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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
27 Sep 2002: Maharaj, Mac
POM Mac, since we've gone a little bit off the beaten track this morning, let me start with something that you said with regard to Israel and that was you were saying that back in 1953 that it facilitated the going of Walter Sisulu and some others to the World Youth Conference (Festival?) which was being held in
MM I think it was Bucharest or Budapest. I think it was Bucharest, 1953. In those years of course we had no right to a passport and when it was decided that Duma Nokwe and Walter Sisulu should attend the festival, and so did Kathy, in the case of Walter and Duma not having any passport or documentation they flew off by El Al to Israel where friends in the Labour Party, the Israeli Labour Party, assisted them, made them at home, took them to Kibbutzes and from there facilitated their travel to Bucharest or Budapest, whichever it was. I think it was Bucharest.
All I was saying is that historically in our struggle in SA we looked with great sympathy and understanding for the Jewish struggle and the Jewish experience, and the pogroms that they endured, anti-Semitic pogroms in the old Russia, to the Holocaust under Nazism, we looked at them with great sympathy and understanding and had these connections. These connections have broken down over the years, I personally believe that it is because the Jewish people with all the struggles that they endured allowed their experiences to be tracked in a narrow confine of the special experience of the Jewish people. Instead it also had the potential of being generalised into the broader experience of oppressed people whether under racism or whatever you call it, or religious fundamentalism. I think that is also a problem, and I would be simplistic, and the formation of the Jewish state that there was sympathy for it but it needed to be carved out in a way in which it continued to be expansive and inclusive in order to find the right balance to the security of its existence in the Middle East. That hasn't happened.
Wherever the fault may lie I'm merely saying that the Jewish people's experiences equipped them to have an enduring sympathy for what they had gone through and for an enduring set of experiences which everybody would like to share but instead what it has done it has confined it as a specific experience of their own to the exclusion of others and that is seen by the role of the Jewish community in SA. Maybe for their own survival's sake the apartheid regime, the NP, the architect of apartheid was anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi and yet a very important segment of the Jewish population in SA chose to make their life by living under the umbrella of apartheid and the Israeli state became a clandestine supporter even on the joint nuclear programme with apartheid SA, that what would have been seen as a natural expression of sympathy for our struggle against racism instead allowed themselves to paint themselves into an image of supporters of apartheid.
POM Another very important segment were supporters and members of the ANC.
MM Yes, but under the emotionalism of the moments and the issues that it faced those forces today are completely isolated. They aligned themselves at that emotional level with the survival of the Jewish state. You see how proposals put by Mandela to say that there are three conditions to find an enduring solution, the one is that the Jewish state, the state of Israel, should be recognised by all the Arab world and that it should be secure but that it should withdraw to the boundaries and borders of pre-1967, return the lands that they had conquered, and that that security of the Israeli statement and of the settlement should be guaranteed by an international agency such as the United Nations. He says these are the three conditions to finding a way forward to a peaceful resolution. It involved a recognition of a Palestinian state, a recognition of the Israeli state and a guarantee of the existence of both. He says that's the way forward. I think he saw the need for the guaranteeing of that, the state's existence, as being led by the US but I think under George Bush and the resurgence of unilateralism has made him see the need that it should be under an international body such as the UN.
POM Is there a possibility, are black South Africans perhaps doing the same thing, making their experience under apartheid unique, particular only to South Africans and therefore they're not broadening it into the larger experience of a shared oppression of many people in many parts of the world?
MM I don't think so. I think there has been a strand, an inheritance of having made apartheid a special case to insert it into the UN mandate but I think there has always been a major, major internationalist strand in the ANC and I think even if we look at the current government under President Thabo Mbeki, I think the idea of the African Renaissance underpins the fact that we have from the start of our democratic government in 1994 sought to align ourselves with the south, the developing world. Secondly, we have sought to insert ourselves into the African continent as properly belonging to that African continent at quite an economic price to ourselves. We insisted in the negotiations that the then regime under F W de Klerk should return Walvis Bay to Namibia at no cost to Namibia. We have given over huge infrastructure and said that's yours. My own experience on the Maputo Corridor was to build that corridor as a developmental programme for both countries and we levered in and have actually been financing through the IDC the Mozal Project.
POM The Moz- ?
MM Mozal Aluminium Smelting in Maputo. That's despite the fact that the biggest aluminium smelter has been at Richards Bay, Hillside, and Maputo in a certain sense is a competitor with Hillside but we pushed for it and we made it happen for Mozambique because we felt that that's the price that our economy has to pay for a regional economy in southern Africa to develop and stand up on its feet. We realise that even though we have a developed economy, people describe it as a first world economy, but it's an economy based on a population of 40 million. It can never be a player on the global field, exerting an influence to change the rules of the global world unless it sees southern Africa as a whole as a developmental region and pulls all that power behind the region itself for development and aligns itself with the continent as well as with us.
Right now, last night we began to send troops into the DRC to maintain the peace. We have sent troops into Burundi. Many people are saying why do we spend all that for the sake of what is out in central Africa? So I think that Thabo's concept of the African Renaissance is not an exclusivist view, it's an inclusivist view which seeks to say here is a global world, that's a reality, but the rules governing that global world are weighted in favour of the developed world. Those rules have to be changed. It included the rules of trade, the protectionism and the subsidy that European production has, American production has vis-à-vis third world production. The best example is the agricultural subsidies where the rules say of globalisation let's have free trade but on the other hand they expect the developing world to drop the tariff barriers for import of goods from the developed world but the developed world maintains enormous subsidies protecting those industries against our products which are essentially agricultural products.
POM The figure that sticks in my mind from the Summit on Sustainable Development is that the US pays its farmers $1 billion per day, that's $365 billion per year subsidised.
MM Exactly. That's subsidised and protecting. We can't export our fruit and our agricultural products freely into those markets and the protectionism that they erect is to protect jobs for their own citizens and yet they say to us drop your barriers so that they can export their products with no tariffs to us. It says that this global world's rules have got to change. The same applies now even more graphically to the United Nations. The UN for historical reasons had a Security Council with five countries in the world holding veto powers. It doesn't suit the US over Iraq because it fears out of those five veto powering countries there's likely to be one who will veto US action on Iraq. So it says to hell with the UN, we're going to go our own way. And when under pressure they agree to go to the UN they say to the UN, "Either you agree or we will go it alone." It's not the way
POM We will agree to a resolution that's framed in the way that we want it.
MM And that it will allow us to judge when we are going to go to war. It can't be that you claim to be a bastion of democracy and yet in your international relations want a completely unilateral and thereby autocratic way of governing international relations. So I am saying Thabo Mbeki's African Renaissance sits in that place which says we in Africa have to pull ourselves by our bootstraps, we have to align ourselves with the developing world but we have to engage with the powers that be in this globalised world to bring about a change in the rules of the game and those changes that we want in the rules of the game are that each of the states should be treated equally.
