should have been more decisive, he should have taken a more radical position, but when you sat back and said but is he taking the movement forward, you had to answer honestly that yes he is, and then you had to pay a very deep respect for the way in which he was balancing despair, despondency and the tendency to fracture and holding it together and moving it forward.
So you ask me his special characteristic, I think that's what I see in him. I have seen him in moments of firmness. I have seen him in moments of anger but I have never seen him in a moment where I could walk out and say he's been unfair. I've seen him in debates come out very sharp but never in his conclusion did he make you feel humiliated. It's a similar characteristic that I have talked about but manifested in a different terrain but there was this very, very strong ability and a man whose leadership you could not question because you could see that he was giving everything of himself 24 hours of the day. So the requirement that you should give everything of yourself 24 hours a day was never seen by me as an imposition. I never could question when he said to me, "I want you to go home." I never, even for a moment, hesitated to entertain, for example, a thought that if his turn came to go home he would not go. I was secure in the knowledge that if the need came up for him to go home and put his life on the line as he was expecting me to do now that he would do it. For that I didn't need an order from him, I needed just the request and I would do it.
POM In one of the interviews, the second interview you did in 1990 with Howard Barrell, (with whom I've talked and he said let's get together any time) you said you had been given a special task by President Mandela which you couldn't talk about then which you two you had thought that in the country and it required you to go as quickly as possible to Lusaka with a note from Mandela to OR and that you would give him the note and he would know what the task was and you would be sent off and it would require you to go abroad to do the task.
MM Yes. Now there were two sets of tasks, the one that I was alluding to was around the autobiography and the essays. I had to go and transcribe it and not reveal that Madiba has written an autobiography because the ultimate decision as to whether to publish the autobiography or not would rest with OR and if I had telegraphed at all that I had come out with that there would be inexorable pressure, why aren't you publishing?
The second batch of instructions related to the state of debate and the way we saw problems in the country with a sharp caveat that our assessment should not be prescriptive of what the movement should do and for that reason that aspect was entrusted as a verbal briefing that I should go to OR. No notes but I should brief him of the state of thinking in prison around strategic issues. One of those was what should our tactics and strategy be vis-à-vis the Bantustans. So that belonged to the second category, that it could not be transmitted by writing. I had to sit down face to face with him, alone with him, and brief him and not cause any problems in case the same issues or other issues are being debated by injecting it into the membership arena. It was a briefing to be given to him as an assessment made by Mandela and Sisulu of the strategic issues and leaving it to the private knowledge of OR so that he could factor it in in assessing the problems that the movement was facing. So those were the two issues.
POM Did you find in the course of that briefing any difference between his assessments and OR's assessments of strategy, tactics, perspectives?
MM OR did not engage me in debating it. He listened to me carefully, he obviously made his own assessment but I could see very quickly by reading the literature and the decisions of the movement that some of the issues we were grappling with were not necessarily formulated in the same way. It did lead, for example, to a paper being prepared which said let us fight the Bantustans from within and without. But just before that paper came up for consideration at the National Executive there was that breakdown in London with the Inkatha Freedom Party.
POM In 1979?
MM 1979. And therefore the moment got lost to debate it but the issues certainly were on the table, not necessarily sharpened and isolated as strategic issues that needed to be addressed, but they were there.
POM How were the terms of the debates set out?
MM The terms of the debate were put in a draft paper which said we need to fight the Bantustans from within the Bantustans and from outside the Bantustans but it culminated in the Green Book of 1978 after the Vietnam visit in which the idea that we should fight the separate institutions (a) by mass mobilisation and (b) by even entertaining some of us participating within those institutions to destroy them from within while others attacked it from outside, was a legitimate tactical move. But more importantly the idea that the mass mobilisation of the people, no matter how difficult it was, should be maintained and sharpened. I think post-1978 we were grappling with the aftermath of Soweto and in that debate the idea of mass organisations, including the Release Mandela campaigns, the release of political prisoners campaign, the anti-republic campaign, were all logical precursors to the formation of the UDF and COSATU and that was a part of the debate.
POM I want to get to the UDF in a while. When you were called back to Lusaka you became appointed Secretary of the Internal
MM It's called the IPRD actually, Internal Political and Reconstruction Department.
POM The purpose of that?
MM That was the internal, within the country, organisation of the ANC and it had two mandates. There were four pillars of the struggle, (i) the international mobilisation for sanctions, (ii) was the mass mobilisation of our people which was through the overtly existing and newly created overt organisations, (iii) there was the underground political organisation and (iv) was the armed struggle. Two of those areas fell within the IPRD namely, guidance to the mass mobilisation and secondly the underground political structures.
POM So at the same time you became Secretary General of the Revolutionary Council.
MM Not Secretary General, Secretary.
POM Secretary of the Revolutionary Council.
MM No. I never became Secretary of the Revolutionary Council. I became a member of the Revolutionary Council.
POM Now here, if I read this correctly, when you joined the Revolutionary Council you found that it had been decimated in terms of what its original purposes were intended to be, that the entire emphasis had been moved to armed struggle, that Joe Slovo had moved to the belief that the armed struggle was the way forward, that armed propaganda had been reduced to one department, I think, out of ten.
MM No, propaganda. Armed propaganda was part of the military side. Yes, de facto over the years one found mass work had been neglected inside the country. Two, there was no political underground in the country. Three, the struggle was being pursued almost exclusively in armed terms whether it be armed propaganda or sabotage or clashes with the enemy forces, and that in that environment the Revolutionary Council had been stripped of certain functions, e.g. the propaganda (not armed), just propaganda, had been shifted out of the Revolutionary Council and so what was happening was that de facto the word had become only the armed struggle will develop it, only. Now that does not mean that the individual comrades had become proponents of only the armed struggle. Theoretically they would still say the all-round struggle but in practice the Revolutionary Council which had been created in 1969 to take overall all embracing charge of the prosecution of the struggle inside the country while the external mission attended to the sanctions issue had become blurred and by 1978 the Vietnam visit provided the ideal opportunity to re-establish the balance.
POM Let me ask you, what had led Slovo to the belief and being able to strip the Revolutionary Council? Was it the belief that only the armed struggle would achieve victory when if one looked at what the armed struggle had achieved, i.e. no cold hard numbers over the years, he would say you would almost reach the opposite conclusion?
MM I think it was not just a Slovo question. I think the late Duma Nokwe, Assistant Secretary General of the ANC, who died in exile, was head of propaganda in the Revolutionary Council and he moved that portfolio out of the Revolutionary Council into the NEC on the grounds that the NEC was the primary authority and that that responsibility of guiding the masses in the country was a responsibility that should sit in the National Executive and not in the Revolutionary Council. I think he won that battle but his was an opening shot that began to create a sense that the province of the Revolutionary Council was to concentrate on the armed struggle. I think in that environment Slovo who theoretically wrote against the detonator theory of Reggie Debray in South America, in practice he slipped into that problem, that position.
The reason was that to maintain the political focus in your work required you to have within the country comrades surviving and functioning as the ANC political underground whereas armed activity could be conducted for a while by hit and run tactics and charged with the responsibility of armed activity Slovo's practice moved into a practice that was contrary to his theoretical views so that by the time I arrived there and was appointed Secretary of the Internal Political I had to grapple with the practical manifestation of this dependence on armed activity taking the form of hit and run, infiltrate, strike and retreat.
All the structures that existed in the neighbouring countries were geared to that activity and now here I was charged with the responsibility of trying to create some stable base of political activists inside the country. Those were not going to deliver immediate results or tangible results and yet the pressure post-Soweto was to deliver tangible results and the requirement of tangible results kept on tilting the balance in favour of armed activity that took the form of hit and run. So that's the objective environment in which it took place.
Again, it's not a question of good and bad comrades, it's a question of which hat you were wearing and which responsibility you were carrying and with the scarce and limited resources and with not knowing who to touch inside the country who was safe and secure and reliable politically you kept on jumping around like a flea. So that's the context of that problem.
POM So there was again a lack of cohesiveness, if you want to use that word, about the respective role of different elements.
MM We were not functioning as a team, if you want to be brutal. We were a soccer team, the person in the left wing was constantly looking how to blame the right winger, or how to blame the centre half, and why isn't the centre forward scoring and yet it required a sense of cohesion and an understanding of the overall benefits that would grow by having each arm functioning properly. It was not a question of kudos, it was not a question of short term delivery. Our theoretical papers said we are in for a long haul. Our practice was as if to say we need to deliver something today, and there was real pressure to deliver today because the masses were beginning to move ahead of us in their rebellion and you couldn't sit against that phenomena and simply tell the masses to calm down. You had to take over that energy and channel it. I think that as a team in practice we were not functioning as a cohesive unit.
POM You had a fascinating passage here between Kotane who was the General Secretary of the Communist Party and whom you called a 'liquidationist'. Now when you were talking about that were you talking about it in terms of his saying he wasn't talking about liquidating the SACP itself but was he talking about making the positions of the SACP no longer independent of the ANC but as part of the alliance?
MM I was in prison at the time when this problem arose and I might well be prepared to concede that there was a greater wealth to that debate: was he a liquidationist or not? Because the objective environment
POM Liquidationist in what sense?
MM In the sense of saying that the party's existence as a necessary force was no longer that significant a requirement at the time. The more crucial element was to attend to the problems of the ANC as ANC. The environment in which the exile movement found itself post-1964 was that the bulk of our forces were in Tanzania. The Tanzanian government did not look favourably to anybody who was a communist. Even leading communists like J B Marks could not leave Tanzania for fear that they would not be allowed to return. In the meantime whilst the bulk of our forces were sitting in the camps in Tanzania a whole group of influential leaders of the Communist Party were sitting in London, Dr Dadoo and the Slovos, who because they were white or Indian or coloured were not being welcomed into Tanzania.
POM Because they were communist?
MM Because they were communist but JB was in Tanzania, an African, his fear was that he could not leave and come back but the others were being rejected entry into Tanzania because they were communists. But it happened to split the location of the individuals in such a way that the bulk of Africans were in Tanzania and whites and coloureds were in London. There were a few comrades of both sides across the -Now there was a call for the revival and regrouping of the Communist Party. This was delayed and only took place in 1971. That call for the revival had its centre both in London and in the camps and in the camps, therefore, it was African comrades calling for the recreation of the party as a viable organisation.
POM Would these have been mostly of uMkhonto?
MM uMkhonto people, almost exclusively. But the same argument had arisen amongst us in prison, that's why I'm being modest, whether it's fair to call Kotane liquidationist as he was dubbed in the debate while I was not there. In prison I am one of those who said we need to create not just the ANC but the Communist Party and Madiba opposed that. In the debates that we had Madiba challenged us, those of us who were saying recreate the party, and Walter Sisulu. Madiba said, "We are living here in prison. Any political organisation that we create is illegal. What are the tasks that we need to perform here? First and foremost we need to hold ourselves together as a single force. Do you need two organisations to do that? We need to politically educate ourselves and keep ourselves alive, do we need two organisations for that?" And the answer was we do not have to create a proliferation of political organisations that when you talk of a political education, when I said to him, "What about Marxism?" he said, "In the political education we carry out we will have space for the members to study Marxism as well. Now what's your objection?" I said, "Well there's a special discipline to the party." He said, "How special is that discipline in the conditions in which you are living from the discipline that we require that will be brought by the ANC? Do you need two parallel organisations? Won't that create more problems for us than resolve problems?" I personally had to concede to that argument, that he was right.
Now I'm saying, does that legitimately allow me to say I was liquidationist in prison? I don't think so. So Kotane was dealing with a problem specifically tailored by the African context in the environment of Tanzania and the reality that we needed to hold the forces in the camps and not have them divided.
On the other hand comrades dissatisfied with the leadership being manifested by the movement as located in Tanzania, who said, 'Why aren't we going home to fight?' found a common ground with comrades who sat in London feeling isolated from the struggle and therefore the demand to recreate the party only manifested itself in 1971 when the Communist Party Central Committee met and finally regrouped itself.
So I'm saying that's the debate and to call Kotane now simply a liquidationist with the implication that either he did not want the party to exist or that he wanted the party to be marginalised is maybe a bit too harsh a judgement.
POM Did the ANC have any part in this debate at all or was this like a debate internal to the SACP itself?
