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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
08 Oct 2002: Maharaj, Mac
POM Just to back up, I want today to get into when you returned to SA.
MM Which return? 1962 or - ?
POM This is 1962. How did you get notice that you were leaving the GDR? Did that come through Vella Pillay?
MM No, I reported through Vella Pillay the date that I was completing my training and which date I would be arriving in London so they were expecting me in London and of course Tim was still living in London. So I returned to London and then arrangements, obviously Vella started arrangements with the organisation at home about the dates of my return. In the meantime to fill up my time he asked me to help in re-organising the African Communist office in London, we had a clandestine office there and we had moved premises and so I had to help in that. Secondly, I was sent off as a courier to Paris which took about a week or so to make contact with the Moroccan Communist Party with the help of the SACP. I was sent as a courier to Paris to make contact on behalf of the SACP with the Moroccan Communist Party so I went over to Paris, that was at the height of the Algerian struggle. I returned to London and by that time arrangements were made that I would return home early in May, end of April/early May, that I would go and settle down with my parents in Newcastle for about three weeks and within that three weeks Jo'burg would make contact with me.
POM Just to back up. Were you going to the Moroccan Communist Party on behalf of the SACP in London?
POM The purpose of which was?
MM Well we were trying to set up more dynamic contact with the Moroccan Communist Party. Remember we were publishing the African Communist as a continental theoretical journal covering discussion and debates from an African perspective and for that reason we wanted to establish direct links with the Moroccan Communist Party so that we could access material written by them which could be published in the AfricanCommunist and vice versa so that we could be in touch with them, briefing them about developments going on in SA.
POM Were they involved in the FLN?
MM I'm trying to think now, we're talking about 1962 March/April. No I'm not yet able to definitively answer that question.
POM OK. I'll just leave it there and we'll get back to it. Is the African journal would that be available, back issues, archived or anything at the British Communist Party?
MM No, they would be archived here somewhere in SA. They may well be in the Wits library or they would be in Mayibuye library. The person who would perhaps be able to guide you where they are best housed is Brian Bunting in Cape Town, or presumably the SACP would know where they are housed at the moment.
POM So you're in London from about - ?
MM From about middle of March to the end of April.
POM And then you - ?
MM Then I flew off from London, I think it was on 1 May, took a flight to Johannesburg, arrived in Johannesburg 2 May in the morning and there was a problem at Jo'burg Airport because I prepared a story, a legend that I was living in London and that I was coming to SA merely to visit my father and mother and that my father was not too well. I thought that with that story I would get entry, it was a SA passport, without difficulty but I had no cash on me except, I think, Vella had given me about $30 or$35 and this was given to me at the last minute in US currency. At Jo'burg Airport the security had difficulty accepting my story. They interviewed me at the airport, wanted to know what I was doing in SA, why was I coming back to SA even though I am SA born.
POM And you carried an SA passport.
MM SA passport. In the end what they did was that at about four o'clock that afternoon, they kept me the whole day at Jo'burg Airport and at about four o'clock that afternoon they gave me a document prohibiting me from being in the Transvaal province and requiring me to be out of the Transvaal province within 24 hours.
POM That means you had to go directly to - ?
MM I had to go directly to Park Station, the only way to get out in time was that there was one train leaving at six o'clock in the evening going to Durban.
POM Did they put an exit date on your visa?
MM No. No visa.
POM Sorry, on your passport.
MM No. All they asked me is to give them the address where I would be staying and I gave my brother-in-law's address in Durban. I said I was proceeding to Durban and they required me to be out of the Transvaal province within 24 hours and they wanted me to report to the Security Branch offices in Durban.
POM Now at that time in 1962 would an Indian still require a permit to come into the Transvaal?
POM So if they were able to contact your brother and verify that you were going to him was he aware, had you written him beforehand?
MM No, I had no intention of going to my brother-in-law. I gave that as just an excuse. I just wanted to get out of their hands and I needed to then find a way to get back to Newcastle and stay on in Newcastle until the underground contacted me. So I said I was going to Durban and I took the train that night at six and I jumped off the train at Newcastle instead of proceeding to Durban.
POM The train stops at Newcastle?
MM Yes, it stops at midnight.
POM You didn't literally OK.They can hold another whole manuscript up because of that word.
MM So I went home to my parents, stayed with them and in the meantime tried to make sure that I was living very quietly.
POM So when you arrived what was the reaction on behalf of your father and mother? Obviously your mother was
MM That was quite hilarious because I got off the train, the train reaches Newcastle at midnight and it's about three, four miles from the station to my home so I got off, the only person jumping off the train, the station was deserted. I went to a call box and I checked the name of a friend who I knew was running a taxi and who lived near my parents' home. So I phoned him and said I needed a taxi.
