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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
28 Aug 2002: Maharaj, Mac
POM Mac, let's start with incidents on Robben Island that involved Madiba or your interactions with him, how your relationship developed with him and Walter. Did they begin to see you as somebody with special talents that they had to kind of take the rough edge off of you, I won't say get you into line, but I know that you had been confrontational with warders and Madiba took you aside and said, "Listen, this is not the way to treat warders. If you want to get your way this is the way to go about it", so that I can bring in some anecdotal material as he remembers you. What would he, in your mind, remember of you on the Island? You talked last week about how you were in solitary on your own before you were put into the single block cells.
MM One of the incidents that I recall arose sometime in 1965 when we began to work at the lime quarry. That environment gave us an opportunity to discuss in little clusters without the warders or anybody overhearing because three or four people would simply go with their pick and shovel to a particular spot and start digging and that gave us the opportunity to talk amongst each other. One of the questions that came up straight away was that how were we going to organise ourselves in prison to exist as a disciplined force. Of course while the bulk of us in the single cells were from the Congress Movement grouping, that is to say ANC and the allied congresses as well as the Communist Party and uMkhonto weSizwe, outside before we went to prison the ANC existed as a separate entity and each of the congresses, that is the Indian Congress, the Coloured Congress, the Congress of Democrats, were separate entities, the SA Congress of Trade Unions, SACTU was a separate entity, all gathered together in what was called loosely a Congress Alliance. Then there was the Communist Party which had now been exposed publicly as having existed since 1953/54 in the underground. Then to complicate matters was the Congress Movement constituents, that is the ANC, Indian Congress, COD, CPC, existed in so called racial compartments, the trade unions, SA Congress of Trade Unions, was open to all racial groups.
POM The Congress wouldn't have been in existence in 1965.
MM 1964/65, yes. SACTU was formed in
POM Oh SACTU, sorry, OK.
MM SACTU's membership was open to all races. Then there was the Communist Party whose membership was open to all races and then there was MK which was open to all races. Now what were we to do in prison? Should we go into our little boxes or should we just have a sort of somewhat undefined congress grouping? And the problem arose sharply for me, as also a member of the Communist Party, should we exist as aCommunist Party? After all the Communist Party had existed from 1953/54 as an underground organisation and an illegal organisation while the others were legal.
It became a very interesting debate and I must say that Madiba stands out in my mind because this was an issue that could generate a lot of tension and I was unclear, I felt that, yes, there could be a broad congress thing but I felt what do we do with this question of the Communist Party as communists? This led to, I think, my first serious engagement with Madiba and Walter individually and Madiba stands out because his approach to this question was extremely interesting for me. He said, "OK, OK, here we are, we all are holding together around the Freedom Charter as a common blueprint for the immediate term. Now", he says, "We are here in prison, why do we want to create a structure?" I said, "To hold us together, to keep us alive mentally, alert to the political situation and to maintain some discipline in how we interact with the prison authorities." He says, "Very good." But he says, "If those are the purposes do we need to maintain separate structures here because all those purposes are narrower than why we exist outside of prison? So there's a limited set of purposes of prison, now why do you need to exist as Congress Movement and as Communist Party?" So I say to him, "Well the Communists have a particular outlook." So he says, "That's a question of political study." So I say, "Yes.""Then surely we are all interested and here in this structure that we create we can have political education including Marxist education." So I say, "Fantastic." So he says, "What's worrying you? What worries you now?" I say, "You've answered all my questions but I need to think about it."
What was startling about this was the man was saying first of all understand the conditions where you are, secondly ask yourself what is it that's a common objective that we as prisoners now in prison need to fulfil. And he says around those, let's answer those questions concretely, let's define them. And having moved me that way he said, "Now we come to the question of what structure you need." That removed a whole it was like removing cobwebs that were imprisoning you in your thinking because you were coming with a priori positions. Indeed I found that quite a startling way of confronting the answers that you needed to and as a Marxist I found that it was a fundamental underlining for me that that is what the tools that Marxism gives you to enable you to analyse, these are tools, you have to use them and analyse the concrete reality. What I found was that that discussion sharply mirrored, define your objectives, define what you have to do, what are the issues that you're confronting, so get your strategy right and then ask the question what structure do you want. Whereas from the a priori positions I was coming from we were saying these are the structures that exist, now we have to adapt them to the situation. He was saying, no, no, no, those things you can do outside, belong to an organisation, it's not a problem, but here let's get our objectives straightened out then we'll ask what's the convenient and suitable vehicle.
In that interaction I think I learnt a hell of a lot and it also impressed me about the nature of the person in Madiba, the way in which he was thinking and applying himself and I know that the question could have become extremely divisive. In the communal section of the prison a few years later some of the comrades banded together and used another term, a name to band together within the congress circles as a smaller grouping who were committed to Marxism and it became extremely divisive because they would be seen to be meeting alone and when fellow comrades from the congresses asked why are they precluded, no criteria could be set, no explanation could be given. If they said, well we are studying Marxism, then the person excluded would say but I'm interested in studying it too, why are you excluding me? Because unless you are discussing there as a political formation, say, of the Communist Party what to do about prison conditions, what is it that you have to discuss what to do and then come and engage with your other comrades because you've already pre-thought the issue. All those issues that are arising need us to think together and it became very divisive in the communal sections. We had to then intervene when they reported to us in the single sections advising them against that approach.
And the one thing that I remember cropped up was having decided to move that way, and that's how we came to call it the High Organ structure, when we then had to say, right, political studies, the very interesting thing was the High Organ says, "Mac, you and so-and-so and so-and-so and so-and-so, four of us, you are the education committee, you devise a syllabus."
POM The High Organ consisted of?
MM The four stalwarts who were NEC members of the ANC and were also MK High Command, Madiba, Walter, Govan and Raymond Mhlaba. That was the first High Organ. Now they say, OK, the following four comrades, including myself, your job now is to devise this syllabus, prepare the syllabus and prepare so that in all the we were grouped in cells for security reasons against the prison authorities because it was illegal to form yourself into any organisation. So, they say now prepare the syllabus that would be used for political education and I remember the Syllabus Committee being paralysed for months and we were paralysed because the debate was not between Marxist and non-Marxist. The debate was between communists in the Syllabus Committee because the question arose, OK, we will include Marxism in the course, we'll have history of the struggle, etc., etc. When it came to Marxism I raised the question, I had the impression that one of my comrades was advocating that there are certain things about Marxism that are principles, unquestionable, and I said, "But we are having this course open to people who have not made the commitment to say I believe in Marxism or I believe in communism. So if we take that as a starting point there are no principles that are holy cows here. We will have to take even the first premises of Marxism and allow it to be scrutinised." So the debate became very sharp. Just to give an example: is the dictatorship of a proletariat a principle position for communists? One comrade says yes it is, it's unquestionable. I said, "No, but in a study class we must be allowed to challenge it."
As this debate was going on I went to Madiba and to Walter to say we are debating this issue, what is your guidance? And Madiba says, "No, you people sort that out in the Syllabus Committee, you sort that out." So I said to him, "Wait a minute, my view is." He says, "What's your view?" I said, "My view is that in an education class anything is up to challenge." He says, "You're right. Anything is up to challenge."
Now I'm stating this because it was one of the most powerful impacts that it made on me that your structure follows strategy, that your debate in political education you must be prepared to confront anybody who challenges even what you take for granted as a premise and unless you allow that to happen you will not be able to be truly interacting to win over people onto your side of thinking because you are prepared to put your side of thinking into a testing ground.
That had a very strong, it has never left my mind, because it then took me to the sort of thinking that became logical as you moved forward even decades later into negotiations, that if you created the environment when things are locked up to allow your own premises to be questioned you then hone the skills to explain your premises in a way that you have to be the most persuasive and you do not do that by just defending a priori positions. That was the start and the basis on which subsequent debates, discussions, conversations with people like Madiba and Walter took place.
POM Who was on the Education Committee?
MM I can't remember all of them but I remember M D Naidoo was on it, the late M D Naidoo and that's where he and I differed so strongly on this. He was the advocate who used to be a member of the Communist Party also. I am trying to think who the others were. There were two others.
POM That's OK, I'll get back to it. To get back again to the Island, what I'm looking for did you do a couple of things or a few things or a number of things that got you in trouble or that Madiba would remember? Do you know what I'm getting at?
MM Madiba often says in public, he says, "This chap Mac here, I know how to handle him. Don't try and debate with Mac because if you try to debate with Mac the greatest likelihood is you will lose the debate." He publicly has told the incident, he says there was a time when over something I had become a problem in prison so he, Walter and others discussed it, and Kathy, and they said, "No, Kathy, you know Mac from before we got to prison, go and discuss this matter with Mac, persuade him to abandon the approach he's taking."
POM The approach you were taking with the prison authorities or - ?
