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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
29 Aug 2002: Maharaj, Mac
POM Mac, I'll put the question this way, if Madiba was say talking about you, God forbid, at a memorial that you dropped dead when you walked out of here and got hit by a car or whatever, what would you like to see included in a memorial or something like that to yourself, somebody speaking about Mac?
MM That's a tough question. Jesus!
POM That's God forbid, OK. But look at it this way, if you were to drop dead tomorrow morning I can ring Zelda and say, "This is what Mac wants in the memorial."
MM What I would hope for is that whatever assessment anybody makes that assessment would be based on a recognition that I did play my part to the best of my ability of helping this country to achieve a democracy.
POM So in that context what are the elements of your life when you reflect on it yourself, that you are either most proud of or that you see as solid achievements on the road to independence?
MM It's simply that in playing that part I played the part as any real activist would do, that I was prepared to do whatever was required at whatever risks involved and that the risks were never a deterrent to my being an activist, that's enough, because I think that once one made a commitment and came to the understanding that there was need for a rigorous struggle to bring about change in this country that understanding is important but what is important, more important, is that with that understanding would go a sense of responsibility to face up to that understanding and that that responsibility would bring on itself in its own train its own consequences and that one should not flinch at the consequences. One has to live with the consequences of doing that so I think that is essential to the integrity of a person, which I'd like to think I have, that whatever understanding I came to at a particular time I was prepared to act according to that understanding, I was prepared to shoulder the responsibility that went with the actions and I was prepared to live with the consequences.
POM Well elements that would be mentioned would be, things to call into account would be there is Vula, there is your heading up the ANC's underground structures in SA, of working both within SA and outside SA. There would be your contribution to the debates in formulating the strategy of the ANC through your interaction with either Oliver Tambo
MM The National Executive, the Revolutionary Council, the Central Committee. Yes, but for me the issue, what I would like to remember is a very simple one, for example after the Rivonia arrests in 1963 the climate was such that many, many there was a climate offear and many, many comrades understandably were caught up in that fear and wanted to conduct their lives in such a way that they would not be arrested. For me the consequence of my understanding the responsibility that that understanding threw up was that at all costs one must continue with the struggle. I actually turned up, I think the Rivonia arrests took place on a Thursday if I remember correctly -
POM Thursday, in 1962?
MM 1963, Thursday I think it was some date in June and I think it was a Thursday. I was busy in a secret venue printing a clandestine material and during the lunch break I walked across to the café which sold fish and chips and takeaways and I knew the owner, in fact he was a comrade of mine, at one time had been in an underground unit with me but had sought commission and had opted out when the 90-day law came in. When I walked into his café the assistant was serving the customers and there was a crowd of customers and the owner was seated on a chair behind the counter speechless and you couldn't get a response from him. When I asked the assistant what's wrong she said, "I don't know, this man has been sitting like this for the last couple of hours." I went behind the counter and tried to get him to talk, thought he might have got a stroke or something and all he did was to point to the radio on one of the shelves. It was just about one o'clock, then came the news of the Rivonia arrests.
So I immediately thought what's the danger, went and closed up the print shop, tidied it up and then said now what should I be doing? Go to hide, to evade possible arrest? One didn't know how the arrests would ripple. But then I said to myself, but I have an appointment in about three days time or the following week Monday early in the morning, I had an appointment alongside a street, Jan Smuts Avenue in fact near Wits University, where Ruth First was due to pick me up and we were going to go to Rivonia. So I said, now if I don't gather the pieces I would lose contact with the underground, I wouldn't know who to find and who to go to. I sat back and reflected and said at whatever cost I've got to make that appointment and I have got to make the appointment knowing that Ruth First is a public figure who probably would be picked up any time or maybe under very strict surveillance. So I said that the only way to do it is to assume that Ruth would know that I need to turn up to that appointment to keep further links and know how to act, not in an individual way but as part of the collective and so that whatever I do is meaningful in that situation.
So I turned up to the appointment, disguised myself as much as I could and turned up to the appointment and she indeed came past. She drove past the spot where she was supposed to pick me up and I saw her go two three times up and down that street and I was wondering whether it's because she has not recognised me but I said to myself she must be trying to take measures to ensure that she is evading surveillance and eventually she pulled up and I jumped into her car and she said to me, "You're crazy." So I said, "Why?" She said, "You know I thought to myself you are going to turn up for that appointment." She said, "I, Ruth, have to go to that appointment because he's going to turn up and I can't leave him stranded." I said, "But don't you understand, if I didn't turn up for this appointment how would we gather the pieces, what is needed to be done? How do I act in a way that is part of a collective and in the interests of the organisation surviving and continuing with its work? If I didn't turn up I wouldn't know how to contact you again and it would be too risky to turn up to your house." So she said, "Well that's the problem." I had to sit back and say she, Ruth First, is in danger but she said to herself, "But I have to go to this appointment because unless I go we have no further arrangements how we are going to contact each other." So she turned up.
All I am saying is a small thing like that, it was not out of a sense of bravado or adventure. I knew it was extremely dangerous but I knew that if you were to continue activity I had to make that appointment and she had to make it because from there we parted having made arrangements, stand-by arrangements how, given that it would be unsafe for me and her in any way be seen to be in contact, who I could contact and how she could contact me and how I could contact her. In that way I reinserted myself into a active role and not a role that was just determined by myself, meeting my own requirements.
Now I am simply saying there is no heroism about that but there is an understanding behind that and with that understanding goes a sense of responsibility and that responsibility requires you to do things which have all sorts of risks involved but you have to live with those consequences. To me that's enough for my epitaph. That's enough, I don't need more. The rest is for people to interpret.
POM You've got to give me more to go on. Mandela is going to be saying nice things about you, he's going to be recalling some anecdotes of what he might remember of you on the Island, the young boy on the block, of the communication system you set up so that he could have a direct line to Oliver Tambo.
MM But a simple set of propositions, that in order to know how our country came to where it is today there is need for people in whatever position who played a role to have their stories told as objectively as possible, to have their stories also told in the first person as well as to have their stories analysed by others in the context of the larger chain so that our understanding of our history is as full as possible. Secondly, in that context the stories are not confined to the people who were just the leaders. There is need for the foot soldier story to be told.
POM But you were no foot soldier.
MM I was.
POM You're being very modest.
MM No, the story one is not born a leader or rise to leading positions by birth. It happens in the course of time.
POM In the course of time, yes.
MM And through work and here is an episode centred around a person who has been prepared to conduct himself with all the risks and responsibilities that go with a foot soldier and a person holding at different times important positions, but in all that he conducted himself with the same sense of responsibility that one requires of a leader as well as with a sense of duty that one requires of a foot soldier and he did that. In the process Mandela himself got to know me under particular circumstances and from the time he got to know me, through that close interaction in prison, he knew that I had all the qualities and the commitment to stay the course and shoulder those responsibilities. Of course life, as we got to know each other, was not just one plain sailing record, an upward spiral of wonderful contributions, each of us are personalities in our own right, and of course he can say that I have been extremely troublesome to him, that he had to learn to master how to interact with me but he knew that the stuff of all revolution is made up of different personalities and here is a contribution made by this chap which he hopes will leave my immediate family with a sense of pride that a member of their family, that their father played his part and that as we go on building a better life for people, including my children, that they are the beneficiaries of generations that have gone beyond them and paid those prices.
More important that my own life, I would like to think, illustrates that I never succumbed to a sense of victimhood. Yes, one was born into oppression, in an oppressive system, and at the receiving end of that system one made choices in that condition which led one to lead a life of dignity and fulfilment. Whether it brought happiness is an open question but certainly one can look back and say he is entitled to a sense of fulfilment because he has contributed to making the life of the entire nation better and to make the world a better place and from that point of view if he is, as he is entitled to that fulfilment, all of us who his life has touched in some way share in that fulfilment as well. And so here is a part of our history which intersects with this chap's life and one hopes that people who read it will come out with a better understanding of how the change came about and a better understanding that a change only comes about when individuals like him come in and put their shoulder to the wheel as he did and in the process recognition of my wives and my children because they made it possible and therefore are entitled to also share out of that sense of fulfilment.
MM Then some anecdotes, some things come in, but there's a framework.
POM What are the anecdotes?
MM I think you should speak to Kathy on this. Kathy has a particular tone to his humour. He's never destructive of a person but he picks episodes which he puts a nice funny twist to it. He tells the story the other day at a public meeting, I called on him to speak and I warned him that whatever he says I would have second shot at it. So Kathy gets up and he says, "You know this chap Mac, he's a hell of a problem. Here we were living in our individual cells and one morning when we got up and we were opened out Mac and I got into a conversation and Mac says, 'I was having a hell of an argument last night and I went into the two sides of the argument like two people were in a great debate'." And he says he patiently listened to this as I gave him a ball by ball account of the argument and the issue and he says when I finished he said to me, "But Mac, we're locked up in individual cells, who were you arguing with?" And he says without batting an eyelid I said I was arguing with myself. So he says, "Well you see, this is a crazy guy."
So Kathy would remember that sort of thing and he would remember many in the interaction with Madiba, Walter, himself. Yes, he would probably paint me a little bit of a troublesome person and all that. It doesn't matter.
POM Of course it doesn't, it adds to
MM But he would be very good for that.
POM You must have been at innumerable banquets or whatever where you've been the guest of honour and they've introduced you and they've said something about you, an anecdote about you or whatever, in all of that list what do you remember as the best anecdotes that were told about you, the one where you threw back your head in laughter?
MM Well Kathy says up to now when he has visitors to Robben Island and he has to be the guide or he is present as people are being taken through the prison and briefed about it and told about life in prison, when they reach the isolation section they would see Madiba's cell and be told it is this cell and so-and-so and Kathy would say, "He was in this cell." And then he would say, "Now I have something to tell you people, how many of you people have read Madiba's Long Walk to Freedom?" He says, "You know, when we came to power in 1994 Mandela had a problem about making up his cabinet, constituting his cabinet, so he looked around his comrades and he said, 'Who's got ability?' And the ones that stood out with ability, OK, let me make this one minister of this, let me make that one minister of that, and then he came to me and he had a problem. He said, 'What do I do with this chap?' So he said, 'Oh, he transported my manuscript of Long Walk to Freedom from prison to outside, he smuggled it out, he transported it. He's the ideal person, let's make him Minister of Transport'." I think that's a delightful story.