POM He hadn't heard from you for God knows how many years.
MM Yes and he didn't expect so I just asked for a taxi and he was reluctant. I had woken him up and to come out on a taxi, some stranger is calling you and he says no. So I tell him who I am and he doesn't want to believe me but in the end I prevailed on him, he came over in his pyjamas, driving over and picked me up, dropped me at my home and I went to the front door and knocked on the door. I knew that the immediate room was a lounge and the next room was the room that my brother and I used to share, my kid brother, so I thought my kid brother or somebody would be sleeping there and I knocked and knocked and knocked and then a strange voice answered, "Who's there?" Now this was a strange voice so I tell him, I give my name, so he says, "There's nobody like that." So I said, "But listen, I'm one of the sons." He says, "Which one?" So I give him my name and he says, "No, no, there is no son like that here." He suspects me to be a thief or a robber or whatever. But then I hear my kid brother just wake up and he says, "Who did he say it is?" So he says, "He says he's one of your brothers." And my kid brother says, "But yes, I have a brother like that." So they got up and they opened the door, we greeted each other. I then went to my parents' bedroom at the other end of the house. My Mum had got up, she had heard something was happening. I greeted her, I greeted my Dad. They were very happy to see me.
POM Were they surprised?
MM Very surprised, what was I doing here. I said, "We'll talk tomorrow morning but I am here on a brief visit, I am on my way to Basutoland." They wanted to know why. I said, I knew that would make my father happy, I said, "I have applied for a teaching job in Basutoland."
POM You said this with a straight face?
MM Yes because it would make him happy and there will be no questions in the community, what are you doing here. So I stayed on in Newcastle for three weeks and nobody made contact.
POM No rows with your father in this three week period?
MM No, he's very happy I'm going to be teaching in Basutoland. I am just waiting.
POM How had Newcastle changed in the period that you had been away?
MM I really avoided interacting with people aside from very few close friends of the family, of my parents that I went and said hello to. I tried to live quietly.
POM Yes, your street. You didn't go into the centre in Newcastle?
MM I went into the centre. At that stage very little sign of change. In fact now that you're asking that way one incident that comes up, I had mentioned my deep unhappiness when I went to Durban with Newcastle being organised now not just in racial terms but in communal terms within the community. One of my friends, a Moslem friend who had studied medicine at Natal University was now qualified and practising medicine in Newcastle so I visited him. He's still alive. We chatted around and I got a shock that in the local newspapers of 1962 there was a letter or an article complaining that the Moslem community was building a swimming pool which would be for the exclusive use of Moslems.
POM This was in a local Indian newspaper?
MM No, in the local paper, the Newcastle Advertiser. So I went to discuss it with this friend who is a Moslem and was a doctor and therefore I thought he was one of the opinion makers. I said, "What is this that I see in the papers that the Moslem community is now going to build a swimming pool?" And there were no other swimming pools for blacks, but it's going to be for the exclusive use of Moslems. Here's a chap who had been at Natal University Medical School.
POM He had been exposed.
MM And he began to justify it and he justified it on the grounds that they needed a secluded facility which Moslem men would use that would be pure in terms of their religion so that nobody would bring in pork or anything like that into those premises for eating, and secondly that the Moslem females when they were to use the pool would be out of sight of any other people of any other religion. I couldn't persuade him otherwise. He thought this was a wonderful community initiative.
So when you ask had Newcastle changed, it had been driven more into the racial compartments. It was being driven more into the communal compartments in the Indian community, the compartments being Hindu speaking, Tamil speaking and people of Moslem faith, and I noticed that my nephews and nieces, the government had provided a space for collaborators in the community with the government to now be assisted and encouraged to set up separate religious institutions and study of the separate languages as a way of encouraging them to go into separate compartments. So the Moslems had their madressa and their teachers to teach their children the Arab language and the Koran. The Hindus were being encouraged to study, whereas I couldn't speak Hindi my nephews and nieces were all going, after English school, to school to learn the Hindu religion and the Hindu languages and the Tamils were doing the same. So the apartheid government had grabbed hold of this pride in your own background, your own language and culture and was now encouraging it into an exclusivist direction. The swimming pool concept for Moslems exclusively was in conformity with that.
POM But everyone still went to the same school?
MM Same English school.
