About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

12 Aug 2002: Maharaj, Mac

MM     The security forces were still watching him (J N Singh) but it was now, he had been banned in 1954, we had been smashed in 1963 and he had carved out a niche for himself and his legal practice and in business, that slowly he eventually got him to get a passport in the eighties and he used to travel abroad to see his two daughters, one in Canada and one in the United States and in passing through London he would see Dr Dadoo. He remained connected with us but in a very deep clandestine way. I realised when I came here in Operation Vula I needed somebody to give meback-up accommodation if things went wrong. Now all my safe houses in Durban were connected with people directly in the underground.(break in recording)

POM     Therefore it's a way to weaken whatever opposition was there because there can be one form of floor crossing and (ii) an attempt to exercise more control over the news content of the SABC, both of which I would find, myself, detrimental to the development of a multiparty democracy and the exercise of the right of the media to express itself in the way that it wants to.

MM     Well let's tackle each one separately. The floor crossing. I think there's a tendency to forget the basis on which Kempton Park arrived in the negotiations at a proportional representation system. It's not as if the model through which democracy expresses itself through electoral voting has got a unique and special answer. The ANC initially had, without examining the problem in any depth, while in exile had supported the idea of a British type of electoral system, constituency based. As we began to examine the impediments and the obstacles to that negotiated resolution we began in exile to develop debate and discussion around the type of constitution. That brought us firstly to shift from a presidential type of governing instrument and began to toy around and look at the experiences all over the world between the constituency based and the proportional representation based and the in between forms that exist in various parts of the world.

     Secondly, we began to develop the concept of a bill of rights and thirdly we began to develop the concept of a president not as divorced as the US President is from legislative pressure. Equipped with those frameworks as we began to engage in the negotiations process what came through very strong was two types of minority fears: a minority fear based on race articulated by the then ruling party, the NP, of white minority fears, and secondly, party political minority fears. IFP and the other smaller parties, many of them which had come into existence under apartheid's rule had limited constituencies but were sitting at Kempton Park nervous about their future. In that framework the ANC was accused of majoritarianism, as if that's a pejorative term. We surprised the parties by coming forward with the proportional representation system. It took care of minorities whether in racial terms and minorities in political party terms.

     Now that's a genesis of the proportional representation and that contributed to achieving a negotiated solution at Kempton Park. Without the proportional representation system you would have had a formidable obstacle to reaching agreement and at Kempton Park any debate about a constituency based system would have been rejected by most of the parties. You would have not got consensus. The fears were coming primarily from the IFP and the NP. The IFP was the champion of accusing the ANC of wanting majority rule and dubbed majoritarianism as something unhealthy.

     As I was saying, it was a very pragmatic solution around a negotiating table when you had to match your principal positions of democracy as well as address the concerns of various minorities who were sitting around the table. Those minorities also expressed the view of wanting a federal and a very loose type of government. With regards to the electoral system this was the basis and contributed to a resolution. There was a kickback after agreeing on the electoral system that the NP then took up a rearguard struggle to see how cabinet would be structured and how cabinet would function. A separate issue.

     Shortly after the elections as the record of governance began to come through legitimate concerns had been raised that the proportional system does not create a nexus between MP and the constituency that has elected the MP and therefore weakens the accountability.

     I think that's a very real problem but we must not think that the issue of floor crossing has arisen primarily at the behest of the ANC through its agreement with the NP. When the Democratic Alliance was formed between the NP and the Democratic Party the question of floor crossing arose and it was at their request that there should be a floor crossing legislation that came up on the table. That disappeared from the table because of the new entity called the Democratic Alliance, made up of a coalition of DP and the NP, and it split, the DP remained with the name Democratic Alliance. At that time now the DP began to change its mind whether it wanted the floor crossing legislation because earlier it wanted where it thought for the DA alliance it would attract votes particularly in the Western Cape.

POM     Didn't they fight the last election under the banner of - ?

MM     Of the DA.

POM     But it was the DA composed of?

MM     Of two separate entities, but when the split took place the DA name remained primarily with the DP, Tony Leon. There was no mechanism. Those who are saying now there should be e.g. a referendum on the matter, from the DP should have been asking for that same referendum when they split. They didn't do it but they originally asked for floor crossing legislation. That disappeared from the limelight because of the way in which the fallout took place between the DP and the NNP. But the ANC had been approached repeatedly in parliament that there should be such a provision. At one time the DA, Democratic Party, wanted the floor crossing legislation because it thought it would attract a large number of the NP MPs to its side.

     So I am saying, and I am not casting aspersions on motivation, I think there was a genuine problem manifesting itself that realignments were taking place and that there was a genuine problem of how do you create accountability on the part of the MPs and how do you get a sense of the ordinary voting public having a feeling that they have somebody to turn to who is dependent on their vote?

     Now, two things happened. One is government has pursued the floor crossing legislation which is currently being portrayed as simply around the question of the ANC/NNP alliance based on the NNP/DP break up. That's not accurate as I see it. But secondly, government has appointed an Electoral Commission headed by Van Zyl Slabbert. Now the power to appoint the legislative authority to create this commission was already authorised about 18 months ago or more but for whatever reason while it named Van Zyl Slabbert nothing happened until about six months ago to really appoint that commission. I still don't know the full membership of that commission but I know I bumped into Van recently and he was saying that he was busy raising funds abroad for the functioning of that commission.

POM     Van Zyl was appointed by the government?

MM     Appointed by the government.

POM     But not funded?

MM     Inadequately funded because Van is saying that in mapping out, in getting the terms of reference, he felt that the commission would not only have to study models from around the world but would also have to relate to people on the ground in the country to take into account what they are thinking and what their problems are.

POM     So if they went to Germany they wouldn't just be studying the German model, they would be studying what the German people thought of the model as well?

MM     Yes. And in the South African context you've got to take into account the proportion of illiterate people in terms of English and Afrikaans. It's got to be tailor-made to our situation and Van's whole idea as the chairman of that commission, the impression I got from my chat with him, was that he wants to do a fairly thorough exercise. When I said to Van we must realise that whatever system you come out with it's only practice that's going to show whether it is meeting the requirements that we want, he said, "I agree completely." And I said, "People have forgotten why we agreed at Kempton Park to proportional representation." He said, "I agree completely." So I said there is no historicity to the question and there is no relationship to the practical problems that are manifesting because side by side with the problem of accountability and relationship with the electorate there are other lessons that have been thrown up post-1994. Capacity of government to govern, to delivery, and in that the model of central government, provincial government and municipalities has been a huge problem.

POM     Selby Bakwa's last report to parliament was that service delivery hadn't moved in the last eight years.

MM     Eight years! And part of that service delivery has been the municipal structure but sitting between it is the provincial structure and each one wants unique powers and control over resources and what you get is a bureaucracy where accountability also is not adequately expressed in terms of what money do you get and what do you spend it on.

     So I think those are real problems and therefore I do not see this floor crossing legislation to deal with the current problems together with the Electoral Commission as a manifestation of just ANC wanting to maintain control. The ANC has been increasing its support. It doesn't need all that.

POM     It doesn't need floor crossing.

MM     It doesn't need floor crossing to stay in power.

POM     I suppose my real question is, do you not think that any legislation that somehow impedes a party governance system would be detrimental?

MM     If the test is the growth of a multiparty system then a constituency based electoral system will wipe out the opposition.

POM     If you had a system as based in Ireland, the STV(?) system, it's a very complicated system, the most complicated in the world. You can be in third position in a constituency when you start and then by the transfer of votes you can end up winning -

MM     Yes, at the top.

POM     - the seat. That takes into account both proportionality and constituency.

MM     Well they have that model in various countries in Europe and a debate between proportional and constituency based has been a debate as long as democracy has been here. There has always been in European main political thought the idea that proportional representation caters for minorities best and on the other hand the opposite argument has been that constituency based creates the best nexus between an MP and the electorate. Somewhere an answer has to be found but the reality of the SA political scene is that had we had constituency based elections in 1994 there would have been no opposition. Had there been in 1999, nothing, nothing.

POM     And if you had it in 2004 the answer would be the same.

MM     The same. So if the ANC wanted it that way all it had to do was to push the Van Zyl Commission to be working earlier.

POM     Should they not wait for the Van Zyl Commission to report before they start introducing legislation?