POM Anything else, again on occasions?
MM Well I think it is a reflection on Mandela that he had such a paucity of people that for smuggling a book
POM Gave you the credentials to be
MM To be elevated to Minister of Transport.
POM Let's move backwards in time. The last time we had left your father who was, when you had earned the art of rebelliousness. I think you had told the story of how when he asked for a cane to be brought you cut the cane short enough and gave it to him but you just stood far enough away
MM So that he couldn't reach me.
POM That he couldn't reach you and when he said come forward, you moved forward but not forward enough and he was stuck on the chair and you had the power. He had wanted you to become a teacher. Was this the subject, well since you said hey, I'm going to be a lawyer, and he said all lawyers are liars.
MM "No son of mine is going to be a lawyer."
POM Was that a big family argument or an argument between you and him?
MM It was a crisis.
POM You had graduated, you did your matric.
MM I was just doing my matric at that stage when the argument I was busy with my matric and it was quite a bitter argument because if he could get me to become a teacher and the family, my brothers and all who were working as petrol attendants, etc., would chip in, it was a way in the life of Newcastle in a black community to break out of that circle of poverty and it was also a profession, teaching, a profession that was looked on with high regard. If you were a teacher you were seen as a very important person in the community and it was the least costly of the routes to snap out of that poverty. But I was not a zealous student at school but I was the top performer in my class always, so even in the community there were expectations and I in my childish way in the first years at secondary school, we used to be urged by my elder brother that I should think of becoming a doctor. I had abandoned the hopes of becoming a doctor when I realised that the Hippocratic oath required you to go and attend to a patient and my biggest problem at that stage was would I have to interrupt a soccer match in which I was playing. So we came to the conclusion and we sat with we got hold of the text of the Hippocratic oath, I must have been about 14, and I took it to my brother and I said, "What does this oath mean?" And he read it and I read it. He said, "Jesus! This oath has to be taken by a doctor." So when we thought we understood it I said, "Now let's get concrete. I am playing a football match, soccer match, and a message comes that somebody is critically ill or injured in an accident. Must I leave the soccer match?" So he says, "Oh, let's read this thing again." So we read the oath again and he says, "Man, it seems to me, yes, you'll have to do that." I said, "Shit, give up my soccer! No, I won't do medicine." Then slowly I came to the idea of a lawyer.
POM Why so?
MM Because as one read and investigated in the universities in SA a black person, Indian origin, there was a chance, yes, you could go to a training college and become a teacher, there were medical schools and one heard of black people becoming doctors, but there were very few people that you heard of becoming lawyers but you knew that there was tuition available to become a lawyer.
POM Tuition from?
MM From the universities. Then I studied the thing and got hold of brochures, what does it involve? It involves doing the BA and then the LLB and if you registered at the university for BA and LLB you could finish it in five years but if you registered separately a BA would take you three years and then an LLB would take you three years, but if you registered for both combined you could mix and merge the courses in such a way that you could complete in five years. So I became interested in that and by that time I became interested, had read books about criminal trials and crime and said oh, this is quite a profession, stimulating. But in my last year of matric my father put his foot down, he said no. So this became a very fractious argument.
POM Had you talked to him about it before, that you might like to become a lawyer?
MM Yes, they would ask what are you going to do, are you going to become a teacher? And I would say, "No, no, I don't want to be a teacher." And they would say, "What do you want to do then?" And my brothers would chip in, "Well why shouldn't he become a doctor?" And he would say, "Oh it will take six years to be a doctor, medical training, very costly, I don't know that we can afford it." And I would say, "No, no, I've checked up, I can go and work and study at the same time." When I then said that I think I want to be a lawyer my father reacted very morally outraged by that and I dug my heels in. The upshot of that was that I applied before I finished my matric for places because now you had to find a place at university. As a person of Indian origin I could not live outside of the province of Natal, could not be in residence, so it would be complicated and the only universities that you could think of for law were Cape Town, Wits, Natal University and Fort Hare. Those were the only places that you could go to study law. I felt I wanted to go to the mainstream universities and I therefore applied to Cape Town, Wits in Johannesburg and Natal. No, I didn't want to go to Natal. I applied to Cape Town and Wits. I finished writing my exams in November and I am now waiting for my results but I am also anxiously awaiting for the application forms, the applications that I have made to Cape Town and Wits because not only do I need admission I would then have to apply for a permit, having got admission, from the government to go to that province and thirdly, I don't know these provinces. I've got to think where do I get a job and would they accept me part time?
My father in the meantime was interacting with the vice-principal of the school who was a friend of the family, behind my back, which I didn't know. Comes January I've got my results, I've passed, I'm now extremely edgy what's going to happen to me, nothing has been heard from Cape Town and Wits and I am enquiring, "Has there been any post for me?" Until one day my kid brother says to me, "You know, brother, I think there was a letter for you, one or two letters for you, and Dad and the vice-principal opened that letter." He said, "Don't put me in trouble." So I went, I was very angry, I went to my Mum to check and from her body language I could see that she was aware that some responses had come and these were the only two letters I was expecting, either acceptance or rejection, but from her body language I could see that she is aware that something had happened but she doesn't want to tell me. So I went to my Dad and instead of answering my question he says he has discussed the matter with the vice-principal of the school. That vice-principal came from Durban originally, and he says, "There is an opportunity for you to go and study at the University of Natal, non-European section. The vice-principal himself has studied at that university and if you insist on going to university that is the best route. You could go to Durban and you could go to the Teacher Training College at Springfield." And I said, "You know I don't want to do that." He says, "Well, you could go to the University of Natal and you could study for a BA." Now the BA was a necessary part of going on to the LLB. I then said to him, "But I want to know what happened, where are my letters from University of Cape Town and Witwatersrand?" And he says, "No, we have destroyed those letters." I said, "Why?" He said, "Because I've decided you're not going to go to Johannesburg or Cape Town."
POM So you knew then that you had been accepted?
MM Yes. He says, "You're not going to go there." This was now round about the end of January and registration dates were closing and what was left now was that if I was to persist that I would have to get to Cape Town or Wits and this world was still strange to me. So I was very angry at this development and I was determined to leave home. So I said, "OK, there's nothing I can do now. You've destroyed the letters, I've got no references, I don't even know how to approach Wits and Cape Town." I said, "I'm leaving home and I'm going off to Durban." My Mum prevailed on me to say this is not an issue on which I should be quarrelling with my Dad, "Use these facilities that he's arranged. The vice-principal has made arrangements for boarding and lodging for you in Durban with a family that we know. Go there and enrol at the University of Natal." So I said, "But what about the costs?" She says, "I don't know about the costs but maybe if you do teaching then the family will help." I said, "No, I'm not going to do teaching." She says, "Well, look, don't raise that question, don't make it a point of friction. Go to Durban, go and stay where we've arranged board and lodging and go and register for the university for a BA and we will see if there is funding. See what you can do but don't quarrel with your Dad."
So I packed up and left Newcastle, stayed at the arranged boarding and lodging place for about two months and found that the family that I was boarding with were looking askance at me after two months and I tried to find out what's happened and they wouldn't tell me. But I learnt from their children, the problem was that nobody was paying the board and lodging. In the meantime I registered at the University of Natal and I saw that you could register part time. So I registered part time and said to myself that I will find a job. But I didn't know where to start looking for a job. The only thing I could think of was go to a petrol garage and get a job as a petrol pump attendant.
Anyway, be that as it may, I decided that don't complain, your boarding and lodging is not paid. I'm committed to my fees. I saw that at the university I could apply for a bursary based on my matric results so I applied for a bursary. The biggest bursary was for about £22 a year and lo and behold I got the bursary. Now that bursary was going to contribute substantially to my fees but it relieved me of the pressure because the university says you've been awarded this bursary which meant for the first few months of fees there is no pressure on you. The only pressure was on boarding and lodging. I didn't complain to my parents, I said take it as it is. What this does is that I have no obligation to stay with them, find your own accommodation and leave and find a way to pay them for the two months that I have stayed with them.
So I found my own accommodation and if truth has to be told I learnt that most of the students at University of Natal non-European section were working students and most of them were teachers studying part time in the evenings.One of the games in the Common Room was play an adaptation, a simplified version, of poker called 'brag'. It's a simplified version of poker.
POM What is the version?
MM It's a gambling game.
POM I know, I know poker very well but I haven't heard of brag.
MM You were doled out cards and in the bidding
POM Five cards, the first two and
MM But in the bidding instead of putting stakes like in poker you had to bid and you had to play a poker face in your bidding.
POM So you would be bidding for?
MM You'd be bidding that you would have the winning hand.
POM OK, this is the same.
MM Same as poker.
POM If you don't fold, I'll look at my cards, you look at your cards and I say I'll up you.
MM But here the bidding was, yes, I'll up you so much.
POM Then the other person either says, mmm, you look at him in the face.
MM So we used to play for matchsticks as a game and then we would play for, at that time it was pounds, shillings and pence, you'd play for pennies.
POM We had the exact same currency.
MM Then we found that at the end of the month the teachers would have their salary so myself and another university friend decided that the best way to make a living was to virtually run a gambling school in the common room on month ends. The whole month we would play there for small stakes but come month end it was a killing, all the teachers had got their salary cheques, they were going to go home to pay their rents and they were going to pay the university and they'd come for classes for that night but they've got their salary cheques. So we opened two tables, one conducted by my friend and one by me, two brag schools. Right, come in chaps, let's gamble. If the truth be told I lived the whole year by gambling. I paid my fees, I paid my board and lodge. I was rich one day and I was poor the next day. I won a motor car over the gambling table and three weeks later I lost the motor car. But the one thing I did, my friend and I, the nights we won we would take everybody remaining out to the restaurant to have a fantastic meal, out to the pubs to have a wonderful drink all of us. So that was the tips for losing all your money to us. We gave you a meal, we gave you drinks and we gave you your bus fare to go home. You could never say we were bad people.