POM Two points out of that. One is I want to relate it to apartheid and the apartheid experience, maybe I'm framing the question wrong: in the same way that the Jews have taken all their experience of the pogroms and particularly the Holocaust and drawn a boundary round it, so to speak, and say 'This belongs to us and only we can understand what it is like to be a Jew.' In fact Shakespeare raised it in The Merchant of Venice, that famous speech Shylock gave. Is there not a proclivity here to take apartheid, say apartheid happened, it is a particular experience of Africans, South Africa, different from the forms of oppression that other parts of Africa went through?
MM I went through that previously with you about the dangers and the real reasons why we inserted how we came to insert apartheid as an issue on the agenda of the UN whose rules said you don't interfere in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state. But we argued that apartheid was institutionalised racism and therefore contrary to the charter and therefore a legitimate matter for the UN. So we carved a special space for it but we always sought to carve that space within the context of describing apartheid as a special form of colonialism, not something separate from colonialism. I said previously that that had an incipient, a latent tendency lurking there that we would seek to make our case special even now that we have achieved democracy and agreed that there are many factors that militate in favour of that special treatment, e.g. our peaceful resolution of the conflict, a negotiated resolution of the conflict, the settlement.
So that issue stands but as against that I am saying whilst there are latent tendencies there present in our past and present, there is an overwhelming tendency to fight xenophobia at huge cost to ourselves, to insist that we are part of Africa and to act that part of being part of Africa and to insist that we are part of the developing world. So we participate in the World Trade Organisation, we participate even in the World Bank, not simply promoting our own case as a unique case. Even on the debt relief what Jubilee 2000 has asked is a blanket debt relief, we have gone consistently, the government of Thabo Mbeki keeps saying, let there be debt relief for the other countries in Africa. Leave us out of that, don't give us that treatment, give that treatment to the others, give them debt relief.
So the battle is not being waged by saying treat us exclusively but it is saying that we are part of the leadership of the third world. So I think that the tendencies are present and the overall current thrust is a correct one in terms of not making a special case for us. And not making a special case for us has certain problems. We could have easily pleaded a special case for debt relief for us, we could have easily said, sorry, we can't go to the DRC.
I just wanted to make that clear in my mind, even though there are vigorous critiques of African Renaissance the underpinning of it is correct because it seeks to not make our case as a special case. You know the case of xenophobia here? With 30% unemployed and with the flood of people from Mozambique, from Namibia, from Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola coming here, from right as far as Somaliland, there are refugees here and we have never said you're not a South African citizen, out. We have resisted that.
POM No, but they are treated by the population
MM By the population and we are resisting that. We inserted into the Durban Conference against Racism as racism and xenophobia, that was not the UN programme, it was World Conference Against Racism. The big bust up in Durban was over the question whether you should also include Zionism which became a very fractious issue but nobody objected to making it against xenophobia. We have better rules, we may be treating the people pretty badly, many segments of our population, but the point is not even Britain grants the type of entry that we are granting to refugees from all over the world. We are actually resisting a tidal wave of emotional reaction which is very real in our condition of unemployment and we are saying, no, no, no, they have a right to be here, no, no, no, they can get residential status and once they get that they should be getting jobs. We don't go to the farm workers and say, 'Now expel those Zimbabwean farm workers, deport them.' There's a huge battle that has been going on over the Immigration Bill because there is a strong pull in this society in the face of this unemployment and inequality to say if we put a fence around our borders we could improve the condition of life of our people who are pure South African better than we can deal with it at the moment.
You walk down the hawkers here and just speak to them and listen to them to their accents and you will see how many of them are from outside the borders of SA and they stretch, as I say, right past Central Africa, up to the north. You'll find Sudanese here, right up to the Horn of Africa. You will find Moroccans here, working and living here, Nigerians, all here. So we are resisting an emotional reaction which is there in a segment of our population who feel threatened and this is amongst the black people.
POM Do they in part feel threatened because many of the emigrants from these countries, as happens in all emigrant societies, are prepared to take a lower wage?
MM Yes they're prepared to take a lower wage but then the point is we've been refugees too and I think it's in the nature of human beings that in the face of adversity they will take anything that can put bread on their plate and you have this tension between wanting to legislate better conditions and the market undermining that legislation. How to find that right balance so that you can move forward and improve the lives of people but what we're saying as a government is that we will not allow discrimination based on xenophobia. That's been a clear stake in the ground.
POM Without there being any clear estimate of the number of illegal immigrants?
MM Yes, because how do you again, how do you make an estimate of the legal unless you've got a clear definition of illegal?
MM Isn't there an image at the moment that if you talk about drug trafficking, they say SA has become the export/import route of drug traffic, world drug traffic, and then there's a perception that Nigerians are all drug traffickers. Indeed there are many Nigerians involved in it but the emotional reaction is all Nigerians are drug traffickers. The government reaction is wait a minute, you can't take up that xenophobic position, that's stereotyping an entire people. When people say, 'Why don't you preclude them from coming here?' We say, 'No, they are part of Africa, we are part of Africa.' Then we resort to even emotional arguments on our side. We say we've been refugees, we've been housed in Zambia, in Tanzania, in Angola, how can we coming out of that experience now set up these distinctions?So I am saying government has been holding a line, anti-xenophobia, pro-Africa, against a possible cheap exploitation of an emotional issue. Even Germany vis-à-vis the Turks with its enormously powerful economy, when unemployment began to rise there was a huge pull exclude the Turks!
POM Immigration is the biggest issue in Europe.
MM Yes, biggest issue in the whole of the European Union. And there's huge trafficking going on in human beings. Recently there was a truckload, people were found dead in the truck because of asphyxiation but being smuggled across the borders into Britain and Europe is busy putting up barriers to check and police and everything.
POM From the east.
MM All on the grounds of unemployment and the threat to the living standards of Europe.
POM When you had been talking about your experiences in East Germany in 1961/62 you had talked about it almost in a very idyllic kind of a way. Did it ever strike you that maybe in some way people were aware of the oppression that was going on but dared not talk about it? Two, that you were a stranger, a complete stranger both in colour and everything in their midst, somebody almost alien, and therefore they would regard you, not knowing who you were, where you had come from, really what you were doing, whom you might be working for, would treat you with a high degree of politeness and civility and outward show of everything that would make them good and decent citizens?
MM I've often thought about it both while I was there and ever since then. I was giving you my direct experience, saying I had worked in factories, had been in camps, had been living in the party hotels. I travelled on my own by train. I worked on the farms harvesting as a volunteer and I was saying that my experience was such a sharp contrast with the racism that I had experienced here and with the subtle form of racism in Britain. Sometimes when I have reflected on my experiences there I have said there was a form of patronisation of me because I was black in my village of Bischofswerda where they had never seen a live black man. But I have been careful to say that is my experience without going into my reflections of that experience.
POM Would they even have distinguished between you being Indian and - ?
MM No, they just saw me as black, 'negre', black, coloured.
POM You mentioned about the child, yes.