POM Same English speaking school. But Hindu and Moslem, Arabic weren't taught as subjects at those schools were they? So there was also an up side to this in terms of that kids who knew nothing about their culture and their religion were now speaking
MM Yes, so that was the upside. But the downside was that here you went to school from early morning to late afternoon and then you separated and you went into your separate language schools at separate venues.
POM Now were these compulsory?
POM So they were voluntary?
POM So kids didn't have to do it.
MM But of course parents were happy to support it because you were connecting your children with your culture and your language but in the process the insidious apartheid message that separateness was important was beginning to be emphasised over and above the issue of what also brought you together across religions and proud cultures. So within the racial compartmentalisation pride in your ethnic groups was being fostered in the hope of bending it towards an exclusivist way of thinking and here you have the Moslems setting up a swimming pool only for the use of Moslems.
POM Before that there had been no swimming pool in the town, or in that area?
MM No swimming pool at all in the whole of Newcastle for blacks.
POM Did you notice any kind of increasing propensity for Moslems to live in Moslem areas?
MM Yes they were beginning within the Indian areas to congregate in certain pockets even for their housing accommodation, because they'd say I want to be near the madressa. I want to be near the Hindu Temple and then, secondly, I want my children to be able to walk to where we are holding the classes in the community hall. The community hall became more and more - by usage more Moslems would use one venue, Hindus would use another venue, Tamils would be living in another part and using another venue. Do you see? So the result is that your intermixing and intermingling was being made more and more marginal to your social life. The soccer teams were still divided into those communal bases.
POM When you were growing up what would have been the degree of intermarriage between Moslems and Hindus or Hindus and Tamils or Moslems and Tamils?
MM When I was growing up it was still a rare phenomenon. I can recall knowing from an older generation at least three people in the community who were married to African women. I can recall one of the teachers who was Hindu speaking married a Tamil girl. I am not so sure that I can recall a Moslem/Hindu marriage. But in spite of that separation in my childhood socially we did intermingle because we lived in the same suburb.
POM At that point you were more of an intermingled community in terms of you could have a Moslem living next door to a Hindu and maybe not many but it would be more prevalent.
MM Sure. Just down the road hardly a block away was a Moslem family running a butcher's shop which was the only butcher's shop in that suburb which everybody went and bought from. By 1962 that butcher's shop was still there. By the seventies when I get out of prison it's no longer there, it's gone away, because they would be selling halaal meat and their constituency and customer base was in another slightly separated geographical area.
POM Now your father's shop, was that the only shop in the area?
MM No, that street was a long street, Boundary Road was a very long road and the stretch in which we lived that road covered probably about three to four miles and so as you came from the town centre, the main road of the town, came up a hill, it was still tarmac and then the tarmac ended. Then began Boundary Road which was a dirt road, a fairly broad main road going up to the rural areas. Now you had to go along that dirt road for about a mile where you would come across this butcher's shop.
POM So who lived in the first mile of the road?
MM Everybody mixed.
MM Well by 1962 they had been moved across the river to a suburb called Fairley.
POM So Africans had been taken out. This is now in 1962 an Indian community.
MM Indian area. There was down in a parallel road a small coloured community and the shops were catering for that whole geographical area, so you had a butcher's shop, next to it was a general dealer's shop, then you went along for about half a mile and there was another small cluster of about three shops including my Dad's shop and then there would be no shops again, you went on for another half mile or so and there was a shop on the left hand side, a general dealer and then as you went up again, right up on the hill, about another mile and a half away, right on the top of the hill was another shop. These were the only shops around.
POM Did this mean that there was a fairly steady customer base for the family shop?
MM No, my Dad was crippled as you know, my Mum was running all sorts of things. The shop was in a state of decay, they didn't have the capital to buy goods and stock it, it sold basic things, sugar, mealie meal, tea, mealie rice, rice, those sorts of odds and ends. By 1962 it was hardly making any profit. I think if the sales for a day were a pound or two pounds it was a big turnover.
POM Was your father still meeting with his buddies on the veranda?
MM Yes, that was his occupation.
POM What were they discussing when you got back?
MM I didn't sit around to talk with them at that stage: (a) I didn't want to get into any debate, any argument. I needed to live quietly and just leave the peace be I'm going to be a teacher.
POM Who was at home at this point? You had your younger brother?
MM The stranger was a teacher in the local school and he was boarding and lodging at home. That was another source of my Mum's income. My younger brother was a teacher and was living at home. Then there was my Mum and Dad, that's all.