There were good days and bad days but eventually I paid my fees and what I remember from that year is that I paid my fees and the result was that near the end of the year the university gave me a cheque for my bursary of £22 because I hadn't needed to use that bursary to pay my fees. That night I was a rich man and I took a whole group of chaps, I knew one restaurant where the restaurant owner's two brothers knew me very well, the waiters knew me. When I was broke I would go and sit there with no money and the waiters would come, one was my great friend, he knew from my looks that this chap is broke today and he would give me a free meal. The owners knew me so well that at times the owners would come and sit at my table and chat with me and I am eating stolen food and he can see that when I get up I go to the counter to do like I'm paying at the till to that waiter but there's nothing being rung up on the till, but the owners tolerated me. So that's how I lived the first year, didn't need to work, lived as a drunkard and a gambler and that was it. And I got the £22.
POM Also you took them out.
MM And blew it in one night, the whole lot.
POM That must have been a night to remember.
MM A night to remember!
POM Or as you were all so out of it, it was a night you couldn't remember!
MM And I paid the family their board and lodging for the two months and half way through the year, about three quarters down the year I'm in the common room in the evening, I'm bunking classes and having a great time and through the windows I spot my elder brother, the one just older than me. So I go out, "Hey, what are you doing here?" He says, "I've come here urgently looking for you." I said, "Why?" He said, "Well Mum is here with me." So I say, "Where is she?" "Well I've left her at a friend's place in Clare Estate, a suburb in Durban." "Why? What's wrong?" He said, "Well Dad's ill." So I said, "Have you got a car?" He said, "Yes, I've got a taxi." "You mean you've come from Newcastle by taxi?" He says, "Yes, with Mum." So I say, "Well let's go and see Mum." So we go off, we get there and Mum says, "Well Dad's ill and I've come to fetch you." And to me straight away Dad's critically ill. So I say, "Well, what's your plan?" They said, "No, we've just hired this taxi. We've come from Newcastle."
POM They hired a taxi from Newcastle to Durban?
MM Newcastle to Durban, 232 miles. So I said OK, to me it's very serious, "Let's go."
POM It's 232 miles so back and forth would be
MM 460 miles. So jump in the car, same night and we drive off to Newcastle. It used to take about four to five hours by car in those days. So we get to Newcastle, my Dad's in bed, greet him and Mum says, "Don't disturb him, he's not well. We'll talk in the morning." I get up in the morning, "How are you Dad?" "All right, ill." I think by the Thursday I realise he's just got a cold, flu, and he's on the mend. So I say to him, "Look it's very nice to know that you're getting better now, it seems you just had a bad bout of flu. I think it's time for me to return to Durban." So he says, "When do you plan to go back?" So I said, "As soon as possible now that you are on the mend."
POM Was this during the school term?
MM During the university term yes.
POM So you were missing classes? Well you missed them anyway.
MM So I said to him, "Well can I leave as soon as possible?" And he says, "No, why don't you stay over till Saturday." So I said, "Why Saturday?" He said, "Well I'll probably be better by then and also I thought it's your brothers", two of my brothers were now living away from home, "I thought we should get together as a family." So I said, "Fine, I'll leave on Saturday evening." Come Saturday at about lunch time, the house has a front veranda, the shop veranda, and a back veranda into the back yard, tiny little veranda where at times my Dad would go and sit in the sun. So there he is seated and he calls for me and I go there and I find my three elder brothers have arrived at home and there is one more chair for me. So I get there and I greet my brothers and my eldest brother, who was my great buddy but he was an alcoholic but a great buddy of mine, he says, "Sit down." They used to call me Shorty at that time. I was a very short guy. He said, "Shorty, take a seat." So I look at the chairs and I realise oh-oh, this is serious business, this is a family gathering of all the males. My younger brother is not there, my sister is not at home but my Mum is not into the meeting. This is a men's only meeting. I try my first ploy, I realise, oh, this is serious stuff so I say
POM Did you know that it was about teaching?
MM No I didn't know what it was about but I now smell a rat, there's something cooking here. Now the dice are loaded against me, there must have been mobilisation going on but the chairs are my three brothers and myself and my Dad. So I say, "Let me go and bring a chair for Mum." And my Dad says, "Sit there", very curtly. So I said, "What about Mum?" "No, no, this doesn't involve Mum. Sit." So OK, that's telling me it's even more serious, no allies, no wavering elements are allowed into this gathering. My Dad says, "Well it's good you've come home but let's get your eldest brother to speak for the family." So my eldest brother fumbles and says, "Well look Shorty, we don't think you should go to Durban." They've spoken to the employer where they were now working, he used to run a quarry, stone quarry in two centres around Newcastle, white employer but also a friend of the family. He said, "Mr Crankshaw is prepared to give you a job and it's going to be very well paid for Newcastle. Mr Crankshaw likes you, he thinks you're a brilliant boy and he is prepared to groom you in the job and pay you a good salary and even hopefully in years to come you will become the manager of the quarry. The owner, Mr Crankshaw, says that you're a very bright boy and he wants to help you." So I said, "What about my studies?" "Well we've looked at that, Shorty, with that wage you'll be able to pay for a correspondence course with UNISA and you can study." So I say, "Ja, good. Why this change? I'm in Durban, I'm studying, what's the problem?"
Big problems. My eldest brother doesn't know how to answer. He's mumbling. My Dad says, "Tell him, tell him." So my brother just older than me, who loves quarrelling and fighting, the third one, one just older than me, he loves quarrelling, he says he then in the end decides this is nonsense, this is too much cagey stuff, he says, "Listen, let's be straight with you. We hear rumours, we understand that you are drinking every day. Number two that you are gambling. Number three you are womanising. Now that's unacceptable. You're going to stay here, you're going to work here, you're going to get well paid, you will support the family and you will have enough money to study with UNISA. That's the score." Silence. This is not presented as an allegation, it's straightforward, it's a decision taken. I say, "Have you people decided?" "Of course we have decided." So I said, "So you've called me here just to tell me what you've decided?" Yes.So I say, "I understand Dad's position but let's start with my brothers", and I turn to my eldest brother who was my favourite brother, his nickname was P, so I say, "P, do you agree with this decision?" And he's in a tight squeeze now. He says, "Shorty, for the sake of peace, you will be able to study, you'll be able to do what you want to do but for the sake of peace do it." I run to my next brother, the next one, they all say it's agreed.
POM They also - ?
MM Support the decision. Then I turn to my Dad. I say, "Dad", and I was now very, very rude, I still blush at what I did, I said, "Dad, I left home at the end of January. Have I ever asked you for one penny from that time?" He says, "No." "Have you ever given me one penny?" He says, "No." To each of my brothers, the same question. Each one, "No, we don't give you anything and you've never asked us for anything." So I said, "What's more you sent me to Natal University, you put me in a place to board and lodge having made arrangements behind my back but you never paid those people for my boarding and lodging and after two months I realised that the family were not getting paid and I realised that the family were not getting paid and I left them out of embarrassment. It wasn't an arrangement I made but I don't want to argue about that, I'm just putting the facts on the table. Now, I don't depend on you, I don't take anything from any of you. I'm a free person, I'm off to Durban."
The brother just older than me, the aggressive one, pops up, he says, "You're not going. You are drinking, you are womanising, you're gambling, that's all you're doing." So I say, "That's my life. I don't have a penny from you, I don't ask you for anything." He says, "Admit you are doing that." I said, "No, that's not the issue. Let's assume I'm doing all that, that's my life. What say have you got over it?" So the argument gets very aggressive between my brother just older than me and me and I say, "Well I'm going", and I get up from my chair. So he gets up and he says, "I'm going to beat the hell out of you. You sit here and you listen to the family." And I say, "You can't stop me." Then he comes up with a brilliant one, he says to my Dad, "Dad, this boy", this is 1953, he says, "Dad, this boy is under 18, he's still a minor in law. We will get the police to lock him up and keep him behind here." Because the other brothers are making peace, it mustn't end up in a physical fight. I get up and I march off and he's threatening to come and beat me up and I go to the room where I sleep and I start packing my bag. My Mum comes and she says, "Don't do this, don't do this. You don't have to fight with your father." She says, "Go back, sit there, don't tell them anything, pretend you are agreeing with them and come back. The train leaves at midnight for Durban, it comes through Newcastle from Jo'burg. Go to sleep, get up before midnight, jump through the window quietly and go away." So I said, "But how do I do that? I've got no money to pay the train fare." And she pulls out, under her long skirt, a little pouch and she says, "Here, your Dad doesn't know this. I have saved this money, it's £20. This will pay your train fare, it will take you. But don't argue, don't fight with your Dad. You know, I think you're mad. I don't know what is all this that you want to study law and all these funny things, so I don't even know whether I'll ever see you again." But she says, "Here, a second thing is a ring. I have saved and bought this ring in the hope that one day I will be party to picking your wife but now I don't know whether I will ever see you again. But here, take this ring and in your life if you ever meet a woman that you want to marry use this ring and know that it means that I have given my blessings to that marriage. But now go back there."
So I go back there and I sit down and they lay down the law. I keep quiet, I don't say yes, I don't say no and after a while I say, "Have you guys finished?" They said, "Yes. What have you got to say?" I said, "I've got nothing to say." They are puzzled by this reaction, the meeting breaks up. They are assuming that I am staying and I'm agreeing to the arrangements. I am clear in my mind I'm not obeying the arrangements. My brothers disperse. Comes the evening I go to bed. Half past ten at night I got up, packed my bag, jumped out of the window and off I went.
POM When was the next communication with your Dad after that?
MM Oh by that time, 1953, I'd begun to become very active politically. I returned to Newcastle during the vacation time because my second eldest brother by that time was a truck driver, a long distance truck driver, and I knew that if I went to Newcastle I could work part time with him as a co-driver and earn a bit of money during the university vacations. So I turned up at the vacation in December, in the July vacation the following year.
POM So there had been no contact between you or anyone in the family?
MM Anyone in the family, and then I politically became active and I used to travel by hitchhike. Get to Newcastle, take a part time job with my brother's firm where he was a truck driver, work the vacation and then return to Durban.