MM Now on the other hand I had experiences, for example, in the Berlin party hotel, Communist Party hotel, where when I visited Berlin I would stay there. I chose from time to time to go and stay with private families but whenever I told the party, my contact, that I am coming to Berlin, I want to go to the Berliner Ensemble, the party hotel, guest house I could go and stay, well fed, etc. But the night-watchman at the reception desk was of the Spartacus generation of 1918.
MM Spartacus generation. You know Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht had earlier started a Spartacus Movement. He had vivid memories of that movement as a youth and here he was old, we're talking 1961, in his late sixties, serving as the night receptionist, employed but obviously a cushioned job to keep this old man working and feeling useful as a citizen. I admired that. But when I talked to him and when I had learnt to speak a bit of German I would spend evenings sitting and chatting with him. I would come into my hotel at eleven o'clock at night from the Berliner Ensemble, the old man would be on duty, it's quiet, not much movement in and out, and he and I would sit down and chat. I would go and help myself to a beer and sit and chat with him and he would tell me the deep solidarity that he felt and that solidarity was part of their experience.
POM Part of whose experience?
MM Of the left experience. So while an ordinary citizen who did not belong to his generation said all the right things of solidarity, in the GDR of 1961 I found lots of press coverage sympathetic to the struggles of the oppressed around the world. When I was received welcomingly, while I say because I was special, black, there was a tendency that I would sometimes treat the way I was being treated as patronising, because I am black I get free beer when I walk into a pub. On the other hand I knew that ideologically the government and the party in power and the media were constantly propagating a sympathy and solidarity with the oppressed people of the world. So I looked at it with great sympathy.
Of course I have said that in the 1961 Germany I did not detect problems of the order that I subsequently became aware of. I was aware, because I was a very passionate follower of Brecht's Theatre, that there had been an uprising of sorts in 1953 which Brecht had sympathised with but I saw that as a protest by the miners of 1953 which allowed them to conduct their protest in such a way that it fell into an anti-socialist stance and I therefore closed my eyes to that and dismissed it as anti-socialism.
I told you that was my same approach with the Hungarian issue of 1956. It's only in subsequent years, for example when I am sitting in prison and we hear of the Czech incident, 1968, that I make it a point that I get into prison a book called Prague Spring, I forget the name of the author, but because we had picked up snippets of the news I looked through the Penguin book list and saw a book called Prague Spring and I ordered it in the hope that it will slip through the censorship and it slipped through. We read it with great interest. But the book that made the greatest impact on me at that time was the book by Ernest Fischer, one time chairman of the Austrian Communist Party, I had read his book on art, he was a great art critic, it was called Primitive Art. I still would like to lay my hands on it, it was issued by Penguin Books in soft cover, and it was a book that made huge impact and when I then saw in the Penguin list that Ernest Fischer had written a book called Art Against Ideology I immediately made efforts to get hold of this book and I got it and I read it and it raised huge concerns about the way the Austrian Communist Party and the communist movement was perceiving art in an ideological framework and Ernest Fischer tried to erect a different perspective to look at art from ancient times to the current times. This is against the socialist world grappling with art as part of the ideology of a society and therefore experimenting with futurism, with socialist realism, etc., etc. So Ernest Fischer's book at the philosophical level made a huge impact on me in the sense that it didn't convert me to his thinking but it made me question the wholeness and validity of everything that was being presented as socialism. And still I was prepared to rationalise.
POM As with Prague Spring.
MM As with Prague Spring. I was still prepared to rationalise on the grounds that what I had seen was a thriving, growing economy, on the grounds that what I was seeing in the socialist world was a bulwark of support for our struggle against colonialism and imperialism but questions began to arise about the practical way in which 'socialism' was being implemented in these countries. I still saw them as friends, as allies but I no longer saw them as everything is good there.
That questioning obviously took me into questioning the theoretical foundations of the position because while I saw Stalinism as an aberration of socialism I now began to question all sorts of things going beyond Stalinism backwards into time and that is how I today stand at the point where several of the fundamental propositions of communists are propositions that I don't agree with. I do not agree that a dictatorship of a proletariat is a necessarily higher form of democracy than what exists under so-called bourgeois democracy and yet it is a fundamental proposition of Marxist/Leninist thought and it is presented as a proposition that takes the parliamentary form of democracy in the capitalist countries to a higher level of real democracy. Where am I at the moment?
POM What did you understand that in practice to mean, 'a dictatorship of the proletariat'?
MM That the working class through its political formation, the Communist Party
POM Through one formation?
MM Yes, held a monopoly of power and it justified that monopoly because it was no longer based on individual ownership of the media and the means of production. Here it was a so-called socialised ownership of the means of production. I, of course, from time to time was already questioning. I remember in Britain in the late fifties, early sixties, the very Vella Pillay I'm talking about went to China and he returned from China speaking highly about the Chinese communes under Mao Zedong and I remember saying to him, "But Vella, explain to me, who owns the land?" And he dismissed my question. Then I said to him, "But listen to your description which you are describing with great heroism, people in production using ploughs whose blades are made of wood. That's back-breaking work ploughing with a wooden plough and it is described as a prototype of communism. I can't buy that." And he said, "You don't understand, there's a heroic building of an economy there."
POM You had just
MM So I was saying I was questioning, I was giving examples of questioning. I was also questioning from a particular perspective when Mao Zedong described imperialism as a paper tiger, this is 1960. Of course China's struggle held an iconic place in our minds, an heroic guerrilla war, the Long March, Edgar Snow's book Red Star Over China, the Yenan Campaign, Liu Shao Chi, Chou en Lai, Mao Zedong, Mai Zedong's writings, but when imperialism was described as a paper tiger I remember initially being very happy with this imagery but I remember in my group in London beginning to question it over nuclear war, the potential of nuclear war and China now saying that it was going to experiment in nuclear development. Differences arose between China and the Soviet Union. I remember in my party group questioning this possibility of nuclear war where the proposition was basically that if there was a nuclear war with the west, fine, obliterate it but in the process capitalism will be buried and dead and that in some corner of the world in this huge mass, land expanse of Asia, Europe, made up of Soviet Union and China, socialism would survive.
POM Was that taken seriously?
MM Yes. And I said in a discussion, "At what price, chaps? So much dead?" I remember one of my comrades vigorously attacking me, saying that I was deviating in my thinking. So I am saying the questioning was there but in the overwhelming problem of the only support that we could garner was in the socialist world and the anti-colonialist world and no headway could be made with governments in the west. One easily resorted to the glib statement - I'll take help from the devil if it is going to advance my cause.