So I lived there like that it turned out for six weeks. All I remember is that I had used my $30 or $35 in the first week to give presents to all the nieces, nephews, bought fruit and vegetables for my Mum, went and bought her fruit and vegetables for the house and the kids I bought them presents. By three weeks time, which I thought by then contact would be made, I had no money left so here I was, stranded, I'm not supposed to write to London and post a letter. I can't afford, securitywise I can't phone to London and here I am stranded.
But one night six weeks later on a Friday evening a stranger arrived at our door in a Volkswagen car, knocked at the door and it was Kathrada, Ahmed Kathrada. He was under ban, he was restricted to Johannesburg but he had broken his banning order and had driven off to Newcastle and come there to my home. As soon as I saw this stranger I realised this is somebody from Jo'burg, possibly Kathrada.
POM Had you heard of Kathrada?
MM Well I had met him in the fifties, so from the looks of
POM You'd met him in Johannesburg?
MM Johannesburg, he was on treason trial. So I realised this must be Kathy and I straightaway took him into the lounge and my Mum came there and I didn't want them to realise who this is but my Mum offered him tea or something and then I sat alone with him and Kathy said well he's come to make contact with me. So I said, "Well I'm flat broke, haven't got a penny on me." And he says, "Sorry about all the mishaps but we need to see you in Johannesburg. When can you be in Johannesburg?" I was so anxious about my safety and security that I said I would be there tomorrow. I would hitchhike and get to Jo'burg the next day. It was too risky to go back with him because he's a banned person in case he's stopped and caught for breaking his banning order. So I said, "No, tomorrow is Saturday. Saturday, Sunday I will be in Jo'burg, just tell me how we make contact." We made the arrangements, he gave me some money and he then left. My Dad and Mum were very suspicious. They wanted to know who it was. I said it's a friend from Johannesburg, he's come to ask me news about his brother who's studying in London. So I fought that off that way. But the next morning when I got up I said to them, "Well, I can't afford to be sitting around like this, I think I will get to Basutoland and find out what's happening to my application." They said, "Why this sudden thought?" And my Mum said, "Why this sudden decision?" So I said, "Well I'm just bored and I think I need to move things, I can't sit here waiting for a letter from then Basutoland." So she says, "But has it got something to do with that person who visited you last night?" I said, "No, it's got nothing to do with that." "Well, how are you going to Basutoland?" I said, "I'll hitchhike to Johannesburg and from Johannesburg I'll hitchhike to Maseru." So my Mum remained puzzled but she felt it was connected with this stranger's visit the night before.
POM And your father?
MM My father, same suspicion. "What's this?" I said, "I think I'd better get to Basutoland and enquire what's happened to that teaching post that they had offered me." So I said goodbye to them and I hitchhiked to Johannesburg and I made contact with Kathy and Kathy then arranged for me to get boarding and lodging accommodation at the home of Indres Naidoo.
POM Now was he living - ?
MM In Johannesburg, in Doornfontein.
POM Was he legally in Johannesburg?
POM So he had a permit to be there?
MM The Naidoo family had legal permits to stay in the Transvaal.
POM When you say the Naidoo family you mean his family or the Naidoo - ?
MM No, the Naidoo family. Indres's mother, his sisters, his brothers. His father was deceased, had been a very active person in the Indian congresses and his mother had gone to prison during the passive resistance campaign. It was awkward because Kathy found me boarding and lodging there on the basis that I'm not a political activist and the family realised that they thought they knew me. I had stayed at their home in 1956 during the treason trial from time to time and the mother put it all together because while we slept upstairs the bathroom was through the kitchen downstairs and one morning she saw me come down heading for the bathroom with an eye-cap on my eye and she said, "What's wrong with your eye?" I said. "I have an artificial eye." And she says, "But you've stayed here before. I remember you. You had an artificial eye. You stayed here years ago." And I would say to her, "Amah", which is the Tamil word for mother, "Amah, yes I have stayed here before." And she said, "Are you politically active?" I said, "No, not interested in politics." But Indres's mother put two and two together. For Kathrada to come and get boarding and lodging accommodation for me there must be something going on.
POM So these mothers were pretty good a putting things together.
MM Pretty good.
POM Was Indres at that time active?
MM Indres was very active.
POM But was he working?
MM He was working for a firm called Frank & Hirsch as a clerk and he was the breadwinner in the family, him and his sister Shanti. Indres was very, very critical that they recognised me as having stayed at their house in the mid fifties and that he was trying to encourage me to become politically involved and I was refusing. He and the Youth League chaps, his cronies in the Youth League accused me of being a sell-out.
POM This was when?
POM So you had been told by Kathy to say - ?
MM Go to that house.
POM But you're not to say that you're politically involved, you just say nothing?