MM The debate inevitably, because they were living cheek by jowl, was inside the party but it flowed beyond the party boundaries. It's not possible sitting in prison in the isolation cell to think that you'd have a debate when you are all comrades of the ANC and you're having a little debate in a smaller grouping to think that in the disagreements it would not become known to the others. It happened in the main section of the prison. Certain comrades called together a grouping and called themselves Mpabanga, which means 'we the poor'. That became a guise for some of the comrades to create a mechanism for communists so the result is we got a complaint because divisions began to manifest itself in our ranks because they would have Marxist lectures at lunch break at work and when a comrade who was not part of that grouping tried to walk in he was told, no this is not for you. And he says, "What's this? They are my comrades but they're saying this is not for me." The debate broke out into the open. It was communicated to us in the single cells and it was told to us that this has now led to major, major divisions amongst our people in the main section of the prison.
Again, we had to interact with them to say, "Comrades, even though your motive may be good, the effect of what you are doing is to distinguish between us, a body of ANC cadres, as if one is better than the other because the programmatic issues that you've got to tackle here are not what action to take but can we arm ourselves with a theoretical and analytical understanding of our repression in this country so that we come out more convinced fighters for freedom." That we allow knowledge of Marxism to be made to any one of us who are interested in it, but the fact that I become interested in Marxism should not make me superior in any way to Padraig who has not studied Marxism because we cannot afford that sort of distinction to arise between us.
Those were debates and all I'm saying is that the categorisation that arose in the early seventies and the accusation that Moses Kotane was a liquidationist is a bit too glib a labelling. It did not convey the flavour of the context in which the questions were being debated.
POM If the people in the camps in Tanzania were mostly communist was there a possibility that if you took a group of them and sent them on a mission into SA and said return to Tanzania that the Tanzanian government would say ?
MM The Tanzanian government would only have known of those who were high profile and I think it would be wrong to conclude that most of the people in MK in Tanzanian camps were communists. No. A dispute did break out in the seventies where what is called now in the literature, the 'gang of eight' clashed with the leadership over this question of communists in the ANC after the Revolutionary Council was established in 1969. They were eventually expelled from the ANC.
POM Was Joe Matthews one of those?
MM No. It was Tennessee Makawane, Ambrose Makawane and others. They ostensibly couched their opposition to the dominance of communists in the ANC but if truth were to be told some of the gang of eight had been communists themselves. For example, Tennessee Makawane had been a member of the Communist Party. So that was a convoluted debate but what I am saying is, to say the bulk of the people in Tanzania in MK were communists is not accurate but they were living in an environment where it was agreed that there is nothing wrong with your studying Marxism or being a communist. The question was, should the Communist Party begin to take a more higher profile role? Should it operate as an independent entity in that environment? Kotane's view was far more nuanced because, remember, he died General Secretary of the Communist Party, even post-1971. But people who could not get to grips with his thinking characterised him as a liquidationist.
What that pointed to is that how easy it is in a discourse and debate to do what is normal in the building up of knowledge to categorise and from category is to label and from label to actually distort the reality. That's a necessary part of scientific discourse. Even biology couldn't have gone forward without taking plants and animals and categorising them by characteristic but fortunately in science those labels have very clear characteristics whereas in political and social debate the characteristics that go with those labels are not as neat and there is a great danger in labelling.
On reflection now over the years I think it is too easy to characterise Kotane as liquidationist. On the other hand does that not mean that he was taking into account sufficiently the problems that comrades were facing. I think a good bit of that was also influenced from the side of those who wanted the party to exist were the problems that were arising from the Sino-Soviet dispute. That was impacting on divisions in the ranks and the glib answer was let's create the party so that the party can authentically say what is the line and that that would get rid of that debate which was being divisive.
POM You were saying that the SACP should take a higher one line was that the SACP should take a higher profile? There was no need for the SACP because communists were already in positions of authority and power in the ANC.
MM In the thinking of the day and in the knowledge that one had of the Communist Party up to then it was necessary that it should exist as a separate entity. The question was, what role should it play in the national liberation struggle? Could it be the determinant of the strategy and tactics that you pursued in the national liberation struggle?
The party had adjusted significantly when Moses Kotane rose to the leadership of the party in the forties. He was a major driver for the synthesising of the goal of socialism with an understanding of African nationalism and a need for this national liberation struggle. It was also at that time the only non-racial organisation. In the thinking of the time the independent existence of the party was accepted but the belief that by its independent existence it would minimise the internal debates was maybe a false thinking because the real issue that the movement was facing was not just determining the strategy and tactics but finding ways for the tactical and operational level to take the struggle into the country. That was the real burning issue and the existence or non-existence of the party was not going to significantly contribute to that at that stage. I think the re-grouping of the party in 1971 did contribute to helping the movement find an answer to that question but it could not be on the basis that the party was going to be the sole determinant.
POM When was that debate clarified?
MM That debate never took that form because our history as a communist party was to say we avoid deciding what is good for the ANC and discuss on the long termperspective how do we contribute to the struggle at the present phase and how do we ensure that there is a backbone in the struggle that would take it further beyond national liberation? And hence the party in 1962 had come up with the idea of the two stages of the struggle by characterising this struggle as a colonialism of a special kind, that you had to overcome colonialism to create the basis for a further development of the struggle to socialise and therefore there was a common unity of purpose between communists and the ANC members in getting rid of colonialism.
POM I understand that particularly post-1976 that the ANC had to assert itself in some way and show it had some presence in the country and that hit and run operations served a purpose, kept the morale of the people up, it showed you had a presence. It's like even if you're on losing side when you score a goal you cheer. But was Slovo convinced the way forward was that the primary instrument in achieving liberation was in fact through an armed struggle and how did he envisage that armed struggle?
MM When he wrote in his writings he envisaged it as a people's war, that is involving mass mobilisation, underground political work and armed activity and escalating into almost classical guerrilla war. In his mind the debate on classical guerrilla warfare resided over whether in the conditions of SA we could envisage the Chinese type of classical guerrilla warfare where you win territory in a rural area as a base or whether you try to contest leadership in the urban area. He, at the time, gravitated to the urban area and then would swing back and people's war resolved the dilemma in the sense that it entertained the possibility of a general insurrection backed by us. That debate could not be resolved except by development of the events in the country. To his credit when the issue of negotiations arose initially he had grave reservations but by 1989 he bought into the idea of a real possibility of negotiations delivering a forward movement and therefore now making it irrelevant by 1991 to pursue a part of people's war and that I think is to his credit because along that road he became the author of the sunset clauses which was a strategic move which provided a framework to allow the negotiation process to be successful.
So Slovo, to be fair to him, however much his practice may at times have deviated from his theory, did show a capacity over his life to adjust to a reality. I have the same view that he, in the Communist Party, was bold enough to write a thesis called Has Socialism Failed? Some of us criticised that document in its draft stage but our criticism was if it has not failed what is the way forward? Your thesis does not examine that. I think he would be the first to admit that while he could answer the questions of the distortions of the socialist experiment in the Soviet Union I think that by the time I parted company with the Communist Party in 1991 he recognised that that thesis was but one step and he was still grappling with what's the answer. I am not so sure whether he arrived at a process of disillusionment to the degree that he could share a view with me that the Soviet experiment was a disaster in the development of human society to the point where I sit down and try to ask the question where and in what respect was it fatally flawed beyond attributing it to the imperialist powers? What were the internal dynamics that made it as an experiment fatally flawed? I would like to think that it was a question that agitated his mind but he was chairman of the Communist Party and there is no evidence that at the time of his death, if he had entertained that question, that he had arrived at any answer.
POM Where in this did Chris Hani, one name again that you have rarely referred to in our talks - ?
MM Chris Hani had two essential pillars to his thinking. One, from youth he had gravitated to the Communist Party so he was a powerful defender of the communist cause. Number two, he had committed himself to the armed struggle, undergone military training, fought in the then Rhodesia and was a militant in the prosecution of the armed struggle. But he settled in Lesotho in 1973 and until 1978 he was virtually out of the mainstream of debates and when he came abroad, exited from Lesotho in 1979, he re-occupied his positions in an active sense in the Communist Party and in MK. I think his passion was in prosecuting a militant armed struggle. His passion for communism was not a pre-occupation with any consideration of the theoretical re-examination in the light of the experience of the socialist countries. I don't recall him intervening in any of those debates in any significant way but I recall him often intervening in the debates on the need to prosecute the armed struggle at home and people's war. Chris had been a bold thinker because after the Rhodesian campaign of 1968/69, Wanke, he was the leading petitioner in criticising the leadership of the movement for its half-heartedness and inadequacy in prosecuting the struggle at home.
POM In fact he was hauled before a tribunal and saved by one vote.
MM Yes. So he had a capacity for bold thinking. He was courageous but he was driven by the need to militantly prosecute the armed struggle and at the same time by a deep, deep commitment to the communist cause.
POM Taking from Tambo's visit to Vietnam, the evolution of the concept that the struggle should be pursued through a people's war, the rise of the mass movement internally in SA itself, what is the link-up here between the two and the - ?
MM Before I answer that question, the experiences of Vietnam were already, because we had the luxury in prison to sit and think and then spend our time trying to smuggle books and information, we in prison already were looking at Vietnam because I recall now in Walter Sisulu's essay his reference to Vietnam and he says here,
"In the course of a liberation war there are many long and dark days. The tiny nation of Vietnam in a war that stretched over more than 30 years faced many such bleak moments but a people who want freedom, who are prepared to fight for it, are capable of superhuman efforts. We face a powerful enemy but never can it match the strength of the enemy the Vietnamese fought and vanquished."
Now it was not a glib thing. We had smuggled books and I don't know whether in the essay there are passages which do not refer to that in many detailed aspects but certainly he was drawing from that experience when he discussed the armed struggle and his discussion of the armed struggle will show, and so does Madiba's, that in prison the concept that we had come to was people's war whereas outside it needed the visit to Vietnam in 1978 to come to the conclusion of people's war as our way forward.
An interesting thing because it shows the confluence and the parallel thinking but the different realities into which you could move people. I don't think in prison every ANC member had reached the conclusion that Sisulu and Mandela had arrived at on people's war. So that's one thing.
Now your question was sorry?
POM You have the rise of the mass movement in the eighties and then the formation of the UDF. What role, if any, did the ANC play in bringing together the elements that formed the UDF and what influence?
MM Again I need to put this thing with a little bit of background. When I was appointed Secretary to the Internal Political Department in December 1978, I was called from London, I was briefed by Alfred Nzo and Thabo Mbeki about the structure that had been created, where it fitted in in the overall structure of the ANC and what its tasks were.
POM What structure, are you talking about the - ?
MM The structures of the ANC. I was being appointed Secretary of the Internal Political, how did it fit in, what were the other boxes, where did it fit in with the RC, where did that fit in with the National Executive so that I could understand what task I was asked to perform. Secondly, I was briefed by the two of them of the functions of the department and in briefing me of the functions of the department the four key strategic tasks, which became the four pillars, were outlined in writing. The striking thing about those four tasks were that the first one was mass mobilisation inside the country, the second one was underground political organisation inside the country, the third one was prosecution of the armed struggle and the fourth one was international sanctions. I am saying this because we must not think that the concept of the mass mobilisation was out of the purview, of the thinking of the time. It was there embedded. It's the practice that was a problem.
So mobilisation of the masses was something that had been featuring in our thinking all the time. Implementation was a problem and when in 1973 trade union activity revived in Natal it was welcomed in the literature of the movement as a correct step. When all sorts of mass activity grew up in post-1976, the demand for the release of political prisoners as a mass campaign issue, the rent boycotts, the education crisis, we kept on encouraging the need for mass activity and when COSATU was created as a union federation it was encouraged and the process of leading to the creation of COSATU was encouraged. Therefore now the creation of the UDF as an overall umbrella body giving shape and direction to the mass struggles was something that was already presaged in our thinking. In one of OR's January 8th statements I think 1981 or 1982, after the Republic campaign, he actually used the words, "Has the time not arrived for a united front of the organisations inside the country?"
The call for the UDF was made by Allan Boesak not in the air but in the context of debates going on even inside the country, that each of these overt mass struggle organisations were finding themselves coming across boundaries defined by those narrow issue-focused organisations. So there was a confluence of thinking on this question and therefore at the Transvaal Indian Congress at its conference when Boesak was invited as a speaker there were comrades even in the Indian Congress and African comrades outside the Indian Congress who were thinking there is need to move towards that sort of co-ordination. What form it would take was not defined and Boesak when he made the call at the Transvaal Indian Congress conference made it at a time when it fell on very fertile ground and very rapidly that call got translated into the formation of the UDM.