MM     But real problems have arisen just as during the DP/NNP alliance real problems arose and they sought to ask for floor crossing legislation. Real problems have arisen before when certainly I think there were some ANC members who do not espouse the ANC position and it was … somewhere else. Then post that break up the realignment … because the head office of ANC, it is claimed, is arguing that it will only want to … if it has a very clear majority that does not obtain –

POM     Let's say I was a member of the IFP and I said, well I was a member of the IFP but once elected I'll cross the floor to the ANC because frankly I wouldn't be on the ANC ticket as things stand but once I cross over I stand, after a couple of years.

MM     You don't have that because the current legislation only allows for floor crossing in two window periods. It doesn't allow it at any time. It was meeting that demand and that reality by saying you can't have a free for all all the time but undoubtedly realignments have taken place and let us allow that for a short period as a window and shut that window down and there will be two windows in the existence of the current system pending the report of the Van Zyl Commission.

POM     Pending?

MM     Pending. When the Van Zyl Commission report comes through it would be a totally different matter and that commission report would have to be studied by the legislature, debated and then a decision taken.

POM     So do you think that the floor crossing legislation as is strengthens democracy or dilutes it?

MM     I think it arises from real problems that are taking place both on the ground and in parliament. I do not think that it either diminishes or enhances democracy. I think there are more fundamental questions around whether democracy is being enhanced or weakened.

POM     The actual delivery of services?

MM     There's a divorce between democracy and delivery. A democratic system must be able to deliver. Delivery is an inherent part of a democracy. If a democracy is merely a form of voting system and does not relate to an efficient governance system then there's something wrong with that democracy. I had a discussion with you in Cape Town before I retired as minister, we met in 1998 or 1999 in my office in Cape Town where I said to you one of the problems that's coming up is do we need a provincial tier of government? And I said I didn't pose that in a quest for will it diminish or enhance democracy, it is a problem of how the three arms, the executive, the legislative and the judiciary will function in the context of a three tier government, and I was arguing that my experience at that time had taught me that there is a problem with that provincial system of government because it is sitting merely as a conduit and an added bureaucracy. That is a bit over-simplified. That was a problem that needs to be addressed.

     Now the Public Protector's last report is saying delivery has not improved. Now if we were to debate and say the primary issue facing this country today is delivery, the question of what road to democracy. Let us now discuss what type of constitutional arrangement do we want. It would go beyond the electoral system. It would tackle what should the provincial government be doing. Is it needed? What should the municipal government be doing and what should be the sources of revenue for each tier and what should be their accountability both for expenditure as well as for delivery? If that debate happens the I would say party political agendas would expose themselves because the ANC would be sitting at the table saying, "We are the governing party, we want a more efficient delivery system." It would tend towards a more centralised system because delivery would assure it of more long term improvement of delivery. The opposition … it would want the weakest delivery system so that somewhere down the line in the elections the governing party can be exposed as having (failed). That would be the wrong way to debate the future of this country.

     We started off, your premise was we've got a democracy, we want to preserve it. Then it should be in everybody's interest to ensure that delivery happens and not political agendas as manifested in the current system and the question is if you are in opposition try to show, make it impossible for the governing party to deliver. The matters have been compounded because the DP in the Western Cape under the DA and Cape Town City then thought it would have a model of where it can say here we have delivery, but look how the ANC has failed to deliver. Their record in the period that they were the DA was zero on delivery because the same problems arose, the system is not conducive to delivery. We must not debate this matter as if the future of democracy is in question over the floor crossing legislation and that therefore the floor crossing legislation is a manifestation of ANC wanting to centralise, self-preservation, but it is not …it's a symptom of a larger problem.

POM     To simply therefore, if I'm reading you right, you are saying that if the matter is left at floor crossing alone that would be a misjudgement of the state that one must look at as the Slabbert Commission is supposed to look at the overall system.

MM     Whatever you do for today's problems do not close the door to a balanced, considered view coming out of the situation. Then in the meantime the Van Zyl Commission is also just focused on electoral systems, I think there needs to be a parallel debate on the delivery model because clearly delivery is a major problem and currently government and legislature is grappling with these problems in terms of the Municipal Financial Bill, in terms of the reorganisation. The reason why it's on the back burner is that every time you want to discuss the provinces the issue that pops up there is between a central form of government and a federal form. They debate these labels rather than the practical structure and in that quest every party has shown a tendency if it controls a province it then wants a centralised system in the province, but if it doesn't control the province it wants a federal form, and if it is not the leading party in the central government it wants a federal – and yet in the central government because the ANC commands seven out of nine provinces its own structures in the provinces, provincial government, want more power for themselves. So the issue is not being debated what is good for the country for the next ten years, the issue is always being debated as if to say there's an all-time answer to this problem. There is no all-time solution.

     On reflection that trade-off that was made in Kempton Park delivered us something which when I came into government told me we needed at the beginning to bring all the pieces that apartheid had created together, a centralisation in order to loosen up and deliver in the meantime, but I am mindful that when you do that you create vested interests in the system. That's the reality of social …institutions live on, are created supposedly for a purpose, long after they have fulfilled their purpose they hang on.

POM     They enjoy themselves.

MM     The vested interests have grown out of the old system. Now you come to the SABC. Let's put the general thrust. I think that the freedom of speech and association in this country, in SA, is thriving but I think against that statement one must make the counter statement that democracy is still maturing. It has not matured. I think if you look at the media as a whole, print, television, electronic, it is far below the standards that you require in media in the US. Very little informed investigative reporting. Very little informed encouragement of debate with a sense of history and concrete realities. All parties contribute to that eventually, including the ANC incumbent. When the ANC repeatedly raises the race card or very easily labels anybody as counter-revolutionary, unconsciously or consciously it shuts down debate. I think as a ruling party is has an obligation to ensure that debate is informed by facts, is analytically grounded, and it keeps asking the key questions of a stable way forward for the development of this country. Therefore, it should not be pandering to the other levels of debate, lower levels of debate that others may want to encourage.

     The print media, if you spoke to the print media, they will tell you that they've experienced from individuals in government or from signals all sorts of pressure. I think that the fact that there are those pressures does not deny the existence of freedom of speech. Those pressures are there in the US, in Britain and France. A minister and government officials try to tell them, to manipulate. So the fact that they get those phone calls or they have those little dinners.

POM     That's par for the course.

MM     The strength of a democracy is the editor, how do you react to these pressures? That is not a symptom of the failure of free speech. In the print media I think that even the Editors' Forum accepts that there is a huge need for upgrading and skilling themselves, not by hand out from government.

     Now we come in that context to the SABC. What we inherited in 1994 was a public broadcaster funded by the state and very briefly the model that came up in the negotiation process was how to level that playing field but how to maintain a public broadcaster serving the public needs and funded by the public. So ETV came out. Earlier the government had granted permission to M-Net, which was a pay television station and therefore elite, but ETV came in as 'free to air' and the SABC had to start going through a restructuring. Now as a public broadcaster it has been a drain on funds and in its transformation one of the things that had to be attended to was how do you use this public broadcaster instrument to ensure that the eleven languages that are official are encouraged. Until now the nine other languages are hardly catered for. That mandate is a mandate that comes from the constitution and there must be a mechanism to ensure that it adheres to that mandate and in the financial constraints that have arisen almost a British model began to come in. Can we have a BBC, an ITV and Channel 4? In Britain it's coming in the context of a playing field that was created as far back as the fifties. ITV as a commercial TV station grew out of the private sector and challenged the BBC. The reality is they have been competing almost in a terrain that began to be level. Here there is no possibility to level that television field. ETV is still a loss-making private sector institution and it is now being funded by Remgro which is the Rupert family, it is family funded.

POM     Who?

MM     Rupert, Johan Rupert. He's the primary funder, shareholder of ETV but it's on the basis that it's a loan and right now they're asking for the change to the Broadcasting Act so that that empowerment eventually is removed and Remgro can take over the shares for what it's worth.

     In the meantime M-Net, the pay TV, remains a closed shop. SABC has this huge task of transforming itself. I haven't seen the amendment you're talking about.

     Against that broad framework clearly the standard of television journalism from the past was atrocious, it was no journalism, it was just government mouthpiece. I think that it has gone through a phase of trying to distance itself from government but it depends on the individuals that are appointed to it and I think that government has concerns, I'm talking about the legitimate concerns because I think we always need to ask what are their legitimate concerns in all this. I think government is legitimately concerned at the standard of journalism in the public broadcaster. There is a tendency in the new SA that says independent journalism means anti-government journalism. There is some truth to that because I think you maintain your independence by having a critical – but that's not the whole truth, critical doesn't mean anti. I think journalism in the SABC is still coming short, far away from that. It depends on which journalist is running which thing and not only the black ones. The encouragement of a tolerance of all religions I think is a real issue in this country, of diversity. Last night I saw on ETV by accident, when they came to the sports news the newscaster went on a rampant rave about this assault on the referee. His was not a report issue, it was from line one, "This is the old South Africa, these are the boorish people, the brandy and coke people who hit the referee." And right through his reportage, which took about ten minutes, he was being a politician. He was promoting himself. Even as the news announcer he says, 'I', 'I don't.'That's on ETV, because I can see to make money the majority view in this country is going to be against what happened to that referee, and it's indefensible. And so ETV wants a wider listenership and it gives reins to its reporter who is the Sports Editor to just go to town to the point of promoting himself. That's a real problem with the SABC too and I don't think it's going to be solved in the next few years, the standard of journalism.