MM Nothing. He just said to Mrs Naidoo that there's a young chap who needs board and lodging, he'll give you an income. They were a very poor family so he can recommend this youngster who needs accommodation and then he told me, "Go there and speak to Mrs Naidoo, accommodation has been arranged."
But having arrived in Jo'burg arrangements were made for me to meet a person near Park Station and I recall two white men car arrive in a car, a black Chevrolet, it stopped at the roadside where I was standing and asked me to jump in so I jumped into the back seat and the two white men were Rusty Bernstein and Joe Slovo. We drove around, Rusty was driving and they interviewed me. Subsequent to that interview I realised I was being interviewed on one side, now what tasks do they assign me?
POM What form did the interview take?
MM They asked me what my training was, what sort of training had I undergone in Germany, etc., and I realised from the interview and later events confirmed that the one was Joe Slovo and he was interviewing me clearly with an interest from uMkhonto side because when I said to him that I've done sabotage training, etc., his response was to question me about a bit of my knowledge about sabotage, the content of the training course and then he asked me before we parted to undertake the task of writing down all the formulas for the construction of bombs and for the use of dynamite. So I said I could do that easily. Rusty in the meantime says, "Look, let's go through your printing training", because he says the first need is that we've got to get a clandestine printing establishment going.
On the basis of that interview I received a message first that integrated me into a unit of the underground Communist Party, that unit was led by Kathy that was for my normal clandestine political activity. Then I was put into a tactical committee where they put me with three other people and they asked me to set up a place, find a place where I would work it was two or three machines, lithograph machines that had arrived in SA as far back as 1958 but nobody knew how to use them. It had been smuggled into the country in 1958/59, these two or three machines, I think there were three, and therefore they were rusting away in a warehouse and my job was to take these three machines, house them some place and using this unit to see if I could get those machines working and train the others in how to use these machines because I had done lithograph printing. So that was my first assignment.
POM So this was all on the printing side?
MM Yes. Then the question became what would be my cover? What would be my legend, what am I doing in Johannesburg? Large numbers of people were living illegally, breaking the provincial permit laws.
POM Were the police pretty active in looking for you? I mean I read on one occasion, I don't know whether it was true or not, that a pass arrest was made every three minutes.
MM That's pass arrests for Africans. Africans had to carry a pass.
POM At this point you didn't?
MM We didn't, we didn't have to carry a pass.
POM Even though you had to have permission to be in the province you didn't need a pass?
MM You were strictly supposed to carry a little sheet of paper which was your permit stating how long you were allowed to be in the Transvaal but I had nothing like that. The police had started looking for me in Durban and Newcastle.
POM So what had they associated you with?
MM Well because they had given me a prohibition order saying get out of the Transvaal within 24 hours, report to the Security Police in Durban.
POM Oh they told you to report to the Security Police?
MM Which I didn't do. And they went to my sister and brother-in-law's place looking for me.
POM While you were in Newcastle?
MM Yes, and while I was then in Johannesburg also. From time to time they would look for me and go to my parents' home, try to find out where I am.
POM They associated you with the person who the police had been looking for in Durban and who got - ?
MM They didn't divulge yes, who had got that passport. They didn't divulge anything like that. My parents, of course, simply said, "Yes he came here, he visited us and he has gone to Basutoland." "What's he doing there?" "Oh he said he was getting a teaching job in Basutoland." In those days the Security Police were pretty lax, they would simply say, "Here's a telephone number, when he comes next time please contact us", and go away. So I am living in Johannesburg and I am now integrated in the underground and the question crops up about my legend, to anybody that I meet what am I doing here? And there we were expecting the media, the left media, that's New Age, to be banned and every time they had banned the newspaper, it was a weekly newspaper, we used to come out with the same paper in another name. It had started off in the thirties as The Guardian and when it was banned in the fifties it became The Searchlight and when it was banned it changed to another name and then it was banned and became New Age. Now we didn't know what form the clampdown would take. We were not aware what form the ban would take this time but the regime had passed a new press law which required any newspaper owner to put a deposit of, I think, R20,000 as security for its registration and if it contravened any law that money would be confiscated.
So obviously the movement began to make preparations but it thought that this law would be used to ban people, prohibit them from being in the publishing industry or to function as journalists, etc., and to ban titles. Through the underground the movement sponsored and registered a variety of titles before the law became effective. One of those was a sports newspaper called Sports Parade and it was run by, owned officially by a chap called Mannie Brown. So Rusty came to me and said at one of my meetings with him to meet here in Eloff Street Extension, I think the building was called New Era, the publishing house was called New Era Publishing House. He said be there at a certain time. I went over there and Rusty was there and so was Mannie Brown.