I think that the primary credit for that must go to the forces and the cadres inside the country but certainly there was an element at play in what we were saying from the ANC and what we were doing inside the country, encouraging that direction of thinking. After its formation, the issues that it was grappling with, should it be a single unitary organisation, should it be a co-ordinated body, should it align itself with the Freedom Charter or not, were issues on which the Internal Department and the Revolutionary Council often discussed and issued guidelines to be given to our cadres who were in the underground to adhere to in the way they functioned in the UDF structures and the way they participated in the debates.
POM So the impetus for the UDF came from within?
MM Within, by the reality of mass organisations and the struggle and the repression.
POM Were at that point the organisations in the country ahead of the ANC outside of the country?
MM That's a question that denies you the opportunity to see the reality because it assumes that the cadres inside the country were totally separate from the ANC outside the country. No, we were developing fairly close links with individuals.
POM Did Pravin Gordhan play a role?
MM Pravin Gordhan, Popo Molefe, all these guys.
MM We were in touch. The lines of communication were not all that close and certainly the Internal in which I was Secretary, we took a position that it's not for us to tell them what to do, it's for us to raise the correct questions so we never dictated to them 'form it', but we raised the practical question to say, comrades, you are right, you've got the End Conscription Campaign, you've got the Release Mandela Campaign, you've got the rent boycott, you've got the Education Campaign, you've got all sorts of campaigns going on everywhere, ratepayers associations in little towns, all of them rising in resistance, but you are right to ask the question how do we maximise our capacity to act in that terrain? And it must be by finding a way to co-ordinate those activities. They themselves were asking that question as well and they were posing the question to us, what do we do? And our responses were, the questions are correct, we can add more questions, but you have to think it through, you are sitting in a real situation and you've got to find a practical answer to this question.
And when they wanted to race ahead I recall advising them not to align themselves with the Freedom Charter. I understood the problem because at a certain point there were groups in the UDF who wanted to align with the Freedom Charter. Part of it was a need for legitimacy for themselves. Part of it was an ideological one with the Black Consciousness but we were saying, be careful, if you align yourself with the Freedom Charter you narrow your constituency because the revolt amongst the black people is wider than whether they are dictated, guided by the Freedom Charter. You need to bring them into your embrace so that they can share your thinking, share and committedly be persuaded to the actions that are needed. The alignment with the Charter will come later but under pressure of events here the UDF eventually took a decision, first to distribute the Freedom Charter and later on to proclaim it as part of its platform. That doesn't mean that they were acting in defiance of us and it did not mean that we were being out of touch. It really meant we were trying to address a strategic and operational way forward.
I think that the historians who have built this bifurcation between ANC in exile and the mass movement inside the country are actually glossing over evidence which we had to conceal for reasons of their security in the country, of those who were within the country, because the entire leadership of the UDF from its formation took Albertina Sisulu as its patron, took Archie Gumede as its patron. Now these were stalwart figures who were unmistakably identified with the ANC but there was a great danger if you said things that suggested that you were aligned with the ANC as to what would be the consequences here vis-à-vis the state. And indeed the Delmas trial, one of the pivots of that case was that the UDF was a front of the ANC. In fact it was my evidence, it was statements that I had made which were used by the defence to significantly try and rebut that argument, the state case.
The same thing had happened in the Pietermaritzburg trial before the Delmas trial. There they were charged for treason and again statements of the ANC made publicly were utilised as part of the defence to rebut the charge that they were activists of the ANC. But I recall distinctly that in the Delmas trial one of the videos in which I was interviewed which was widely distributed in the country in which I was speaking was used by the defence to defend themselves, to say here is a leading member of the ANC, he himself is not claiming it as theirs. Now if you ask me why did I say that, I said that both to protect their legality but secondly to ensure that they stayed on track, not to narrow their reach to only those who were already saying 'I support the ANC', to ensure that the reach was widespread into the black community and into as broad a section of the whites as well. So it was not an opportunistic statement, it was a statement of saying the organisational manifestation needs to be done in such a way that it does not deny you the reach that you require.
POM Or that if you align or appear to align yourself too closely or too overtly with the ANC you're just going to be banned and you're one more banned organisation.
MM You just call the enemy down on you, you call it down on you. Now that caution both by us outside and by cadres inside must not be read to mean that there were two distinctly separate directions. You take a Popo Molefe, Popo Molefe and I personally met face to face in Botswana during the time there was some festival being called at home. So the meetings were ongoing but the need for a face to face meeting was unusual. It was only when I knew that Popo was in serious security danger that I took the unusual step of bringing him across the border safely into Botswana to alert him to his danger and then to discuss the political issues and say, "Go back but be careful now, you're being painted into a corner because the enemy is picking up that you are with the ANC. It's a security danger for you personally but there's a danger to the UDF because you are the Secretary of the UDF." So that necessitated a very unusual step to send in a courier to bring Popo out and to get him back into the country safely. There were many of them who had gone to meetings in Botswana but the meetings were not restricted to hard core.
I'm working on the autobiography of Ismail Meer. We had in London - ten days I spent meeting three different groups from the Indians in 1979 discussing the correct strategy and tactics around the Indian elections. There was a huge division in the country. Some said we'll boycott these elections, some said we will stand as candidates but when elected we will reject the institution, and there was a cleavage. Even Pravin will criticise me. Unknown to each other, invited in the Pravin Gordhan group were two people who were participating but rejected the institution. Invited on the boycotters' side, now judge in the Supreme Court of Natal, Mr Thumba Pillay, unknown to Pravin, and we invited Ismail Meer a stalwart from Madiba's generation. Unknown to each other we conducted simultaneous discussions, days and nights, without any of the three knowing that I was meeting three groups. It makes me laugh, so much so that I would have an eight-hour discussion with Pravin and his friend every day for ten days and after I leave them when they are now going to rest and think, I'm off to meet Thumba Pillay for another four-hour discussion and when I leave him I'm off to Ismail Meer and as a stalwart another one-hour discussion. At the end of the ten days when I reported to Dr Dadoo we have cleared the discussion of first principles, what's it all about. Now these disagreements can be addressed because there's a common mind of what's our starting block and then one night for the first time the three groupings were brought face to face in the room and then told, "You have had ongoing discussions separately but I, Dr Dadoo, have a report from Mac that on the first principles that guide our struggle there is agreement. Now let's discuss what should be your tactics." And there we said your tactics must be governed by which one delivers the maximum unity of our people, not by some ideological commitment to boycott or participation. And they responded, quite shocked, responded by saying, "We will not go home unless you write a letter putting in writing your advice and you sign it." And we said, "OK we will write it." So I draft it and I give it to Dr Dadoo and say, "You sign it." The three delegations from home, they say, "No, Dr Dadoo you sign it and Mac you sign it. We will not go home without your two signatures on this piece of paper", and we sent it home.
Then Pravin's group protested after they got home and woke up to the fact that they had shifted position because they now faced the wrath of their structures, saying you went to London and you shifted your position. And Pravin sent a letter of protest to Swaziland to say he was misled by me, I should have told him I was discussing with the three groups. I read this thing, very aggressive protest, immediately sat down and wrote a reply to him. Point one, I said I've received your complaint. Number two, I'm sending your complaint as is to Dr Dadoo at the Revolutionary Council, but number three, I want to answer your charges from my side sitting here in Swaziland. No, I didn't play cheap tricks. Yes, I didn't inform you but if I just brought the three of you in a room, given the heat of the debate at home, ten days would not have been enough to resolve your problems. So independently with each group I discussed as I discussed with you. Why are we in this struggle? What are our objectives and where does principle and where does tactics arise? Tactics can never be principles and the form, the method of struggle, boycott or no boycott, if that is called a principle can we agree that we are wrong? I said that's what I discussed and once we came to an understanding of that I said, now the three of you are ready to be in a room because now whatever decision we take about boycott or not boycott is no longer a life and death struggle of whether you're abandoning your principle. So I said where did I mislead you? I didn't mislead you. I said maybe you are unhappy because you've got to now fulfil the leadership function of putting your money where your mouth is but that's a different question. Please, this is my response to your charge that I was playing dirty with you. I said I have nonetheless sent your communication word for word and I am sending my response to you word for word to Dr Dadoo at the Revolutionary Council.
And I think they got a bit of a shock when they got that reply. They didn't expect me to stand up and say I'm sending your protest. I think it led to a deep respect between us, what could have become an issue to become a matter of suspicion between each other into the future. They knew I was not dealing with them in a way that impugned on their integrity or my integrity.
I don't know where you took me to this bloody story. I don't know whether anybody is aware of this one, this incident. I think that that communication was captured by the state some time later, somewhere around 1982/83 because somebody kept the original and the security forces kept hearing that there was some communication and in the end they found it but it was too late, events had outstripped them. There was no mention identifying who the people were that we met. There was just a clear identification that Dr Dadoo and Mac gave this advice.
But it helped to resolve the conflict here which had spread into the UDF. At Port Elizabeth there was a huge bust-up around the tactics of boycott or reject, participate or reject.
POM In the tricameral - ?
MM In the UDF over the tricameral and our guidance was not saying choose boycott or choose this. We said in our assessment now in the current state of the alignment of forces it would be easier if you chose boycott but we said what we want to set out is the objectives, the need for unity, maximising that unity and the place of tactics which are not principles and therefore for them to resolve this matter in a way that maximises their unity. Then we stated our preference that listening to all the debates and looking at who's aligned and the different emotions around it, we thought it might be better to choose boycott but not as a principle.
POM This often arises. I find people like I interviewed until 1994 Allan Hendrickse who would insist the first time I met him which was in 1989 that he was pro-ANC and that he had determined that the best way to fight was from within and participation in the
MM The House of Delegates.
POM - in the thing that he thought he could do better operating in that function than staying outside but as soon as the ANC would be unbanned he would be ready to hop on board the ANC.
MM That was a problematic area. I made contact with Allan Hendrickse's brother who's a doctor in Manchester. I went to Britain. His name is Dr Ralph Hendrickse and I asked him to get a message to Allan and arrange a meeting with Allan Hendrickse to say everything that I'm reading allows us to work together but let's meet so that we can come to a meeting of minds. He avoided that meeting, subsequently told me post-1990 that he avoided it for reasons where he felt that if he came out for such ameeting it might leak and it might endanger his security. I accept his good faith but you see there was need for a high level common understanding because to set the agenda for his path on his own and even to set the markers at which point he would change his position was to allow yourself to get caught up against the accusation that you were more interested in your own interests and your security.
(There was need for) a meeting to see whether there was a fundamental agreement, not over whether he supports the armed struggle or whether this or that, whether there was a fundamental alignment or perspective which ensured that the forces that were attacking were aligned. As I say, the meeting never took place.
POM But in the negotiation process?
MM In the negotiation process he never raised the matter as if he was ANC. I was very conscious of the need that we had shaped the table against our demand that all parties should be there. De Klerk had said only political parties, that meant it was loaded in favour of parties created under the Bantustans. We said, fine, we agreed. There were three parties out of nineteen aligned to the ANC but we set about engaging with each of the other parties, sixteen, one to one, not on theory, on practice what do we do here? Are we in agreement that the constitution will be written by a Constitutional Assembly, that the CA will be an elected body? Are we agreed on that? Are we agreed, we're talking about a unified country not a dismembered country? And on those points the Labour Party moved in step. We were happy. There was no need to say, listen, are you ANC? Now if you are ANC you support this.
POM But his son immediately joined the ANC and became an MP.
MM That happened.
POM He saw the opportunity there what the hell.
MM Sure. Why measure individuals. You're dealing with a much larger issue.
POM I recall even in the beginning of 1989 that one of the markers laid down by the ANC is that they would not negotiate with Bantustan leaders and was that at that point a principle or a tactic?