MM No, it just must have been some debate inside the organisation. So he says Kathy volunteered to go and discuss it, don't worry, he's a very disciplined chap. And he says Kathy came back and they asked him, have you sorted it out? Kathy says, "Ooh! That's a very stubborn chap. I couldn't persuade him." So then he said to Walter, "Go and sort this thing out."
POM Madiba said that?
MM Yes. "And don't argue with this boy. Just go and sort it out." Walter says OK and Walter comes and raises the matter with me in his gentle way and I debate with him and debate with him and he fails to convince me and he goes back. Madiba says, "What happened?" He says, "No, the boy has got this argument and that argument and that argument." Madiba says, "You see, I told you people you're wasting your time. Hold on, I'm going to go and sort him out because you chaps are useless." So he says he came to me and didn't open a discussion, he refused to open any discussion. He just said to me, "Mac, you're a communist?" Yes. "Now as a communist tell me how you justify your standpoint of not agreeing with the majority now? You disagree with their views. Why? You're alone but all your comrades have taken a decision. Now explain to me as a Marxist how you justify your position of not agreeing to implement this decision." So I said, "No, wait, let us discuss the issues." He said, "No, we're not discussing the issues, I've not come here to discuss the issues. That you debate with others, with everybody. I am just simply asking you as a communist, as a Marxist, that after full debate your views have not been accepted by the entire group and a decision has been taken that this is how we will proceed. As a Marxist justify to me how you are not prepared to move alone with that decision?" I kept on wanting to debate the issue and he kept on saying, "I'm not here to debate the issue. I am here to debate you justifying your action." And of course I had to cave in and he went back and he laughed and he said to Walter and Kathy, he says, "Now you see, you must understand Mac, because if you debate the issues you're going to be debating for the whole week. Don't debate the issues, just go there with a fixed purpose and hold him to the fixed purpose and refuse to debate." Every time when he asked me to justify my view I tried to debate he would say, "I'm not debating. I'm only asking you to justify your standpoint according to your principles. That's it."
So publicly he would say, he has been saying it quite a few times, he says, "This chap? I know him, never debate with him, you will lose. Just hang on to a particular position and just go there with a clearly defined purpose and hold on to that purpose and then you will sort him out." Now he says this anecdote quite often jokingly. Maybe Zelda or somebody may have the exact formulation of the way he puts it.
POM Are there other things on the Island?
MM My best laugh, one of my best laughs with Madiba, because you know our visits were once in six months and you didn't know when the visit was taking place but roughly when you knew your time was up and one of your visitors was coming you would start quietly making sure that your prison outfit is clean every Friday and you would put it on the floor under the mattress so that it came out with a creased line and you looked spic and span and spruced up. And of course when you came back from the visit, if it was before lock up, the visits were on Saturdays, all the prisoners were waiting to hear whether you had gleaned titbits of news.
Now Madiba used to refer to my Mum, he began to call me 'neef' in Afrikaans, nephew, and I used to call him 'Oom' in Afrikaans meaning uncle. And then he began to refer to my mother as his girl friend. "How's my girl friend?" So this was an occasion, that week at work we happened to be working next to each other at the quarry and his pick, as we came down with our picks his pick slipped and the handle knocked onto my thumb and this nail became blue and here was my visit coming. So I decided that I would go to my Mum's visit that Saturday and even though I speak with a lot of gestures and this little cubicle was there I was going to keep my hands hidden so that she mustn't spot it. As it happened during the visit she spotted it and behind me was a warder in the cubicle, a warder called Jordaan, and behind her in her cubicle was a warder overseeing that you don't speak anything about prison and politics. But when my Mum spotted this she demanded to see my hand. "What has happened to you?" And she was a very tiny woman. I said, "Agh, Mum, don't worry about it. It was just a pick accident." "Accident! Has some warder hit you?" And I couldn't remove from her thinking, she couldn't speak proper English. So she turned behind me to the warder that she could see and she began to accuse him and the other warders that they have assaulted me and she says, "You, look at me, you think he's a freedom fighter, you think I'm small? I'll deal with you. You tried to attack my son. Who did that to you?" And of course the warders were laughing because Jordaan realised that I was ribbing my Mum. She says," 'Who? What is the name of that warder?" So mischievously I say, "His name is Mandela." Now she didn't know who is Mandela.
POM She didn't know who was Mandela?
MM She says, "Mandela , that warder, I'm going to fix him up." And I'm trying to explain, I realise there's no point in explaining and when the visit was ending she says to me again, and she turns to Jordaan, "I'm going to fix you people, don't you dare tackle my son. And that warder, Mandela, I'm fixing him." So I said, "What are you going to do, Mum?" She says, "When I get to Cape Town", my former wife was living in Cape Town, she was nursing there at that stage, she says, "I'm going to Tim and I want a press conference, I'll call the newspapers and I'm going to tell them. You my be a coward but I'm going to tell them." So I said, "Yes, Mum, don't forget the name, it's a warder called Mandela, he hit me." "Yes, yes." I knew when she goes and tells my wife, my wife will say, oh!
But in the meantime the visit is over and I come back to the prison section, I come down the ramp and who is there, the first one rushing up to me, Madiba. "Yes, how's my girl friend? What's the news?" So I say, "Madiba, your girl friend, I've got to tell you, it's over. She is going to report you and attack you as the warder who assaulted me." So I just said to him, "She's no longer your girl friend, she is out against you."
POM How come that he began to call you 'neef' and you to call him 'Oom'?
MM Madiba is very shrewd. Madiba took an interest in every prisoner and at work he would quietly question you. He took an interest in your background, who you were, where you came from, your family, everything, and therefore he would try to also pick up words from the different languages and use them in his conversation. I personally have a view that he would do these things like quietly pick a name for a relationship, like Billy Nair. Now Billy his folks came from South India so it's Tamil or Telegu, that's one of the linguistic groups. He very quietly found out what is the word for brother in Telegu, what is the word for big brother and small brother, younger and elder, and he found that the word 'thumbi' is a word you use for small brother, young brother, and the word 'anné' is a word you use in Telegu for elder brother, a respectful term. Now what he did, having learnt that that these were the terms, he began to call Billy 'Thumbi' and Billy unobtrusively slipped into calling him 'Anné', elder brother. With me for some reason, I think it's because he was trying to persuade me to do two things, he first suggested he and I should enrol for the LLB course and I said, "No, I've turned my back on law."
POM You would do that through correspondence?
MM He had got permission to do it through the London University.
POM The London School of where you had been in London?
MM University of London. I was at London School of Economics. But he had got it in 1962 that permission. Now they were not allowing you to enrol with external universities except UNISA. But he was arguing with me, "Let's both of us study, we both were doing law. He had not finished his LLB. I had not finished my LLB. Let's sit down and complete it." I said no. Then some time later in one of the debates about languages and prison conditions and the warders, he says to me, "We've got to study Afrikaans." And again I said to him, "No, the students rose in revolt against Afrikaans." And Madiba says to me, "Look man, do you agree we are in a long protracted struggle?" I say yes. "It's going to take decades to win this war." Yes, ready for it. He says, "Now in a war quite apart from all the theory that you've studied and the technical issues that you've studied and trained in, one of the most important elements is to understand the thinking of the commander opposite you commanding the enemy forces." That's true, true. And he says, "But you cannot understand how is that enemy commander, your opposite, thinking unless you study his literature and his language." And using that argument he persuaded me to study Afrikaans in prison. And I think it's in this context that suddenly here he hit on the name to call me 'neef'. And of course you were chuffed by it and you begin to respond, 'Uncle', 'Oom'. But looking back it's also a way ofwrapping you into a relationship where in the debates as the nephew arguing with the uncle, or Billy the small brother, thumbi, arguing with big brother, had to obey certain decorum.
I remember a wonderful argument cropped up, I told you about it in Cape Town you were at the Cape Town launch of Reflections when Billy Nair came. I said, "This is the only prisoner who abusively attacked Madiba and called him that pseudo aristocrat masquerading as a socialist." That was because there was an argument, a debate going on one day at work and of course Billy and Madiba were at the opposite ends of the debate and Billy gets very worked up in his debates, so Billy was worked up and tackling Madiba and Madiba, to calm the atmosphere says, "Look Thumbi, calm down," meaning young brother calm down. And Billy says to him, "You know you stop calling me Thumbi, we are equal comrades here, don't you treat me in a patronising way as a small brother." And Madiba gently with a small says, "Thumbi, OK, OK, Thumbi, calm down." And Billy gets more incited by this and he says, "Madiba, your views are so reactionary on this question that we are debating. I'm telling you I'm going to expose you, you are nothing but a feudal aristocrat masquerading as a socialist." Madiba says, "OK Thumbi, OK Thumbi."