POM Was Mannie Brown white?
MM White. He was running various publications, Amateur Photography and all that sort of thing. I was then interviewed in the presence of Rusty by Mannie. At this interview Mannie Brown then employed me to become the editor, advertising agent and salesman for Sports Parade which came out once a fortnight. It was necessary to have this paper functioning so that if the bans came we may choose to reappear under the name of Sports Parade. The advantage was that while this uncertainty obtained we had a registered alternative newspaper which was doing innocent reportage of sporting events. The person who was writing the editorials, there was no staff on it, it had just started, was Dennis Brutus, not under his official name. So I took over the newspaper. I now had a cover job which if I was asked anywhere what I was doing, I'm working for Sports Parade.
POM But you still don't have ?
MM No permit, no permit. To hell with the law. But the second thing is that it gave me, because I was the sole staff member of Sports Parade, editor, journalist, reporter, advertising agent to raise revenue and salesman and attending to the printing, the lot, layout and everything was my job. What it did was it gave me a cover to go around all the printing establishments in Johannesburg because here I am, I want to publish and I want to print Sports Parade. Will you do it? What price? And get to know the terrain. That was very useful because it enabled me to buy a linotype machine. Now these are huge, ginormous machines, but I bought it in a scrap yard in Pretoria and that I housed at a place in Ophirton. It was standing in
POM At a house in?
MM Not a house, premises in Ophirton. By renting this accommodation in a shopping area in Ophirton, a very old, run down building on the corner of the street, I now had quietly to repair and remove the rust and get that linotype working. When I got that working, to cover up the rent for the place I had now got to know all the small print shops and the big print shops and everything and I went around touting for work to do linotype setting, again to give me that access into that arena. So I settled down in Johannesburg on that basis. Indres Naidoo and family, "What you doing?" "Well I'm editing Sports Parade."
POM Had Indres any idea? No, you just said he didn't.
MM No he didn't.
POM The other machines, these four machines that had been taken in the 1950s?
MM Those I housed in another place, got them repaired, got them functioning and the first major job that that technical unit did, this is 1962 we did leaflets, started doing clandestine leafleting, printing and all that, but Madiba was sentenced I think on 2 November 1962 and he delivered a speech from the dock in which he said, "I am a black man in a white man's court." We printed that as a pamphlet, a huge run. I didn't have the capacity to collate it because to collate this, I think it was a 16-pager so it was like four or eight sheets and it had to be stapled.
POM You didn't decide to reduce it into - ?
MM No, no, no. But we did that job and just to show how on one side naïve and the other side how cloak and dagger it was, I said to Kathy, "I can't collate this. To print this run is going to take me - ", it took me about five days and nights running those machines. I say with that staff of four people running these three machines, which are old and rickety and I've repaired them but they will break down, to make the time frame where do I collate this and staple it? I haven't got the manpower.
POM Is Kathy not part of that?
MM No, no, he's in charge but he's not part of my unit.
POM He's not part of?
MM The technical unit.
POM Of the group who were on trial?
MM No, no, Madiba was tried alone. The treason trial was over now. Madiba was tried for leaving the country illegally.
POM OK, so there were three trials. Got it, sorry, I should know that.
MM So through Kathy arrangements were made that the Naidoo house and the house next door to them, these were semi-detached cottages, in there they had to keep their doors closed in the evening and I think it was like seven or half past seven in the evening and nobody was to go to the front veranda and they were to allow a period of time where unknown people will deliver suitcases full of this pamphlet. Then it was their job to take it in and collate it and staple it and leave no fingerprints. Now I was a boarder at the Naidoo house. I was the one who delivered those suitcases of stuff and disappeared. They collected it and took it into the house and took it to a neighbour's house and started collating.
POM This is the Naidoo family?
MM The Naidoo family and their friends, and about an hour later I rocked up at home.
POM They had no idea that you had delivered it?
MM They had no idea that I had delivered it but they were doing this collating in the neighbour's house and when I got home, these houses are semi-detached so you can hear through the wall, and they obviously realised I was home so Indres or Indres's sister comes over and says, "What are you doing?" "Well I'm home relaxing." "Why don't you come and help, we've got a big job." "Help what?" "Oh a clandestine pamphlet of Madiba, we've printed it and we are busy collating it." So I said, "No, cut me out, cut me out, I don't want to be involved in these things. I am not a political animal." "Oh come on! What's wrong with you? We're making sure there are no fingerprints or anything." So he prevails on me and reluctantly I go into the next house and I see them over a table collating now they haven't organised the collating systematically and they give me cotton gloves to work with and, like them, in a higgledy-piggledy way we are collating and then I say, "Look chaps, why are we doing it like this? This is such a slow, chaotic process. Let's do it this way. Here's a stack, next stack, next stack. Now can you line up in a queue. Each person goes picking up one sheet and ends up at the other end, the sheet is nicely stacked and can somebody stand there with a stapling machine all set and just punch away, and somebody stand next there, your job is to fold it, and somebody next there in stacks of 100s, wrap it, put it in a box, back in the suitcase." We organised that and got it going. Little did they know that I had been the printer.