MM A tactic, it can't be a principle. Negotiations are about negotiating with your enemy and people you disagree with, not people you agree with. So if it was to be maybe put very sharply as a tactic but by December 1990 we called for an all people's conference as the way forward. De Klerk responded, "No, only political parties, you're talking about a bedlam." And he thought he was sitting high because only political parties meant the majority of the parties were spawned by apartheid or grew up under its umbrella. So he thought, oh, I've got my cronies here, and we, secure in our knowledge that we were representing the interests of the masses, said to ourselves behind most of those spawned by apartheid there is a residue of a heartbeat of an oppressed, there must be a way to reach them. And we engaged them all and by the end of the process they all voted with us. Sometimes we had to reshape things a bit to clear the space to accommodate them but never did we lose sight, we wanted a democracy, we wanted a non-racial state, we wanted it committed to non-sexism and we wanted the final constitution written by an elected body and we said so. If we come out weak in an elected democracy then we're not the force we thought we were. We talked in Durban of committing ourselves to agreed positions, it was adopted as a declaration. Some of them were very unhappy that they supported it because they saw the end of their careers but the Patriotic Front Declaration committed itself to a unified SA, to a constitution based on a democracy, to a Constitutional Assembly elected body as being the final authority to write the constitution. They agreed.
POM Except Buthelezi.
MM Well, and Mangope and Oupa Gqozo, and they had to pay the price. Mangope, we had to go and remove him, Oupa Gqozo came and pleaded with us for help so we removed him and Buthelezi remained the problem, part of the problem and part of the solution. But my friend, enough for today.
POM OK. Thank you.
MM A lot of bloody headaches man.
INTERVIEW P O'MALLEY WITH MAC MAHARAJ ON 29 APRIL 2002
POM Mac begins with a list of the trialists regarding Vula.
MM Myself, Siphiwe Nyanda, Billy Nair, Pravin Gordhan, Dipak Patel, Susan Tshabalala, Catherine Mvelase, Anesh Sankar. How many is that? Eight. One more. Can't place it.
POM To move in a different direction, Mac, it's been sitting there in the back of my mind for years and you gave me at the end of an interview years and years ago a very short answer and then the interview was over and I left.
MM So you want a long answer?
POM I want an elaboration of what the short answer was.
MM It's unusual that I gave you a short answer.
POM Well you were kicking me out the door.
MM I thought you were complaining that I gave long answers.
POM I can edit them. It concerns Timothy Seremane, Joe Seremane's brother. I have interviewed Joe ten or twelve times over the years. I know him fairly well. I know him to be honest, decent, a valued person, and he has spent all these years trying to find out (a) on what basis was his brother executed in the Quatro Camps, (b) under whose authority, and (c) what was he found guilty of, (d) where is buried so he can take his bones back to the North West and have them buried decently. He got a very cursory hearing before the TRC which ultimately merely uttered a standard statement saying that his brother had been the victim of human rights perpetration and that was it. When I brought the name up you said, "He was guilty." The second person who said that to me was Hassen Ebrahim who said he was guilty, with no elaboration. I have gone and hired people and tried to find a camp where he was supposedly trained outside Mafikeng. No-one has been able to find any camp or a trace of any camp and no-one would say, well why would they train a man if you're to send him over the border into Botswana, would you train him so close to where he actually lived? So it all turns up as a blank. No answers.
MM Just remind me. What was the brother known as in the ANC, in the camps? What was his name?
POM I don't have that right in front of me.
MM I'm just trying to picture him.
POM We just spoke of Timothy.
MM I am speaking from memory at the moment.
POM He was in charge of one of the camps.
MM If I think we are talking about the same person, his path and my path converged very, very briefly. The person I'm thinking of had a background which said that he was of the 1975/76 generation. When we started opening our camps in Angola after the Angolan independence he had acquired an outstanding reputation in setting up one of the camps and commanding it, had developed a very good record. I am looking for people to send in the political underground and I come across a group of people who were training at the School of Marxism/Leninism at the Lenin School in Moscow and he was one of the group. I then requested, because most people were getting straight military training, and I thought that the graduates from the Lenin School even if they had done military training would be ideal for deployment at home in the political section. He was in that group and they stayed at my transit house that I ran for the underground in Lusaka while I prepared them for their political work.
This crop that came out of the Lenin School I had earmarked to become part of the political underground structures operating on the borders, that is Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland in that time. This would be 1981/82. I used to live in the outhouse. The main house was used to accommodate these people and train them. I think that it wasn't all six that came to me. I had Timothy, if that's the person we're talking about, very tall chap, very well built, very articulate, outstanding report from the Lenin School. Then there was a chap who died in Lesotho, also very good, and I'm trying to picture the third guy, he is somewhere in the structures. I'll try to remember his name, it might come to me.
So either three or four of the group came to me and I ran a series of discussions with them preparing them for what this work involved and how they needed to work from the frontline states. One of them got into difficulty at the underground house because he took the car that was allocated to the underground department and went out a couple of times without permission. I used to be flying in and out of Lusaka and I came back on one occasion where he had smashed the underground car and it was found that he had gone off on his own without permission, gone drinking, smashed the car. That was the first act of indiscipline within the group but Timothy remained outstanding and clear.
Then there was a debate when people realised that I had got 50% of the Lenin School graduates. I think there were six all told. And SACTU wanted people to be trained for trade union work. So I agreed to these guys also receiving training at SACTU head offices. This meant that they had to travel from where the house was to the SACTU offices from time to time. But again the SACTU reports were saying that all the comrades were very, very good quality.
Then on one of my trips back to Lusaka I heard that Timothy had run away and he had made his way to Botswana and in making his way to Botswana he had joined forces with the ANC comrade who was in charge of clearances at Lusaka Airport, he was known as Oshkosh (after the Soviet truck I think Swedish truck). He had the pseudonym of Oshkosh but he was the clearance officer for the ANC for arrivals and departures at Lusaka Airport. He sorted out matters, he was the link with Zambian Immigration and he was linked with the airlines. The two of them had run off. What had led to his running off? I had supported a report of indiscipline by this comrade (I'm trying to get the name that he was known by, I don't think he was known as Timothy then, but we would change names for people). Apparently he ran off to Botswana when he was told that for a number of small breaches of indiscipline he wasbeing sent off to Luanda, back to the camps and that seemed to have triggered his going away. Now this is a very funny thing, because here was a comrade who was supposed to have this outstanding record and then runs off.
POM So did that not strike you at the time as being inconsistent with your knowledge of the person?
MM Incongruous. Yes. But we captured the two of them in Botswana and brought them back to Lusaka. As far as my memory goes we put him and Oshkosh on a plane with an escort or two to take them to Luanda and Oshkosh when he was captured had a stack of airline tickets. On the flight to Luanda Timothy made a confession to the escort to say that he was confessing that he was working for the enemy.
Again, I think that when I dug into the matter the version that reached me was that while under training at Lenin School he was the outstanding one of the group of six and his instructor said that they found him absolutely outstanding but there was an incident which they hadn't reported to us, two incidents. One, the instructor had remarked on one social occasion to Timothy that he found it strange that Timothy was so exceptional that he could not be faulted at all. According to the reports reaching me, Timothy in his confessions said that that panicked him and he deliberately then began to engage in behaviour that would not make him look that perfect. One of those was a report that in a restaurant in the Soviet Union in Moscow he created an incident over the service and treatment he received in the restaurant. Now that's the only thing that the Soviets could say to us but Timothy goes further and says that he continued that path of deliberately engaging in minor misdemeanours so that he would not be seen as this perfect man because he was afraid that this description that he's perfect would lead to suspicion.
POM What's the logic there?
MM The logic is that I was now in charge of his training in Zambia and they had a certain aura about me, that I was so rigorous and hard-driving and hardworking. They respected me because I worked round the clock but they also felt I was a perfectionist. At the same time he used that as a cover to have made contact with a woman running a stall in the Lusaka market. I remember she had the name Margaret. She apparently featured as the calling point for some of the agents when they became re-activated and when they established contact with home.
But more significant in my memory is that when they captured him in Botswana he had in his possession a set of tapes which contained the lectures that I had given. Now that was not a practice that was allowed. Nobody was supposed to make any tapes of my lectures because I would be describing and dealing in my training with the structures, who they had to report to and how they had to do their work and what were our objectives at home. He apparently had taped these lectures and discussions and training sessions.
I'm not saying this defensively because I was not involved in that area of work, I would be passing through Lusaka periodically and moving off but oh there was a third chap, he was from the Eastern Cape, fair looking chap, can't place his name at the moment, and there was a fourth chap, Gan Cindi(?). The last I heard of him he was in the ANC Mission in New York as part of the representative team at the UN. Gan had been the one who had taken the car and smashed it. The one from the Eastern Cape he had featured in an incident when I arrived in Lusaka, and usually I arrived unannounced, I arrived there sometime at dark after about nine. I used to live in the servants' quarters at the back, quite far away, and when I got in I found nobody, no sentry on duty. So I went and looked through the windows from the back and I found all these comrades were busy playing games. They all had arms next to them but they were too absorbed in the games that they were playing, I can't remember, Scrabble, chess, whatever.
This was a tense situation and I did something reckless but because I saw no security guards on duty I went and got hold of my pistol, positioned myself in the dark where I thought I would be safe but away from the house but the house had lights on the outside, so I positioned myself outside of the range of the lights and I opened fire. I remember doing a review of that incident because the comrade from Eastern Cape, (a) I had done a reckless thing, I could have got killed and I almost got killed because whilst they all panicked this one comrade from the Eastern Cape had the presence of mind of exiting from the front of the house because he took stock in his mind and said if there's an attack it is unlikely that the attack will be concentrated on the front of the house. They would expect people to run to the back and there were only two exits to the house. So he exited at the front where I couldn't see that he was exiting. The others stayed in the house, put the lights off and tried to take positions to assess was this a real attack but this chap crawled out and belly crawling he came round to the back and in fact I was not moving at all, he could have killed me. I had to rescue myself by quickly identifying myself. He had reacted to that emergency by not just taking a defensive position but going out like a scout to assess the situation rather than leave the advantage on whoever was attacking.
Now an incident like that I used to review, when we all got together I said now let's sit down and let's look at this incident and let's look at who did what and who did wrong and who did right and how should we have conducted ourselves. Timothy was outstanding in assessing it, even in his criticism of me. The comrade from the Eastern Cape it turned out had done that scouting mission without any agreement with the command but what came out of the criticism is that the command structure of the house had collapsed.
POM Was Timothy in command of the house?
MM No the house was in charge of another comrade who was part of the internal based in Zambia. While this group were training to be sent off the house was then under a separate command structure but the command structure had collapsed, had not taken the leadership at that moment. But in the review it was Timothy who was able to identify what went wrong, why it went wrong, whose weakness it was.
The things that stand out in my mind were (a) the fact that he had the tapes of my lectures.
POM This was after he had been apprehended?
MM Captured, yes. And according to the security report that I received when I asked what was he doing with that, they said those tapes were part of the things that he was going to take to deliver to his handlers in SA. How and when he is tried and executed, and Oshkosh, both of them I think were executed in Angola, I don't know, because shortly after that it's those two arrests, the fleeing and the arrests of those two that triggered off the first wave of awareness in Lusaka that we had been penetrated by the enemy. It led us back even to the time when one of the camps' food had been poisoned in 1977/78. Was there a proper tribunal established in that case? I can't be sure.
POM Just to go from there to what Joe Seremane found out, established and was verified in part at the TRC. (i) He was in charge of a camp in Quatro, that's where he was arrested, in Angola. (ii) You had the affidavits that came out from two comrades who had been apprehended at the time under suspicion.
MM Was he in Quatro?
POM He was actually in Quatro, in charge of a camp. They came back and voluntarily went to Joe and said, "We saw your brother before he was executed and he had been beaten almost to a pulp. We didn't recognise him and thereafter he was executed." The man, one of the people who was on the 'jury' who ordered his execution was General Andrew Masondo who later went to Joe Seremane and said, "I was one of those on the tribunal and I apologise but at that time we were suspicious of everybody." He never got an explanation why. You've talked about it but you say this was a highly disciplined, almost perfect comrade. You couldn't look for better in terms of looking for quality. He has gone and trained over in Moscow, comes back. Now either what you say is right, he then kind of ran away. Why he would run away with that kind of discipline? It doesn't make sense.
MM It makes sense to me. If he is given an order when he's heading for home, he's suddenly given an order that he is returning to Luanda, in his mind the question arises, have they tumbled onto me? Are they sending me to Luanda to arrest me? Why when I've been earmarked and I've been going through preparation to take me to settle in Botswana am I suddenly told off you go to Luanda? Great suspicion would arise in his mind that we have tumbled onto the fact one way or the other that he's an enemy agent.