POM     Well let's come back to that issue when you're more familiar with it or have had a chance to catch up on the proposed legislation. You mentioned the race card, how it's used in context. I found it odd at the reburying of Sarah Baartman to lash out at what was done 180 years ago. That's the racism of it all. It's like a disjuncture, it's like if in Ireland we went back and began to lash out at the Britons about the penal laws that were even more racial than apartheid. You were a dead person if you were a Catholic, you didn't exist. What was the purpose of it?

MM     Did you read Mbeki's speech in The Star yesterday?

POM     No. I was in Cape Town.

MM     Well it's the Independent Group, it should have been reproduced in many of the Independent papers. But it was there yesterday and I must tell you, Padraig, when I read the thing, when I heard it on the news over the weekend Mbeki lashes out, and then when I read the thing yesterday I didn't find it such a huge lash. It was a fairly considered speech. Mbeki writes his speeches in a style that seeks to have analytical content and then seeks to have a lot of imagery to it. That's his style. So when I read it I said, how do I react to this speech? On one side I can understand this speech. Here was the occasion for the reburial after 180 years. That is a tribe that even in today's SA has not had its problems resolved because it was a tribe that was being eliminated. When I read that speech therefore there is a strand of thought that I accept as legitimate and you will find it in -

POM     Walter Sisulu's essay?

MM     In his essay.

POM     This is in Reflections, right?

MM     Yes in Reflections.

     "Furthermore, despite the diversity of colonial and imperialist powers that have made our continent their hunting ground, the common history of our peoples that is in Africa is imprinted with a particularly traumatic experience which colonialism seems to have earmarked for our people, namely the wholesale slave trade that ripped open and destroyed the fabric of African societies. Slave owing societies have existed before in many parts of the world and I relate it to a particular stage in the historical evolution of human society but the slave trade that transported millions of our people into slavery in North and South America in particular and killed many more millions in the process was associated with developing capitalism and was practised on a scale never equalled before. Finally, while it is common practice for the colonialists and imperialists in the process of subjugating and maintaining their rule over colonial peoples to denigrate the culture of our peoples, in our continent this practice was carried to its ultimate limits. In Africa imperialism completely denied our cultural past and history and applied the theory of race superiority so as to stamp our people with a mark of permanent inferiority."

POM     That is page 74.

MM     Page 74.Now, we can debate that special character but Eric Williams' Study on Capitalism and Slavery is the most authoritative which carried out figures, numbers, the West Indian. Padraig, even when they found the Zimbabwe Ruins, until the 1970s there seemed to have been a debate amongst academics whether it was a foreign force that created the Zimbabwe structures, now known as the Zimbabwe Ruins. In SA archaeological find after archaeological find was always being put as the creation of some foreign peoples, not of the indigenous peoples. It is a particularly painful thing for us Africans to grow out of, to recreate our history so that we have a sense of pride, a sense of self-esteem because that cultural, historical denial was saying you're a sub-species.

     He is citing leading scientists in Europe. At the time that Sarah Baartman was taken, it was very gruesome, but when the scientists dissected Sarah Baartman his description in his medical report and study is to equate her with sub-human species and with the chimpanzees, through her skull to the shape of her vagina. How do we regenerate our sense of self-esteem? Of course it is the majority population in this country that is tainted with that mark of inferiority. He chooses to come at it from that point of view. I don't want to become personally debating does he come at it from that angle. I simply want to acknowledge by showing that mark that was put on us he is seeking to step out of that permanent state of inferiority. He chooses to cite all those scientists of 180 years ago to say they were part of that creation of that environment because they were scientists, and therefore he wants us to question those scientists and not to accept in the realm of social development science as uniquely truthful.

     I repeat, I am saying this to understand where it comes from, what he's saying. Whether the methodology he is using as the person who is the President of the country is the correct methodology to create that self-esteem is open to debate.

POM     That's what we were talking about last week of people feeling that their experience was unique. The English wrote stuff about the Irish well into the nineteenth century.

MM     Tutu comes at the same problem in Reflections in his foreword from a different angle. He says, "Nations are built through sharing experiences, memories and history." That's what makes up a nation. That is why people have often tried to destroy their enemies by destroying their histories, their memories, that which given them identity. That is why new immigrants who want to become naturalised citizens in their new motherland are asked to appropriate significant portions of its history. We don't find that jarring. But Tutu is addressing the same problem. He is saying here's a part of it that should go into the memories of everybody. I don't know how many white people read this book to appropriate it to them. In the US that is one of the things that it does. Every immigrant is brought up to appropriate significant portions of the history of the US into that person, into that collective memory.

     That is why last night on the SABC news, or the ETV news, there was this South African who was doing biological warfare research and is now being suspected over anthrax in the US. Once he appeared on the steps of the court addressing a multitude of reporters and I listened to him, very dramatic, he said, "I am an American, I am a loyal American." He didn't say it once, he said it many times. This is the man that was close to the AWB in SA."I am an American."

POM     To the AWB?

MM     Yes. He said, "I am an American, I am proud of that. I am a loyal American." He said, "I've never taken anthrax."He didn't say - I was researching for the apartheid government biological warfare and I was part of the AWB. I'm saying, your question, would you have chosen the occasion of the reburial of Sarah Baartman? I'm not like Steve Tshwete to complain that there were no whites in the audience. It is a recovery of South African history, a building of a South African memory. We have to be very, very cautious, am I doing everything I can?

POM     It's like in your presentation, the way you presentsomething becomes the issue rather than the content. As you say Tutu said it beautifully and correctly in four short, very memorable sentences. Here you have an occasion, and we're not discussing what President Mbeki is saying, but where you have the issue presented in a way where the language that is used taints the message.

MM     Taints the message. Maybe it does not make significant portions or sections of our society to buy into that memory. That's a debate. Because there are no answers to that problem. We are building a nation and maybe Mbeki would, if I sat down with him alone or you sat down with him, would say to you: Padraig, did you see the audience that I was speaking to? They were only African and San people.

POM     I'd say: Mr President, we have a problem and it hasn't been helped by the way you addressed the issue.

MM     He'd say not hasn't been helped. He would say: Can we not do better because surely you want that memory embedded in all South Africans?"And therefore you have to be consciously … in the country. That doesn't mean that every moment you have the same message. You may at different times emphasise different aspects of that message but periodically you've got to be pulling together, putting it together so that people see what …Now in the Sarah Baartman speech what was significant is, he says, in the recent period he would be saying the building of the African … This time in that speech he said the jury has got to be out on this, but what is important is that there should be debates.

POM     But in the absence of being able to build common, collective memory, this is surely true of Northern Ireland, there is not a common, collective memory at all.

MM     We're not there yet. At the moment there are two histories, two memories.

POM     Yes, and the crossover is still very tenuous. You'd have a similar situation here that you can really have a nation that is –

MM     The American people have lots of things dividing them but over the years since the Independence War there, everybody shares all these …There are some small segments who would deny that. Now in American memory in the recent period that you can say what is in that memory bank is not just uniform, it is diverse, it is two issues.

POM     Go forward to become an embracive memory with a core set of values before it can in a sense go backwards to address, say, issues like the American Indians, go backwards to address the question of the American Indians. You know what I mean?

MM     The difference is that in SA through the constitution that we negotiated and then the final constitution, what we find there is something that I feel …That is why –

POM     A supplement to Reflections.