POM The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
MM It is much later that at a philosophical level, and this is probably around mid-eighties or late eighties, I remember a statement by Gorbachev who said the means you use could distort the ends you seek. And he used the word 'distort', it was like a crutch that I grabbed, that what I was seeing in the socialist world was a distortion of socialism but it did take me back to the argument, philosophical argument of ends and means where as a revolutionary I was saying the ends justify the means and yet there was a liberal argument against certain means and I said that liberal argument is to block me from fighting for my freedom. But when Gorbachev used these words, "Sometimes the means you use can distort the ends", this crutch I grabbed and I said this explains the distortions that I am seeing in the socialist world. It's only later, post-nineties, that I say 'distort' assumes an existing state that is not distorted. What is that existing state that was not distorted? And I begin to go back into the struggles of socialism, right to the birth of Soviet Union, right at Lenin's time, where were the signs of a dictatorship? So the questioning is a constant one.
POM Where it decided the dictatorship of the proletariat?
MM Of dictatorship, period. Period. The result is that, yes, I entered a period of cynicism when, for example, I had read the records of the Zinoviev trial in the 1930s, round about 1936 in Soviet Union.
POM When did you read those?
MM Oh I read them round about 1954, I read the trial records of the Zinoviev trial, and of course I supported the idea that they were executed because the transcripts and trial reports suggested that they had confessed to being agents of imperialism. But when Khrushchev in 1956 reveals the Lenin letter on Stalin then I begin to question a little more. But then later on I learn that, no, Zinoviev and Bukarin and company were tortured, they were members of the Central Committee, arrested, tortured and made to sign confessions. I then say, "What happened?" After my own experiences of torture I now know how many people can sign things under that torture. But then I used to say but why when they appeared in trial didn't they stand up? Then I asked myself, they could not believe that the noble ideals that they were fighting for had become so distorted that a revolution could turn on itself and feed off itself.
POM Was this a variation of the theme in Darkness at Noon?
MM Yes. I had read Arthur Koestler in Britain who dismissed them but now that the facts are known that they were tortured, that Bukarin even agreed before his arrest to the execution of his wife all because he could not believe that the ideals that he was standing for were now so turned inward, I now cannot accept that it was just a distortion. I have to go back to the fundamentals, I think if you were to interrogate me on all that I have said you will say I still hang on to the idea of an equitable society, a society where poverty is removed, where hunger is removed, where homelessness is removed and joblessness, where people can live with dignity. But I do not accept that the necessary condition has got a model in any of the socialist experiments that shows the way forward.So I think that the experiment in a hothouse does not throw up lessons of what you should be doing in a South African economy to create a more equitable and growing economy but I do think that the experiences throw up what you should not do.
POM Did you ever see the Eastern European countries as colonies of the USSR?
MM Initially no but when in prison I began to study economics I did some reading on COMECON, the Economic Organisation of the East European States and Russia and I began over the years to become aware of the criticisms of COMECON and how it was operating. Of course with time I have come to see that that relationship was not based on equality. And again I say that's not socialism.
So when I look at what I did, the little that I did in Transport with the Maputo Corridor, I remain proud that quite a bit of the South African resources were put into genuinely developing the Mozambican economy, that the first benefits of the Maputo Corridor came through in the form of growth in the Mozambican economy. I saw long term benefits for us but I knew that the immediate benefits were flowing more from us to Mozambique and I said that's to help build a relationship on equal terms. So much so that we used to have a joke between our government and the Mozambican government. When I would visit Mozambique to discuss with my counterparts, even with a group of ministers, the Mozambicans and I used to joke, I used to say, "But I'm Mozambican." And they would say, "Yes, you're a Mozambican in the South African cabinet." And I took it with a sense of pride that my Mozambican counterparts did not see me as a person who would propagate something that would perpetuate an unequal relationship between Mozambicans and us. I remain very disappointed because one of the things that I had signed off on and got agreement from both governments' side was that there would be a one-stop border post at Komatipoort/Ressano Garcia and I travelled there to Josina's wedding in December with my wife my car, deliberately to see has the highway been built, how is it operating. And when I got to the border post I found two border posts still and a huge bureaucratic jam yet I had flown with Mozambican ministers and South African ministers on a helicopter over that area and said, "Chaps, the way forward is a single border post, we'll demarcate that whole area spanning the two borders as an international zone and we will put up one border post, the sort that you have in Canada so that vehicles moving from either side will just go through one border control and speed up the movement of goods and services and people across this boundary." Now I went there in the year 2001, December, three years after I have left government, and I find the border posts are still jammed with still bureaucratic attempts to resolve the corruption at that border post and queues of trucks standing waiting to be cleared. And all that time in the movement of the goods is added on to the costs the consumer has to pay.
POM To go back a little. You, because of your belief in the fundamentals, or your commitment and belief in the fundamentals of communism and the overthrow of the capitalist order and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat and equity for all people, all people will be cared for according to their needs, not according to their means, were in a frame of mind that you could overlook first of all what happened in Berlin in 1953 when the airlift went in.
MM Hungary in 1956.
POM Prague in 1968. Where even you could see the sins of Stalinism as kind of an aberration rather than
MM - a fatal flaw in that experiment.
POM And when you went to East Germany that for the period while you were there you did not see any sign of oppression or anything at all, in fact you saw rather an idyllic society where workers were taken to spas for their holidays, and never thought that maybe they're just doing that for me because I am
MM Maybe they did it it was genuinely being done. The point about it is, it was unsustainable in that economy and the lesson that I've learnt is that the model that contrasted competition versus collectivism, there are huge negative features in unbridled competition which leads to the logic of survival of the fittest. There is a huge capacity within competition to build up the productive forces and the growth of the economy accompanied by enormous inequalities. On the other hand collectivism, while it has this huge capacity to make people feel they are working together, has a huge deadening effect when all you have is job security and you have things provided by the state. Yes, there's a hankering today in East Germany and in many of the East European countries. You see many of the former Communist Parties reborn with other names coming back into favour because in the face of huge unemployment, huge rentals, etc., people are hankering for those basic things that were provided, rent control, secure housing, medical services, job security. But with that goes a whole inertia that deadens capacity in that society and where the answer lies no longer in my mind sits at the end state but I become preoccupied with grappling where we will be from today in the next ten or twenty years and I realise that in the South African scenario and in the third world scenario a leap to collectivism is not going to provide an enduring answer because it is an artificial hothouse.
POM When people are hankering for a return to that kind of security they are looking at job security minus the internal security apparatus that controls their lives, they're separating it from their human rights?
MM You see they are putting things into compartments. You can always rationalise a dictatorship. You can rationalise so many things but if we are grappling with the question of society moving forward you have to realise that there's a fundamental truth in Marxism that you can only realise true egalitarianism in a condition where society is producing plenty of everything. We are far from having the productive capacity of plenty of everything. I supported the proposition that if you took the world as one world there is already a productive capacity in the developed world which could make goods and services available throughout the world and hunger can be obliterated. You just gave the figure of the subsidy in the US, a billion a day. If that was not to prop up subsidies and was used to eliminate poverty, yes we can eliminate poverty, but I think that the inequalities that exist between the developed world and the developing world will still be there and we will be forever like beggars. I don't think that the help that is needed is in the form of 'give me something that I can put immediately in my stomach.' I think it's 'give me the capacity to build the productive resources so that all of us can have jobs first.' This is the priority in the world. In eliminating poverty let us make sure that there is built into that programme a capacity in that society to continually create and absorb people into the work force.