POM When you got back did your father say anything?
MM Yes. The relationship had become very cold. We would greet each other warmly but within five minutes we would be disagreeing because he would say, "What are you doing?" So I would say, "I'm studying." "What do you want to study?" I said, "I'm doing law." He said, "I hate law, no son of mine is going to be a lawyer, and what's this about politics?" So I tell him my views.
POM How did he know about the politics?
MM The rumours would fly from Durban to Newcastle. And I would tell him and within five minutes we would quarrel and I would walk away from where he's seated and ignore him. Then subsequent contact was when I hitchhiked past Newcastle on my way to Jo'burg. I would arrive at all odd hours, I knew how to open the window of the room where I slept, with a penknife and I would jump in and go to sleep, wake up in the morning, see the family before I continued with my hitchhiking, quarrel with my Dad but not for long quarrel. The moment we disagreed I would walk away.
But then an occasion came when my Mum came to see me, she had developed a habit that it didn't matter, every morning she was up at five in the morning. She would go from her room to the kitchen to light the coal stove and the room where I slept was adjoining the kitchen and she would open the room where I am sleeping, it turned out as an everyday habit at five in the morning, to see whether I had arrived and if I arrived she would wake me up, give me a cup of coffee, greet me and she would then say, "Look, your Dad is going to wake up just now. I don't want you to quarrel with him. Where are you going? Have you come here to stay?" I said, "No, just come to visit." She said, "Well get up now and go on your road wherever you are going. Let me give you breakfast, but don't quarrel with Dad." On one occasion I had quarrelled with him and he had said, "What the hell are you doing here?" So I said, "Well I've come to visit." He says, "To visit who? I don't want you in this house." So I said, "I've come to visit my mother, you can't stop me from doing that." But then it turned out that my mother got criticism from him. "You see this boy? He says he comes to visit you, that's why he comes here to this house and disturbs my peace of mind." So she would wake me up if she saw me and say, "Please, here's coffee, here's breakfast, I'll make you breakfast. Eat. I'm very pleased to see you but now before Dad wakes up go on your way."
So the relations became very strained and then later on they evened up a bit. When I was going abroad I went home, I saw them and told them I was leaving for abroad and said goodbye to them. Then I wrote to him from the UK when I got married. A few months after getting married in 1958 I wrote to my parents informing them that I am married, introducing my wife to them and thanking them for all that they have done for me, saying that they had helped bring me up, they had enabled me to matriculate in Newcastle and as far as I'm concerned they had done everything that one could expect from parents and that's that and that they should see my marriage in a positive light, it's a choice that I've made. And when I returned from abroad in 1962 I visited them, stayed at home, and when my wife came to join me a year later in 1963 I took her to Newcastle, introduced her to my parents and that was it.
POM Did they get on?
MM My Mum took a liking to my first wife. My Dad liked her too. Tim joined me in SA in the underground in 1963, then she went off to Durban to do a refresher course in nursing because we were both living illegally in the Transvaal, so she went to do the course in Durban, and in July 1964 she had just completed her refresher and got readmission to the nursing fraternity when I went down to pick her up and on our way back, on the Sunday of 5th July, we arrived home on Saturday evening, met the family, went to sleep and they asked me how long I'm there for and we said we're there till probably Monday, Tuesday. But on Sunday morning when we got up and I got The Sunday Times newspaper at about ten in the morning and read it and found that the arrests had taken place in Johannesburg, further arrests, Bram and everybody else were arrested, and I knew that the arrangements were that I was to be party to the regrouping of those who survived. So I called my wife
POM So this is after - ?
MM After Rivonia. I called my wife and said, "Tim, look, these arrests have gone on in Jo'burg, we have got to rush there to pick up the pieces." And she said OK. I said, "Pack up." Then I went to tell my Mum and Dad that we were leaving immediately. My Mum was extremely disturbed. "Why are you leaving? You said you're going to stay here till Monday, Tuesday. We don't ever see you guys." "No, no, it's just that something urgent, I've got to get to Jo'burg." Ostensibly they thought that I was living as a motor mechanic, working as a motor mechanic. So we got into this little car that we had borrowed and as we got into the car my Mum came out into the back yard-
POM A Morris Minor was it?
MM A Morris Minor, yes.
POM Things don't change from country to country.
MM My Mum comes over to the car, she comes to the driver's side to say goodbye and she says, "Son, I have a feeling you are going to be arrested. I have a feeling that you have quietly remained active in politics." So I say that's not true. "I'm a motor mechanic, what's your problem?" She says, "I don't believe you." And she turned to Tim and she says, "Tim, tell me, am I right or is my son telling me the truth that he's a motor mechanic, that he's not involved in politics, nothing?" She says, "I have this feeling, I don't know where it comes from, but you're going to be arrested." So Tim to pacify her says, "Mum, he's just a motor mechanic." And she turned to Tim and she says, "Tim because you're saying it I will believe you but otherwise I have this feeling that he will be arrested."
We left for Johannesburg, we got here, we got to bed. I said, "Pack up", in our little servant's quarters that we were staying at. "We will move tomorrow to some other accommodation in case the police are looking for me." That morning when we got up, before we could get up a comrade arrived at the door (he's in London now Dasu Joseph, I'll give you the name later, you should interview him.) So he comes rushing in and he says that Laloo Chiba has been arrested, Paul Joseph has been arrested. Now the arrest of Paul Joseph worried me because a chap called Desmond Francis from Lenasia who was a teacher was due to take his long leave and fly off to London from where he was going to be whisked to Czechoslovakia to use his prolonged leave of teachers to clandestinely train in ignition devices in Czechoslovakia and Paul had the ticket to give to this guy to fly off to London and then I was supposed to give Paul the briefing of where he should go in London and who he should meet and how he should introduce himself. I was worried, has this arrangement been broken, disturbed. So I tell my wife, "Let's go together. I don't know what is going to happen today. Don't worry about packing, let's just go off and attend to this job. There's a task that I've got to attend to." So we got off in the car, went to Paul Joseph's place, met Paul Joseph's wife in the backyard and I asked her, "Did Paul say anything at the time of his arrest? Was there any cryptic message for me?" I want to know whether Desmond's arrangements are sorted out. She says, "No." I say, "Do you know about an airline ticket? In searching the house did they find an airline ticket?" She says, "No, I was present at the search, no airline ticket was found." I said, "Do you know where to find Desmond Francis?" Now Francis didn't know that I was in the underground. She says, "Yes."I said, "OK, get some people out to find Desmond to meet me at a certain place."
In the meantime I went to check up what's happened to the airline ticket and I found that the airline ticket had not been collected by Paul so I set about making arrangements to collect the ticket, met Desmond Francis at about four o'clock in the afternoon in Fordsburg, briefed him about where to go in London, gave him his ticket. He was flying the next day. Having finished that, at about six o'clock in the evening as we drove into the street where we were living, we were living in the servant's quarters in the back, as we drove into the side road and parked I found police emerging in plain clothes from the Post Office across the street, from the houses on all sides of the street and I was surrounded. So my Mum said she had a feeling I was going to be arrested on Sunday and I was arrested on Monday.
POM That soon after you left Durban?
MM Yes. I left Durban on 4 July, went and slept in Newcastle on the evening of the 4th, the Saturday, left Newcastle on the 5th. Maybe I left it was the 3 July, it was a Saturday I left Durban with Tim, slept in Newcastle that Saturday evening, got up on Sunday and left for Jo'burg and on Monday 5 July I got arrested and my wife got arrested.
POM Did you give Tim the ring?
MM Yes. When I married her in the UK I gave her the ring.
POM So was your Mum pleased when she saw it?
MM Oh yes, she was very pleased. But as it happened that ring was lost but we bought another one when Tim came to SA, looking exactly like that was just a plain gold ring, simple plain ring, but we didn't want my mother to feel that we had lost it. But there was an occasion when in London, in the UK Tim and I had gone off that weekend, I was speaking in the Manchester area, somewhere round 1959/60. I used to travel around Britain in the Movement for Colonial Freedom which had branches and contacts throughout Britain run by Lord Fenner Brockway.
POM He was a lord, a member of the House of Lords?
MM He had become a member of the House of Lords and he had been running this Movement for Colonial Freedom from before he had become a lord. He inherited the lordship in his family but he was an MP and he had been running this solidarity movement with the colonial struggles. He was in the Labour Party and the Movement for Colonial Freedom used to put together a panel of speakers and Friday, Saturday, Sundays there would be in each town a little gathering of anti-colonial people where we would run a weekend school or a course on the struggles of colonial people. There was a Cypriot called George Pefkos from the Cypriot struggle. He had come from the Cypriot trade union movement and was in exile in Britain. Then there was an Englishman, Page, who had got involved in the struggle in Malaysia. Then there was a chap called, the name is escaping me, it was there on my lips just now, and I used to do the component of the African freedom struggle.
POM All of Africa?
MM Yes, country by country, whichever country is in the news, we would run courses. It was a co-operative movement, trade union people, Labour Party people, left people from the Communist Party but gathered together loosely. On one of those trips we happened to go past Manchester and in Manchester there was an ex-SA doctor, Dr Mervyn Susser, he was prominent in the British Medical Association and prominent in making the BMA support our struggle in SA. So I visited Mervyn and his wife, Margaret, and they had a house in Manchester. He was also a lecturer at Manchester University and they accommodated us and I think we forgot Tim's toilet bag there and we lost the ring there. By the way Mervyn Susser, he's in the US, I believe he's plus 80 years old. His 80th birthday was attended by Kathy last year and he and his wife are still alive. Mervyn Susser. I can ask Kathy which town he is in.
POM Would you also say that I'm going to Durban and if he has time tomorrow could he see me?
MM He's in Cape Town.
POM I'm going there this evening, after I leave here actually.
MM I'll get his wife's name too.
Phone call to Kathrada
AK Zena Stein. Colombia Medical School. They are both retired but they still teach there. They are world experts in AIDS. I was invited to speak at his 80th birthday last year. He's in Colombia, I went there. Wonderful people.