POM Because they were sending him to Luanda?
POM to go through your camps, it would make logical sense that he would go to Luanda. He would be put in charge of a camp because of his outstanding calibre.
MM He had already been in charge of a camp but he had now been selected as an outstanding one to go home.
POM In your account you haven't had him in Angola before he fled?
MM We've had him there before. I'm saying that his first record was when we opened the camps in Angola in 1976 he has come back from training, military training, and when we set up the camps of that crop of immediate trainees he is given the camp command and he performs exceedingly well. As a result of performance in the camps he is then selected to go to the Lenin School and at the Lenin School he is selected now for heading home. So you're fulfilling your ambitions, you are rising not just to become camp commander but you are rising to get to know the structures and who's who inside the country. But suddenly that instruction is countermanded by an inexplicable need to go back to Luanda and usually you were not told why, you were just told you've got to go back to Luanda, here's your ticket, next week you're flying to Luanda. If he was already earmarked for a high position in Luanda then he would be told, because you're not just moving as a run of the mill cadre. You'd be told, comrade your services are needed in Luanda, position, important responsible task to be performed, you're going. But no, he's just told, here's your ticket, next week you will fly back to Luanda in the context of a few disciplinary indiscretions.
But I don't know whether we are talking about the same person because certainly it is the persons around whom the reports begin to circulate that he was amongst the pre-trained people by the apartheid regime. A young person.
POM He has a brother who he adores, he was on Robben Island.
MM Yes. It didn't matter. When you came into the camps, I didn't even know that Motsoaledi - I know that Motsoaledi of the Rivonia trial had sons in the army but when I met them nobody told me this is Motsoaledi's son. In fact Motsoaledi's one son, to illustrate the problem, Cassius, that was his code name, was a commander of a squad in the military and I meet him in Maputo and people are telling me about this outstanding comrade, Cassius, who has been in and out of home. One day I visit one of our houses in Maputo run by the military and I go there and I'm introduced to the comrades and I'm introduced to Cassius and we sit down and we're chatting, just conversing, politics, everything, and I look at this chap and I realise he is the replica of his father. So before I leave the house I call Cassius to one side and I say, "Cassius, is your father Elias Motsoaledi?" He said yes. I said, "Good God! I didn't realise that you are the son of such a close comrade of mine." So you were never told. That was obliterated. You had a pseudonym, finish and klaar, background, no. Nobody told me this is where Dan comes from, this is his record. They said, this is Dan, this is his training, this is his service outside, this is how he's performed.
I remember a second incident, the daughter of the guy who wrote our songs and he was executed in 1963, the three people who were first sentenced to death in 1963. In my case one of them was asked to turn state witness and he would be reprieved from the death sentence.
POM He was asked to turn state witness?
MM No, if he gave evidence for the state in our case against Wilton Mkwayi they would commute his death sentence to life sentence and he refused it and he was executed in early 1965 late 1964/65, Vuyisile Mini.
I didn't know that there was a young girl in the camps who was performing outstandingly and she ended up in Amandla, the cultural ensemble, very good singer, very good dancer. She goes and requests to Oliver Tambo that she didn't come out to take part in the cultural ensemble singing around the world, raising solidarity and support for our movement, she wants to go home to fight. Chris Hani, based in Lesotho, is strongly recommending and wanting her services and OR raises the matter with me on one occasion. He said, "Mac, I can't spare her." But by this time she's done a manoeuvre, she's got doctors' letters saying that she's suffering from hearing problems and she says it's the loudness of the music and the gum boot dancing that's causing her those problems with the drums. So OR says, "Mac, I have a problem." I said, "Why don't you spare her?" Her name was Mary. "Why don't you spare her. We need people like that at home." And OR says, "But do you know that she is the child of Vuyisile Mini? Her father was executed. She is the daughter and you guys are saying to me send her home almost to certain death. I can't do that", he says. That's when I discovered that she was the daughter of Vuyisile Mini. But then because she was insistent and produced doctors' reports OR says to me, "I've had to accede to this request but can I ask you to do one thing? Please play a part. I'll station her in Lesotho but don't send her home. Keep her in the structures working in Lesotho." That's how I discovered that she was Vuyisile Mini's daughter. As it happened life had its own twist. We sent her to Maseru and within two months was the Maseru raid and she was killed in Maseru.
I am saying this story just to convince you that the record of who was who, who were the parents, those things didn't feature. I also remember presiding in a case where a member of the Revolutionary Council went to Cuba when we opened our camps in Cuba and we had also students in Cuba and he was accused of misusing organisation funds to buy his daughter, who was studying in Cuba, underwear outside of the group. When I was put in the body to try him for ill-discipline and misuse of funds this comrade from 1962 who I knew in SA in 1962 broke down and confessed. He said to me, "Guys, I went to Cuba to do an inspection. In the visit I met my daughter and when I asked her what problems she was having, she was saying she has no underwear. The thing bugged me so much that when you gave me money to go and buy supplies for Cuba I used part of the money to buy her half a dozen underwear and other items. I was weak there and I agree, but I didn't misuse the organisation's money." But this is what had happened. Now he didn't know that when he was going to Cuba he was going to meet his daughter but when he got there and looked at all the students, there's his daughter training.
So that was the situation. People like me were different. I came from prison so I was in the news. My real identity was known and wherever I was received I was from Robben Island and I was given a leadership position on my real name. I then adopted a pseudonym for operation in the underground for the record purposes but wherever I went they knew who I really was.
When you're talking about the brother of Joe Seremane from a Chief's family, no, in the camps no distinction was made, no background was supposed to be discussed. When comrades got close to each other socially they might divulge to us in reminiscing about home where they really come from but not on the records.
POM I suppose my point would be this, here you have this young man who crosses the border into Botswana first and then makes his way to Lusaka, is considered outstanding material after he has been vetted. One assumes he went through a vetting process.
MM At a time when the vetting process is completely inadequate because you have no structures at home to refer to, to tell you who is this person.
POM But you evaluate and say this person has outstanding leadership capacity, he is sent to Quatro.
MM No, no, not at that stage.
POM He is sent to GDR or Moscow, whatever, first to be military trained. All the reports that come back, superb reports. He's sent to be in charge of a camp in Quatro.
MM Not Quatro. Quatro comes into existence long after that. We're talking about 1976/77, there's no detention centre at that stage. Quatro emerges in the eighties when as a result of the vetting process and discipline problems when a person is a suspected enemy agent then he is detained at Quatro. That's why I am saying, are we talking about the same person because he would have never become commander of Quatro. Quatro was a detention camp right out in the north, I've never been there, near to a major training camp. It was a detention centre and if he had reached the position of commander of Quatro he would have been a commander of a detention centre. So I don't think it's that he was in that position.
POM Let me check.
MM Because if he was commander of Quatro he would be part of security and he would be a part of that machinery which was saying, oh Caryl is an enemy agent. As commander of Quatro he would be determining how she's treated. So it would suggest that when he is arrested his own comrades in the Quatro command structure would be the people who picked him up. That would be unusual.
POM Let's leave that case aside because I think we're actually talking about two different individuals. It may not be but there are just two different versions I have of events and they don't match.
MM They don't match completely either in time or in whatever. I suppose my question would be, did you use psychological profiles afterwards? I can see in the case of this individual you say this young man was perfect material, you send him abroad.
POM He spends all that time in Moscow, comes back, is in Lusaka, you may send him to a camp, and suddenly you find out he's been an enemy agent all along. What is the motivation for that person to maintain that rigour, that discipline, that capacity to rise in your organisation where you consider him to be possible outstanding leadership material, to have been an informer all along where there is no evidence that large sums of money have transferred from him to his family or to anyone. He was leading a pretty lousy life whether in Lusaka or one place or another.
MM That is one of the enigmas in our country. I raise it in my preface in Reflections. Do you remember the part where I discuss a chap who was put in the van with us and I say, "What makes a person, a black man at that, sell his soul for a pittance?" We were finding that the enemy, through the confessions, was paying these chaps a paltry sum to do a service which meant sacrificing their lives and if you're a black man in SA in 1976 what amount of money would make you want to work for them, for the enemy? And yet they worked.
POM And went abroad and became leadership material within your organisation.
MM Yes. We had a person in the 1962/63 group who they ordered to execute and people who went out to execute him in Zambia said that they had executed him. In the meantime a year later he surfaced amongst our torturers in Pretoria and we found out that the comrades who said that they had gone to carry out the execution hadn't executed him, they let him run away. But he surfaced as a lieutenant at Pretoria and when either Michael Dingake's group is brought to trial or the 1971 group are brought to trial, they come to prison they say, "There was our torturer. We got a shock, we thought he had been executed in Zambia in the sixties but there he is a lieutenant." It became an embarrassment to go out of prison and say to OR and them, "How did this man survive?" Then the question arose, who was the execution squad who were given the order to execute him? And the question arose, why didn't you execute him? You came back and filed a report that you'd executed him. The version I got on that one was that one of the executioners when confronted with this reality says that, "No, it's true, they didn't kill him because they didn't believe in the correctness of the trial and the judgment." We said, "What do you mean? Because you say he was a good comrade, he's gone through a trial and if found guilty and sentenced and you're entrusted with the execution you don't carry it out because you don't believe that the trial was fair? You think that everybody misunderstood this guy so you let him go? By that act of indiscipline you sent an enemy agent back into the hands of the enemy now to have more information in torturing us. Comrade, you can't work like that in an organisation. You can't take an individual decision. If he's gone through the due process who are you to question it?"
POM Why did this happen so often?
MM It happened because
POM Why did it happen in the townships so often where people sold their lives for a pittance?
MM I don't want to answer in terms of the repression because you would counter that by saying if it was fear that made them agree now that they were abroad why did they persist.
POM But this guy not only goes abroad, he goes to Lenin School and
MM A number of them came and confessed after being abroad, but a number of them didn't. How and why? I don't have a satisfactory answer because it's not an issue that one has had the time, the opportunity to sit back, reflect and study the cases. It would mean interviewing the people, not sitting down and theoretically working out what you understand to be the human personality, but the concrete incident and then seeing whether there are commonalities in it.
POM Would the fact that there were a number, God knows how many, of that calibre who were prepared to go abroad not only into Lusaka or wherever but to go to the GDR, go to Moscow to perform exemplarily, to work hard. You're not just an informer, you are working hard.
MM If working hard but unless you worked hard in your briefing you wouldn't rise.
POM OK, so you work and you come back but there's no monetary reward, there's no elaborate monetary system that's been set up where they got remunerated or their families are remunerated or whatever. Does that not make you question everybody in a leadership position?
MM OK. If you put it that way, Eugene de Kock had Alfred Nofemela in his squad. When they were caught, when there was a suspicion pointing that they were responsible for the murder of Griffiths Mxenge in Durban in a brutal stabbing, he was not just stabbed once, stabbed dozens of times in a stadium at night, when Nofemela is caught and fingered for that murder he still at the trial doesn't say who was responsible, accepts that he'd acted individually, but when he's in death row and he's due to be executed he makes a confession. His confession says, "I have decided to spill the beans because I realise that my colleagues in the police at Vlakplaas had said they will rescue me and save me from the death penalty, but I realise that they are doing nothing to save me." So he spills the beans. He is the one that leads to the exposure of Eugene de Kock and his group and Vlakplaas. But when you check what was he given for the murder of Griffiths Mxenge? A paltry thousand rand and he did it, and he's a black man, and he took responsibility, he didn't spill the beans at his trial to save himself by becoming state witness. He went and sat in death row and only when he realised that, hey, next week I'm going to be executed, nothing is being done to save my life, then suddenly he makes a confession that he is part of a death squad. For a thousand rand. For killing. Joe Mamasela, what was he paid while he was carrying out those death activities? Five hundred rand, a stolen car given to him. Finish, that's your payment. How does that explain it?
Isn't that another thing that you've got to put on the evidence to say let's see what is it in that situation that had this number of blacks doing this dirty work for a paltry sum? So I am saying there is no answer, Padraig, at the moment. There are questions that you're asking, legitimate, and the fact that you are posing the question doesn't mean there's an answer specifically by looking at the conduct and saying it's implausible. It is as implausible to me that a Nofomela would kill for a thousand rand and kill a prominent lawyer such as Griffiths Mxenge without going to his bosses and saying beforehand, 'Jesus Christ, you're asking me to do this job. This thing is worth half a million rand.' No. One thousand rand.