So I am saying that the terms grew up as terms of endearment and respect but I am saying there was a sting in the tail that when you got into a vicious debate he would invoke this same position and rile you even more because he would say, "OK neef, OK, I hear, neef." Now you felt he was treating you like a little boy and you wanted to rebel but you were shifting away from the issue and by shifting you away from the issue and you now reacting to his using this term and you interpret it as patronising, you were forgetting the main issue of the debate and you were moving into a terrain where of course he could maintain his equanimity against anything you had to say and still become even more patronising. That was his technique. I don't think there was anything much more special than that. I just think that out of his way of always respecting individuals he could be vicious in debate and attack you but he was never a person who bore grudges against you. I think that's the framework in which this term, he began to call me 'neef' and I began to call him 'Oom'.
POM Again I want to concentrate on the Island because what I will use in the foreword will be trying to remember life on the Island. There were different components to it, you were in a single cell. You moved from a very rudimentary realm of communications which I think Kathy devised, to having the opportunity to get a little more talk to each other while you were working, to being able to have more open or whatever, a debating structure. You had the politics of the place. You had the social interactions of the place, you had the friendships in the place, you had the usual orders and disorders that exist when any group of people live for a longer period of time in a confined space and where they're around each other all the time. So if you had to paint a portrait of life on the Island what divisions would you and I'm using divisions as what categories would you place these different things and how do they all interact with each other? I met somebody, name of Xegu, I think it was in 1989 or 1990 in Port Elizabeth.
MM Xegu, Mike Xegu.
POM Yes, the very guy, and I interviewed him and at the end of it he said, putting his head up, he said, "I'm glad I spent those years there. Everything I learned, when I went in I couldn't even speak English. I'm so glad I went to jail." I thought, is this guy crazy? But he had that attitude. What was it like realistically, taking away the romanticism from it, what was it like to live in the same space for 12 years with other individuals? Most of those that you would have interacted with would have had strong personalities. There would have been these clashes, not only over debating positions on issues, but over personal relationships. Who came up with the idea of Madiba writing his autobiography?
MM That one is documented. Kathy is the originator of the idea that Madiba should write an autobiography and that it should coincide with my departure.
POM Why did they say that it should coincide with your departure?
MM We had until then never smuggled out anything elaborate but in our communications team I was one of those people, like others, very innovative in techniques.
POM When you say in your communications team what does that refer to? Were they getting into structure on the Island?
MM Under the High Organ they had created a sub-committee of four people who were put in charge of handling clandestine communications and I was put in it with Kathy. Of course we had to always innovate and develop ways of communicating. Now Kathy felt that with my release coming up in about a year's time I would be the ideal person to smuggle out the manuscript and we were approaching Madiba
POM Why do you think that you were the ideal person?
MM Because I was always getting into always coming up with new ideas how to smuggle things, how to do things. I'd come up with the idea of making a concealed compartment in a bench. We'd made it. I'd smuggled in money from London, we had succeeded.
POM How did you do that, like actual money?
MM I used a warder to smuggle out a letter to London and I built in safety checks and ways of identifying and I resorted to techniques of invisible writing that we had used before we got to prison and I remembered a clandestine address in London which one of our comrades there was in touch with and I therefore gave this letter to the warder to post and told him that I was trying to get money which he would have a share in. I was aware that the warder might try to do something behind my back. Well the letter reached London and the money came and I asked the warder to cash the money and I gave him a cut.
POM The warder when that money came, who did it come to?
MM It came to the warder, to an address in Cape Town. The warder collected it under a false name and cashed it and brought me the money. In fact London had a problem when they got the letter, they didn't know whether it was a set up but I had said to them that in future communications I will always refer to a unique incident in our common lives but it will never be the same incident. So in this particular case the comrade who got the letter in London, his wife and Ruth First had shared a flat in the forties in Twist Street, Hillbrow, and I knew this. Now very few people would know it so in the overt letter to establish the credibility of the letter I said with regards to so-and-so the flat mate, Ruth First, it was easy to camouflage the name, the word 'first' lends itself to all sorts of things, numerals, etc. So I said, 'The flat in Twist Street that they shared.' Now I knew that she knew the incident, I knew the incident, her husband knew the incident, Ruth knew the incident. There's no way the warder would know the incident. So when they got it the first question that they had to address in London was, is this authentic, is this a trap? And I am told there was a huge debate until two of the comrades said, "But this is authentic. He is referring to an incident that very few people will know and there's no way the enemy knows unless he is co-operating with the enemy." And so in the end they send the £100, taking a chance because some people were saying no, it's very problematic. And the comrade who received it said, "But what is it? It's a chance we are taking with just £100, let's send it." And the money reached me but my big problem was, will this warder resort to the same technique to get more money for himself, so I had indicated in the open part each letter will contain an incident that is unique, it's not repeated from one letter to the other and it's something that we know is an intimate detail in our common lives. So I got the money.
Now those things were happening and I suppose you have to ask Kathy why he thought of me. We were preoccupied in 1975, the struggle was still moving very slow. Madiba's 60th birthday was coming up in 1978 and we thought what a good idea if Madiba could write his autobiography, I would smuggle it out and maybe it could be published to coincide with his 60th anniversary both as a record but also as an inspiration to struggle. So that's how Kathy came up with the idea. Walter agreed. Madiba agreed and we worked on it.
But you were asking what's it like. I have said many times, Padraig, that there is a thing about hardship and suffering and the human personality, either the human being and during hardship suffering drowns in that suffering and sees himself or herself as a victim, or quite often the human mind puts it aside and picks out only the good bits of it. Similarly if you look at great literature in the world, there is no common rule that says you need to live a life of privilege, free from the pressures, the need for money, having access to all the modern gadgetry to be able to write. Some of the best literature has been written by people who came from a privileged stratum in society but similarly some of the best literature has come from people who had no resources. So there is of material life and the hardship of deprivation of material condition, both generate great writers.
Now when I look back in prison what I have said on record, and I look back at my life, I say it was one of my most privileged periods. What I've gone through has left me with the enormous asset which nobody who has not been through similar difficult circumstances could claim. I can claim at least on one hand that I could readily pick five people, friends that I could entrust my life to knowing that they would give their lives to protect my life and I could do that with certainty because we've passed through those times. I also believe it was privileged to be able to be with people like Madiba and Walter and see them and debate with them and watch their conduct and learn from that. It has been very privileged.
One of the lessons that Madiba delivered to me which leaves me sometimes stinging with his reprimand, my skin, I begin to blush, because there was a time in our Congress group, in the single cells we were very divided and heated in debate.
POM When you say in the Congress group?
MM In the ANC. Very heated debate going on and we were sharply divided.
MM It was over the Bantustan strategy and tactics.
POM How to deal - ?
MM How to deal with the Bantustans yes. And over those tactics huge debates. I happened to be sharing similar views as Madiba and Walter and Kathy, and Govan Mbeki had opposite views.
POM What were the two?
MM The question was, tersely put, simplistically put, what tactic should we use? Should we simply take up the position that we took up in the Lobatse conference in 1962, we will boycott the elections that the regime is implementing in the Bantustans. Lobatse, that was in Botswana. The ANC had its conference in Botswana and they had decided that on the forthcoming Transkei elections, the first of the Bantustan elections, we would boycott the elections. Now in the debate we were saying was that a correct tactic? Strategically we reject the Bantustans but how do we mobilise the people or do we just leave it to the puppets of the apartheid regime to rule the roost? So we were coming up with the concept that whilst strategically we reject the Bantustans and these dummy institutions, the tactics you use must be to attack it from outside and also attack it from within the institution. That caused enormous friction. Of course I was vociferous in this debate in my unit and Govan was on the other side of the debate.
POM Why didn't Madiba go to Govan and use the same approach he used, as a Marxist - ?
MM The debates had split up the High Organ too, the High Organ was divided. Temperatures were really up. One day Madiba had not gone to work so he was in his cell. Govan was not going to work. I had stayed behind and those who stayed behind would be responsible for cleaning the corridors and polishing the floors. So that day we were cleaning, polishing the floors, Madiba was in his cell down the corridor and Govan and I got into an argument.
POM About this?
MM About something else but this debate was impacting on the argument, on the issue over which we were differing. I became very rude towards Govan, I was extremely rude and told him what I thought of him. A little later when Govan wasn't noticing Madiba calls me to his cell and I am still fuming and I am thinking that Madiba will give me support. So I told him I had a terrible argument with Govan and I told him off bluntly and crudely. And Madiba says to me, "No, I heard the argument. Neef, I want to tell you something", and he gave me a roasting. He says, "You may disagree with Govan, you may be right in what you're disagreeing with but he is (i) your comrade, (ii) he is a senior leader, he's a member of the National Executive, what you said to him was abusive and that's not acceptable, that's not the conduct I expect from a comrade." He roasted me.