MM     An extract from Mandela and I headed that extract A Nation Built on Memories and he invited Frene Ginwala and Barney Pityana to respond to this extract in the context of saying there's a great debate here around unity, diversity and racism. It's very provocative this extract from Madiba. He says: -

     "As far as Robben Island is concerned it is understandable that Xhosas in the past may have called it after Makanna since in those days they fought as Xhosas rather than as Africans and even much less as blacks." It was written in 1978. "After all Makanna was a leader of the Xhosas who commanded an army of 18,000 in 1890 and who devastated white areas for several months. His people were greatly disappointed by his management and deeply shocked by his unexpected death when trying to swim from the Island to the mainland. They knew very little or nothing about the history of other indigenous people of SA or about the men who were deported here long before Makanna was deported. But it is not clear why in the 20th century a political movement could endorse the use of a name which ignores the contribution of heroes who were the first to be associated with Robben Island or who at least equally deserve to be so honoured. Quite a number of people including condemned prisoners or rebelling crews of passing ships were sent to the Island from the beginning of the 17th century. In 1658 the first black patriot, known to historians as Harry the Strandloper, who was a Khoisan, was banished here to this island. After living on the island for 17 months he escaped to the mainland. He was followed in 1742 by Sheik Madura(?) who had fought the Dutch in his homeland Batavia. He lived on this island until his death in 1724 and a shrine that belongs to his followers to this island regularly hallows his memory. Why would Makanna's name be preferred above these prisoners? It cannot be because he, as a Khoi-Khoi Chieftain with a small following, was regarded as inferior to the Bantu speaking army leader, nor could it be owing to the fact that the other was a Moslem, a religious leader from a foreign country. Freedom fighters cannot be subjected to such discrimination and have the honour by progressive forces in other parts of the world. All they need to deserve honour is to suffer or die for a great cause. That is why other countries have honoured men like Albert Luthuli, Bram Fischer and Patrice Lumumba."

     I found that very provocative because what he is saying is be a little bit conscious of what you are doing. He said be conscious what you put into that memory, that's what I want you to do.I think he tackles the same issues so it is an issue that is not described as a key issue basically, but it is sitting in many people's minds including President Mbeki's. It is not articulated as being problematic and constantly put up as a problem and constantly debated. We try to, we try.

     When I was still in government we had to decide how do we describe in our history the Anglo Boer War of 1899-1902. The debate got stuck, what do we call this war? And Afrikaners rebelled, you want to remove the glory of our history, we fought the British. And the British protested, you want to perpetuate what we did in the concentration camps. You want to bring this back. And then others started writing and saying butblacks suffered in the war, they served on the Boer side and they served on the English side and nobody writes about them. You did not get significant numbers of black people getting a picture in the paper saying, "I want to - "

POM     Why is Sarah Baartman on the one side and the anniversary on the other?

MM     And the country has not yet started appropriating these things into memory.

POM     But there was no South Africa in –

MM     In 1980. Yes.

POM     It didn't exist.

MM     But it's part of the memories as to what went into this SA because Harry the Strandloper was 1658, Sheik Madura from Batavia who died on Robben Island was 1760 something. But we say bring them into the memory as part of this emerging memory of the nation, appropriate it.

POM     Just to follow up, how would you distinguish, I want to go back to maybe three things. One would be, how would you distinguish between countries? And two, the fact that SA was really created, and I use the word 'created' deliberately, by the British in 1910.

MM     So was India. Before colonialism there was no entity called India, it was princedoms. Nehru's book Discovery of India which he wrote in prison was to go back to the roots, right to Alexander the Great and before him and when you read Discovery of India you will find that India was a by-product of colonial rule. It is what gave the unification to all these princedoms and brought them together against a common enemy around which a common identity grew. Till today we're all, you ask a person, who are you? He says I'm Indian. It didn't exist, so did SA not exist. The boundaries of Ghana which under British rule was Gold Coast, which became independent, when Ghana became independent it took the name of a kingdom that was roughly in that region which pre-dated colonialism. They named their country Ghana. It does not coincide necessarily with the boundaries of the then-existing Ghana but it certainly grabbed the imagination of the majority so that if today, Ghana only became independent in 1957, so if you went to Accra and walked the streets and asked a person what are you, he'd say Ghanaian, but you would say you're a Gold Coaster. He'd say, what? Bullshit, I'm Ghanaian.

     The symbolism behind those names is important but what you have to do, you ask South Africa is an entity of 1910. Yes, but it is not accepted and there have been efforts by the PAC to call this Azania and it was rejected. There was a time when we felt in the struggle years that if we had to rename our country what would we go on? In that essay by Madiba I'm sure he says something else. He says when you rename you should generate enthusiasm and use that symbolism to unify. We've abandoned over the name partly I think because we're such a diverse society in racial and religious terms, and cultural terms.

     But at the same time look at the coat of arms of SA, adopted with the 1999 constitution. This is a San language, it's not one of the official languages. That's the Mbeki government deciding on the coat of arms took an obscure San sect language, which is dead, and not an official language in our constitution, and put it as the key thing in our coat of arms.I think the message was clear and I say so … of unity in diversity, which is this slogan which is emblazoned on the coat of arms of democratic SA, the issues of race, ethnicity, language and culture and religion, there is enormous emotional content. Stereotyping fear and chauvinism aggravates these issues. In a bid to bring major social changes there within, all kinds of insecurities have to be managed. The real test is that these insecurities should never be allowed to reach a point of distrust in the emerging social order. That is the test but I deliberately took this and called for people on the language debate, I phoned or I wrote to people saying, "Why is this on the …" And I had a section again, an extra to Mandela,Mandela says language is what makes us human.

     At the back of my mind I was hoping that somebody in response would tackle that and ask the question, why? It's not an issue. It is to say that beyond these official languages all our linguistic … even some of the languages that have been killed because …

POM     British cartographers -

MM     I don't have the answer.

POM     This kind of brings you in. Again, I've asked the question of nation and country, the difference between the two.

MM     Nation, country. It is Europe that gave us, 18th, 19th century Europe, that gave us the concept of a national state. Before that the concept of a nation state did not exist. When you talked about Rome it could either be that you were a person living and born in Rome or you were from the Roman Empire.

POM     So 'I am British', that's a secondary identity.

MM     And the British have got a very unique system because there's the Englishman, there's the British man. To a Welshman, are you British? He says I'm British. You say are you English? He'll say I'm not English. Into that British Isles when you talk about Englishmen, Scotsmen, Welsh and Northern Irish, they all see themselves as British.

POM     Each see themselves - they're English and then they're British, whereas the Northern Irish have a problem, they're British but they don't know what their primary – they won't say they're Irish. They'll say, well, I'm just British, that's it.

MM     So Britain has got that still uncomfortable relationship and all I am saying is that the convergence of a country defined by its geographical boundaries and a nation has not been synonymous except that it emerges in Europe in the 18th and 19th century, the equation of a nation state.

POM     Then they destroyed it when they cut the boundaries.

MM     And how they cut the boundaries had no logic. But then you had the experiment in countries. The Chinese sees themselves as Chinese. The only jarring thing in China in modern history has been where do you …But for the rest everyone says they are Chinese. They come from that enormous, it's a sub-continent but they're all Chinese and yet they have different languages, different practices and different customs and continuity of the Chinese and hierarchies.

     (The Soviet Union) carved out the bulk of the Russian Empire into the union of socialist republics and had to argue that the diversity and autonomy of the people would live within a larger entity. Today, look at the collapse of the Soviet Union. You ask a guy, the very chaps that I used to meet from the former Soviet Union, I said, "What are you?" He says, "I'm Russian." Nobody says, there was a time when they used to say, "I'm a Soviet", but that's gone. It never really gelled together and we should be looking at that experience to say what were they putting into that memory bank? Were they putting something too narrow that it has left no residue in their memories or were they putting something into the nation, the equation is what …

     And here in the African continent given that past that I referred to in Walter Sisulu, it is easier and more comfortable and comforting to think in African things. In his (Mbeki's) speech, 'I am an African' he could make the hairs on the back of my neck also stand with pride because in that speech he didn't define it narrowly as an indigenous African, he defined it broadly where the colours could still be different but you would feel that you were African. [It is a very good … whether the first building block should be…of the problems in the rest of Africa.] If there were success stories moving in Africa others who are not necessarily indigenous could easily buy into the concept of saying 'I am an African'. So there is a pool that says first try to get this concept of South Africa under way and then make it grow into 'I am an African', and another side that says let's overcome our past which dubbed us alien by appropriating all of Africa and then asserting ourselves as South African.

POM     In this context where would Indians fit forty years later or less than forty years later since they formed the Natal Indian Congress to secure their rights as British subjects even though Britain wasn't the colonial power? They saw themselves as part of being British, that was accepted.

MM     Yes.

POM     Then they rolled over on the part of the South Africa. When did that rollover, if youhad asked your Dad, your father, who he was what would his response have been?

MM     My grandmother would probably have said, 'I'm an Indian', and my father would probably say, 'I'm South African.'