MM I'm just sitting here talking with Padraig O'Malley and suddenly I remembered them because I stayed at their home in Manchester.
AK Oh, well let me tell you something about them that you may have omitted. At that meeting where I spoke, the first part of it was an academic thing, about 300 professors and all that, I just spoke there. But then the next day there was a function and the one fellow revealed that he stayed at the Susser's home in London and the Sussers gave him, they had been staying there a year or more, the Sussers gave him a lounge to sleep in. The next morning he got up very early and opened a door which he thought was a cupboard. It was another room, the Sussers knew nothing about it and they had been staying there a year or more! Absent minded professors.
MM Listen Padraig O'Malley is on his way to Cape Town today and he's going to be there for just today and tomorrow. He was asking whether he could see you.
AK It's going to be very difficult. I've got a few meetings and I'm hoping to fly out to Jo'burg. I haven't booked yet, I'm trying to. It will be very difficult this trip.
MM All right, some other trip.
MM OK, no I just wanted that information about the Sussers. Thanks pal.
AK OK. Bye.
MM Zena Stein, Colombia University Medical School. That's how we came to lose the ring. We think we lost it during that trip to Manchester and before she came back to SA we bought another ring similar to that one so that when my mother asked we told her it was her ring.
POM Just trace this line through. You're arrested I just want to backtrack a little bit just to clarify a couple of details. When you would hitchhike to Johannesburg, it would be illegal for you to be in the Transvaal. Now were you hitchhiking to Johannesburg to do
MM Political work.
POM - political work. But didn't you continually leave yourself open on the highway when you reached the Transvaal?
POM To be arrested by anybody, or if anybody stopped to pick you up they would say who would stop to pick you up?
MM They used to not monitor the permit rules with that sort of strictness. Look, they would see a car, Natal registration plates, Indians in it, then they would harass you. In Natal they would see a car with Indians in it from the Transvaal. In those days the plates would show whether you were from the Transvaal, then they would harass you. But in my hitchhiking, which increased when the treason arrests took place in 1956 because I was now working for New Age so I would come regularly for consultations, I would hitchhike, I don't think I saw another black man hitchhiking. It was very difficult to get lifts and in my view in different times I have walked every kilometre of the stretch from Durban to Johannesburg because lifts were very, very rare.
POM There would just be the silence of the road.
MM Just the silence of the road. Then you see there it's coming and then you'd stand up to hitch. Nothing. It goes past and you would walk on, walk on. But now and then you would get a truck driver who would pick you up.
POM Mostly truck drivers?
MM Truck drivers. Once in a while a car driver. Then I learnt a trick that at night I would get stuck and when I am stuck at night I would go to the nearest petrol station and sit down with all the chaps attending to the petrol pumps and they would normally have a brazier making a little fire over which they would warm themselves and cook and make their coffee and things. I would sit with them and as one of the cars would rock up, one car in half an hour, the petrol attendant would signal to me whether this was a long distance man and whether he thought it's a prospect to go and ask. So I would go to the car, ask the driver for a lift. Now on the roadside they didn't stop but when you asked them face to face and you're alone, either they would be abusive and just tell you no, but otherwise if it was a white person he would hesitate how to say no and now and then one of them would say, "OK, jump in." So you'd make your way. And because Newcastle is half way between Johannesburg and Durban on the old road it was a convenient point for me to stop, jump into my room through the window, sleep, at least I knew I had a comfortable bed to sleep in and I knew in the morning my Mum would give me coffee and breakfast before I set off on the road again.
POM So then would you go to the gas station in Newcastle?
MM Newcastle, the first thing I would do is to try and scout around if anybody in Newcastle is likely to be heading for Ladysmith and if they were heading for Ladysmith is there space in their vehicle if I could get that, otherwise I would go to the petrol station, otherwise I'd set off walking saying there's likely to be a car that I know from Newcastle travelling to
POM You were saying you hardly ever recall
MM I don't recall ever seeing another black person hitching and on one occasion I persuaded one of my university student friends to join me on my trip to Jo'burg and we left Durban, we walked for hours without a lift. By the time we reached Pietermaritzburg it must have taken us about at least a whole day, walking, getting little lifts, and he abandoned me in Pietermaritzburg. He said, "Thank you very much, this is not the life I want to lead." But I would lead it, I would get a call from Jo'burg to come and meet comrades who were in the treason trial who were New Age and the New Age manager whose place I took in Durban, M P Naicker, and I had no money. By that time I was working for a lawyer part time, I was studying, and then I gave up the lawyer's job to work full time for New Age.
POM You're going too quickly. I want to go back to the hitchhiking. It would be a white driver or - ?
MM Yes, at times I got a white driver to pick me up. I remember two graphic people
POM But mostly Indian?
MM No not even Indians, it would be African truck drivers and Indian truck drivers. I remember two white people very clearly, two white men, each one on different occasions gave me a lift.
POM Were they from Newcastle?
MM They were from Johannesburg. The one was fantastic. He was a young man and I was standing at a garage somewhere in the Transvaal when his car pulled up and it was a huge car, I don't remember the make now, and his car pulled up and he was alone and I walked up to him and asked him for a lift. He was probably in his early twenties and he agreed to give me a lift. We jumped in and got off on the road and I noticed him at the garage when he filled up and he had to pay, each time he took out a note he kissed the note and gave it to the petrol attendant as he counted the right amount. So in the car we started talking and he was the nephew, as far as I can recall, of a person who owned some bakeries in Johannesburg, that was his uncle. He explained to me that he was going on holiday, that he was a student somewhere and that he had borrowed this car from his uncle and the reason why he was kissing the money was that it was the little bit of money that he had saved up for his holiday. So we had a great time chatting. The other was a chap
POM Now did you talk politics with him?
MM No, no, no. Avoid that. We'd talk about anything, in fact you're reminding me of the second one. I was at Volksrust which is on the border, on the Transvaal side of the border with Natal. So I was stuck there at about nine, ten at night, sitting at a petrol station, quite cold, dark, and here this chap pulled up, must have been a Hillman car, the small one, he pulls up and the petrol attendants tell me to try that guy. Now as far as I was concerned it's nine, ten at night, if I can make it to Newcastle it's fine, I'll have a bed. I'll worry about tomorrow. But very reluctantly he eventually agreed to give me a lift and when I tried to ask him, he said, "Where are you going to?" I said I was going to Durban. So he says, "No I can't take you to Durban." So I said, "Look, just drop me in Newcastle, the next town." So he says, "Fine. I'll drop you in Newcastle." We get into this car and we're driving off, it's dark and we get to chatting and as we get to chatting we are relaxing a bit more and he then tells me that he's heading for Margate and I realise that, don't push my luck, if he warms up he'll probably give me a lift through to Durban because to go to Margate you've got to go past Durban. But if he doesn't warm up be thankful, I said to myself, that he will drop me in Newcastle. The road from Volksrust to Newcastle is through the Majuba Hills and it's a winding road, forested mountains and we were somewhere in the Majubas where you've got to travel very slowly, it's hairpin bends, somewhere along there I then tell him the story of the ghost of Majuba. We're spinning yarns, scares the hell out of him that there's a ghost in these hills. I tell him that many motorists they come past these bends, hairpin bends, and the next thing is as you come out of the bend there's a light shining into your eyes blinding you. I tell him many motorists have gone off the cliff here. Oh shit! He's driving now even more carefully. Then, I think he was still overcoming his fear, and he tells me that the reason why he was reluctant to give a lift is because it's not safe, there have been many cases where hitchhikers given a lift end up by robbing the motorist. So I say, "True, but the other side of the story is that many hitchhikers have been picked up by motorists and beaten up." So he says, "But I'm not scared. I have a pistol", and from one of the cubbies he pulls out a pistol. He says, "I'm armed." So I say to him, "What is risky for hitchhikers also, I don't have a pistol, all I have is a dagger", and I pull it from my socks. He nearly went off the road. But he had now told me he was going to Margate and he was warming up towards me and the scene was arising that he could, because he was driving through all night, he may take me to Durban. But this incident took place about the dagger. When we got to Newcastle he pulled up at the filling station and he just said to me, "Goodbye." He was so relieved to get rid of me. So I lost my lift to Durban.
Those are two whites that stand out in my mind. Some of the people driving cars, you had to be quite wealthy to own a car in those days.
POM Even if you were white?
MM Even if you were white. As I say, that student had borrowed his uncle's car. But I don't recall getting a lift from an Indian man driving a car, they just looked down on me.
POM They looked down on you?
MM Yes, who is this Indian chap, this strange animal begging for a lift on the roadside? I remember once having a fight with an Indian man, I was on my way from Durban to Johannesburg and it was evening and I had only reached Kloof because I had been walking for the most part and Kloof is only about 20 30 miles out of Durban on the old road. So I decided let me go into the pub, there's always an Indian section of the pub, maybe I'll get a drink and maybe I'll scrounge a meal and see around if I can find somebody passing by. I was in the pub talking to the barman when he drew my attention to an Indian man who was sitting at one of the tables, it was deserted, and he had just got up the Indian man and gone out and the barman said to me, "Look, that chap, seems to be heading for Pietermaritzburg, maybe you can get a lift with him." And I used to drink a bit, still heavily in those years. So I went up to his car and here he was in the dark in a huge car and he was just about to start his engine when I got to his window and knocked at it. He let the window down and I could see sitting in the back of the car, in the back seat, was a woman, oldish woman, Indian woman. So I said to him, "Can you please help me? It looks like you're going to Pietermaritzburg, can you give me a lift to Pietermaritzburg? I'm stuck and it's night and I'm hitchhiking." He had let the window down slightly, like you're a frightful person, and he says to me, "No, sorry I can't give you a lift." So I said, "Why? You've got plenty of space." A bit argumentative with him. And he says, "No, I can't." So I said, "Why not? I'm not going to rob you." In that frustration and in a disdainful voice he says, "But I've got a lady in the car." To me it was like she's his mother because she's sitting in the back seat. So I say, "What the hell do you think? Do you think I'm going to rape her? What's wrong with you?" "No", he started the car, I was in the mood to smash his window but he drove off, wouldn't give me a lift and it didn't matter my telling him, that, "Look I'm a student at university and all that, give me a lift."