POM If you relate, I don't want to relate them directly because they're not, but if you relate that to the famous, and we've talked about it before a little, the Chris Hani memorandum where he accused the ANC of living the good life in Lusaka, not using the MK, just send them back home, being guilty of all kinds of moral indiscretions, he's hauled before court and Piliso was the one person on a vote that saved him from being executed. What's the level? He wasn't acting like a traitor. He was saying there's something wrong with the leadership and the leadership said, "You know what? Execute him! Get rid of the problem."
MM Yes, Chris
POM There must have been a period when
MM Again, let's not confuse. Chris Hani is 1970. 1970 at a time when there's no activity at home, there's no sense of militancy in the masses, there's a sense of overpowering repression. Cadres that we are sending into the country - yes, Chris Hani, his position was leadership, you are not prepared to go home to fight and you're not prepared to send us home. But the good life that he was talking about was no good life. In 1977 when I came out of prison and I got to Lusaka the ANC head office had one car, a 127 Fiat which we had to push to get it to start, for the entire organisation. The Secretary General's office was an eighth where his desk and Sindiso's desk were such that if you walked into his office you couldn't open the door without virtually squeezing yourself on top of the desk to open it, and one car. That's not a good life. But, yes, if you became a Commander going into Wankie, the Rhodesian campaign, if you were Base Commander you had access to be away from the camp to go to Lusaka away from the bush to have a night out on civilian life because you're the commander going back to report. The cadre had to sit in the camp. But just that was supposed to be good life.
So, put it in scale. The grievances were at a time when nobody is being sent home and whoever is getting home is just getting caught within months. Wankie takes place under a certain situation to get into Rhodesia and fight your way home, everybody can say crazy scheme. And of course the chaps are intercepted. Chris's group gets out and gets to Botswana, lays down its arms in Botswana thinking that we are laying down our arms in a friendly government and they get arrested and they are sentenced to one year imprisonment and they serve.
POM In Botswana?
MM Yes in Botswana, but they serve and after serving imprisonment they get to Lusaka, they are furious. They've got real grievances but they are also furious about their circumstances. What did you do to get me freed in Botswana? It's supposed to be a friendly country but there I bloody well served a year. So it's in that context that the Chris Hani petition is done and, yes, you are right, according to the stories that I heard a decision was taken either officially or unofficially to deal with Chris's life and he was saved by some interventions.
MM Piliso, and Piliso was the head of security in 1981 when Timothy is supposed to be executed. The same man is the head of security, overall charge of all the camps in Angola.
POM Were there investigations into the charges they made, that virtually all the sons of the leaders had been sent to universities in Europe, people are being groomed for leadership, positions are for them, cadres have overthrown the fascists, i.e. that there was a double standard?
MM I think that was an exaggerated statement made by Chris at that time.
POM I think I've mentioned him to you before, a man called Henry Tshabalala?
POM Well his son at 16 went over, went to Germany, went to USSR, came back, served in the Quatro camps in security, came back here in 1991 and operations were going on but he was sent into Mozambique to get arms. This is while the ceasefire was going on and he was caught on the way back and the ANC disowned him, wouldn't even get him a lawyer.
MM That's a problem. I was a commander, a member of the National Executive, and many members of the ANC disowned me, the leadership.
POM But he's a kid, he's still a kid, OK. He's only
MM I'm still a kid!
POM You too?But his stories of the behaviour of some of the senior members in Lusaka or in other parts of Zambia are about double standards, of how he got scholarships to go abroad, what you had to do.
MM Listen. Andrew Mlangeni, Rivonia trialist, all his children went to the army and served ordinary, didn't go for special education. Elias Motsoaledi had at least three sons in MK. They never went for scholarships to study anywhere. Yes, Thabo Mbeki went in 1962, Govan's son. Max Sisulu went and did military training and was based in Swaziland and after that went and did academic training. Our Surgeon General didn't come from a leadership family, he went and trained as a doctor. First trained as a nurse in the army and years later from Kongwa is sent to become a doctor and trains and becomes a doctor. I can show you as many leadership people's children who never got an opportunity to study, as you can show who got.
But if you talk about lifestyle, I was a member of the NEC, I've just told you I was living in a servant's quarters. The only time I moved out of the servant's quarters is when I married and my wife got a job at University of Zambia and they provided a house for her so I moved out into a house of my own and I had a car of my own which was my wife's car. Now until then I was secretary of the underground, here was a six bedroom house in the front of the yard, kitchen and all, parquet floors, that was the comrades living who are in transit to home. In the servants' quarters one room, a kitchenette and just a shower is where I lived. But of course when I got to Zambia I didn't have to account to the structure when I needed the car. I was the secretary. How am I supposed to perform my work as secretary? I am heading for the border, Livingstone, am I supposed to sit down in a collective to say, "Transport Committee, I now have to leave for Livingstone, can I take the car?" No. My duties require me to be at Livingstone, I just have to check, is this car in use, is it needed for the next 24 hours? Oh it's needed for this. What's it needed for? Oh, it's got to go and collect the supplies at Lilana. No, no, I'll make alternate arrangements for the supplies to be delivered tomorrow but I'm taking the car and I'm heading for Livingstone.
Now, if they regarded that as a good life then you would have no command structure. If you said OR, where was he living? He was living in ordinary houses in Zambia until 1986 when as a result of enemy actions Kaunda insisted that for his security Kaunda would make available a state house so that he could live and have the security needed for his life. Wouldn't you accept also that the amount of security we put around the life of the President was higher than the amount of security that was put around me? And higher than the security that we put around an ordinary cadre? You would. Now to call that the good life I think is problematic. That certain people abused it, unquestionable, unquestionable.
POM Let's switch back to the Morogoro conference. Many people have said to me that it was one of the turning points in the history of the ANC. Was it? Why so? Did you attend that?
MM No I was in prison at that time, 1969. Morogoro 1969, I'm in prison. I would agree that it's a turning point. The question is whether we agree why. What is their reason for saying it was a turning point? For me, here were comrades who had trained, the 1962 generation, sitting in the camp in Tanzania, no movement, no change in their life, a dreary life, eating bare diet and they will all admit that whenever OR visited that camp at Kongwa he slept on the floor like everybody. He slept on the floor. He ate the food that they ate. But the complaint was a huge dissension arising what are we doing sitting here? We came out in 1962, it is now 1968, what little we tried, Wankie, was a disaster. As leadership, you're not accountable. Now, living with them in the camp was the leadership, J B Marks, Chairman of the Communist Party.
The Morogoro conference is historic and a turning point because it took one key decision that our entire rationale for existing outside is to get back home to fight, that to follow that we need to create a structure. Whilst there is a lot of work to do around the world mobilising support and solidarity and even our food, we need a structure dedicated to looking at how to get home and fight.
POM It took nearly 20 years to get that structure.
MM No. It was set up immediately, the Revolutionary Council.
POM How would you distinguish between the activities of the Revolutionary Council and Vula?
MM Vula was leadership people coming in. Morogoro was, we need a structure to advance the struggle at home just even by sending in ordinary cadres, it didn't say 'leadership'. It said let's get home and get to grips with the fighting, let's fight at home. So let's do political work at home, let's do propaganda work at home, let's send military cadres to settle down and fight and let's send organisers, but let this entire work of home front have a specialised structure, day in day out seized with that duty as a special sub-structure not involved in solidarity work around the world.
POM Did it also change the relationship between African and Indian?
MM Yes, it formally accepted non-Africans into membership of the ANC but not into the National Executive.
POM Just in terms of irony, you have apartheid in SA, you've a party that excludes everyone but whites from almost every organisation that exists, counter-parted by a revolutionary organisation which says we're all oppressed, however the only people who may belong to the executive structures of the ANC have to be Africans. If you're coloured you're excluded, if you are Indian you're excluded, therefore we're simply practising a different form of apartheid.
MM No, that would be too, too simplistic a position. Would you make a lord living in Ireland of direct British descent in the leadership of Sinn Fein, or in the leadership of the IRA? When did the British invade Ireland? 17th century?
POM In fact most of the
MM And now be a lord.
POM 1798, that's the founder of the Republican Movement, Wolf Tone(??) Protestant. 1803, Robert Emmet.
MM I'm asking the question, Sinn Fein.
POM Did Sinn Fein?
POM The answer's yes.
MM All right. Now, come to SA. I know that in India Annie Besant was President of the Indian Congress but here the specific problem of the organisational structure was that the African majority, which was the overwhelming majority, was the one at the bottom of the ladder. It's whole history has been denied. When it starts as a movement it starts in the context that the Indian immigrants have already created an organisation. There's an assertion that the apartheid structure differentiated first between black and white but then between blacks on the basis of identifiable criteria, you're of Indian origin, you're mixed blood or you're African. Even where we worked in the same factories and did the same job the Indian and the coloured got a higher wage than the African.
POM But that was a strategy of the white government.
MM Divide and rule. So the ANC develops, comes to birth as firstly an organisation to bring together the African people, learning from its African experience and saying, we have been defeated by this dividing us as tribes.
POM In 1984 when the Natal Indian Congress was formed and given your background where you tell me that the childhood you went through, the educational facilities available to you, you were as oppressed as oppressed could be.
MM Gandhi formed the Indian Congress, he didn't form the South African Congress. He saw a space for Indians as Indians to advance themselves and it's in the course of struggle that the Indian Congress changed to recognise that its future was dependent on the future of the African majority. So here's a history where each organisation developed separately. The one that didn't follow that mould was the African People's Organisation set up in the Western Cape by Dr Abdurahman in 1906. He was a doctor, he was of Indian origin but in the Cape you were called a Malay. He started an organisation called the African People's Organisation but no Africans joined it, only Cape Malays and coloureds joined it and therefore when we review our history we say why didn't the APO with its open membership, with its taking up the grievance of the black people, all black, become exclusively a Malay/coloured organisation. We say our people were not ready. And it existed right up to the fifties, became defunct and then we created a specifically coloured organisation called the Coloured People's Organisation and when it was banned it became the Coloured People's Congress. It was Cape based and had a large coloured membership, existing in the alliance with the ANC.
So I am saying that's the background and if you call those things racist then you have to start by calling the Indian Congress racist in 1894. No. I think that's too narrow a definition. I think that there was a reality in SA that under the differential treatment and given the different origins the organisations that grew up, grew up within the enclave of those race definitions and experience taught them to work together. The first sign of working together was the 1947 Dadoo/Xuma/Naicker Pact, but go and read Mandela. He will say the Xuma/Naicker Pact was before its time because it did not immediately lead to working together or to joint campaigns or to a single organisation. It then took the 1949 programme of action, the 1946 passive resistance, the 1950 shooting on May day, which was the first Freedom Day, then for the first time the organisations agreed to jointly wage a strike on 26th June 1950 and Mandela and them were opposed to a joint action on the grounds that because Indians and coloureds enjoyed a slight advantaged position in this society they were better equipped in skills and resources and would therefore take over the leadership if they were allowed into one organisation. The objective was not to discriminate, the objective was to create a situation where the African people created their own organisation and developed a self-confidence.
POM You were talking about African empowerment came before?
MM African self empowerment at the level of shedding their inferiority that the system had inculcated in them. That's what Black Consciousness was.
POM That meant that in order to achieve that you had to be exclusionary, i.e. those groups were better educated, had a marginal advantage, that if they were in the organisation they would take it over. I think we have to talk about this with regard to the UDF.
MM It cropped up there too.
POM White people who
MM And Indians and there's a cabal.
POM And when the ANC came in they were pushed aside, as it were, and Africans became more
MM In the UDF Peter Mokaba and them called Murphy Morobe 'Africa', who was the Publicity Secretary, Terror was Secretary and Popo, because they disagreed with these three they called Murphy Morobe, Murphy Patel. Patel is an Indian surname. They alleged that he was in the pockets of the Indians.
POM That's Peter Mokaba?
MM Peter Mokaba.
MM No, Peter Mokaba was the leader of that voice here accusing the UDF of being controlled, to escape the argument that Africans were in the leadership he said those Africans deserve the surname of an Indian because they are serving the interests of the Indians. So a latent tension has been present here around the question of how do we resolve the national question in this question and that national question willy nilly took the form of dividing our population in the way our rulers had divided it, whites, coloureds, Indians, Africans.