POM     Even though he was born in - ?

MM     He would begin to say what Fatima Meer carved out in the seventies, to say, 'I am Indian South African'. This was given an impulse by the ANC/Indian Congress working together and Nehru from India said to the Indian people in SA, "Your future lies with the African majority." In the melting pot there would be a generation that would call themselves South African Indians and then Fatima Meer came and said, "No, you're not South African Indians, we're Indian South Africans."

POM     So she was primarily –

MM     She put the adjective, she said the adjective is Indian and now we're South African. Whereas in this one, South African Indian, the adjective is 'South African' and now it's 'Indian'. We are Indian South Africans, Indian qualified to be South African. I think it remains a problem for the Indian community.

     I say my father when I was born in 1935 it was the last contact we had with my grandfather's brother. He actually named me in a letter. My father wrote to him and said, "Uncle, my son has been born, what name do you suggest? You name him." So he named me. My father was unemployed and the uncle said, "Come over to India", but my father refused to go to India. He opted to stay here and I think that was a defining moment in his life. My uncle claimed to be a landowner in India. Had he gone back he would not be unemployed, he would be materially reasonably secure, but he chose no, I'm not going.

POM     So would you think that the Irish who emigrated to England, they went because there were jobs, they had to go rather than choosing to g , but your father could choose to go?

MM     Yes, and said, "No I don't want to."

POM     They became British?

MM     They didn't need to become British. In my Dad's case using that incident of a definitive refusal, and that was the end of contact between him and his uncle, it was the last letter.

POM     He didn't think he would take it seriously.

MM     Yes, it was the last. My grandfather had only one brother and that family tree died out in India because that uncle had no children and he said, "Come over, my nephew, with your children and your wife, I am a landowner. You will be secure. Your children's future will be taken care of. You don't have to suffer unemployment. You've been unemployed from 1929 and it's now 1935, so come, you will be like a son to me." And my father says, "No, I have chosen this country as my country." Communication stopped between them.

POM     Was he so far as those who had been indentured in labour, he had the choice of either staying here or I'm going to be a free man, more freedom in that, or going back to India? Does that mean that when they chose to stay by the act of staying that they accepted that they were British Indians, to use your phraseology?

MM     That is part of that defining moment in the collective. The decision of so many indentured labourers not to return may have been precipitated by the fact that they still had a memory of where they came from in India and did want to go back to that economic hardship, but already the choice not to return at a cost paid by the British government was beginning to make a choice here. As I say in the individual consciousness that would have come up in additional moments.

POM     They were staying under the understanding that they would be free people and have the same rights as any other British subject?

MM     Right.

POM     The right to vote, the right to franchise, the right to participation in every way.

MM     In every way, and as they saw those rights being denied they got into a struggle and as they went into struggle around rights for themselves they came to a consciousness that those rights rested with also aligning themselves with the African majority and that began to mature into their South Africanism.

POM     That defining moment came?

MM     That defining moment came after the passive resistance campaign in 1946 and the Freedom Charter of 1950 because the Freedom Charter articulated by the majority of the Africans said South Africa belongs to all who live in it and, secondly, it said the diversity of our cultures and religions and languages is our wealth.

POM     And yet you had Mandela as late as 1951, he talks about it in his Long Walk to Freedom, wanting the Indian part of the Defiance Campaign –

MM     1950. Yes he had great reservations and his reservations were in terms of that because they had carved out advantages for themselves relative to the African, we were better equipped educationally, etc., he felt that they would dominate the scene and therefore he wrote the possibility of Africans asserting themselves. But as he says he changed his mind.

POM     Accepted it as -

MM     Well not only that he changed his mind, he will say it in Ismail Meer's biography, that until he met Ismail Meer and J N Singh at Wits University his conception of Indians was that they were just merchants, shopkeepers, and it was through his contact with J N Singh and Ismail Meer that he began to look at South African Indian history and realise that the bulk of them were working people and he said that was a rude shock to him.

POM     When did he go to Wits, was it after 1950?

MM     No before 1951, 1946/47/48.

POM     But then he didn't, he talked about –

MM     Change took place slowly. Came the 1946 passive resistance by the Indians, 2000 Indians went to jail, men and women. It was a rude awakening for Madiba because he began to ask himself, these people are really prepared to fight, make sacrifices. But at that stage he saw it as why can't my people do it? And through this contact and debate and getting an understanding he begins to read, he begins to know and meet Indians and he begins to read about India. Come 1950 he's still holding hard to his view and then he shifts his view in between 1950 and 1955 because he's part of the committee writing the Freedom Charter.

POM     So you had – when you talked about your relationship with J N Singh that on another occasion you had learned you were a nephew of his.

MM     He's my nephew.

POM     He is YOUR nephew?

MM     He may be older than me but he's my nephew.

POM     I won't even go into that.

MM     My sister was married to his father's brother.

POM     Married to his father's brother, OK. I had relatives who could give you family histories like – they don't exist now, people in the country would go through family trees, zip zap, zip zap, you know. I could never get it.

MM     I can only pick my relatives from the good ones. All the ones that are bad or crooked I don't pick them.

POM     So, again, your sister?

MM     My eldest sister.

POM     How many years older than you?

MM     Oh, my eldest sister was born 1916.

POM     From your father's first wife, is that right?

MM     My father's first wife. If she was alive now she would be about 87 years old. Now she was married to J N Singh's father's brother, so she was J N Singh's auntie and therefore I am J N Singh's uncle. J N Singh is the son of this brother. My sister is married to this brother. So they are brothers, she's auntie to this JN and therefore I'm uncle to JN.

POM     So you're close relatives, not a distant relative. Or how would this be described in the Indian community?

MM     In the Indian community it would be regarded as close but I didn't have that level of contact with him.

POM     Yes I've got nephews and nieces I've never met. They're in Australia or – well they've got other names. But there was that connection so when you got to Robben Island you came there as the nephew of somebody who – Mandela didn't even know that?

MM     No, Madiba didn't even know.

POM     Did that emerge during your - ?

MM     In the course of our discussion but it never struck us as significant. It was enough that we shared a comradeship with this J N Singh. That was the more stronger bond. If he had asked me is JN your nephew, and I would say yes, he'd say, "Did you know him well?" "No." "Were you in regular touch with him?" "No, I only got in touch with him on political work." So that was the overriding relationship, political.

POM     So he would only have been about 12 years older than you?

MM     JN would have been – Madiba is 84 now, JN would have been about that age, 84, and I am 68 so he would be 16 years older than me.

POM     When you were in Durban when you were involved in political work were you much in contact with him?

MM     No.

POM     Was he an influence on your work?

MM     I have never visited his home when I was in Durban, when I was a student in Durban. I never visited his home. I knew his legal practice, I visited his legal practice, I met him in his legal practice because I was working for a lawyer as a clerk. He was banned. I did not meet him at meetings of the Indian Congress because he could not attend meetings but I knew of him and from time to time when we took decisions at the Indian Congress we would get a message.

     And I felt that I needed a separate accommodation in case I was in trouble. I would not normally use it but if I found that the police were looking for me instead of running out of the country where would I take cover that nobody would guess where I am? So I had a discussion with Billy Nair and I raised with Billy the possibility, where does JN stand politically? He said JN is still fine, you can trust him. So I said, "Well he's the man that could find us somebody else who would adhere to his request to provide accommodation without asking who is this person." So I approached this subject with JN and within days he produced for me an accommodation in the north of Durban and for Siphiwe an accommodation deep south of Durban. I didn't know where the place was for Siphiwe, Siphiwe didn't know where the place was for me.

POM     Moving backwards again to last week, we're now on a different track. We had been talking about your Dad and mostly about your Dad. I am still trying to imagine you as a child. Were you an argumentative child? Were you a very social child? Were you rebellious? Were you a loner? Who were your friends at school? What are your memories of school?I know my parents used to tell me stories of how when they went to school it was a one-roomed school so every class was in the one room but they used to divide the room into two parts and switch, and so two classes would be going on simultaneously in one room and teachers run back and forth and teach one grade one minute and another grade the following minute. What was your school situation like? What did the kids talk about? Was it a Indian school for Indian kids? Was it segregated, a boys school only, girls had their own school? Was that close by? What was the interaction? Do you know what I mean? The normal thing of growing up. And soccer, you talked about soccer a lot.

MM     My memories of that period, my childhood, I think I was a bit of a loner. It's a lonely background where my brothers at the age of 13 or 14 went out to work. Now my memories are first of all that as kids, toddlers, up to the age of about eight or nine all our clothes were made by my mother, pants and shirts.