POM In fact there have been a number of studies done that show that when countries are enduring starvation, when massive food aid is given, that it discourages and in fact eliminates subsistence farming and perpetuates the problem in a certain way in the longer run rather than alleviating it.
MM Yes because it creates a mindset which is dependent on handout.
POM The thing I wanted to get back to was, if you went through all these were able to rationalise all these things happening around you with regard to communism, would you ever see a parallel in the way in which the Afrikaner may have rationalised his own behaviour?
MM Oh yes, oh yes.
POM That homelands were good things, they were being set up so that people of their own language would have their own space and there would be investment there and there would be all kinds of things.
MM At Dakar, at the Dakar meeting with the white South African delegation, primarily white South African, one of the Afrikaners, I think it was Willie Esterhuyse, in a discussion outside of the meeting said, "Chaps, why don't you grant the Afrikaners a homeland and let that homeland be in a desert area of SA, in the Northern Cape, like Orania, and fulfil that emotional need and it will die a natural death?" Some of us responded, "But how can we support a creation that we know is going to condemn your people to live in that poverty and die a natural death? We're not fighting just for the liberation of those who are currently oppressed, we are fighting to create a SA where everybody is going to thrive." Willie's answer was, "As a tactical manoeuvre agree to that." And we rejected it. So I am saying the rationalisation was there, looking into their experience was there too, and then there was a recognition certainly by people like myself which I shared that Afrikanerdom had used emotional crutches to take the entire Afrikaner population behind them and then expand it to the England speaking all within the bogey of racism and anti-communism. That's how Walter Sisulu puts it in his essay in Reflections.
Why I say I'm not a professional politician is I find that the compromises that one has to make that go with professional politics, I find myself unable to make them. I say that's not me and I find it alien to me that I should simply resort to emotional arguments because they are convenient for me today. I find it necessary, I acknowledge the role of emotion but I say behind that, while recognising emotion, you've got to have clear analytical thinking underpinning that and I think that it's almost in the nature of professional politics that your security depends on saying the right things at the right time to ensure that you continue with your career. I find that something that I can't do.
POM i.e. Being politically correct.
MM Correct, politically correct and if you take up an emotional issue it's what Mandela confronted me with. If your colleagues have taken a view how do you justify not now becoming a champion of that view? I grew up in a particular context in a particular time. I had the privilege of being in Britain in 1957 and the General Secretary of the British Communist Party at that time was Harry Pollitt. He had been a boilermaker who rose to the position of General Secretary of the Communist Party. He was General Secretary of the BCP at the outbreak of the second world war and because the second world war broke out in a particular form we communists opposed the war, we described that as a war between imperialist countries, rivalry between them. But when the Soviet Union was attacked it now became legitimate for us to participate in a war. Harry Pollitt said to the British Party, "I don't agree with you guys but you've taken your decision, please allow me to step down as General Secretary because you are now asking me to fulfil a decision which requires enthusiasm and will whereas I fundamentally don't agree with this change in the decision." Touch wood that the BCP allowed him to stand down as the General Secretary and when the war was over Harry Pollitt returned to activity and was re-elected General Secretary of the BCP. That small story was in my mind a proper way of conduct.
POM So the BCP opposed - ?
MM First opposed the war which decision Harry Pollitt supported. Then in 1941 they supported participation and Harry said, "I can't support it, I stand by the first decision but you've taken your decision, support for the war now, relieve me of the task of General Secretary because the General Secretary has to lead that phalanx."
POM So even when the Soviet Union was - ?
MM Harry was still opposed. And so he asked to be excused. He said, "Relieve me of the post of General Secretary because the General Secretary has got to lead the whole movement, he must believe in what he's doing." And they agreed to his standing down but as I say, years later in the 1950s they re-elected him as General Secretary once more.
POM Would you take, we probably have touched on this before, that given the way that you were able to rationalise distortions in the socialist dream that anticommunist sentiment here was fuelled by beliefs and commitments as real as yours were for?
MM Sure. Why not? Except that the anticommunist sentiments here were used to deny people in the colonial world the right to get their freedom.
POM But one could say they were used for the wrong purpose as distinct from now we go back to a distortion.
MM You'd go back to distortion. Because to me the argument on distortion is a bit esoteric in the sense that I say you cannot distort something that didn't exist. It's like I say you cannot say there's dehumanisation taking place because philosophically dehumanisation assumes that there was a time when we were living with full humanity and we have been robbed of it and therefore what we're asking is to go back to that earlier stage. I don't mind using the word 'brutalisation' because it doesn't presume an earlier existence which is non-brutal, it merely assumes a greater degree of brutalisation. I say similarly on distortion, it sounds very nice but it presupposes an existence that was not distorted and I say what was that existence?
So for me the evolution of society is a constant development, not constant in a linear sense, but it is a development of your humanity and that development has got to be accompanied by a productive capacity in society to meet society's needs and those needs, whilst the core needs are basic to your survival as a human special, food, clothing, shelter, job, I don't think that those simple material needs exhaust the list of the deeds. I think there are huge spiritual needs which reside in art. What made primitive humans go and paint on rocks? Obviously it was a laborious task, not like now when you can walk into a paint shop, buy a paint brush, buy a canvas, buy the paints and just go and paint. You see these rock paintings in the most difficult places to get out to. You see them painted on a rock surface where you had to sit straining your neck for days on end using plants from which you extracted the colour, including blood, and then etching away and drawing. What's that impulse? It's not to provide food, it's not to provide clothing, it's not to provide shelter, it's not to provide jobs. What is there? And I believe that there are huge dimensions of needs that go into that capsule that I call human dignity. I acknowledge that poverty, homelessness, joblessness, hunger are pre-conditions but I don't believe that they are sufficient conditions to realise your humanity and necessary conditions. I must avoid the word 'pre-condition' because pre-condition begins to put in a sequential order.
POM Is that seeking that spirituality related to the, in a sense, unique attribute of a human being and that is the knowledge that he's going to die, i.e. does fear of death require, is so terrifying that we have to create instruments that alleviate that fear which allow us to live?
MM It's very difficult for me to pronounce on that. I have lived a life where death never held that fear for me but I have lived a life sitting in a solitary cell with nothing in that cell and I know how I even took that little piece of soap and took a little stick and started carving it. I know that I needed to do things with my hands and my mind to maintain my sanity. So I believe labour, even if you said here Mac you've got everything, you don't have to work a day, all the food you want, everything has been met, no more work, I believe that the human being is such a person that he or she would begin to do things and that doing, that labouring is essential to your dignity.
POM Did these kinds of debates go on within the SACP when it was in exile? What were its debates centred around, if there were debates?
MM No, not in the organised formation but I went to classes on Marxism/Leninism, philosophy and John Lewis, Maurice Dobb I read literature and those philosophical aspects did appeal to me.