POM At one point many in leadership positions in black communities accepted those divisions, used those divisions.
MM Yes, they sang songs. Dadoo, Xuma, Naicker, Moroka, Luthuli, but Dadoo, Naicker, Slovo, they sang songs about them, but if you said who should be the President of SA today before you talked of names would you allow an Indian? I think the vote would be yes. They would say yes, but when it came to the concrete action they say, no, no, please, not yet.
POM The same would be true today.
MM I'm saying, today, today. No, no, the country is not ready. The overwhelming majority African population is not ready for that. They want somebody who comes from within their experience and they are the overwhelming majority so that they can have the confidence even though it may be a misplaced confidence but they have the confidence that the person can relate to them, can speak their language, can understand where they come from.
POM What's the difference in the psychology of that and the psychology of the white person who in a way would think the same way except ensure the outcome by using massive repression?
MM The white person used that exclusivity in order to perpetuate their privilege. The African people have been using that exclusion in order to gain their own confidence, not to bar others from those privileges but to gain their self confidence. That's a huge difference. One is to protect a vested interest, the other is to advance an interest of all.
POM Advance the interest of all or to advance the interest of Africans?
MM Of all because the Freedom Charter starts off by South Africa belongs to all.
POM Yet who today believes in the Freedom Charter? In the leadership?
MM The paragraph that I cited you is the opening sentence, 'South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.' I am saying the overwhelming majority of the blacks in SA have accepted that the white man is an integral part of this society.
POM Do you think an overwhelming number of white people accept the same thing?
MM They are only learning to accept that the black man has also got a right to this country, because if they have accepted it then they would not accept that there should be a distinction in the privileges enjoyed.
POM Where do you see them wanting exceptions in privileges enjoyed at the moment?
MM It is incontrovertible that the bulk of the land is in the private ownership of the white community as a result of conquest.
POM It's also incontrovertible that the bulk of the land belongs to the state.
MM No, no. Hold on. I said private ownership is in the hands of the white community as a result of conquest. It is incontrovertible that African people who are living here and that there has got to be a redress on that. Now I agree, anomalies arise because we took a particular path to set up a Land Claims Court because we said if you were forcibly removed in 1953, that's now 50 years ago, that property may have been transferred to a white person at a very cheap price and I was done down but since then it has changed hands so many times, agreed value going up more often than not, to go back to the original sin and to try and redress is it going to be problematic because what about the intermediaries who innocently bought it, who did not as a result of my removal come and occupy it. So how do you bring that redress? We said let's have a Land Claims Court. Where it is possible to restore ownership we will restore it by paying compensation to the current owners and where it is not possible to restore it the state will pay a compensation. But it didn't say because of that original sin reoccupy that land because you would have to answer the question that when you reoccupy what happens to the current occupant?
POM Don't you think that whites accept that there has to be a redistribution of land, go along with the legality of the Land Claims Court, what we would call a Land Commission?
MM Look at the record of the Land Claims Court, look at the record.
POM Maybe you can put that at the very feet of the people who administer it?
MM No, no. The issue there is the level of compensation. The Land Claims Court has been equipped with one guideline: what you, the current occupant, paid for it, what improvements did you make to that land. We will factor that into the price that we will compensate you but if you ask for a market value then hold on, we balk at it. The DP at the World Trade Centre insisted on inserting 'at market value' because it said you must pay that value. Now there's the Stock Exchange, how much has it been sold for? It's a building that was put up at R250 million, it's just been sold for R20 million. The moment you find a back claim coming for that place the value has gone up and this is what the Land Claims Court is trying to adjudicate.
POM Would in fact at the insistence of the DP that market value be put up?
MM DP wanted market value. We watered it down, we said market value will be taken into consideration but so will be the price you paid and the improvements you made because that's the way the old regime used to reclaim land for roads. If it was going to build a road here it would take the owners and not pay the market value. It would say, "What did you pay? What improvements did you make? What is its current value?" But somewhere in between that it would arrive at an expropriation value. That's a law I inherited when I came in in 1994 on roads, but at the WTC the big argument on land was those parties representing the whites were saying, no, it must be market value and we were saying, no, no, we will balk at that but we also balk at paying you what the original owner paid when they took over. We said that would be unfair, so we said we can't decide on the precise formula, let there be a Land Claims Court.
POM Who, on that point, would you say won?
MM I think that was a compromise.
POM Where's the compromise? It's a compromise that seems to be in one sense to be very much working in one direction, there have only been 27,000 or something claims.
MM That's the accusation being made in the black community.
MM That is an accusation.
POM Now you're in a position of where given the situation in Zimbabwe, any dramatic movement on land will be like the contagion effect of Zimbabwe undermining SA again in capital markets.
MM No. In a perverse way what Zimbabwe has done is just facilitated the speedier working of the Land Claims Court. Whites whose lands are being expropriated because they'd occupied it as a result of forced removals of the blacks are becoming more amenable to arriving at a negotiated price. That's partly speeding it up. Perversely, but that's the reality because go to the Northern Province, Limpopo Province now, the biggest objections to land claims has been from those white farmers there. We've had white farmers there claiming to be compensated 20 million for a farm.
POM Are they doing it now out of fear?
MM No, now they are compromising at a lower price.
POM Because they are?
MM Because they're becoming a bit edgy that if they dig in their heels too much the compromise route might not work. That's the fear. But I think that the government and the ANC has been very clear where we will have orderly - but we need to speed up the land issues but it has said it will be done within the constitution and within the law.
POM Do you think, just on the land issue, on the whole issue of Zimbabwe, that Mugabe has played the re-colonisation of Africa card very well and very much to his advantage?
MM Yes I think that there is a tendency overall to keep on using the legacy of colonialism to hide some of our own mistakes. That's the reality but so did the Americans do it at the American War of Independence.
POM They got rid of the Indians.
MM Yes, at the expense of the Indians and at the expense of the British. What was the Boston Tea Party about? You come from Boston.
POM No I don't, I don't.
MM All right.
POM Got dumped
MM And I think that the world is not yet ready to find a balanced perspective between your legacy as an excuse for your present ills and taking responsibility for your present life. We are not yet ready but that's because the phenomenon of modern day colonialism there was colonialism in Roman times of a different character, but a phenomenon of modern day colonialism did lead to a bifurcation of the world on a colour line.
I am just saying that the world is not ready because the modern colonial era has left that legacy of a world within all the diverse differentiations, a world differentiated by the developing and the developed world and that has coincided with the colour line, which is an inheritance of colonialism, modern day colonialism. Therefore it has led to a deep sense of these inequalities having its roots in that legacy so that you get a peasant come across from Europe and the opportunities that open up for that peasant are completely different from the opportunities of the indigenous people. Sometimes it may be that that peasant has got the initiative but the individual is subsumed under the group and that group subsumation is done on the colour line.
What happens in this country is going to be part of the building blocks of resolving that issue and it is undoubted in relation to your original question that if you saw the affirmation of the African even within the liberation movement as racism then you have no basis for an alliance. I came in as a young man, even though I don't speak the Indian language just because of the colour of my skin and my biological ancestry everybody else said, "You are Indian", even though I didn't see myself as Indian. They made me see myself as an Indian and I look at my children and I say, "Where do you belong in this new SA?" They've grown up, born abroad, children of the liberation struggle but they don't find a fit in any of the communities here because the communities are structured still in their ethnic colour lines.
POM So when you were growing up what language did you use at home?
MM I spoke a mixture of Zulu, Hindi and English.
POM And in your community what was the prevalent language?
MM The same thing, we spoke English. In my soccer club at school we spoke English although it was a school for Indian children because there is no single thing such as an Indian language. There are 450 languages in India. Somebody has said that the only thing that made it a geographic entity to be called Indian was British colonialism. What is today Indian was a hodgepodge of individual kingdoms but the British came and ruled it as one place and that was the birth of the concept of India. They took a Tamilian from the south and a Telugu speaking from the south and a Hindi speaking from the north and a Gujarati speaking from the north west and they said you are all bloody Indian.
POM In India itself do you think today, the question I used to ask of people was whether or not they saw themselves as Zulu first, or South African first and then Zulu. Do they make a distinction between primary identity and secondary identity?
MM One of the top Soviet scholars who is still alive, Apollon Davidson, professor, in the late twenties, 1930s, started off by doing an anthropological study of the indigenous people of the then Rhodesia and ended up a scholar on the Zulus. Into our debates of the national question he injected the concept that the Zulus were a nation already and the question arose that if they're a nation then they have a right to self-determination. And we said no.
POM He said no?
MM We said no.
POM You said no.
MM He said they were already a nation in the making and as a nation they ought to have a state of their own the way Europe developed on the nation/states.
POM Why did you say no?
MM We said no, they had not yet fulfilled all the criteria of a nation because we said a nation would be characterised - now you're going to accuse me of being a Stalinist because Stalin had put a definition of the national question and what is a nation and he had said they have a common ethos, they have a defined geographical space which they occupy, they have a common economy, and we said the Zulus don't have a common economy. Do they occupy a defined geographical space? Yes. Do they have a common ethos? Partly. And you may argue with me that, no, they have a common ethos, they have a common geographic space. The economy? They don't have a common one.
POM If we applied the same logic to, say, Ireland in the 19th century?
MM I would be in big shit. All I am saying is that Stalin study was done round about 1912. What is a nation? And it was a study and we partly dismissed it on the grounds that it was a study based on the European experience of the rise of the nation/state, that the convergence of a nation and a state was a phenomenon of 18th century Europe.
POM That's like Eric Hobson. My understanding is that if your parents were from Georgia but you were born, your ancestry was in Georgia but you were born in Moscow, you belong to Georgia.
MM Yes. That's what they did with me. But we argued in the debates here on the national question that that proposition of Stalin's was born out of a study of the European experience of 17th, 18th century Europe which postulated that a nation should be identified, had a right to a state and the nation/state arose. And we said no, that's a European experience. The overwhelming feature here is the common economy which defines the state and therefore what has happened, we argued, is that apartheid and colonialism came in and tried to shape us in that European experience and we said we refuse to be shaped by that.
POM But you have been. I mean by you accepting the common borders, you accepted that -
MM Don't start making me practically inconsistent. In 1963 when we formed the organisation of OAU one of the first decisions we had to take pragmatically, even though everything told us it's realistically wrong, but pragmatism told us we will accept the boundaries as they were defined by colonialism. And so you have Ghana and Nigeria next door and there are people living on both sides of the border who are one people. We said, oh-oh, let's not redefine the boundaries, let's just accept the boundaries. It's been one of the problems. The other escape from that problem was to postulate a union of African states which was another pipe dream.
POM When you were growing up, and we went through this in part before because you told me about the four pictures that you used to keep in your house.
MM Gandhi and Nehru.
POM One thing I'd like to when I look back on our notes when you were talking about growing up, is looking for what's called a defining myth. What was the defining myth of your community? I remember you talking about the strikes that took place while you were a youngster or before that. Your memory was
MM Until 1950 the predominant defining myth was that the Indians, descendants of Indians, could carve a space of freedom for themselves outside of the freedom of all South Africans.
POM That existed into the 1950s?
MM Up to the beginning of the 1950s.
POM Would that have been the defining myth of the Natal Indian Congress?
MM The Natal Indian Congress.
POM And outside of the Congress?
MM The Natal Indian Congress by 1946 had begun to shatter that myth and began to challenge that myth and find a way forward. It led the Passive Resistance Campaign where 2000 Indians courted imprisonment as an Indian action defeating an unjust law directed at Indians but its leadership began to see that that was not a viable objective and it began to seek ways to interact and relate to the African population to fight side by side with them and it came to accept that the lynchpin, the pivot of the SA situation needed to be unlocked by the realisation of freedom for the African people. That the freedom of the African people was a pre-condition for others to realise their freedom whereas the other way around, a minority like the Indians if they posited their freedom, even if they realised it, it would not be true freedom because it would be an island of freedom in a sea of oppression.
POM When you, again, were growing up how did, I'm using your community in a broad sense, look at Africans?
MM We had a schizophrenic relationship.