POM     You said you didn't get your first pair of long pants until you matriculated.

MM     From the cheapest cloth. My memories of my first shoes, I don't know how old I was but the memory of my first shoe is very, very clear and sharp. I thought I was the greatest guy just to have a pair of shoes.

POM     Did you go to school for a while without wearing shoes?

MM     Yes. Then my memory is my bicycle because we had only one bicycle for the whole family because even as my father was crippled, in the first part of his crippled life he could still get onto a bicycle to go into town and he'd come back because it was his ankle and his hip, but he would amble along so there was this bicycle which he stopped using by about 1943/44, he couldn't use the bicycle.

POM     When he got off the bicycle would he have to go back into - ?

MM     To get off the bicycle he had to make sure that he's got a place to put the good foot on. He had a walking stick and he would with difficulty walk. He never had a crutch, never a wheelchair. But that bicycle was an adult bicycle and as a kid I learned to ride that bike, we called it monkey riding, because here's the frame of the bicycle.

POM     Was it like an old British Raleigh bike?

MM     Yes, like the old Raleigh. The pedal with the chain around it so on the frame, which is like a triangle, we put one leg inside on the other side and the other leg would be here. We would hold the handlebars, because we were too small to get up onto the saddle or on this bar, so you put one leg inside this triangle and you pedalled away.

POM     With one foot.

MM     Yes, one foot, no two feet but you had the one foot through this thing. So you held the handlebars like this and your position like this.

POM     Sure, I've got you.

MM     We called it monkey riding.

POM     Yes, you're going inside the frame.

MM     And this leg is twisted around and you come and you get into trouble because there's all the grease.

POM     Oil all over you, yes.

MM     I loved cycling. But then I was given the cycle, I was allowed to use the cycle because one of my jobs was to go and collect the Sunday papers at five in the morning from the railway station and distribute them to all my father's cronies. Now it was not a chore for me, five o'clock in the morning, Sunday morning, into the winter, I would be – just the fact that I've got a bicycle - go pedalling away all over delivering the papers.

POM     So you were the delivery boy on Sunday?

MM     Delivery boy for everybody on Sunday morning because that's the Sunday Times.

POM     It's still Sunday Times.

MM     Yes it's still the Sunday Times. That was a great thing for me. I'd come there, I could take the bicycle and once I had delivered the Sunday papers I would go back. I'd deliver my Dad's paper first before I delivered all the others and then go off pedalling into the hills for the whole day, on my own. I still remember the area, a small village right out in the bundu. By village I mean just one shop, it was about 17 – 20 kms away, and I would pedal all the way there and it would take me the whole day, it didn't matter. Food didn't matter as long as I could have an orange, a bit of bread, no butter, nothing. Fine, I'll have bread and water, I'd stop by the river at a waterfall and have that, drink water from the river. Fine. That was my Sunday. Then as I grew older –

POM     What age did you start that?

MM     Probably around ten. When I'd come home Dad would say, "Where have you been?" and all that. So whenever I could sneak away I would sneak away on this bicycle. Then of course as my brothers continued working they would save and each one of them acquired a bicycle to go to work, so I could borrow their bicycles. I remember cycling, I can remember cycling as a great passion of mine in the open air but it started off all on my own, nobody else with me, just cycling.

     So I say a bit of a loner. By the time I'm in high school of course I had friends now, could steal bicycles from their homes, can we get a bicycle, can we take from Saturday afternoon and then three, four of us would get together and go off cycling. Next Sunday one or two of them would manage to get hold of a bicycle and off we would go on Sunday. But my memory tells me I didn't depend on whether they were available or not. Whoever could get hold of a bicycle would join me but if they didn't get a bicycle I would go off on my own and it didn't bother me. I enjoyed that sort of solitude.

     I loved reading but not all my friends were as passionate about reading. They were living similar lives as me, help around the house and help their parents, and so how we stole the time was to play football with a tennis ball, to go to school together, the school was far away – two miles away, we had to walk it, to and from school. Then we met at the cattle camp where we took the cattle and left them every day to graze for the day. We took them on our way to school and we collected them on our way back from school and then they would be milked in the cattle enclosure in each one's yard. That was the milk for the family, and sometimes if your cow gave more milk then you sold it.

     So going to school through the cattle camp, we would play in the cattle camp. We finished school at two or three, we didn't go home, we played in the cattle camp.

POM     You had to take the cattle?

MM     We had to bring the cattle home and then it's milking time and you're gone on your own. It was on weekends my cycling. On weekdays of course it was also a little time to play with the tennis ball even in the cattle camp. All of us congregated there, somebody got a tennis ball.

POM     Took off your shoes or whatever, made them into goal posts.

MM     No shoes, two bits of rock as a goal post and had great fun. So I don't have it as a memory of deprivation but I don't have a memory of a huge circle of friends. That part of social life and recreation was wrapped in some work like I got a bicycle to go and ride on a Sunday because I delivered the newspapers. I got to play at the camp with my friends because we took the cattle. So that's how we got to fill it in.

     I say that I was a loner because even my interest in reading, I was a voracious reader. I remember the local newspaper was called the Newcastle Advertiser, I must have been about 12 years of age, we had a competition, spot the errors in that week's paper and the errors, those who found six errors - I had found ten and I won the prize. The article informing that I won the prize said, "Our mistakes embarrass us because we said it was a competition to find six errors." I got two shillings and sixpence. I used to read like hell.

POM     Now wasn't your father proud?

MM     Partly because I had also to read to my father as I began to grow, and his cronies. Sometimes he would say, "This big word." Then gradually it would be current in the newspaper. "Bring that book there, open the passage, read down the line", to all his cronies. But he was boasting about his son at the same time. I had a great passion for reading and this was not shared by all my friends. Reading wasn't an activity that was collective. It was an individual activity, so I was a loner.

     It started off as a school somewhere in the twenties, they are just observing their fiftieth anniversary of the school or the seventieth? My brothers went to that school. It was the Indian community had banded together and financed a school and later on they qualified for government assistance so it was a government aided school by the time I went to it. The community raised money and government contributed a part of the money. Now it was named after a missionary, it was called St Oswald's.

POM     One of ours?

MM     Yes, Catholic. Because prior to that there was an academy called St Dominics Academy. That is where my father was at school with white children and black children. Somewhere after my father reached standard two they stopped taking black kids and then as an offshoot of that from the Catholic side came this Indian funded school where, of mixed blood, but I think to be that colour, you had to have some Indian background one way or another. Now it was a mixed school, co-educational.

POM     Would this have been a decision on the part of really the parents, a community thing, this is 'our' school?

MM     This is our school, we raised the money, we want our children to be educated and then somebody comes along and says, 'By the way you can get government assistance.' How do you apply? And the headmaster was clearly a Catholic of Indian origin, a Mr Ephraim, the first teacher. The only remaining teacher who was white, my kindergarten, my first year at school was a white woman, Miss Curry. She was a white teacher and I went to school in great awe. I went to school at the age of five.

POM     Like Kader was going backwards for a while.

MM     Is that so?

POM     On his admissions policy. Last year it was six.

MM     So I went to school at five. I was younger. I was like the youngest so all my classes I was sort of one year younger than the average age of the class but I remember my first year at school was something that I didn't …

POM     Was that kindergarten?

MM     No it would have been first year primary, there was no such thing as kindergarten. It was straight into the primary school.

POM     At five?

MM     At five. Because Mr Ephraim was a friend of the family, the principal, it was a small village but my father had a sort of, some sort of status in that community from his reading and Ephraim was one of the guests at our home. He used to visit my father and Ephraim had taught my brothers and my sisters, all of them, and used to always say that my father had very, very clever children. My turn comes around and they are saying this is a very bright boy and Ephraim says, "He's ready for school." So although I'm five years old I get admission. But I think I feared school for the first year because I was not very socialised. Here you are in a class of 15 or 20 kids and not all from suburbs where the Indians are congregated and I don't know all these kids, I've grown up in Lennoxton with four of five families, kids that I know. So I get to the school and I just find it a strange environment that I have this white woman teaching me, Miss Curry, she knows my parents. So my memory of school, the first year, is very uncomfortable. I performed well, always top of the class. My Dad was always extremely boastful because by the time I went to school he's the last year of his unemployment, we got the shop back in 1941, and so there's income coming in so the family is already in an optimistic mood. There was talk that the school would go beyond standard six, taking it into high school. My sister just older than me, two years older than me, it was the first time they opened standard seven.

POM     Now was this a law or was this just because of resources?

MM     Resources.