We were on the same side of the debate on Bantustans and this was a shock for me and I had tried to first explain my way and he just cut me short. He said, "No, I heard the whole argument and I'm not going into the rights and wrongs of the argument. I'm only saying to you that you were wrong to be so abusive. That is not an acceptable way to debate or discuss amongst comrades." It left me smarting and blushing. So there was no way I could win him as an ally just by being the most vociferous or the most abusive.
So when I look back at that period, I went to prison at 29, I came out at 41. It is very important years in anybody's life, the thirties. You are at the peak of your mental and physical abilities and prison can be a very debilitating place. So I went through all that personal agony but against that the privilege of having to live in that same section with twelve people of their calibre, I like to think has been a very positive influence on my life.
POM The twelve were? Govan, Madiba, Walter, Kathy, yourself
MM No I said 12 years, I spent from the age of 29 to the age of 41. We were about 30 in the section of the prison, in the single cell section. It changed peripherally in the composition but the Rivonia trialists were there, then the Natal trialists, Billy Nair was there, then the Wilton Mkwayi, Laloo Chiba, myself, Michael Dingake, then Eddie Daniels from ARM, Toivo ya Toivo joined us in 1972 from SWAPO. There were people from the YCC, the Alexander group, Neville Alexander group. There were a few people from the PAC.
POM Was Neville on Robben too?
MM Yes he came to the block also. He was first in the communal cells and then part of his group was brought to our side. Then there were PAC members, Makwetu who became President, Pokela who later became President in exile of the PAC. Then there was Selby Ngandane(?) of the PAC who served a short term and died in Serfspruit(?). Then there was Kwedi Mkalipi and then there were a few more people from the Congress side. So it was a mixed group, both good people from the Congress Movement, people from other organisations who landed in prison, we were all there together interacting very closely, debating very vigorously and often very acrimoniously, but in the end the presence of Walter, the presence of Madiba and how they conducted themselves was for me a major influence in my life.
POM What was the difference in their personalities and approach to things? It's like a good cop, bad cop.
MM No there's no good cop, bad cop.
POM I'm just using that as the ying and yang of
MM Madiba, on reflection, was a person who was meticulous in preparing and examining issues and arriving at a position but once he arrived at a position, extremely stubborn, almost unshiftable.
POM Like yourself.
MM Yes maybe, but very, very stubborn, and yet very dignified and extremely ruthless in debate.
POM You mean ruthless?
MM In a debate he would have prepared and he would be pinning you with questions against the wall and he would be relentless.
POM It would be like a cross-examination?
MM Yes, and he wouldn't let you off. He would be persistent.
POM But in a gentle way?
MM A respectful way, in a respectful way, crude, and if he went overboard he would reach out to you the next day. Walter stands out very differently in my mind. No let me be fair to Madiba. To be able to be that vigorous and meticulous in detail it meant that Madiba was also a good listener. He would listen to what you are saying but to smash you, to push you against the wall on your views on any particular debate. Walter was different. Walter never came across as holding unshakeable positions. He would have his views, again he would be a very good listener, but he would probe his questions very gently and I have always said he inspired you to think outside the box because he never tried to crush you on the particular debate.
So I would go to Walter with crazy ideas and he wouldn't say that's crazy. He would actually inspire you to investigate those ideas more and more and quite often in that way he would bring you back to pretty sober positions. He was a great encouragement. He was a great listener too, remains a great listener. Around Walter there is a gentleness, a willingness to hear the most way out idea and a great inquisitiveness when you came with those things. I remember getting hold of a book written by a one-time chairman of the Austrian Communist Party. I had got his first book by sheer accident, it was a book called Primitive Art by Ernest Fischer, and I had found this book inspiring about the history and origin of art. There in the background on the biography of the man I learnt that he had been Chairman of the Communist Party of Austria and some time after Czechoslovakia, 1968, I saw that a book was published called Art Against Ideology by Ernest Fischer. I didn't know what it was about but I guessed that it's the same Ernest Fischer so I made strenuous efforts to get this book into prison. I eventually got it and indeed it was by Ernest Fischer. Now here was a book dealing with, the topic was Art Against Ideology, all my thinking as Marxism tells me the fundamental role of ideology in society. So I read this book intensely and day after day I would go to work and I would be telling Walter what I've read and how challenging the ideas are.
POM Challenging the ideas of?
MM Ernest Fischer's ideas are to what I thought was a Marxist way of thinking. Some of the comrades at work
POM So you were challenging them within the framework of Marxist thought?
MM Yes, and some of the comrades in prison who were communists were reacting very badly. "That's reactionary what you're talking about," they would say to me, "It's anti Communist Party thinking." Walter never did that. Walter would say, "Come and tell me what he said on this chapter. What did he say about this?" He would ask me to repeat what the chap is saying out of genuine interest to understand what the man is saying and then he would question me as I am telling him and encourage me. I said, "There are many comrades who don't like this book." He said, "Keep reading, keep reading, it's very important. This way you stay in touch with the way the world is thinking and what's happening in the world." There was no reaction from Walter that this is heretical thinking. It was simply saying, hey, we are sitting in prison, there are all sorts of issues arising in the world and you are right, Mac, keep trying to understand what they are saying. If the implications were shattering to some of your fundamental thinking face up to it, examine it, don't just accept the idea, critically examine it.
This was the ability that Walter had and I have often wondered how did Walter, who had a Standard 4 education, who interacted with intellectuals who became leaders of the ANC and his home was the gathering point in the forties for all these young men, what is it about him? You never get a sense of inferiority in him, he interacts as equal with anybody who has far superior education. One of the things about education in the colonial setting is that those who are educated feel that they are better off, superior to the others, and yet you unobtrusively settled into thinking of Walter as an equal if not superior to you intellectually and you got no sense from him that he at all felt that he was inferior to you because he had no education. It's a remarkable ability.
So you have the Madibas, the Oliver Tambo mathematician, Anton Lembede who was a philosopher with an MA, you had A P Mda who was a lawyer, you had Dr Njombosi(?), all these were the group of people who used to gather at Walter's home and that is where the ideas of the ANC Youth League came up. They used to gather at Walter's home. And you look at all the names, stars, educated, and Walter was like a magnet drawing them all to him.
POM The same home he's living in now?
MM No, no, it was the Soweto home. This was in 1941/42. So there's something very, very special about Walter and it reflects on our society even today because we still, us blacks in the black/white divide, are still working through the historical disadvantages that we went through and yet in Walter you get no sense of a victim or a sense of inferiority. More than three centuries of colonial rule treated us like people who had no history, no culture, you were not civilised, so everything was you were born into a society that tried to make you feel inferior to a white and yet with Walter you got no sense of that inferiority. Whether in relation to blacks we were more educated or more wealthy, more in relation to whites because they were strict as the rulers. I think our society is still working through this. One of the reactions of course is you get a super assertiveness and quite often that assertiveness is a growth path to getting to be comfortable with yourself and no longer feel inferior. In other cases people remain stuck in that aggressive self-assertiveness because it continues to mirror a deep-down sense of inferiority. I think our society is still battling with those problems.
POM Do you think the ANC is still battling with them?
MM There would be people in the ANC who would be battling with it. I would hesitate to make a psychological profile as a generalisation because the ANC has been the key instrument of getting us out of that sense of inferiority but that doesn't mean that because you're ANC or even high up in the ANC, it doesn't mean that you are immune to that sense of lowered self esteem. In a very twisted way I read of some American writer, I think it was an Afro-American, but he was arguing at an intellectual level, not in racial terms, but he used the phrase that it is critical that you should be comfortable with your own skin. He didn't mean the colour of the skin but he meant that you should have a sense of your own self-esteem.
POM It's being called being able to sit with yourself.
MM So he used a very beautiful terminology for me, I am comfortable in my own skin. He was sitting inside that skin, comfortably fitted. I think that's an issue in the context of issues of diversity and unity in any society but it's even more so in SA because we had a system of rule which around skin colour tried to inculcate in those who were black a sense of lack of self esteem.
But there was no issue that I couldn't take to Walter and find not just I would never find a dismissal. I would find a probing, an encouragement and a movement a nudging to follow the logic of my thinking and myself arrive at the conclusion that that idea is a non-starter. There was never an attitude in Walter that, hey! What is this crazy idea? Give it up. No, he would probe you, he would encourage you and you yourself a week, two weeks later, having probed and probed you would come to the conclusion that it's a crazy idea.
POM And Madiba's approach to the same thing would be?
MM Madiba is inquisitive, encouraging, meticulousness and rigour and logic but if he had a view on the matter it was to immediately push you against the wall. So Madiba's has, if I might call it, an element of ruthlessness to it because it's single-minded, it's focused on the issue.
POM In his autobiography, this struck me or stood out for me, that there were he enumerates many cases of debate where others had one position and he had another and he always ends up in saying, "After discussion everybody came around to my point of view."So it would appear to me, reading that and what you said, that he had about him after he had arrived at a position self enquiry through his examination of the alternatives to his position or alternatives in working at his position that when he got there he more or less said this is the right way to go, this is the right view to hold and if I am challenged on this I will stick to my position and bring others through my art of persuasion or skill or ruthlessness around to saying, Madiba, you're right.