POM But when you were in Lusaka?
MM In Lusaka, no, the preoccupation of the struggle. In Lusaka, in the Communist Party it would arise in different phases and around different issues. For example, when I got out of prison we had a debate in the Communist Party about the constitution of the Communist Party and when the Communist Party was revived in 1953 as an illegal party there was no such thing as adopt a constitution. When I went out we had a number of discussions amongst us and I think it is in 1980 that we agreed in the Central Committee that we should have a constitution and a constitution was drafted and discussed in the units of the Communist Party and finally adopted at the Central Committee. Some people were saying, what's the point of a constitution in an illegal Communist Party? And others were arguing, which I sided with, that you need a constitution. It not only spells out the obligations and the duties of members but it also spells out their rights as members. Others were saying what is this nonsense about rights? Members of the party have simple duties. And we said no, and the predominant view that prevailed, we need a constitution and we adopted a constitution and it contained the duties of the member but it also spelt out the rights that you have.
Now there are profound issues involved in that. Whether legal or illegal the reformation needs a constitution that those who voluntarily become members of that body have duties to perform and obligations but they also have rights. Profound question.
POM But how could they argue that it was illegal since it was made illegal by a state that you regarded as illegal?
MM Yes, and the struggle we were waging was illegal.
POM There were those who were saying, how can an illegal party have a constitution since the only person who declared it illegal was something that you yourself regarded as being illegal.
MM Yes. All I'm saying is those who opposed the need for a constitution saw no need for it, not oppose, saw no need, were simply saying, what's wrong? We lived without a constitution and we were committing ourselves to the struggle under the leadership of the party. And some of us are saying, no, but as a member you have a right if your leadership transgresses certain boundaries against you, you have rights.
POM That was alien?
MM That was new. Then they fell back to defending why there was no constitution, to saying we are living in an illegal condition, we don't need it, and some of us were saying, no, no, no, we need it.
POM Wasn't that a further contradiction then in that the people who would argue that there was no need for a constitution because members only had duties not rights, how at the same time could you be involved in as a partner in a struggle that was predicated on giving people rights?
MM Yes. This is all part of the debate, Padraig, but part of the debate was also what's the experience of building socialism. Haven't there been communists who have been punished by an arbitrary decision? The fact that they were punished so severely that some of them were executed does tell you that you need certain protection. How else do you grow your own people? So I am saying the debate was quite wide-ranging and in answer to your question, did you discuss the type of things that I was raising? No, not in that form. That you did in your study classes but in the unit you were concerned with prosecuting the struggle but the discussions you had, the thinking you did at a philosophical level translated itself in the unit and organised formation do we have a constitution? Does a member have rights? In fairness to the SACP I think it is in 1980 or 1982 conference we adopted a constitution and I know it posed huge problems, certain clauses.
POM For certain - ?
MM No, for all of us. Too much to go into at the moment but I will give you an example, and don't push me on this example.
POM Now or in the future?
MM Don't push me yet.
POM Don't push you yet?
MM Here we are waging an armed struggle. Here we have people from our ranks, be it torture or whatever, became traitors to the cause. Leading them are members of the Central Committee. Who takes the decision whether they should be executed or not?
POM Central Committee? Politburo?
MM On what basis? Without hearing the person? So you execute this one and you don't execute that one, why? Then you don't have all the information. Because I disagree with you and you're the General Secretary of the party does that mean you can go to the Central Committee and say, right, execute Mac?
POM That comes back to a case we discussed before, the case of Joe Seremane's brother.
MM OK. Huge dilemmas.
POM What would you say, or you did say I think in an interview that evidence did exist.
MM The evidence that existed I was persuaded that he was an enemy agent and I accepted that. But I am saying to have a constitution in which you articulate rights of the members those rights go so far as to say how do you determine that he or she is not fulfilling his or her obligations to the point where he or she now needs to be punished. It's fine when the punishment is censorship, reprimand and in a normal society you don't go to punishment which includes elimination but in an armed struggle I've given the other example, I think, of a group who were operating, heading for the country via Zimbabwe and they executed the Commissar on the march.
MM Because he was holding up the column, a five person team, squad, and they came to the conclusion that his behaviour was to delay the column in order that they would walk into an enemy trap. The first time he had fallen behind when he was supposed to be walking in the second position, he had fallen right behind holding up the column. So that column had to stop, they were marching single file with a distance between each other and the Commander went to him, "What's wrong?" He says, "My boot laces are open. I'm just tying my boot lace." "OK, fine, hurry up, we're in dangerous territory." He takes his position. A few more kilometres and he's fallen behind, holding up again, stop the column, go back to him, "What's wrong now?" "No my knapsack is too heavy." "OK, let's share your knapsack." Put him in position, go on. Once more he falls behind. Then the Commander talks to one of the people, one of the chaps says, "Look, this behaviour is unacceptable, this is a comrade who never is like this. He's Deputy Commander and he's endangering all our lives." In the end they executed him. When we heard about it in Lusaka, we got a report that this is what had happened, we demanded the Commander and the whole team come to Lusaka. OR demanded it and we had a special hearing asking the Commander to justify his action.
POM Now 'we' being who?
MM The Revolutionary Council. We listened to it, we listened to their explanation. There was nothing new. How do you resolve this matter? Are they guilty of having eliminated an innocent person? Are they not guilty? We ended up saying that was a combat situation. The rest of the team are all convinced that it was the right action to eliminate him. We said we can't find you guilty of anything and we justified it. I certainly in my mind justified it as emergency steps in a combat situation. You can't retreat and say send him to trial and produce evidence, you're right in a combat zone. You've got to make an instant decision and if the rest of your team are carried with that decision, what can I say? I don't know how I would react.
POM That is not, the wrong word, but unanalagous to what happened to the former Senator John Kerry in Vietnam, the one from Nebraska who ran for President but now he's the President of City University in New York, of the New School for Social Research.
MM I don't know that case.
POM I'll get it for you, a very interesting case. It only came to light he wrote about it in his autobiography of when he was in a combat situation and had to make a decision. He told his men to open fire and a number of women and children were caught. It was at night, confusion reigning, and he made a decision and women and children were caught in it. There was nothing he could do about it. He had to live with the consequences of his decision himself.
MM And everybody says don't worry, you're a hero. But you've got to live with it. You can as easily descend from the one combat situation to a non-combat situation and begin to feel that you have the right to take those decisions and your sensibilities are dead. Maybe years later you're living with your new conscience and you revisit those things, but when you talk to your comrades around you they all say, "What the hell are you talking about?" Whether to mollify you or genuinely, they say, "That happened, forget about it." But when you begin to ask what's the meaning of it, what right do I have, huge insecurities arise about yourself, the correctness of your judgement.
POM So in the end what led you to leave the Communist Party in 1990 when others like Chris Hani and Joe Slovo stayed on in it? At that time you would have been a member of the Politburo?