POM     So it wasn't a matter that Indian education or black education was mandated to standard six and then went to seven, eight or nine, it was a matter of resources on the part of the community?

MM     Community support. Until then if you came from an affluent Indian family, you must be careful, we're talking about lower middle class, and your parents wanted you to be educated you had to be sent to boarding school in Durban.

POM     Even lower middle class?

MM     Yes. Education was a big thing. The way to get out of that poverty trap was to send your child to get a high school education and so for my sisters' - I know of one or two who went on to Durban to become teachers and I think at least one went on to become a doctor because he came from a merchant family, shopkeepers. Now I used to be coming at the top of my class but I used to be very embarrassed by my father's boastings, so much so that I have a memory that in standard three I deliberately tried to do badly in my exams so that I didn't come first.

POM     Was this because in your peers' eyes finishing first, your father's boastfulness about it diminished you in some way, or made you uncomfortable that your parents - ?

MM     It made me feel I was not part of the crowd.

POM     OK, peer thing. OK, yes.

MM     And then this boastfulness of my father because there was another parent, a friend of the family, whose son was with me in school. Now his father was extremely competitive.

POM     His father was?

MM     For his son! I remember him saying in my presence –

POM     The father?

MM     We were coming back from school and as we came to my house, my father was on the veranda with this other boy's father and a couple of old guys, and they spotted us coming and clearly they said, "Oh they're coming with their school reports." And my father of course, very boastfully, "Come here, come here with your report." And I don't like this attention. I give him my report. "Oh you see my son comes first!" The other parent calls for his son's report and his son had come out second or third and he says to him, "Next year."

POM     He says to his son?

MM     The father is saying to his son, "Next year you beat Mac." I said OK and I had what I describe as a sense – I found it unpleasant to be made rivals with my friends. So I one year tried to do badly, I think was fighting that whole environment and after that the fact that I came top of the class was not by effort, it was accidental. I would try not to study. But then I loved reading and so I would still come out top of the class. When my time came – until then I was not overtly rebellious.

POM     Let's just hold on the class for a moment. Did you have an annual exam or a half way exam and then a yearly?

MM     Yes, we had the same system. Then you're all ranked from one to the last. What subjects did you do?

MM     You had no choice in the subjects. By the time you got to high school it was simply six subjects: English, Latin, History, Geography, Mathematics and Biology (a combination of Zoology and Botany called Biology). Those were the six subjects, no choice. In that environment over this I was a rebel but I was a clandestine rebel. I think I've told you my father would sit on that veranda, he's crippled, his crony from half a kilometre down the road, he hasn't seen him today, so he shouts for me, "Go to that uncle, ask him what happened. How come he hasn't stopped yet?" Now this is a chore, I want to dodge it but you've got to go. Now I remember an occasion when my father calls me and gives me some cryptic message. I was playing out in the back yard, in the streets, the veldt, with some friends and he shouts for me. "Take this message to that uncle." And the message he gave me made no sense. So I thought to myself, this is -

POM     You'll deliver the message later.

MM     Later. It didn't sound urgent to me, it made no sense. So I went back to playing with my brother. Hours later my Dad called for me, "Did you take that message?" So I said yes. "What did the uncle say?" "He said he'll see you later." I'm lying. Comes about five o'clock, I happen to walk into the house at the back and I hear my Dad shout to somebody in the street, it was that uncle, "Come here, come here, what's happened to you today? Didn't you get my message?" He says, "What message?" "The message I sent with my son." "I haven't seen him today." We had in one room a wardrobe, sort of wardrobe, and I jumped into that wardrobe and pulled the door behind me, hiding so that when they look for me they can't find me. I was in real trouble. But the trouble was more in my mind, the fear, than the real fear, because what will he do? Call me close to him, take a piece of a stick and give me a thwack. It was just this fear that I'm caught out lying, it was the biggest embarrassment. But later on by the time I'm in standard nine, my second last year of high school –

POM     So what happened in the closet?

MM     I became claustrophobic and fell out and bumped into my Dad.

POM     Did you get a whack?

MM     Yes, got a thump.

POM     Did you ever know what the cryptic message was?

MM     Never knew, never knew. He wanted me in front of this uncle to say did I deliver the message, "Did you deliver the message?" Total silence now. "Didn't you tell me you had delivered the message?" Silence. "What's wrong with you? Bloody liar."

POM     Your first interrogation.

MM     Got a thwack for it but by the time I'm in standard nine I become quite a rebel, quite a rebel.

POM     What age are you now?

MM     It's 1951 so I'm 15, 16, I'm becoming quite a rebel. I'm going off cycling on Saturdays and I would come home on Sunday evening. My brothers have got bicycles too, they want to go off for the whole weekend. Forget about the newspaper, let my little brother do it.

POM     Let your little brother do it?

MM     Yes. But I've disappeared into the hills.

POM     Where would you spend the night?

MM     Sleep out in the bush. I am rebelling because my father is opposed to my playing soccer. I don't know whether I should mention this. I would find ways to save money and go and buy a pair of boots to play soccer because until then we played barefoot, and when my father found out that I had bought a pair of boots he took the boots and put them into the fire because he says, "You've got to work. You're not helping around the house. You're not helping in the shop." And I hated working in the shop. "You're not delivering on those bicycles." We would load a 200 lb. bag of mealie meal on the handlebars and take it and deliver. What a job! Because the bicycle would just tip over and then you're stuck. How do you reload the bicycle? And I want to play, I want to read. I don't want this thing. So I'm beginning to rebel but it's combined with the fact that I'm becoming a good soccer player and the school is now going, because it's a high school now, we're going on soccer tours to play another school in another town. We travel in a van, open van, and when we got there I would find ways to link up with kids because always there's a few hours when you arrive and a few hours after the match has ended and I would find ways to drink beer. I started smoking.

POM     Sixteen.

MM     I started smoking at 13.

POM     And drinking beer at 16.

MM     Yes, didn't get caught. And at school I'm getting rebellious. Part of this no longer non-performance is still coming out first is eating me and the teachers – the thing that happened is that besides the school soccer there was the community level senior division soccer, the adults, and from my generation there were about three of us who were very good football players so we were playing for the senior division on Sunday, for the school on Saturday. In the senior division many teachers were playing and you took your revenge on your teacher on the soccer field. And it was a small community where the adults, my brothers, drinking, at the soccer field spectators getting into fights and here am I playing soccer and finding my brother just older than me was fighting others while the match is going on. So I found all this complex life now and my rebellion began to break out into more open forms. I began to tackle the teachers on the soccer field.

POM     Physically tackle them?

MM     Make sure we injured some of them. We had a teacher who played for Natal as a centre forward and I remember one match, his name was Chetty, he was a Natal player so he was a very good player and he was centre forward and one of my mates was a damn good half back and we decided as the match was going on, today we're getting that teacher. That particular teacher we were going to cripple him. So as the match progressed I was playing somewhere in the front, wing. Now I was not coming into contact with the centre forward, so deliberately in the middle of the match I went to the half back and asked him to play in the forward line and the two of us now were full backs and we converged on this teacher every time he got the ball, the two of us went for him. We went for him to make sure we injured him. Of course Monday you come to school and he's your teacher and he knows, he knows you were gunning for him. It's known amongst the kids, everybody is talking, "Oh, you toppled him time and again. You sent him off the field injured." But come Monday he's your teacher, time for his revenge now and now I began to become the person who emerged in the class to defy the teacher in class.

POM     Would you be punished?

MM     Yes, caned.

POM     Oh good, good.

MM     We got caned at school for that misbehaviour in the classroom.

POM     On the hands?

MM     Hands and backside.

POM     Hands and backside?

MM     In front of the class you got it and then if it was more serious you went to the Principal. Now it must have been standard eight or nine when for some such defiance I was called up to the Principal's office. So he says to me, "I told you to bend down." I decided to hell with you, I'm not bending down. So I tell the Principal, we're just alone him and I said, "I'm not bending down."

POM     Is this the same Principal?