POM What kind of hierarchy existed within the Indian community? One, it must have been a very tight community if your brother can drive, or get a taxi from Newcastle to Durban and start walking around looking for you and knows where to go.
MM Well he knew I'm at the university.
POM OK, but you were in a pub.
MM No I was in the university common room. He found me in the common room. I used to virtually live in the common room, get drunk there, gamble there and live there. It was just a little hall, narrower than this and about one and a half times the length of this, the student common room. That was the only facility we had at that non-European university.
POM Going back to Newcastle, (i) did your parents practise religion, religious ceremonies?
MM My parents were of the Hindu religion. Every night before meals you had to pray and thank God for the meal. While my grandmother was alive, and she passed away in 1953, we observed the rituals more, she went off to the Temple regularly. When she passed away those rituals gradually died away but my parents regarded themselves as Hindi, Hindu people. They never imposed their religion on me. I must have told you the story that I might have been about five, six years old when my grandmother had taken me to the Temple, one of the regular ritual days, and everybody would congregate there, there would be a special prayer and there would be eats given out, sweetmeats, Indian sweetmeats. But I got to this place and I was not interested in religion.
POM You were five or six?
MM Five or six, where am I interested in this? I'm interested in finding my friends, all my age group, to go out and play football with a tennis ball. So I ran off to play with a tennis ball in the back yard of the Temple and when we got home my grandmother arrived and she was furious with me for bunking the Temple ceremony. She went up to my Dad and she complained about me. She said that I had gone to the Temple with her but I had run away from the rituals and I had gone off to play tennis ball with my mates and then disappeared. My Dad called me, shouted for me, so I came over and he says, "This is what your grandmother is saying, is it true you ran away from Temple? Don't you want to go to Temple? Are you not interested?" So I said to him, "I'm not interested in all these prayers." And in his exasperation, remember he's a cripple, he shouts for my Mum, "Lily! Listen to this son of yours, he's not interested in even Temple. He's only interested in playing tennis ball, kicking it around. Is that going to make him into a good man? Nothing! This is just going to be a scoundrel." And I am standing quiet and he's complaining to my Mum and he looks at me and he says, "Get the hell out of my sight." So I run away.
POM What did your Mum say?
MM Mum kept quiet. Granny didn't know what to do. She wanted a solution where the old man would make me give an undertaking but he now in his frustration and anger tells me, "Get the hell out of here." So I run off and that was it. I never went back to Temple.
POM Did your Mum go?
MM My Mum would go to the rituals, to the ceremonies, to the weddings and all that. Yes she went. My Dad couldn't go because he couldn't move about.
POM It was a very tight-knit community?
MM It was in one sense a tight-knit community, it was in another sense a very communally organised community. The Hindu people of Hindu religion banded together, the Moslems of Moslem faith banded together, the Tamils of Tamil religions banded together. There was a commonality but there was also a separateness. My father would tell me, I had Moslem friends, I would visit them and he would ask me, "Where were you today?" I'd say I went to so-and-so's place. "Did you eat there?" I said, "No."
POM So your Dad would say?
MM "Did you eat there?" Now that was not intended as a question that you had to answer. In his protocol that was a rhetorical question to be followed by a lecture. "Did you eat there? You must never eat there. They are Moslems. They eat beef." Now in the Hindu religion the cow is a holy cow, you worship the cow. He said, "Never eat with them, they eat beef. Just you remember that, they are Moslems."
POM So come 1948, just following up on this train, and India gains independence.
MM Independence, 1947.
POM Then this huge kind of massacre, movement of people, Moslems, into Pakistan and Hindus to India, how did that have an impact in Newcastle when news of it began to filter back? Or how didn't news filter back?
MM My memories of that period, 1947, is that there was a disaster going on in India, Hindus and Moslems were killing each other, but the community was united that the blame was the British. The evil genius behind this partition of India were the British interests. They had divided India into Pakistan and India and they were the people behind fomenting this violence. So that was the common meeting point of Hindu's and Moslems in Newcastle but when it came to the issue of who do you support, India or Pakistan, they parted ways and dropped that matter at that. The Moslems would support the idea of a Pakistan but they were mates, Hindus and Moslems in Newcastle, they grew up together, they were struggling together and they would avoid that issue from becoming the point of their discussion. They would rapidly in their discussions, the elders, would go to blaming the British. "These bloody British", who eat pork, by the way. That was a big thing for my father. They eat pork and they eat beef. Now the Moslems would say, they would drop the word beef, that the British eat beef, because the Moslems eat beef, the common point was, "Those Englishmen, they eat pork!"
POM It's lovely.
MM It's fascinating how the stereotypes and which aspects in the stereotype you pull out in these cross-alliances that come up because I'm Moslem, you're Hindu. We're both agreed the British are ruining Indian, they're responsible for that, and in condemning the British we look for every derogatory thing but, be careful, let's not pick out every derogatory thing, let's pick out the derogatory thing that you and I share. So both of us don't eat pork so, ja, those Englishmen, they bloody eat pork. It's dirty meat. So what can you expect from the Englishmen? But leave out the beef because the beef will cause tension between you and me so let's just agree that we don't like the British, they ruined our whole mother country and they are bad because they eat pork. OK. So we are agreed, we are great pals.
POM Again coming back to your community, it was communal values that were a value system that was part of the culture? And also
MM Be very careful. There was the commonality of having come as indentured labourers. My father, when my grandfather died in 1906 my father was seven years old. He was then brought up on a farm by a Moslem family, the Shaiks, because they happened to be on the same boat as my grandfather. So Mr Shaik, the old man, saw it as a natural thing to say to my grandmother, "Your husband is dead, you are battling to bring up your son, your only child who is seven, as you're trying to re-make your life, I will take your son to my farm where I have a shop. He will work there and I will send him to school and I will feed and clothe him. You don't have to worry, he is like my son to me." So my father was brought up by a Moslem family.
POM So why would he in later years when he knew you had Moslem friends and would go to
MM No, he would say, "You can go there but don't eat there." Indeed, I told you that my grandmother gave the shop to a Moslem family. That was the Shaiks, a branch of the Shaiks, and they only took the shop back when it went bankrupt in 1941 because he wouldn't take it from the Shaiks. Although they were not able to give any income the idea that you were taking from a brother, unthinkable, so until they came in 1941 and said to my Dad, "The shop is now bankrupt", they sat and talked and he said, "Well give it back to me." They said, "Yes, you can have it back." And he took the shop. Although he had been unemployed from 1929 he wouldn't go and say, "This is my shop, you give it back to me." No, that sense of obligation was there.
POM When you talk about family meetings, there were arranged marriages. That involved the transfer of dowries or - ?
MM All sorts of things, yes, with different rules in each community. For example in a section of the Moslem community girls and boys in the family inherit equally. In the Hindu family it's the males that inherit. But there was very little intermarriage by the time I was a kid between Moslem and Hindu and Tamil. Where it happened it was very rare and was not looked upon favourably by the community. I know a teacher, very close friends of the family, who married a Tamil girl and for years in very subtle ways while she was accepted as an Indian she was not accepted in the Hindu community and her husband, a teacher, was not fully accepted in the Tamil community. So those things went on.
POM I was just thinking of Northern Ireland, intermarriage between Catholics and Protestants, it's still non-existent. So arranged marriages, that lasted until about?
MM There are still some arranged marriages that go on even now in the Indian community.
POM That would be mostly in Natal?
MM There are arranged marriages still taking place in Gauteng.
POM So a form of decision making in the family. The father was
MM A patriarchal family.
MM But my father used to make a joke. He used to say he is the head of the family but he says he has a problem, he is leading a government which is run by petticoats so he's living under a regime of petticoat government.
POM That's your Mum.
MM That's my Mum.
POM Your father the picture of him that sometimes you convey is of a man who was rather humourless.
MM Yes he was, as I said, pretty widely read for the community, pretty frustrated because of his being a cripple, obviously frustrated because of unemployment and yet living with the illusion that he came from a grandfather who had opened a shop in Newcastle and therefore was a businessman. So there were these contradictions in him and he had a sense of humour. By the way he used to sing Tipperary, a Long, Long way to Tipperary, when he was drunk. This is an Indian singing it when he's drunk.
I don't think that my relationship with him was all that oppressive. It's just that his frustration, his way of showing his affection was not one of holding you and making you sit on his lap. His way of showing his affection to you is that he had a very thick stubble of beard, he would shave every day and it would grow within hours and he would take you as a kid and rub his cheek against you so that you were pricked by his beard and you would jump up and run away. He would laugh, "What's wrong with you? Come and feel my cheeks." So, yes, I think he loved his children but I think his frustration was that he could do nothing and as increasingly he was chair-ridden the frustration would well up and he was a very powerfully built man. You can imagine, he was six foot two, you can imagine the frustration in this man. And I think it soured his relationship. He had a sense of a loss of control over himself. If he wanted food it had to be brought to where he is. If he wanted to go to the toilet, when he could still amble along with a walking stick, still somebody had to help him, and increasingly more and more everything about his needs had to be catered for by my mother. That made him very dependent and with a powerful physique like that and an active mind I can imagine how frustrating it was.
So there was a sense of loss of capacity to help himself but there was a sense of loss of power to control what was happening around his family because even if he wanted to give you a smack he couldn't get up and give you a smack. So what was he to do? Go and cut a stick. So you go and cut the stick and he rejects the stick as being too thin. "Go and get a better one of those or I'll beat the hell out of you." And I learnt to go and bring the nicest stick, it doesn't matter, give it to him.
POM The nicest being?
MM The one that was going to hurt you the most. The nice, thick but flexible one, and give it to him and he would look at it and say, "Oh, this is a good stick. You're going to get a damn good hiding now, come here."
POM Because it was flexible meant that you could hold your hand at an angle
MM And you'd get it. But imagine the sense of powerlessness that first you frustrate him with a stick that he's got to send you backwards and forwards. Then you come with one that looks suitable to administer punishment in his book and then he's got to get you to come within range to smack you and here comes one who doesn't want to come within range. What the hell does he do?
POM That was when you were older. When you were younger you would come.