POM Were they impressed by you suddenly exerting authority and organisation?
MM Very impressed. Yes, fantastic, you're a great help. So we got that done and that was the Madiba pamphlet and what was interesting for me, it was the first clandestinely published material, leaflet or anything, but this was a pamphlet now, properly stapled and the front page had a photograph of Madiba, the famous one with his T-shirt and his beard announcing and I remember I borrowed the title, I called it, 'I Accuse', borrowed from the Dreyfus trial, the Frenchman who had been tried. So it had the title 'I Accuse', photograph of Madiba, and of course everybody was very, very thrilled in the country, thousands of
POM How was this distributed?
MM Distributed now we put it back into the suitcases and left it on the veranda late at night and the suitcases disappeared overnight and they were taken to another place and according to the number of suitcases they were distributed. Different underground structures, different people had to collect one suitcase each.
POM These were all SACP?
MM No, no, no, it carried no imprint. It was an ANC pamphlet. Carried no imprint of who published, which organisation, it was just the text of Madiba's speech.
POM Rusty Bernstein had recruited you to do printing for the ANC?
MM For everybody, for the ANC, for the party, the Indian congresses were not banned so they would print openly in Ferreirastown at another printing establishment but I had the keys to that establishment too. I would tell the owner, "This weekend when you knock off at one o'clock, clean your workshop, your printing establishment, two o'clock deliver the keys to me. Don't come back till Monday morning eight o'clock." And it was right near the Security Branch headquarters and I would use his printing machines.
POM This is separate from belonging to the unit that Kathy headed?
MM Kathy headed the political unit, the Communist Party.
POM Were you attending meetings of that on the side?
MM Yes. People in that one didn't belong to the technical unit and didn't belong to the MK. I would be with different people in different structures.
POM But they wouldn't know that you belonged to other structures?
MM No, they wouldn't know.
POM So the structures you belonged to at that point, was the political unit under - ?
MM The Communist Party and then I was drawn into MK a little later.
POM OK, we will get to that. The political, Communist Party and printing.
POM Printing was above board.
MM No. Clandestine.
POM Clandestine as well as above board.
MM And above board I'm working for Sports Parade.
POM But those in the political unit of the SACP did they know that you were working and producing clandestine material?
POM They saw you as just working for Sports Parade.
MM Sports Parade.
POM So who else was in that unit at that time?
MM In my party unit Kathy had it, I was with a chap called Abdullahai Jassat who escaped from Marshall Square in 1963 with Harold Wolpe. Abdullahai and a chap called Mosey Moolla, no, no, not Mosey Moolla, Mosey's brother. Ibrahim Moolla, he's now living in Canada, his wife used to be a nurse, and a chap called Esakjee.
POM Is he still alive?
MM He's alive but he dropped away in 1963 when the 90-day law came into operation. He asked us to allow him to drop out of activity because he feared that he would not able to cope with 90-day detention, so we dropped him. Doha would know where to find him.
POM Was Doha in the group?
MM No, Doha came into the MK unit. Oh no, Doha was in my technical printing unit.
POM So he was one of the first of the three or four who you had to train to repair the machines?
MM Yes. Doha was banned at that stage. So Doha was in the printing of that Madiba leaflet, pamphlet, he was my team. My MK involvement came
POM We're at Mandela has you've released the Mandela pamphlet.
MM Yes and it's been distributed by the underground structures.
POM And it's a big hit.
MM A bit hit.
POM Now the authorities obviously get hold of this.
MM They want to know, obviously they are enquiring who's printed it, who's distributed it. They're not getting anywhere but it's caused a great excitement in the movement because it means we have a clandestine capacity to print pamphlets or just leaflets and it's properly printed, it's linotype set.
POM A professional job.
MM A professional job. Everybody's impressed. The Communist Party is very impressed and they have now given me a budget allocation to set up further facilities, to acquire things like that linotype machine, to rent places where I'm setting up these facilities and they then put me into the underground propaganda unit, that is the unit that would plan the clandestine propaganda, have the text approved, draft and prepare it and then it's given to me to attend to the publication and then the distribution is taken over by the underground structures.