MM As I say, that's a stubborn streak but let's be fair. In the same book Long Walk there are crucial moments, notes in his growth, where he changed his view.
POM On the Indian community before he went to jail was in fact one, when he didn't want Indians involved.
MM Well he changed on that in the fifties. But rigorous debate, much thinking, and when he changes he is open that he has changed and then he will defend his new position. So it's not a one way street. He has this characteristic of stubbornness but he has the characteristic that inside that stubbornness stubbornness because once he's arrived at that view he's going to pursue that view and try and win over everybody, at the same time a peculiar thing that on critical issues every now and then you see in his life he shifts his views. When he shifts his views it's as a result not of a public spatter. He said to me something very interesting
POM When you were - ?
MM Recently, in the recent period. I was one day having a chat with him and we were laughing and I said, "Oh, remember Madiba how you advocated the vote for the 14 year olds in 1993?" And he came to the National Executive, having expressed his views, and a number of us said this is crazy, this is crazy. So at the NEC both sides had prepared, he had prepared his arguments, we had prepared our arguments, and he came there and he had researched which countries, what ages the voting rights are, from Iran to all over, plus the role of the youth and the youngsters in our struggle. The bulk of us at the NEC were not impressed with his arguments but I know him to be stubborn. So we voted against it and of course he announced, "Well I'm a disciplined member, I've been outvoted." But I the other day, recently, laughing with him said to him, "Did you really change your mind?" Because I said, "I have lived with the fear that one day you're going to come up with the same issue." So he chuckles, he says, "You chaps didn't make me change my mind. Yes I was going to abide by your decision but you had not convinced me." Then he has a mischievous chuckle, he says, "You know what changed me? Not your people's arguments." About a few weeks later, after the decision was taken rejecting his position, a few weeks later there appeared a cartoon in a newspaper lampooning Madiba. This was the cartoon which had Madiba in the guise of an infant sitting in a pram sucking at a feeding bottle and claiming the vote. He says when he looked at that cartoon he chuckled to himself and he said to himself, "Madiba, this is a debate you're not going to win. The cartoonists are on to you, you'd better withdraw." So he says to me in his typical joking way, he says it's not your arguments that won the day, it was the cartoonists that persuaded me to abandon that view.
So, no doubt about it, whether it's on the co-operation with the communists, whether it's on the question of other racial groups participating in the struggle, once he shifted his position he held to those positions. So in the context of this stubborn streak, this persevering streak, there is throughout his life an ability to change with the times.
That is why I remember going to Walter at times in prison. I would go to Walter and say, "Hey, Walter, I'm worried." "What are you worried about Mac?" "Look at Madiba, there's something on which he's a holding a view, very stubborn." And to me it's a critical issue. And Walter would say, "It's OK Mac, it's OK, give it time." "What do you mean give it time? It's a wrong view." "Give it time." I remember once on some issue he says to me, "Give it time, he'll change his mind but give him the space to change his mind." Also I suspected behind it was that Walter would continue to interact with Madiba, confident that if he's right Madiba would shift.
Madiba tells the incident about the armed struggle. In 1960/61, late 60 early 61 Madiba goes to a Working Committee meeting of the ANC and raises the matter, time to switch from solely non-violence to also organised violence, puts his case. Who's present? Moses Kotane, the General Secretary of the Communist Party, the underground CP, very respected man, and apparently before anybody could speak Moses Kotane got into the debate, wiped the floor with Madiba. Madiba is now listening to this and everybody else joins Moses Kotane attacking Madiba and disagreeing with him. Walter is saying nothing. So when the meeting is over Madiba has been defeated, his view has been rejected, Madiba goes to Walter in private and says, "You, you never said a word to help me." Walter says, "Madiba, I think I must arrange for you and Moses Kotane to spend a day alone, you'd better debate the matter with him, one to one with Moses Kotane." So Madiba says in The Long Walk he spent the whole day arranged by Walter, just Madiba and Moses Kotane debating this issue of the armed struggle. At the end of the day Moses Kotane says to him, "Madiba, I am not convinced but you want to pursue this matter, take it up again at the Working Committee at the next opportunity. I am not promising you anything, I am not promising you that I agree with you but re-raise the matter for debate." Next time the Working Committee met,Madiba got a chance, he re-raises the matter. That shows his persistence. This time Moses Kotane keeps quiet and one by one the rest of the members of the Working Committee listening to the arguments that Madiba has put change their minds. In his Long Walk he says he attributes that to the diplomacy of Walter Sisulu. So that's one where he persisted and I can show you others where he changed his position.
POM How do you see yourself reflected in, say, Madiba and Walter?
MM Very difficult for me to answer that question. I don't think it's possible for me to answer that question.
POM You write for Madiba, a lot of people say Mac knows Madiba's mind inside out, what he thinks, how to frame it. Why does he turn to you to do that?
MM I don't think I'm unique in that. I think he turns to many people. I think he turns to many people to draft things. I think he also turns to many people like he does at times with me on the phone. "Oh, I've got this thing coming up tomorrow, can I just read the questions to you?" He doesn't want to transcribe what you are saying. He says, "I'll just put the questions, can you just give me a quick answer?" He's saying that, yes, I'm one of those people that he can phone hoping to get some quick fresh ideas about the question and I think that that consultation in that form is also because he has the confidence that whatever you tell him very quickly, even though it's a quick response, he knows that, he is aware that you are thinking through, that behind is not just a glib response it's a thoughtful response.
When he asks me to draft something for him with me, I don't know what he does with others for drafting, but I know often I have picked up that in other cases he would sometimes say, "Draft this but in that what we are drafting you must include the following ideas", and sometimes he will formulate it. Now more often than not with me he would say I need something drafted. We had an interesting one recently, he asked me to draft something at the last minute. I said, "OK, OK, I hear, what's this occasion? What's this for?" He explained and then I said to him, "Now, is there any particular idea you want in it?" And he said, "Yes, yes, here's a particular thought you must have in it. For the rest just develop the idea." So I said, "Fine", and I said, "By the way, can I add a second idea to that?" And I put a concept. He says, "Fantastic." And he joked and he said, nowadays he calls me 'Ncapepe'
POM Which is?
MM Which is a character in Xhosa literature, African literature often well not just African but most literature and quite often in other societies nicknames people by their physical characteristics. Now Ncapepe is a character in a Xhosa folk tale who had one eye and in that story he's called Ncapepe, so he calls me Ncapepe. "Hallo Ncapepe, how are you?"
POM So the inner being that you are one-eyed?
MM Well you know they joke in prison, they tell you that I could read newspapers upside down and although I've got one eye, watch out, it's so sharp, he sees things. So he would be joking, and then the other day he wanted to speak to me from the north where he is and he got Zelda to dial me and Zelda calls me and Zelda now and then calls me Uncle Mac. So this day in the presence of Madiba she calls me Uncle Mac and I usually joke a bit with her and she says, "Uncle Mac, Madiba wants to speak to you. Can I hand the phone to him?" So she hands the phone to him. Now he's overheard this so he says, "Uncle Mac, how are you?"I then put the idea, put an additional idea on the table on this telephone conversation.
POM Do you remember what it was about?
MM Yes, I wouldn't like to mention it. But he says, "Fantastic, fantastic! You know, I knew you'd think like me, but just draft it." I drafted it but I felt it was for publication so I thought it was sensitive and I phoned Zelda. It was when you were here last week, it was over this Biko thing, when Zelda phoned me to say that, "Look, it's not for December, we want it this week." OK, I think I saw you on Thursday, I went off Thursday afternoon and somehow or the other it fell together, turned out 500 words, I liked the piece. I looked for Zelda, I couldn't find her, she was off on Friday till Monday, so I phoned his other secretary at the resort where he's staying, Zemla."Zemla, I've done this thing, it's 510 words, I don't want to cut it but, please, can I fax it to you, will you go and read it to the old man. I want to know whether it meets his wishes." And her response was, "Look, I'm sure it's OK." I said, "No, no, that's not the way I work with Madiba. If it's something that he is going to publish in his name first of all I know it's sensitive, I really want you to take this thing, I will fax it to you, will you take it to him and either he reads it or you read it to him and you come back to me with his response so that I finalise. But I'm not prepared to send it off until he has seen it." So I faxed it to her and she came back to me after she had seen it. She said, "I've been through it, he has looked at it, he has read it and he does not want a word changed. He wants it exactly as it has been drafted by you." So I said, "Well that's fine, now I'm e-mailing to Zelda to sort it out."