MM When I was younger he'd thwack you one, you'd jump away and you'd yell and he'd say, "Come back. I told you, you'll never do this thing again. You listen to me, you're going to get it. Come back. Put your hand out. Bring it nearer." Thwack! And then you run away and he says, "Come back."
POM So you'd keep repeating.
MM Yes. I remember once my kid brother, it started with me. I was on a visit once passing through Newcastle and I go to see him and we greet each other quite warmly and then he says, "Son, what are you doing?" "I'm studying and working." And he says, "But don't you care for your Mum and Dad? When are you going to earn an income so that you can help support us?" I see a quarrel coming up. I'm on my way to Johannesburg. I've got two half crown pieces in my pocket. I put my hand in my pocket, I bring out the money, I say, "Here, I've got five shillings on me, you seem to be really worried that I must support you so here's half a crown. Take half." Now that's an insult to him. First of all what is five shillings? But secondly here in a very defiant way I am saying I am starving, I am going to Johannesburg so, fine, I will go to Jo'burg with half a crown but here because you've demanded it here's your half a crown. He doesn't know how to handle this thing because that's not what he's trying to say and I'm mocking him.
So on one occasion after that sort of defiance my younger brother who is witnessing this erosion of power of my Dad and one day my Dad says something to him and they have an argument. By this time my younger brother never comes within range to be hit by him too. So my Dad in frustration, he was sitting near the counter and on the counter was half a loaf of bread and in his frustration looking for something to hit my kid brother with he grabbed this half a loaf of bread and flung it like a missile. My kid brother, I'm told, grabbed the half a loaf of bread, caught it nicely, sat on the floor cross legged and began to eat it, said, "Thank you very much, I was hungry." But of course later on my Dad would tell the same story and laugh but at that moment, I mean that's a total defiance of authority and it's not just defiance, it's poking fun at his authority. Instead of getting hurt with the half a loaf of bread you catch it nicely like you're catching a rugby ball and you cross your legs and you sit down and you start eating it. That bread was supposed to be sold to customers, not supposed to be eaten by you.
On this question of the Indian community of Newcastle, I was there last weekend at a gathering of the old school.
POM The old school being?
MM InNewcastle, St Oswald's High School, St Oswald's Secondary School.
POM This was a reunion?
MM Yes, it was a fund-raising event and I spoke there and I told the community, it was the first time I had attended this gathering, and I told them about my first act of cowardice. I think I've told you the story about the soccer teams.
POM When you put down the teachers?
MM Not only the teachers but the soccer teams were organised on a communal basis. There was Ozone which was a Moslem soccer team primarily. Then there was NIFC, Newcastle Indian Football Club, which was primarily Tamil speaking, and then there was Stellas which was primarily Hindu speaking people. I was on the books of Stellas and when I left Newcastle in 1952, because I was a fairly good soccer player, the club insisted on keeping me registered as a Stella player on the grounds that when I came - the height of the soccer season is during June, July. That's vacation time and that's when the main matches and the finals are taking place and by keeping me on the books they expected me to play for them when I came over. When I returned in June/July that year the same day my brother and others came to me to inform me that on Sunday there was an important match where I would be playing and I didn't have the courage to tell them my real reasons, but I told them that I had given up soccer. I said I can't play. They said, "Why not? You're registered. Are you not fit?" I said, "No I'm fit." "Why aren't you going to play?" So I said, "But chaps, I have given up soccer, I have lost all my interest." My real reason was that when I got to Natal University I joined the Natal University Non-European section Football Club and of course I was fraternising with the students, drinking and gambling and I saw Hindu, Moslem, Tamil, African, coloured were in the soccer team, were my mates. I just suddenly found myself completely out of sync with this practice in Newcastle and so it's my first act of cowardice, I didn't have the courage to tell them my real reasons because if I told them my real reasons it meant I was alienating myself with the Hindu speaking soccer players and I did not think that they would understand what I was trying to say. So I opted for the easy way out, the coward's way out and said I had given up soccer. And indeed I gave up soccer. It's the last time I played soccer.
MM 1953. I played two matches for the university and I could not now continue to play because I had told Newcastle that I had given up soccer so I just withdrew from the university team and stopped playing soccer for the rest of my life. So I was there in Newcastle last week and at this function I told them this story. I told them I had very mixed feelings towards the school, I have very mixed feelings towards my home town. I have a love relationship but on the other hand I have a relationship which leaves me uncomfortable when I look back at my life and, thirdly, I told them that Newcastle itself has had an ambivalent relationship with me because for years they could not understand what I was doing, they thought I was wasting my life. Then the next thing is they find me sitting in jail and under repression, you may be proud of me but on the other hand you can't express your pride in me. Then I come back and I'm arrested again when there are negotiations taking place and I'm portrayed as this big terrorist and you don't know whether to love me or to fear me and then I become a minister and today you say I'm a great guy. So I don't know where we stand. All I know is that we've got a big job in this country.We've achieved our democracy which everybody should benefit by. We've got a huge job of building this country and everybody is needed for that task and we are together in that and each one is going through their own hardships and relating their particular hardships to the larger problem and colouring how they look at it. I don't know how each one is looking at it but all I'm saying at this reunion of former students, I have to be honest with you guys that I have this mixed relationship with the school and with the home town.
POM What gave you your hate relationship?
MM It was the small-mindedness of the town. It was not just that the soccer was organised racially and then communally and ethnically but accompanying that soccer was the violence. The rivalry between the soccer teams led to physical violence between the spectators and
POM This is much like the Celtics and the Rangers in Scotland.
POM But it's not a soccer match. The soccer match is a symbol of something else.
MM Yes, but here now I go to Durban, my development takes a different path and I can't understand this violence between us blacks. What are we destroying ourselves for? Why should a soccer match end up in violence? That's within the Indian community. What about the relations with the African community, with the coloureds, with the whites? Newcastle was a rabid apartheid town after 1948. After 1948 you were once more kicked off the pavements. Then I would look at the community who disliked the whites but who had to live by bowing your head in the face of these whites and at the same time Newcastle had a history of supporting the struggle but in its own suppressed way. The culture, that stratum of the Indian community that had businesses in the main street of Newcastle was that if you went, I'm sure that they donated money to the NP,they donated money to the opposition party in parliament, the United Party, and they gave a little bit of money to the ANC, but quietly, don't let anybody know and don't let each one know.
POM That leads me, I've been thinking about the question that, there are two parts to it, (i) that in the last data published by the United Nations the per capita income which wasbroken down by race, sorry I should say by colour and race, has the Indians having the highest per capita income, higher than whites.
MM In SA?
MM That would surprise me a bit but at the same time it wouldn't inordinately surprise me because one of the strategies that the Nats used there was a very high level of unemployment amongst the Indians. In 1955/56 when SACTU was formed in Natal there were tens of thousands of Indians joining SACTU and huge unemployment but in the post-sixties while we were sitting in prison the NP government deliberately chose a strategy to give a first choice in the cut in the unemployment rate in the black community to focus on the Indians. Secondly, the Indians have a clear, clear merchant class which developed from the craftsmen and the priests, etc., that came to SA not as indentured labourers but as passenger Indians. Although the land laws and the provincial laws precluded them from settling, that business class found a way of growing. Many indentured labourers
POM How could they get into the country - ?
MM What it did was to get in the little towns, it got a white person to be a nominee owner and it paid the white person a fee so officially you are owning that business but I'm running it. So we used you as a nominee. That happened in the Transvaal a lot. Then secondly, because they were not able to invest in land it pushed their capital accumulation in a particular direction. I think quite a few of them learnt how to find ways around the law and so that group grew up and they accessed when the NP in the late sixties began to court the Indian community, side by side with the repression, by creating the development corporations. From this class many found a way to access resources from those development corporations. Some of them went up to serve in PW Botha's Presidential Council, Economic Advisory Council.
POM A council that was made up of?
MM He set up a council of business people as an Economic Advisory Council, mainly whites, but his first cut at allowing black people was to allow two Indians into the council as his economic advisors.
POM No coloureds, no Africans?
MM No coloureds. Then it allowed a coloured chap and then in a separate structure it allowed some Africans to come in. But the carrot was that they could access loans from the state funds. So those things were happening. I would be surprised at the figure higher per capita.
POM Let me check on that, OK. I remember it striking me at the time but I will go back and check it.
MM Because I still think that all the studies still indicate that the majority of the Indians are still working class and once more the spectre of unemployment has begun to sharpen up and rise. There are still pretty poor Indians in SA but I think unemployment is increasing and I think that the Indian tradition of self-help in education from as far back as the 1900s would have created in proportion a very high percentage of educated people.
POM Education was a communal value, you invested in education?
MM You invested in education. The school that I went to
MM The school that I went to was started in 1912 by the community, funded by the community, and then it became a government aided school on the basis that for every rand the community raised the government would put up one rand.
POM That was the government of Natal?
MM Natal. And then only in, according to what I learnt the other day when I was at this function, it would be around 1965 that it became a fully-funded government school. But right now I was at a function where the old students were meeting to raise money for the school to build a hall because it has no hall.
POM How were you introduced at the function?
MM I was invited to speak there as the ex-Minister of Transport, as a former Newcastle boy and a chap who did his matric at the school, the first matriculant at that school was myself.
POM Another first.
MM Newcastle did not have matric education for Indians. 1952 was the first year and I was the first student to pass matric in Newcastle.
POM So you were the only one in your final class.
MM We were twenty in the final class. Interestingly, I learnt the other day that there were five girls and fifteen boys. I was the only one that got a clean pass with the university exemption. Two others got a school leaving pass but they had to write a supplementary exam in March, and the rest failed their exemption exams, they just got a National Senior Certificate or failed. So I was the only one that had a clean matric exemption pass.
POM But when you were introduced what did the guy say?
MM Oh the Principal when I got up to speak introduced me and he introduced me with great pomp and flourish, ran through my CV, dwelt a lot on my role in the struggle, the positions that I've held in the struggle, the time I spent in prison and how
POM What did he actually say, Mac? You're giving me a list of things, you're not telling me the way you usually tell things. What did he say? You're kind of checking off a list here? How did he speak? You were listening to him, you were sitting there.