MM     No this is a different Principal. I'm not bending down. And he threatens me. I said, "No, you try it, just try it. You try to administer that punishment I'm going to fight you." And I leave the office. Of course this Principal goes to see my Dad. Now I'm not at home when he comes. That evening my Dad calls me, "The Principal was here, you defied the Principal." "Yes. I couldn't accept that he canes me." He said, "But you did something wrong." I said, "I don't care, he's not going to cane me. He's not going to cane me and he's not going to cane me for grievances of the soccer match on Sundays, the adult soccer match, he's not going to take it out of me at school and find some fault because the teacher sent me to him to be caned. They're taking revenge for me on the soccer field." My Dad says, "Hey! You obey the teachers." I said, "I'm not obeying them." And suddenly a technique grew up of my defiance. I would sneak out on a Saturday night, jump out of the window and disappear, go out drinking. One day I come back and it was a storm, I jump through the window and as I part the curtains there's my mother sitting with a torch. She says to me, "Son, you're in trouble." It was about three o'clock in the morning. I said, "Why?" "Where have you been?" I said, "No don't worry about it." She says, "But your Dad knows that you're not at home because when the storm broke out he sent me to check the windows and doors all round the house and in the process he asked me and I had to tell him, I was afraid, I don't know what happened to you. I had to tell him that you're not here. So tomorrow morning you've got to explain to Dad." Next morning I'm called by my Dad.

POM     Now when you went to bed what did you feel? Did you feel, oh my God!

MM     I know I'm in trouble.

POM     In real trouble.

MM     I'm in real trouble and how am I going to handle it. So next morning when my Dad called me and he says to me, "Where were you?" and he's clearly going to go for me, "Where were you? What were you doing? You only got home at three o'clock in the morning." He's going on, I'm not answering. And he demands an answer and I decided, I said in a very clam voice, "Dad, you want to know the truth?" He says, "Yes I want the truth." So very calmly I said to him, "OK I'm going to tell you truth." And he just shut off, he said, "Stop, don't talk, I don't want to hear." He shouted for my mother and he says, "Look at the arrogance of your son!" So I said, "No, you want the truth, I'm going to tell you the truth where I was." And he realised –

POM     So your Dad what?

MM     He realised that I was going to tell him the truth, from the tone. Maybe I would, I was going to underplay the truth, but the truth was that I was out at a shebeen drinking but just the tone when I said, "Do you want to know the truth?" and he says, "Yes!" I said, "OK, I'm going to tell you the truth." He says, "Don't tell me, I don't want to hear." He became afraid that he had overshot the bolt, that I would now – if I told him the truth we have crossed a barrier, he didn't want to hear. That became a very powerful instrument for me in my rebellion because my Dad would say, "Have you been smoking?" And I'd say, "Do you want the truth?" He'd say, "I don't want to know", because the moment I tell him yes I smoke then we've crossed a barrier because you're not supposed to smoke.

POM     OK, you were saying that he didn't want to know.

MM     He didn't want to know but also once you told him the truth not only have you crossed the barrier of what you can tell him but he's lost control because what does he do next? Then lastly, he is a cripple, by now he's fairly immobile. All he's got is his walking stick next to him so he used to say, "Go out into the garden, cut a twig and bring it." Now he would check whether you brought a good stick or not and then he would tell you to come and step next to him so that you were within reach and he would thwack you. And there was this episode one day when he called me and he said, "Come close." I came a few paces, knowing that I'm now defying him, but still out of reach of the range of his stick and he kept demanding that I come closer and I kept refusing. So I wasn't being rude to him in anything that I said but I just refused to approach him close enough for him to hit me and he became apoplectic because he was totally powerless and all he could do was to shout to my Mum and say, "Look, what type of son have we produced here?" But here I found enormous power, don't walk closer. Go and get him the juiciest stick, give it to him, to just say calmly …

POM     So you had gone from jumping to his every, "Boy!", "Son!", whatever to –

MM     To a quiet defiance.

POM     What did it teach you about yourself? What was happening there? Did you use that application in your life afterwards?

MM     Two things were happening. At school my rebellion was visible, it had to be noticeable to my classmates. It was like, I was part of a group now.

POM     You were accepted.

MM     Yes. But to my father my defiance had to be quiet, not being abusive to him, not being rude to him, not fighting with him but quietly finding out the resistance points and refusing to conform. The two converged into – I was very attracted to a teacher. He had been a drop-out from Medical School in Edinburgh. While studying medicine in Edinburgh his father died and the family financial circumstances changed dramatically overnight. The only thing that he could do was to be a teacher but he had become an alcoholic teacher, clearly a man with a lot of frustration but he was a magnificent teacher. He really inspired me as a teacher.

POM     Do you remember his name?

MM     Francis, Mr Francis, don't remember his first name. But by Standard 8, Standard 9 I used to go on Friday nights, there were two pubs where Indians could go and drink and when he got drunk I would take him to his room and put him to bed. In the classroom he was a fantastic orator with a great passion for literature, English literature, poetry, and then as a Latin master a great one for speaking and inspiring and he inspired me. Even in his drunkenness he used to tell me, "You are a very bright student, you can go far in the world, don't become like me." And one day I walked into a pub to collect him. He was sitting at the bar stool drinking, quite advanced in his drunkenness and I decided to cross the boundary. When I walked in to collect him I said to the barman, "Give me a beer." Francis allowed the barman to put the beer on the counter and he turned round and grabbed me by my shoulders and he said, "You see where I have ended up? Is that where you want to end up, like me? Don't you dare drink and never do it alone."

     Now Francis, I met him when I was first year at university in Natal one day in the street. By this time I was drinking, I was smoking dagga, I was living by gambling, and we bumped into each other in the street, greeted each other and he called me aside. He says, "I believe you're doing exactly what I did which has reduced me to a wasted life." Because I also saw him as a rebel, really a misfit, but I don't know, I saw some greatness in this fellow and of all the teachers he's the only one that I really respected.

POM     Did you have to read, along with learning Latin did you have to learn all Latin history, all about the history of the Roman Empire, all the way back to Romulus and Remus?

MM     Yes, all that.

POM     Oh yes, we had the same education! Same subjects. I hear all my own education coming back only I had to work hard to be first, you just were first naturally. That's the difference!

MM     By the time I got to university I must say I actually, even at London School of Economics, I would walk into the exam room on time, I would write for an hour, hour and a half of a three hour paper and I would make my own calculation, have I got my 50% pass mark.When I felt I had got my pass mark I left the room.

POM     … particularly in the London School.

MM     I was still in that phase where – in a funny way I didn't want to be singled out as different because I came from a community where if you did well in education you stood above the pack.

POM     I won't go into it now but the same thing, there's a social phenomenon to describe that. We can talk about it later some time, not during an interview, because the same thing used to happen in Ireland where families were large and in order for order to be maintained both within the family and the community certain social mechanisms had to come into play where if you stood out you were a threat in a sense to the community, that you had to be reduced to average.

MM     And all my brothers, my elder brothers and everybody in the family, was talking about me, because of my academic record, almost like I was going to be the saviour of the family. I just felt that pressure and as I began to move into politics I just felt it was a pressure I could not discharge.

POM     With politics it wasn't one that you could just get rid of? OK.

MM     Let's call it a day.

     It was only in prison, when I started studying in prison that I began to do well again and began to score As and distinctions but otherwise I was not interested. I just wanted to qualify, pass, I didn't want to do better – I became extreme, but when in prison I took Accounting up to Accounting 2, I refused to do Accounting before and people used to say to me, why? I said because I'm in the political struggle, I don't want one day that we have a quarrel amongst us that I have an option that I can run away to another job and say goodbye to you. I'm in this thing boots and all.

POM     What would his reply be?

MM     He just said I was crazy.

POM     Thought you were crazy?

MM     Crazy.

POM     He probably still does. What you saying is so familiar to me that it's disgusting.

MM     Well that's the experience of all people, all colonised people because the colonising power in addition to social mobility built another barrier as a colonising power. It was another ceiling that it put in your path and it did reduce the population, it did not totally prevent the emergence for a middle class at times, even a capitalist class in some countries, but it certainly blocked the path and held you down and then your social mechanisms of survival in the family, the extended family system, particularly the extended family, was a survival mechanism where every son, every daughter went out to work, came and gave all their money to the family and supported each other and each one got a bit of a break in life, as much as they could take that person but so that you can go one better but bring you back into the family. So those were the mechanisms that were there from a normal underdeveloped society, compounded by a …

POM     What history did you read?

MM     Anything that I could lay my hands on.

POM     But in school?

MM     South African history from the white man's point of view. Union.

POM     Was a lot of emphasis put on Natal?

MM     Oh you learnt about Jan van Riebeeck, to the Great Trek, to the Boer War to Union. That was your history.

POM     Was a lot of emphasis put on the British taking over the Western Cape, on the British coming to Natal first and acquiring Natal and then the Anglo Boer War, so it was more of 'we're still on top'?

MM     It was British history, yes.

POM     British history. So the NP government hadn't obviously been in power by then so they hadn't gotten around to reorienting it into an Afrikaner history. I will have to run and I will see you next week.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.