Now I think he knows, he knows from my practice that I'm amongst those people who will never abuse him by just putting in an idea and using his name. I think it's that more than anything else that leaves him comfortable and that is why I've been diffident but unfortunately you were here last week. Why I wouldn't like it mentioned which thing it is, is that I think it is wrong for ghost writers to project themselves. It is wrong because if a ghost writer is doing his or her job with integrity it's not your personality that must come out in the writing, it's the personality of the person for whom you're writing it and you are strictly supposed to be a ghost. One shouldn't be claiming credit but I make sure that I sit back and I say, "Now, how would he from his way of thinking think about this issue."
POM I'll put the question first this way. Did when you were transcribing his autobiography in London and minutely having to go through what we would call 'all those cons', all the tiny little notes
MM Oh I did that in prison because as he drafted
POM You went through it, OK?
MM As he drafted it and as he gave it to me, I tried to remind Kathy of the procedure we adopted because I'm saying memories play tricks. Kathy has been telling the story as if Madiba would write and give it to Kathy, then give it to Walter and then it would come to me. No.
POM Would they be going over it?
MM Yes, because they had no reference material and then there's interpretation issues. I said, no, the procedure was different. For security reasons Madiba would write, he would give what he wrote that night first thing in the morning to me. My job was immediately that evening to transcribe it so that if anything happened
POM So how would he write?
MM I would write so small.
POM Sorry, you were making a copy of
MM I'm transcribing it for smuggling, for concealment, but in the process as I'm transcribing that night I am marking down questions and queries. After I've done that the second evening I would then take Madiba's original and give it to Kathy. The copy I had made is now ready for concealment and I would conceal it so that if any accident happened and prison authorities stumbled onto it what has been done has been saved by me. Now Kathy would take it and read it and he would make questions and queries also. He would then give it to Walter, Walter would make his questions and queries. In the meantime I would be next day discussing what Madiba wrote the previous day, raising my questions and queries with Madiba. He would be debating what he wrote yesterday. If it was an interpretation, if it was a factual issue somewhere down the line as we went on from Kathy, Walter, my side, in interaction with Madiba would come a correction. But remember I've written it and concealed it so on that next night's work I would enter some cryptic notes but in the meantime I would be on the next job.
POM Would cryptic notes be about the debates that had taken place?
MM Around a particular factual event or around an interpretation. There was no chance then to give it back to Madiba to correct, they would just say, Madiba would say, "Take that into account when you finalise it when you get out but in the meantime in your material make some notes. We've got no chance to go back to the text." And Kathy when he's finished would be responsible for the one that is in Madiba's handwriting to hide it away so that no raid by prison authorities would pick it up. So I had a great opportunity to interrogate the details already while I was doing the transcribing. Then I had a second chance in London when I'm doing the typed version of it, now to update it and quite often in the typed version I would put a bracket bringing in my notes and then polish it up.
POM The autobiography was never miniaturised?
MM It was miniaturised, the same night. When it reached me my first job that night is to miniaturise it and in the course of miniaturising it I'm also making notes.
POM But you were transcribing it?
MM No, no, transcribing and miniaturising simultaneously.
POM What would you use for miniaturisation?
MM Simple, a pen. I used a ball pen and later on on a piece of paper.
POM Like what?
MM A4, the normal foolscap. This size.
POM So you're miniaturising on a full page.
MM Full page, both sides.
POM But you're reducing the handwriting?
MM Reducing the handwriting and giving a margin so that I would cut this for concealment.
POM Sorry, say that again. You would do it on a foolscap page.
MM I would do it on a foolscap page but I would use up this sort of space.
POM So you would leave margins.
MM I would leave - because I may have to cut this thing for concealment, so I would leave a sort of 1 cm margin all round but for the rest I would miniaturise in this space.
POM So that you could reduce one page of his handwriting?
MM Oh I could reduce probably eight, ten pages into one side here.
POM On one side of a foolscap page you could do eight to ten pages of his foolscap writing? How small was your writing?
MM Very small, I've got a sample somewhere.
POM You have the sample some place?
MM Yes, yes.
POM Good. We need that sample.
MM I have a sample I found of a few pages.
POM That would wonderful.
MM The result is that what he was writing I was absorbing fully, I would then debate next day with him, just raise it with him. I would then go and raise it with Kathy, Kathy would raise it, Walter would raise it and the result is that was our only check on accuracy and it was our only way of ensuring that he had got an input into the interpretation of the events that he dealt with.
POM Now you go to London. So now you've got the miniaturised copy which ran to about how many pages?
MM Yes. About sixty sheets. That's 120 pages.
POM Had your eyesight gotten when you looked at the 60 pages did you have trouble in London looking at your own writing?
MM In London I had a lot of trouble. In London I had a typist and I would decipher and I got a magnifying glass so I would use a magnifying glass and I would dictate to the typist. The typist was Sue Rabkin, Pallo Jordan's partner.
POM Oh. Sue how do you spell the last name?
MM Rabkin. She is living in Cape Town, she works for the Ministry of Defence. She had just come out of prison in SA where she had the birth of her second child in prison and they gave her a shortened sentence. Her husband got ten years, David Rabkin, and she was then back in London with her two kids and the organisation asked her to serve as my typist. So I would go to her flat every day and sit down and she would sit at her typewriter, those were not the days of computers, and I would read this thing aloud for her, dictating to her, and she would be typing away.
POM As you were dictating it were you again reflecting on what he had to say?
MM Yes I was reflecting and I would at times remember, oh, this thing had to be corrected, this fact was wrong, and I would check up at the end of my 120 pages, where are those notes? And I would put it in a bracket. Sometimes I would say this needs to be checked. And I would dictate it like that to Sue so that she could produce a print out for me and because it was a typewriter we made photocopies of it. That's how we did it.
POM What I'm getting at is that you had a unique opportunity to get into the way Madiba analysed things and how he came to conclusions and what his views were which would be more deep in a way than either Walter's or Kathy's because they were interactional whereas you were looking at and almost studying a script and the script said, oh, I see where he's going, oh, I see how he gets there, oh, I see how he things. Do you know what I mean? Your concentration alone would have demanded that - those thoughts would automatically in a way come to your mind because you had to pay enormous attention.
MM That is why as I'm talking to you suddenly I can tell you what happened over the armed struggle and I say you will find it in The Long Walk. At the same time I can remember, I can remember parts that I smuggled out which are not in The Long Walk and I've been to Madiba and said, "What do we do with the original text?" So he said, "What's your idea?" I said, "Put it in a library." He says, "Yes, put it." I said, "Wait a minute old man, are you aware of the things that are in the original text that are not in this version?" He said, "There must be ""But are they going to cause you problems?" "Why?" I said, "They're going to cause you problems, scholars are going to go and interrogate that text and want to analyse why you changed this and why you changed that."
MM I said, "You're going to be in big trouble." So he says, "Are there troublesome parts?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Like what?" So I remind him of an incident. He says, "Oh yes! What can we do?" I said, "Well why don't you put it in a library with a 25-year embargo." He said, "Maybe that's a good idea."
POM What were the parts taken out, without going into them in detail?
MM It's still not yet been put into a library. I'd like it to be put into a library. I think we will put it into he Constitutional Court Library, there will be a library there, the Mandela Library, and I'd like to put an embargo of probably another ten years on it.
POM My God, he might get to 100.
MM I think that he must not only, not only he but all the people that feature in there should be dead, they should be dead.
POM Were most of the issues around the armed decision?
MM No. The parts that I feel are difficult because he did have a section which dealt with a number of us individually and how he saw us. I think some of them are a little too harsh judgements and I think they would be cause for lots of sensational stuff and I don't think it's fair while the people are alive that that should be an issue of speculation. I think ten years from now he won't be around and most of the actors won't be around so it's a safe bet but I've got to be careful, I must wait and see whether I'll be dead also.
POM He might well outlive you.
MM The other parts are not so difficult, they are handled adequately. Long Walk is the first work that said that when the ANC decided on the armed struggle and authorised Madiba to form uMkhonto weSizwe, the first thing that he did in implementing this mandate was that he was aware that the Communist Party had already set up squads of its own to engage in sabotage.
POM Were you part of that decision?
MM I was abroad at that time under training.
POM In East Germany, yes.
MM So the first thing that he did was to go and meet with Joe Slovo and the Communist Party and put a proposal to them that it would be untenable that there should be two competing armed wings and he resolved the matter that the party would dismantle all its units and all its units would be integrated into MK.
POM All of whose units? Who would disband their units?
MM Disband their sabotage units and they would be integrated into MK. Now that is the first to say it because had we said it earlier people could have interpreted it in very many ways. A logical question comes up: if he did that did this mean now that the Communist Party units having disbanded and all the individuals gone into MK, would they have dominated the MK? The second question that arises is how did he know that the Communist Party had set up units? What does this imply about his relationship with the communists?
POM How did he know?