MM Yes. I still don't feel at ease talking about it for the simple reason that when I left I said to Joe Slovo that I would say nothing, I would leave it to the Communist Party to explain in any statement to give an explanation and I only put one condition. I said as long as their explanation is political I will not respond to it, I will keep quiet, but if your explanation is personally directed at me then I reserve the right to respond. To be fair the Communist Party never issued a statement at all. I don't know what they might have said privately if journalists asked them but they kept their side of the bargain in that they never made any explanation, not even a political explanation. I know some individuals at an individual level made all sorts of funny remarks such as that I left because I was disgruntled with the way I was treated by the organisation when I was in detention. It isn't true. But as an organisation the Communist Party has kept its side of the bargain and the condition that I put was that you can explain it politically, which obviously will be so that you don't harm yourself as the Communist Party, and I will not rebut or comment on it, but if you put an explanation that attacks me as a person and maligns me I reserve the right to respond. They have kept the bargain. When does my side of the bargain expire?
POM Well they did neither one nor the other so by you saying why you left is (i) of historical significance and (ii) not damaging to the Communist Party today or to any individuals. To get to this point in your life and you suddenly say, well, it was important but
MM You'd have to make a better argument of making me change my mind. You're sweating.
POM Yes, but I had to get up at four thirty, I missed a plane yesterday. I had to get up at four thirty this morning to catch a bloody airplane, OK?
MM Let's just admit that you're putting nothing persuasive on the table.
POM That's what Fanie said when he said, "Let's see what Mac will put on the table." That's why Mac has to call Fanie. Are we getting close to the bone on that one?
MM Look at my preoccupation at the moment. I'd like to do it but my preoccupations are so big, I don't know how to get about making the time. I am at the moment living at if now I get a call, I will drop everything and rush for my son.
POM That's fine. I will be the first to tell you to run. But since that hasn't happened yet so let's get back, now that's what we call being evasive. You're now introducing family to try to get out of it and presenting me with an emotional problem to try to get me. Oh boy!Now who's pushing the dregs? We can easily turn this one around.
MM The time, as I just said with the Communist Party, at the moment I perceive it as a matter of honour.
POM Well I'll tell you what I'll do. Tell it anyway and then by the time we go to publication you can decide whether or not it still is a matter of honour. In other words it's not, as of this moment it's not for publication and since this book is going to be some time we can re-evaluate the situation, but why you left would be important because this is something that you had been part of since 1953 to 1990.
POM 1958 1990. That's 42 years. It forms a core of your belief system for most of your adult life. In fact one of the questions I was going to ask you was that it seems to me that you looked at the Harare struggle and said, "Well, it's a nice document but it doesn't call for the overthrow of the capitalist order and the establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat. It doesn't go far enough. I want to go further. My primary thing is the overthrow of the capitalist order and if I do that a bi-product of that will be the freeing of people from oppression, i.e. the freeing of all Africans from oppression and the freeing of white working people from oppression and any other class of people from oppression."
MM No, I had accepted the two stage theory of the Communist Party. That stage one was the overthrow of apartheid premised on the basis that there will a mixed economy.
POM This is in 195- ?
MM No, this is 1962, the Communist Party programme called The South African Road to Freedom, articulated a two-stage in our struggle as communists.
POM The Road to Freedom?
MM South African Road to Freedom. A programme of the Communist Party, SACP, adopted in 1962.
POM The two stages were the overthrow of
MM Apartheid, the building of the country based on a mixed economy and laying the basis of the second stage to develop over time.
POM This was a far move from communist parties around the world?
MM No, no, our programme was preceded by us getting the World Communist Parties meeting in Moscow in 1960 to incorporate in the World Communist Party programme a paragraph describing the transition of socialism in the third world situation as moving through a prior stage of non-capitalist development. Theoretically the World Communist Parties accepted our proposition.
POM We're going back to you in 1955, the Freedom Charter.
MM The Freedom Charter is not a problem because we described it as in fact Mandela wrote an article at that time in a publication called Liberation, under a pseudonym, in which he argued -
POM He wrote an article in?
MM In a publication called Liberation in which he argued that the clauses of the Freedom Charter did not (entrench) socialism. That's 1956/57.
POM So here you are over at New Age.
MM Well I'm accepted, I said fine, it doesn't mean socialism but if we implement what's in the Freedom Charter it will take us towards, it will be a step towards the direction of moving to socialism. So fine, and we can agree to work together.
POM But when you get to join the British Party what did it believe in stages of development?
MM At that stage the British Party supported independence for the colonies, that the communist world would help the colonies to get out of the clutches of imperialism but it did not prescribe that they should then immediately build a socialist society. Hot on the heels of that no that came hot on the heels of a debate in the international communist movement. The French were arguing in the French Party that it was the obligation of the metropolitan countries' Communist Party when they came to power to take the colonies to socialism. The British Party led by people like Palme Dutt, Willie Gallagher, Harry Pollitt, argued that even if the Communist Party came to power in Britain its first necessary act would be to grant independence and freedom to the colonies. The colonies would then make a choice of their own whether they wanted to be associated with the development of socialism. That had been just settled in 1958, an enormous debate in the BCP where the conference of 1958 took this decision, or 1956, took the decision after it had put two of its leading theoreticians, Emile Burns, who argued for the proposition that if Britain was taken over by the Communist Party the colonies would be made to move towards socialism, and Palme Dutt who argued at conference that, no, you have no right to dictate to the colonies. You grant them independence and freedom and then if they chose one by one to align themselves with socialist Britain they would be free to do so. The conference voted on the matter and voted in favour of Palme Dutt's proposition, first name Rajendra, Rajendra Palme Dutt.
Now I can bamboozle you with all sorts of things.
POM Sure you can so let's get back to 1990, let's cut to the chase. These are just little side bits here and there.
MM You drafted Madiba's foreword, it says don't try and debate with me, I will bamboozle you all the time.
POM I know but
MM I'll always throw a pebble away from the point where you want me to jump into the pool.
POM I keep that right in mind when I throw my own pebbles.
MM And I'll point to a shark far away. No, but it is a genuine problem in my mind. It's not a problem that I'm just answering glibly today. Just a few days ago my wife and I were debating the issue over your draft preface, that's why you saw I inserted - So it's not a thing that I don't always think about. I would like to be free to express my views freely but this one I feel there is a constraint on me.
POM Well, it's not that I say it sounds reasonable. Why not?
MM This is what you did to me in 1991, you said just speak, I will not publish for ten years and then I got a bloody shock when you turned up here a year ago and said the ten years are up.
POM Yes, I know. Did I keep my end of the bargain?
MM You kept your end of the bargain and that's why I have to keep my end.
POM But yours is not a
MM Now this time you're going to tell me, OK.
POM Yours is not a bargain because if it's closure on their part the fact that they did nothing, you said do either A or B, the fact is they did neither A nor B, that's releasing you. You said, "If you do this I will not respond. If you do that I will respond. If you respond in this way I will not respond, if you respond in that way I will respond." Now they did not respond in any way at all therefore the other becomes part of your 'no' hypothesis because neither happened, let's just get over with it.