POM In this sense in Ireland, if I was born in Dublin and you were born in, say, the west of Ireland, people in Dublin looked down on they used to call people from the country 'country monks', ignorant people who knew nothing. People in the country areas used to look upon us as what they called 'Dublin Jackeens'. Each side was looking down on the other. It took a long time for that kind of stereotyping, particularly from people from the cities with regard to rural people, to wear out. It probably only wore out in the last twenty years.
MM Isn't it there in my jocular remark that all good people come from small towns and so do the big crooks. 'So do the big crooks' is supposed to pacify that ruffling of the feathers. The best gangsters in SA came from small towns and so did some of the best really good individuals, in which I would like to think that when you accept that proposition you will include me as a good person!
More seriously, because the structure of differentiation was more largely on colour rather than urban versus rural I think my childhood, that is my first ten years of life, if I look back the Indian community of that time was leading a somewhat schizophrenic existence vis-à-vis the other racial groups. It envied the whites for their privileges and it despised them at the same time. It empathised with the African but it also feared the African because embedded in that history was a common working experience but a working experience postulated on the need for indentured labour from India because the rulers argued that the indigenous population were lazy so they had to import labour from India. There was plenty of labour here. But at the same time the 1913 strike in Newcastle where the Indians were the majority of the workforce underground in the mines, when that strike took place a law was passed in SA now precluding Indians from working below the surface and replaced it with African labour. So it constantly created a tension where it looked like opportunity was only to be realised by excluding one or the other at the expense of the other. So I am saying it was schizophrenic, it empathised with the African population for their oppression because it also came from an oppressed and labouring background but it feared them because there were certain instances where playing off one to the other had led to their disadvantage. That was the mindset at that time. And from time to time as a minority it sought to retreat within its cultural enclave not just exulting in their culture but beginning to use it as a differentiating mode to claim an internal sense of superiority.
That's a pretty harsh thing to say of the Indian community but it was that schizophrenic reality in which I grew and it happened to coincide, my youth coincided with a moment when the Indian organisation led by the Congresses had evolved in its thinking to realise that its destiny was linked with the fate of the African majority and it was reinforced by the Indian Congresses appealing to Nehru who became Prime Minister of Indian to please unequivocally say to the Indian community that they must see themselves first as South Africans and secondly as Indians and not first as Indians and secondly as South Africans, that their future was inextricably linked to the future of the African people here.
POM Relating that to say the Muslim/Hindu divide in India, you mentioned that you
MM We were schizophrenic there too.
POM You were of Hindu origin yet you were supported by a Muslim family.
MM We were united in condemning Britain for colonising India, for partitioning India, but we celebrated the independence of India as well as the independence of Pakistan. We were totally schizophrenic because our population was made up of people who were living in India and people who came from Pakistan based on a religion. So we said we are one in condemning Britain, we are different you're supporting Pakistan, I'm supporting India, so let's celebrate both.
POM How do you relate that schizophrenia to the caste system?
MM The caste system is an Indian phenomenon rather than a Moslem phenomenon and the caste system permanently condemned you to a station in life.
POM Nothing like apartheid.
MM Oh worse than apartheid.
POM Worse than apartheid, yes.
MM Apartheid had the features of a caste system but the caste system said you're untouchable, certain work belongs to untouchables and no matter how wealthy you become you remain an untouchable. It remains a problem even now in India, the Harijan community. So the caste system was a system which had no social mobility in it and the modern state and the industrialised economy requires social mobility between classes.
POM Why do you think that there has never been the degree of world outrage against the caste system as there has been against apartheid?
MM Because of the postulate, the hypothesis on which the modern democratic world has evolved, that democracy cannot be imposed from above, that it is a product of the people in that particular area which led to the correct, at its time, principle in the United Nations of non-interference in domestic affairs and apartheid became an issue in the UN on the grounds that it was presented as a unique case where non-interference was defeating our principle positions of the charter. So interference in the SA situation was by defining the apartheid problem as not a domestic problem in the wake of the war against nazism. At the moment there are people who are opposed to the caste system in India who are trying to follow that route to place the caste issue on the world agenda. They have not yet succeeded but they are trying to argue precisely along that path to get round that clause of non-interference. I think that the non-interference clause is now under challenge because of the global economy and certainly President Bush by evoking the right to unilateral interference over this issue of terrorism has created a precedent for the breakdown of that barrier.
In the African context Deputy President Jacob Zuma has raised the question whether in Africa the principle of non-interference by African states over African states is any longer a valid proposition. I think it is all pointing to the direction of the way in which objective conditions are maturing on a global level which raises the question which is there in NEPAD that the African NEPAD programme is based on saying, 'We Africans will ourselves monitor African states to ensure that there is good governance as well.'
POM And the rule of law.
MM And the rule of law, etc., etc.
POM This is why you have the West saying that the first test of this was Zimbabwe.
MM Which is also why President Thabo Mbeki says, "Please don't interfere in the African affairs, let us monitor ourselves. Don't tell us what to do." This is not the rights and wrongs debate that I'm going through. What I'm only arguing is that the world is changing because of the integration of the world economy and those rules that were there in the UN when we formed it in 1945 are now having to confront a changed world. That until now the UN was invoked to interfere in SA's domestic affairs on the grounds that the issue was supra-domestic, that is an exception. The issue of good governance is becoming a world issue but in Africa, under the SA government's leadership, it is being argued: yes it is a good governance issue but please leave it to us Africans to do it because, you, please stay out of this ring.
POM But those in the West would argue that the first test of Africans taking care of their good governance within their own continent was Zimbabwe and the elections were
MM Etc., etc., etc.
POM - and all the other things and that SA kind of stood by and
MM The big answer to that one, the chief answer, not the big answer, is what the United States did over the Venezuelan President Chavez. The recent case of Venezuela over President Chavez.Chavez was the elected head of the state but very quickly the United States said Chavez was the problem and therefore lent its voice to a military coup establishing a civilian leader, had Chavez put on a ship ready to send him off to Cuba into exile. But there was an uprising of street demonstrations in Venezuela that recalled Chavez within 24 hours. But the United States in its own backyard was not abiding by that principle.
POM The US is no moral indicator of anything in the world.
MM So who's the 'they' you're referring to?
POM The West. The western powers.
MM But when Bush cracks his whip with the West they all fall in line.
POM It's that Africans said, "We will do this on our own", so everyone else is irrelevant. The point is not what the outside world says.
MM If I put myself in Thabo Mbeki's shoes, when the West says Zimbabwe is the test, he says, "Shut up, what right have you to tell us which is my test?"
POM That's right.
MM It goes nowhere.
POM No, no, I'm just putting the questions, putting them all together in the end.
MM You're being provocative, you're just being provocative.
POM You were born, all your brothers and sisters you said you had to go down to the funeral of your sister.
MM Sister in law.
POM Of your oldest brother. Did any of your brothers become active or were you the only one?
MM I was the only one.
POM How did that kind of happen?
MM Aberrations are a normal part of society.
POM Are they still living?
MM No, all my brothers are deceased. All. I'm the only male in the family and on the female side there's only one alive.
POM God, we'll have to protect you.
MM No, no, you don't have to protect me. You have to protect SA from itself. Isn't it a truism of peoples, all peoples are their own worst enemy? What is happening in France today with Le Pen? Today the French are regretting what they've done. Who did it to them? The French themselves by the way they voted and they way they abstained from voting, but then let's not blame the ordinary people, let's blame the bankruptcy of political leadership that it allowed the issues to be presented before the ordinary French person to make a choice in such an uninformed way. All peoples are their own worst enemy.
POM That might be a good place to stop.
MM I've only made that remark in the context of people, I've not made it in the context of individuals, that they are their own worst enemy. I won't allow Padraig to explain that I'm my own worst enemy.
POM You have the list.
MM Caryl, this is what came from you. Do you have that list? No.Oh is this what you've typed out. Oh, I tried to call Mpho Scott also last night after I started accessing your documents and he was on voice mail so I've left a voice mail message.
POM I'll be in Cape Town on Thursday.
MM I forgot to bring you Struggle is my Life again. It's lying there on my shelf, I'll bring it for you on Thursday.
POM OK. And the things you have to go through you have to go through each of the larger questions on the interviews. I've marked in different type, font, they're in bold.
MM I tried to win Caryl's sympathy. I showed her the other day by last night I have retrieved that thick pile of Vula records.
POM Oh we're getting there are we?
MM But it's that thick and it's not even half way.
POM So? What do you expect? Sympathy?
MM Yes please. I need more sympathy.
POM If you hadn't lived the life you have lived you'd deserve some sympathy but having lived the life you lived you're one of these people who don't deserve sympathy. Just more punishment and pain.
MM This morning I was late to take my daughter to school. My wife is away in Italy. I tried to get over this Tongaat meeting and I have a brainwave in the bathroom that, wait a minute, who's alive from that Tongaat meeting? There's Madiba, there's Walter Walter is 90 years old, can I get out the memory? So yesterday evening I phoned Kathy and Kathy says, "Mac, I wasn't at that meeting but I know of it." So I said, and the two of us said, "Who's alive?" We said they're all dead. This morning I get up and I say, "Wait a minute, although Billy Nair was not in the Indian Congress Executive he was in the Trade Union Executive." So generationwise in the Indian Congress leadership he was not in the SAIC, South African Indian Congress Executive because he's still regarded as a younger chap, but in the trade union side he would have been in the executive and he would have been at this meeting. So I phone him, I phoned him about six times and eventually got him in parliament just as he arrived at the parliamentary office and I said, "Billy, were you at that meeting?" He says, "Yes I was at the meeting." So I say, "Now I've got a couple of questions." I put question one, he started answering the wrong question, he started telling me about the decision. I said, "No, I want to know the date of the meeting and who was present. Was Ismail Meer present?" He said, "I don't remember." I said, "The date?" He says, "Man, I don't know. Was it 1961? Was it 1962?" I said it was 1961. "Mm, yes, I think so, but the decision, Mac, was the following."I said, "I don't want to know the decision, I know it, I just want to know date and who was present. We'll dig into the rest later." And I said to him, "It was evidence in the Rivonia trial." He says, "I don't know about that." So it took me 20 minutes just to get him to talk sense by which time I was late for taking my daughter to school. So in the car I had a very unpleasant day, my daughter was fighting with me. No sympathy for that too.
POM When your wife comes back and she hears that you couldn't even get the children to school on time!
MM That's your problem, not mine. No sympathy for that.
CR Do you want me to go ahead and get the papers from archives and UNISA?
MM Yes, it still remains relevant to know what the state presented as the information it had about that meeting.
POM That was the meeting in Tongaat in 1961?
MM 1961 and I have now tracked it down. Billy was useful in one thing. That was the meeting which decided on the armed struggle.
MM It's a delicate one because here was the Indian Congress unbanned, not banned, the Congress of Democrats banned, the ANC banned, the Trade Union Congress not banned, the Coloured Peoples' Congress not banned. Now we could not discuss this issue openly, the decision to switch to the armed struggle but Madiba and them ensured that after the ANC Executive met and took the decision, the next night the Joint Congress Executives, including the ANC, met and re-discussed the matter. Now in that situation how democratic was that decision? Billy Nair tells me this morning that just as the ANC met on day one as ANC, at a different venue the Indian Congress met as Indian Congress and then the next night they all met together and re-discussed the question of the armed struggle that Madiba was raising and endorsed it with a debate that lasted from eight at night to about five in the morning. There was an intense discussion at a pretty broad level underpinning this decision. No congress was able to be held of all delegates and mandated delegates but in those circumstances it was really a broad ranging discussion that took place with quite a bit of preparation, very risky preparation, and it is clear to me now that as it featured in the Rivonia trial as state evidence meant that the secrecy of that decision was highly compromised but fortunately not sufficient to have sent us all to jail in larger numbers and for a longer term.
POM There was somebody in Cape Town, you said Naidoo? Can't remember his name, you wrote it down on a piece of paper which I put in here, who you said might have some access to Vula papers?
MM Don't worry about all that. I'm far down the line already.
POM Oh your part is nearly finished.
MM No it's not. It's a question of now finding programmes, computer programmes. The programmes that I have found have been deciphering late 1989/1990 communications and because programmes were changing and being further developed and enhanced we will see what blockages we reach when we go backwards.
POM OK. See you Thursday.
MM It's complicated to make sense of those things. 15 years have gone by.
POM It only took you 25 years to get Reflections in place.
MM Yes, well if you accept 25 years as the agenda there's no problem.
POM The problem is it might still be around and I won't.