MM His relationship with the individuals leading the Communist Party was a close one. As I say the person who facilitated his getting the ANC to re-examine it was a one-day debate with Moses Kotane and it means that the issue was being debated about the need to change the form of struggle. It was being debated in various little cells.
POM Was Moses also in the SACP?
MM Moses was the General Secretary of the SACP.
POM So he knew about their units?
MM Clearly that issue was still not yet resolved at that stage in the Communist Party but he knew, Moses would know.
POM He knew what was being debated within the Communist Party.
MM Well the Communist Party factually the Communist Party set up its units in July 1961. The ANC mandated Mandela to set up MK in August 1961. Now this I've never presented anywhere sharply, no scholar has worked on it and I would prefer the issue just to be left unnoticed until this generation is passed.
POM You can't do that. Give me, not the details
MM Now you're going to read The Long Walk?
POM Well I'll go back to The Long Walk but what I'm getting at is if Moses is vociferously opposing the ANC turning to armed struggle at a time when the SACP was further advanced along the road
MM No, that's not true, not correct. Moses is opposing clearly the matter is being debated in the Communist Party at the beginning of 1961. Madiba himself
POM Who would have initiated that debate?
MM That would be there was an article in the African Communist in 1960. In 1960 there was an article in the African Communist under the heading Forms of Struggle. It was written under a pseudonym, I can't remember the pseudonym, but it was actually an article the real name of the author was Michael Harmel, but he wrote under a pseudonym. That was a way of bringing structure to the debate that was going on in little pockets.
POM That was in June of 1960?
MM No, 1960.
POM Just some time in 1960.
MM Some time in 1960. It was a reflection that there is a debate going on but it was trying to give structure to the debate. Somewhere late 1960, early 1961, Madiba is raising the matter in the ANC.
POM Madiba would have read this article.
MM He would have read the article. So Madiba raises the debate formally in the ANC early 1961. This is where Moses Kotane opposes him. As I say, Kotane agrees, "Madiba, I make no promises but you can re-raise the matter in the ANC." No dates are given when Madiba re-raised the matter in his Long Walk but sometime in the first half of 1961, that is some time between January and August, Madiba re-raises the matter in the Working Committee.
POM There would be a record of that anywhere?
MM There wouldn't because any record would have been But that's the version in The Long Walk. Now I'm saying, come to the Communist Party. Early 1961 in spite of the article which is analysing forms of struggle it doesn't opt for the armed struggle but it is a structured input into the debate. What forms of struggle are governed by what conditions? That's the article. And as conditions change your form of struggle changes, that's the burden of the article. Early 1961 in the National Working Committee of the ANC Madiba raises the matter, Kotane opposes. In the meantime clearly the matter is under discussion in the Communist Party. Somewhere between January and end of June the Communist Party decides to go for sabotage and it mandates Joe Slovo to set that up and in July 1961 the Communist Party units quietly, unannounced, do a dry run on sabotage. They cut telephone cables, power lines, etc., but no announcement. It was a trial run. In the meantime, as I say the change in the Communist Party comes with a decision somewhere around June so Moses Kotane knows and is party to that decision.
POM He would have had an input into that debate?
POM A very strong input.
MM A strong input.
POM And he would have been arguing
MM His argument was, have you exhausted orthodox forms of struggle, are you not running away to the armed struggle as a way of avoiding the difficult task of ordinary mobilisation?
POM Now he would have been saying this to the Communist Party?
MM He would be saying this to the Communist Party and when the matter comes up in the ANC through Madiba he is putting the same arguments, have we exhausted, are you not running away? It was Moses who then said in the ANC debate of August, "You cannot engage in armed struggle as a means of avoiding the difficult task of mobilising the masses under repression. So, let us agree here in the ANC that we the ANC mandate Madiba, authorise him, to go and form MK but we are not going to create a relationship between the ANC and MK, (a) for security reasons but (b) more importantly, so that the ANC persists with its work of mobilisation even though it is illegal."
POM OK, it's not that I'm getting confused but he is like wearing two caps?
POM So he's sitting in executive meetings of the SACP and he poses these questions and obviously the executive answered them to his satisfaction.
MM No, no. Even if they had answered him to his satisfaction or not they have taken a decision.
POM Well that would be a decision that would be using the same formula for taking decisions in the NEC of the ANC, right?
MM So they've taken a decision.
POM They voted yes. OK.
MM Obviously they've taken into account his views but they've decided.
POM So when he poses the same questions first in the National Executive of the ANC, despite Madiba's kind of arguments, the majority on the NEC of the ANC reject the armed struggle?
MM No, no. I said the first time round was in the Working Committee, somewhere around January/February 1961. It's rejected. The second time around is still in the National Working Committee where they now support Madiba. The third round is in the National Executive of the ANC in Stanger in August 1961. There Moses Kotane is again present and again he's persisting in putting these questions so that the debate is as full as possible and that night the ANC NEC decides, yes, the formula is Madiba you are given permission to form MK. Next night the joint Executives of all the Congresses meet. That debate is restarted there and it takes the whole night from eight pm to about four am. The same ground is traversed but with different people now, expanded.
POM Who else?
MM The Executive of the Indian Congress is now there, the Executive of the COD (Congress of Democrats) is now there, the Executive of the Trade Union is there, the Executive of the Coloured Congress is there and Chief Luthuli opens the debate, he says, "Last night the ANC met and it took a decision in favour but for today's debate my Executive of the ANC is present again and even though we took a decision last night, for purposes of tonight's debate before the Executives of all the Congresses, I want each ANC Executive member to participate freely and not be bound in the views they expressed by the decision of last night." He said, "That decision is taken."
POM But he wasn't present when - ?
MM He was.
POM At the meeting?
MM He was present the night before.
POM So when the decision was taken to
MM To allow Madiba to form the armed wing.
POM What was his contribution to that?
MM Who's contribution? Moses Kotane?
POM No, Moses Kotane?
MM Moses Kotane came up with the formula that ANC you continue to exist, we authorise Madiba to form MK, we avoid creating a link that will allow repression to hit both and that the ANC must continue to do the mobilising work.
POM But Chief Luthuli is there?
MM He is there and has accepted the decision.
POM Did he contribute to was he there at the previous debate?
MM He was there the whole night before.
POM No, no, not the night before. Was he there - ?
MM Not the previous. He was banned. He was living in Groutville, he could not be in the Jo'burg debate.
POM So where was the meeting of the Joint Congresses?
MM Chief Luthuli is present, in Stanger again.
POM OK, so if he's banned how could he attend?
MM He attended the all night meeting at a secret venue. The first night was on a farm near Groutville and the second night was at a beach cottage near Groutville. So many of them were banned but the meeting was scheduled there so that Chief Luthuli who was the President of the ANC and who was under banning orders could be present, illegally present.
POM He would have been told of the first decision of the NEC, right?
MM The Working Committee.
POM Sorry, the Working Committee.
MM That decision of the Working Committee he would have been informed, he would have been informed that that forms the basis now for the National Executive to have a special session and he agreed, let's have a special session. Now he presides the night one over the National Executive of the ANC, the matter is debated the whole night. Chief Luthuli is also asking similar questions because the questions were not special to communists. He is saying, "Chaps, what are the implications of this? Have we exhausted non-violent forms of struggle?" The debate takes place, decision taken, that's a binding decision now, it's the National Executive. Next night all the Congresses are called together, all the NEC of the ANC go to it. Chief Luthuli presides again and he outlines the subject for discussion, the topic. The issue is has the time arrived for us to resort of armed activity? He says, "I want to inform this meeting that the ANC has met last night, it has taken its decision, saying yes, but for purposes of tonight's discussion members of the National Executive of the ANC, although the decision is binding, are free to express their individual views. Let's have a thoroughgoing debate, this is too serious a question." And the debate resumed. Again the same issues are being debated. In the middle of this debate there are people from the ANC National Executive who are panicking at Chief Luthuli's stance. Why does he say we are free to express our views, individual views? Is this going to tilt the decision against us who want the armed struggle? Somebody then gets up and accuses Chief Luthuli of being a pacifist and Chief Luthuli gets angry and he says, "If you think I'm a pacifist come and steal my chickens in my yard and you will see whether I am a pacifist." He saw it as an insult. As the debate went on that night, and you will probably find it in The Long Walk, an Indian comrade, J N Singh
POM This is the Singh of your relation?
MM Yes. J N Singh responding to Madiba, and it's Madiba who is pushing the argument, says, "Madiba is saying non-violence has failed to change the government's views and now we need to use arms." In The Long Walk you will find that that issue haunted Madiba even in prison because he recalled in prison the exact words of J N Singh, because J N Singh's response to Madiba saying non-violence has failed, J N Singh said, "It's not non-violence that has failed, we have failed non-violence." That's the depth of the debate and at the end of that night, in fact that night some comrades cried when the decision was taken, the debate swung backwards and forwards, in favour, against, in favour, against, but Madiba told me, he said he went to that debate determined to win that debate, he was not going to compromise. And when somebody said, "Chief Luthuli, you are a pacifist", and Chief Luthuli reacted the way he did, it seemed to swing the debate the other way, against the armed struggle.