MM That's an Irish technical argument.
POM Oh good! Now we're getting personal.
MM The Irish should understand honour.
POM No, that's been our problem for 1000 years. If we did we'd have been out of this loop a long time ago.
MM But it is an issue of exigency because I feel part of this change, transition that this country is going through, I feel that the reality is that you need to maintain the alliance of the ANC, COSATU, the Communist Party even now and I feel as well strongly that you need to build a gathering of forces across this society to move forward. So I feel that the potential is not exhausted.
POM Potential of the alliance?
MM The alliance and this broad movement and I feel very strongly that there is an honour amongst communists. Madiba calls it loyalty. For me there's honour amongst communists and I know of comrades, individuals, who have conducted themselves dishonourably and they are still around. I keep quiet. And I know I am exercised in my conscience that that keeping quiet is a bad thing. I don't have answers because history doesn't tell me what to do.
POM Well in the foreword Madiba says that above all what he admired about you was your brutal honesty.
MM I'm being honest at the moment, I'm not claiming to be a saint by not answering the question. I say it remains an issue in my conscience, it agitates my conscience. I've shown you how I go and put a qualification, many people won't notice the significance of the qualification, but it is significant to me.
POM I would argue that in the record of your story and its significance is that the laying out of something that's obviously as important to you as this is crucial to the telling of the truth and telling the truth that is concealed for 20 or 30 years is a fragmented truth.
MM Yes it's fragmented, Padraig, but it is not, as you lift layer after layer, there is no point at which I have told a lie.
MM But there are points where I have glided over and remained silent. Sometimes I worry and I became involved in this book you're working on in a way I've actually said to myself this bloody Padraig has trapped me because you know how opposed I was to writing my own autobiography and you started off with conversations with Mac over these constitutional changes and I have sat down and looked at myself and said, "This bloody Padraig has driven me backwards, he's gone into a biography." But sometimes I do, maybe because we're working on this thing with you, I've seen this as perhaps opening me out to where one day one of the ideas that I have toyed around with is to write a story of my own, not for publication, just for my children so that when I'm dead and gone they can read it one day. If they choose to publish it they can publish it, but there it will be without those layers where I just gloss over and don't say anything. I jokingly say writing an autobiography is worse than undergoing pregnancy because an autobiography can take various forms and one that I can't face at the moment is it has got to be unexpurgated. I have always argued when I read current writing, I put aside a book when I see the chap is deliberately falsifying a thing. I don't put it aside when I find he has glossed over certain things, he's avoided touching something because I then give him or her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he's left that episode or some episode that he didn't know how to handle it and kept quiet. But once I come to somebody who has taken an event and actually thrown false information on the table I just write the person off, write that book off and I write the person off.
POM Yes but we're not in that situation. It's like responsibilities and rights. I don't know to whom you feel responsible in this regard, I can't speak to it.
MM Responsible to myself.
POM But then it is my duty, as I would see it, to, after eleven years of this effort, is that you can't write something and say there is a significant piece of myself that I have deliberately left out of this because there are two of us involved. It's not just you, there's me and with your agreement that we would do this kind of book it was also implicit in it that you would be straightforward with me, that it was in fact my duty to enquire and to press into areas that you didn't want to go to because sometimes it's easier to answer a question posed by an individual than it is to start posing the questions to yourself.
MM Sure. I'm listening to your proposition at the moment, you're still leading up to a killer punch, before I respond to it.
POM Well the point is almost like Mandela's point.
MM No it's not.
POM It's like if the leadership had taken a decision on something would you go along with the decision of the leadership? Here it's when you've made a joint decision that we would do this book. It wasn't with little if you had said, "Well Padraig, but there are all these caveats that I'm not telling you about." I would say, "Mac - "
MM I didn't say caveats. I've been open with you. To put it in a very simple way, there are no indiscreet questions.
POM There are only indiscreet answers.
MM Only indiscreet answers.
POM I go back to my original proposition which is that what you say to me now you can review, you will have time to contemplate it and I give you the right as recorded on this tape and will appear in the transcript of the tape, that you have the right to withdraw what you say in this section, period.
MM I appreciate what you're saying.Thank God, it's Caryl coming to pick you up.
POM I don't have Caryl doing that. So, I'll come back to it.
MM I hear you. I'm not fighting with you.
POM I know, we're not fighting with each other.
MM All I am saying is, yes, there is me and I think every me is a very complex me. I am trying to be as brutally honest as I can be but at the same time I am aware that this has been opening inside me and stage by stage I have confronted the issues and kept asking do I go there, shall I go there? And quite often I go there. To be honest with you I got very embarrassed when I read your draft of the preface, very embarrassed because in reading the preface I didn't realise I had come across that way, for example when you deal with the torture. But there was a balance in it, in what you wrote, because we went through that section in that draft and it hasn't been easy to talk about. It didn't cause me any conscience problems but it did make me feel in a certain sense liberated because I said, yes, we are living in a SA today where I don't have to be pre-occupied with just encouraging comrades to be strong. We are living in a world where at last it's become possible to challenge the male order and say there's nothing wrong with crying if you're a male. That's the world for which we thank you very much. Fortunately we are living in that world and I think the ability of males in a patriarchal society to cry is not a vulnerability. So I say, OK, that's fine, but I still think that SA is faced with a challenge of what is honourable conduct. I think that there are a set of rules that need to evolve to say part of dignity is a sense of honour amongst comrades. You can read it the other way to say that there is an implication in that, that in certain individual comrades that I have struggled with, side by side with for years, I have come to the view that some of them have no honour. I won't go down the road except to say that I won't challenge that, except to say that I won't necessarily disagree but I will not walk that path into probing it.
Because, sure, you should read a poem by Pablo Neruda. It's one of his long poems called The Winter Song Ends, or is it just The Winter Song, in which he goes over his life, and he was a communist too, and I think The Winter Song is written somewhere in the seventies, when he's on the island called Ilha de Negre off the coast of Chile I think. There is a stanza there where he talks about the injuries that have been done to him and he says something to the effect that the injuries done to me by my friends have been the most painful injuries. He doesn't name names, he just keeps quiet, just throws in a stanza on that point. But one needs time to sit back on those things, to be able to have a balanced view, because it's true, there is no injury done by my enemies, hurtful as they may be, that can compare to the injury done to me by my comrades. Those are the ones that are most difficult to live with.
So when you are probing on this question, 41 years a communist, when I said to them, "If you respond personally I will respond." And I meant I will respond in kind, "But if you respond politically, even though it paints me in a bad light, I will keep quiet." And I think it presented a comrade like Joe Slovo a huge dilemma, he didn't know how to handle it and therefore he, Chris Hani and the party faced the question and just dodged it because they didn't know how to handle it. Even now I don't know how to handle it. So I am not being dishonest with you.
POM I didn't say you were being dishonest.
MM In your interpretation you were saying this bastard has hidden away.