MM I was not concentrating on him because I was more embarrassed. When you meet Zarina you can ask her what did he say.
POM I see.
MM I was not concentrating on that. I think I was blushing and a bit embarrassed at the floweriness of the presentation.
POM Come on. I know that you may have been embarrassed and been blushing but you were listening to the man and I'm asking you what did he say? I'm not asking you to make a list of things that he said, I'm trying to just that you were sitting there and this guy was talking.
MM He was trying to say what a great guy I am.
POM How did he put it? What did he tell about you? Did he say, well he went to jail, he did this, he did that?
MM Yes, and he was tortured and he was this and he was that. That's what he said.
POM Well that's all true but what did he how did he put it?
MM He put it with great pride, floweriness.
POM Gimme, gimme, come on.
MM He made it sound as if I was the most important person next to Mandela and others in the struggle.
POM Well that may be true.
MM That's all right. I don't have to listen to it. I don't have to listen to that.
POM You don't. OK, but you can tell me what he said.
MM So I got up and I responded to him. I said, "I'm confused, I'm embarrassed, I have an ambivalent relationship with the school and with Newcastle." And I made some jokes, I said when I think back who was the teacher that stood up in my mind it was not the teacher that was most qualified because here we were a matric class, only two teachers were graduates, the rest were matriculants teaching matrics and two of them had a standard eight education and they were teaching matrics and I said who was the teacher that made the biggest impact on me? Not the teacher who had the best qualification, no, there was a teacher who was a drop-out from Medical School in Edinburgh but who was now a bum and an alcoholic. He was the one that inspired me the most. That's my ambivalence about this town, this school.
POM Was there laughter at that or was there silence or was there kind of embarrassed giggles?
MM No, the interesting thing is that after that, of course I told them that it's my first time really back at the school and I didn't know, hardly knew or could recognise anybody because the matriculants only came after me and by that time my contact with the town had been severed and it has never been fully re-established. They came to me and quite a few came to me and said, "Who was the teacher you were referring to?" To some I said, "Who do you think?" And they said, I think one or two said, "I think you're referring to A C Francis." I said, "Indeed." And one of them told me the pathetic circumstances under which he died. Others came and said, "We were very intrigued by that story. Who was the teacher?" And I had left the room because people wanted to take photographs with me but I hear when we went to the function, there was no bar and there was no alcoholic drink on the tables, but after I had told this story apparently the MC got up and said, "All those who want hard drinks please indicate", and they allowed people to bring out their own hard drinks and put them on the table.
POM Why would there be no alcohol?
MM Apparently the school's governing body in designing the function discussed the matter and somebody objected, they thought it would be bad form to have liquor.
MM I didn't go into the reasons but I speculated in my mind that there is a hard core, for instance in the Moslem community at the moment there is a flourishing of fundamentalism, and the fundamentalist Moslems would not want liquor. On the other hand others may have feared that people will get drunk and get obstreperous and rowdy. So they decided this but I didn't know this. I happened to say this and I suppose the headmaster and others got a bit embarrassed and they announced that all those who want hard liquor please indicate, OK, please feel free to put your
POM Wherever old A C Francis is he had a good smile.
MM And of course in the meantime because of that ban, until then people were creeping out every now and then and going to their cars and having a shot and coming back. The hypocrisy of it. What did Marx call the idiocracy of rural life? It is that it has a great warmth, a great humanity and a great capacity for extreme narrow-mindedness, because it just takes a few people to couch things in an emotional way.
POM There was a book written in the early thirties in Ireland by a man named Brindsley MacNamara and it was about really the village he grew up in, a rural area in Ireland. Of course everybody could recognise themselves and he called the book, one of the greatest titles I've ever heard, The Valley of the Squinting Windows.
MM Beautiful, beautiful.
POM You know what they did with his book? The village bought every copy of the book and burnt them.
MM So that nobody else would - !
POM He didn't mind because he got the royalties.
MM But they were all burning it in the hope that nobody else would see them and recognise them.
POM That's right. Oh, so that's what Mrs such-and-such was doing!
MM It's all put under the carpet and it all goes on and everybody pretends. So there's a great hypocrisy also in that way of life but nobody wants to be told that they are hypocrites. Some people told me the next morning, they said that in my address I had really punched at the community pretty hard and I was a bit taken aback, I said, "No, no, I was very gentle." And they said, "No, you were very gentle," one chap told me, "You were very gentle but my problem is that I got up this morning and I realised you hit us very hard. I didn't feel it at that time, it was very gentle, but now this morning that I've got up and thought about the things you said." He said, "Jesus! You really slammed us."
POM Were you speaking off the cuff?
MM I was speaking off the cuff. I told him that I'd been preparing but I found I could not anticipate just who was going to be in this gathering but more important as I drove down that day I had time to just examine some of my feelings and therefore I decided on the spur of the moment to share my feelings.
POM How do I put it? Was part, maybe even subconsciously, or maybe consciously, of the reason why you wouldn't prepare remarks that if you had to sit down and begin to confront all these ambiguous and interacting feelings, you would sit there almost thinking about the whole nature of these feelings and you'd be pen-paralysed, it would be too much to do and that standing up and saying 'I'll just say almost what comes out of my mouth', is an easier and maybe a more honest way and also a more efficient use of my time?
MM Well I had asked the school for suggestions when they invited me and the Principal wrote me a note. Clearly what he was expecting was a high level intellectual address around education and I had grappled with that and I had come to the conclusion, after making a few efforts, how do I deal with these issues in a simple way and what right do I have, what expertise do I have to come and talk about those problems? I then said that I'll write it up, I'll make notes when I get to Newcastle, but as I was driving and as I sat in Newcastle at the home of my nephew I happened to say to them in the lounge, we'd arrived about two, three hours earlier, I said, "What do you chaps want to hear?" And I saw them divide, some of my relatives were saying, virtually saying a very serious talk, which told me that that's how they see me. I don't interact with my relatives, I see them rarely. And then others began to say, "But tell us about yourself because we don't know, you're a legend in our minds."
Then I said, "No, no", to myself I said that's wrong and at some stage I turned to Zarina and I said, "You know what? I think the best thing to do is I'm going through all these funny feelings, I think in the context of my life I must just speak about that." She said, "Why?" I said, "I think it will come through more - it will have a greater integrity. It will meet the curious 'who is this legend?' I will deal with one or two education things but in passing and lightly and I would want them to feel relaxed so I'm going to be gentle." I remember when I talked about this school and I put it as my cowardice, I didn't put it as a condemnation of the community. I know, I could see heads nodding, I could see laughter when I said 'my cowardice', but I could see the heads nodding. People came to me after that, "I was in Stellas after that and you know Stellas is still doing the best but it's become a non-racial club." I said, "Fantastic, what's happened to the others?" "Oh they've died away. They don't exist. But Stellas, your club exists but let me tell you it's non-racial now."
So I felt, yes, it's working, and it was better in my mind than just going there and the normal public speaking thing, you shower praises on the community. I couldn't do that.
POM Coming home kind of thing.
MM I told them in a very light hearted way, laughing way. I left Newcastle in 1952 after matriculating. It's 50 years. And I say I understand your view, I was the black sheep of this town. What was this bright boy of this community doing? What is he doing? Nothing. Then you hear I'm a bloody terrorist. Then you hear I'm a communist. How do you react? Then when I come back in 1990 I'm locked up again. Then you don't know what to do. What is this man? Then I say I bump into a couple of guys from the school, they said they're having an Old Boys' reunion and I say, "When?" The one chap says, "I don't know whether they are going to invite you or not." Perfectly understandable, but I say when you look at me, I have these mixed feelings. I can understand your side but I have the mixed feelings, so the problem is with me. That way I tried to give them as much a chance to relate and the only thing I tackled on education, besides talking about how we pulled ourselves by our bootstraps, that a matriculant and a standard eight, that is less than a matriculant, was teaching matric students.
I said in those years it was the rule that now once you became a government school and a teacher qualified you had no choice where you taught. You were asked to make a choice of three in order of your choice and then they gave you a list of schools. They said we're going to deploy you for the next two years in one of the following schools in the outlying areas and you'd pick from those which one you want. And you had to go with it I said because the Afrikaners used that mechanism for the white teachers to provide adequate good quality education in the rural areas for their own people. Now today here's a problem but we start off, as soon as the minister (Kader) says he's thinking that way, everybody raises their hands, "No, he's attacking our freedom, going to leave the country." Phone-ins at radio stations. So why the distrust? Do you see the problem that he's trying to address? We're a small town here, we had one pass out of twenty in matric in 1952 but you've just achieved 98% pass last year because you've got quality teachers here. And who would come here on their own unless you had some system to say you also have a responsibility for one or two years?
POM A responsibility for?
MM For helping the rest to get access to good education. But let's start off from the premises, we know why he's making this rule and let's debate how he enforces that rule. Is he going to eliminate all choice or is he going to say there is going to be a process, an interactive process, with the department where you put a list of ten schools where you would prefer to teach for your first stint, he reacts with a list of ten. You see whether there's a cross-fit going on and then you end up with a list of five schools from which you choose where you will teach for two years.I say we've got to meet your desire to be where you want to be, we've got to meet the country's requirement to bring quality education to all and how do we do that? If we left it to each one's choice the only one who would return to Newcastle is the hometown boy, a few of them, the rest will shun this place. Now if that's Newcastle what about the deeper rural areas? And one of the Newcastle chaps has ended up a scientist. I said, would he become a scientist if he did not have access to quality teachers to inspire him to go on with his education? If he's here today he will probably tell you that he was inspired because his science teacher related and inspired him. That was one of the ingredients that has made him a scientist today. These are problems but be part of helping to resolve it. You can't be part of it by just starting off by distrust. Why did you trust the Nationalist government when they were doing it? And now when a democratic government says we need to do this you say, I don't trust you. You've got to examine this problem.
POM Shall we hold it there? Not because I want to stop, because I've actually got to catch a plane on an airline I've never heard of before, Nationwide.
MM Yes, one of the private companies trying to insert itself.
POM Their fares are half.