MM Yes, against. The Chief was saying, "I'm not a pacifist but I'm asking the question have we exhausted non-violent forms of struggle."
POM He's also saying if you think I'm a pacifist come to my farm and
MM "So don't question my personal integrity but I am asking a political question, have we exhausted the potential of non-violent forms of struggle?" The debate goes on. Somewhere in the early hours of the morning Madiba responds in the debate, he says, "Non-violence has failed."
POM Did he answer J N Singh?
MM No, no, he's not giving everything there. He's not going into the ball by ball debate.
POM But it's a fantastic question.
MM Yes, the question had to be answered in debate but not only by Madiba. What I am saying is, somewhere in the early hours of the morning the people supporting the armed struggle are winning the debate until J N steps in and he said, "It's not non-violence that has failed us, we have failed non-violence." This tilts the debate back in favour of against the armed struggle. So you resumed the debate. There will be a flavour of this in The Long Walk, how the debate see-sawed that night. But in the end by about five o'clock in the morning consensus was reached. Right, we are supportive of the decision of the ANC, we will support it and Madiba was mandated.
POM To go back to the SACP's decision, they made their decision in June and they carried out a trial run in July.
MM It may even be that the decision was taken in the first week of July and the trial run was about the third week of July.
POM Well had they already been training people?
MM No, what had happened with me, I am aware of the debate, I am part of the team producing the African Communist in London, I go off for training at the end of February/early March 1961. At that stage I am sent to train in printing. No decision has yet been taken on the armed struggle. I am in the middle of my training in the GDR in printing when in July I learn of the decision of the Communist Party to engage in the armed struggle. When I learn of that I communicate and say not only do I welcome the decision but now that I am here in the GDR and training don't they think it's a wise idea that I should also extend my training to train in sabotage? And the Central Committee responded, you have got permission, go ahead, add on a course on sabotage. So I discussed with the German authorities and they then trained me. I was supposed to do a six months training course in printing, in the end I trained for eleven months, six months in printing and five months in sabotage and then returned.
POM You came directly back to the country.
MM And I would regard myself probably as the first trained
POM Trained person?
MM Yes, probably the first person to undergo training outside the country.
POM So the first units they sent out on these missions
MM Were trained at home.
POM Who were they trained by?
MM Jack Hodgson had experience in the Second World War, Joe Slovo had served in the Second World War, Rusty Bernstein had served in the Second World War, Arthur Goldreich had served in Israel in the Israeli struggle, so there were different people with little bits of experience and all that experience was pooled and Jack I think came out with the recipe for the manufacture of the Molotov cocktail. In the meantime whatever knowledge they had of dynamiting they pooled together. Joe Modise and company. Madiba himself says, and it's probably in The Long Walk, that one of the first things that he did when he set up MK was to go with Jack Hodgson and I think Wolfie Kodesh to be taught how to do sabotage and go out on a site and carry out a trial explosion and he was insistent that he should learn that. Then Madiba went out in 1962, went to Africa, he trained in Algeria and he trained in Ethiopia in the course of that travel around Africa. In the meantime by September 1961 another group went off to train in China that was made up of Raymond Mhlaba, Wilton Mkwayi, Andrew Mlangeni, Patrick Nthembu, Joe Gqabi and Steve Naidoo. They did a six months training course in China and in the meantime other groups were being sent out now post-September 1961 and they went off for training in Algeria, in Egypt, in Ethiopia, others to the Soviet Union and some to China.
POM That's still a pretty small corps. So how were people accepted? How were people trained, how did they select people to become members of MK?
MM Obviously Madiba, Walter was in the High Command, Walter had been Secretary General of the ANC, then people like Joe Slovo knew many people in the Communist Party ranks and the trade unions, so it was who you knew as comrades and who you thought were tried and tested comrades, those are the ones that you would approach.
POM So you'd approach people to join?
MM Yes. Just as I was approached in London in February 1961 by the Communist Party. The representative of the Central Committee with whom I used to work in London comes to me and says, "Home says are you prepared to go for training?" So I say, "After the training what happens?" He says, "You are needed at home." I said, "Sure. Will I go home and be full time or would I need to do a job and do work underground?" He says, "No, you would go home full time." I said, "OK." He says, "Aren't you interested in finding out what training?" I said, "It doesn't matter to me, whatever they want me to be trained in I will go and train."
POM So when would the swing come from individuals in the ANC, particularly in the higher ranks, saying I know so-and-so, I think I'll approach him to become part of the MK?
MM No, you wouldn't go and approach on your individual basis. You would raise the matter in your structure. You have now been recruited to MK. In your MK unit you would say, "I think so-and-so is a good person to recruit." That matter would be discussed in your unit and if they agree to support that it would be sent to the Regional Command to say we recommend that so-and-so be approached, we support that person to be approached. Then a decision would be taken and you would be mandated, right, you can approach.
POM When the person was approached to join would they then be sent out of the country to do training?
MM Not necessarily, no.
POM There was now enough skill to train them within?
MM You would be trained within and then sometimes from that pool you would be selected who goes outside.
POM When did the move come from saying I know somebody whom I think should be approached, to people volunteering to join?
MM No volunteering took place on any large scale until no, in the ANC right up to Soweto you were selected. It is post-Soweto that we had this flood of refugees coming out and we processed them in Botswana and Swaziland. What are you doing here? I've come out of the country, things are hot. What do you want to do? I want to join uMkhonto weSizwe, I want to be trained. Then we said, "Don't you think you want to study? You have a choice. We will help you to go and study or we will help you to go and do military training." He made his choice.
POM But if they were coming of the country at that point in droves, what background check could you do?
MM You couldn't. You could hardly do a background check with the flood of people.
POM So if people were saying I want to be in the MK, you really had no way of telling whether this person might be a state agent or not?
MM Yes, sure. But we had a real problem that hundreds and hundreds of our youth were arriving in Botswana as refugees and when the ANC got involved in processing them they said, "I want to train." Who are you? What's your biography? We started a system of taking down your CV, then we'd ship you out. We'd take you to Lusaka, on to Angola, we were now busy setting up camps. We'd ask you again, what's your CV and we then began to compare the two CVs, what you said in Botswana, what you said in Angola, to see whether there were fundamental discrepancies. That became the first technique of beginning to screen you.
POM But if you were a state trained agent you would be aware that you had got to show your legend.
MM That's how a few penetrated us.
POM A few?
POM You mean you don't know? A few?
MM We found out in the early eighties in the context of the mutinies, in the context of the poisoning of one of the camps. One of the camps the food was poisoned, everybody fell ill and we did an investigation, we found that the food had been poisoned. What was the poison? It was an external thing into the food. Could this have accidentally got in? No. Then somebody put it here. Who could it be? It must be an agent of the enemy. Those were real problems.
POM But if you're a really good agent, again, you wouldn't do anything as silly as that, you would just kind of be a good MK person who reported back to your handlers in SA.
MM Sure. Sure.
POM You'd play two roles. You might actually kill one of your own soldiers in order to prove that you were
MM It happened. But as I say we managed to catch a number of them and they got exposed and they confessed and it may well be that we didn't catch all of them.
POM But at the end of the day you can't say that you did catch all because you don't know.
MM You can't. You can't say you caught all. Sure. That's the nature of the thing. Even if you had the best screening ways you can't say you have never been penetrated. Even the CIA after the Soviet Union has collapsed has still found Russian spies in the CIA.
POM But objectively you can't say to what level the MK may have been penetrated?
MM Our view is, my view is that in early 1976 the apartheid regime only cottoned on to this possibility gradually so that in the first batches you might have had one or two or ten informers and later on it became systematic that they would keep trying to send informers, that they would try to penetrate our circles. But then, as came out in the Truth Commission Report, there was a time when they took people, they took provocateurs, went to recruit youth, put them in a kombi, took them past North West Province, gave them drinks on the route, stopped at a certain place and killed them. Why? Because it knew that none of them were its informers then, that none of them were it's own informers. If they had planted in that group of ten in the kombi one of their agents they would have allowed all ten to survive but because they hadn't planted in that group an agent they killed them and sometimes it may have killed its own agent too.
POM And vice versa.
MM And vice versa.
POM OK, we'll end on a vice versa. I'll see you tomorrow. Thank you. There was something else I wanted to say to you but I've forgotten.
MM Carry on, think about it.
POM I haven't rung Doha yet but I will before he forgets.
MM Do it fairly soon because I believe he had an accident, he fell I heard yesterday that he fell and fractured two of his ribs and at his age, at 84, he fell down.
POM Oh dear. Is he in hospital or at home?
MM At home.
POM I'll call this evening.