POM So who's in that unit?
MM In that unit Ruth First, the late Duma Nokwe, he was in the party and he was the Assistant Secretary of the ANC, Secretary General of the ANC, he was an advocate, and the late Dan Tloome whom I subsequently met in exile, he was a member of the Central Committee. He fled to Botswana just before my detention. So that was the four because by that time it was Ruth First, Duma Nokwe, Dan Tloome, myself and the man who didn't attend the meetings because he was under 12-hour house arrest was Rusty Bernstein, he was heading it. The heading of that unit was taken over by RuthFirst. So that was the unit and that's how I got to Rivonia.
I was taken to Rivonia because now I had to attend to the machines that were there in use at Rivonia and it was over the repair of one those machines, a duplicating machine, that they found my fingerprints at Rivonia.
POM So you're now in two underground structures, you're in a political one, you're in the technical one. Now one doesn't know that you belong to the other. Now the purpose of the political underground structure is?
MM Normal political activity, you study, you talk about what is happening in the country, you put ideas what should be done. That's the sort of activity that you were engaged in and you were a unit that if, for example, they wanted to distribute leaflets they would involve the political units in that work. Now I would be excluded from that. Kathy would be making the excuses to avoid me doing the normal distribution at night in case I got caught in that work because the danger of getting caught as you are distributing leaflets was quite high.
Two people had trained in China while I was training in the GDR and had trained in the military side exclusively, were Wilton Mkwayi, ex treason trialist and he had returned clandestinely to the country, and a chap called Nandha Naidoo, at that time known as Steve Naidoo. Now he had been a student with me at Natal University, he had joined me in London and we lived together and he had been studying at the London School of Economics as a full time student, studying law, and studying for the Bar exam at Lincolns Inn in London. He had been approached to go for military training to China and he had trained in radio communications. He had returned home quietly and gone back to his father's farm outside Stanger.
POM So he was a trained lawyer? So he had finished his Bar in London before he went to China?
MM No. He had asked wisely for permission that when he finished his training in China and returned to London he would be given some time to complete his Bar exams before returning to SA. Now the question became that he had, as a cover now, he had to get his Articles to formally be able to practise law.
POM Would that have given him access to the Johannesburg courts automatically?
MM Depending where he would be settled but in his home town where he came from, his father was a farmer outside Stanger.
POM His father was a farmer. OK.
MM Ruth came to me and informed me that Mkwayi was in town and wanted to see me. I met him. I knew he was fully involved in MK and he would from time to time drop in at my cottage at night.
POM This is at the Naidoos?
MM No, I had moved away.
POM Where were you living now?
MM I was now living in a servant's quarters in Doornfontein in a street called Pearce Street, that's where I was arrested.
POM Tim hadn't yet come back?
MM She had come. She had gone off to Durban to do her nursing admission.
POM How long did it take for her to follow you?
MM She came back in 1963 Easter, about a year later.
POM And went right to?
MM Stayed with me in Jo'burg for a while. At that time I had a room in Mayfair so we stayed together for a few weeks. Then I found this place in Pearce Street, the servant's quarters, she moved in there and then when she said she couldn't sit at home and do nothing and she was illegally in the Transvaal, she decided that she would register as a nurse in Natal and then we found that the interruption in her nursing studies was so long a period that the Nursing Council wouldn't register her unless she did a refresher course at St Aidan's Hospital.
POM Even though she had worked in an English hospital until she left?
POM They wouldn't accept?
MM No they wouldn't, because after she came here she stayed a few months with me and she couldn't explain where she had been because she couldn't say she was in the Transvaal, but the question was, "But you have not practised and to get your registration here you need to do a six months retraining course in nursing", and we then selected St Aidan's Hospital. It was six months or a year, can't remember. So she went off to Natal.
Now Mkwayi contacted me and then Ruth First came to me and asked me to go to Natal to make contact with Steve Naidoo and find out what his circumstances were and to look at how we could integrate him into MK and to arrange for him to come to Johannesburg.
POM You meet with Wilton Mkwayi and at that point does he ask you to join the MK?
MM No, he raises the matter and the answer is, look he is fully occupied with certain tasks, we cannot make him available at the moment for MK.
POM Who said this?
MM Somewhere in the underground the leadership is telling him but he says, no, this is my comrade, I know him well and I'm living underground.
POM Where did you know him from?
MM From London. I had been part of the group of people who had arranged for him and Moses Mabida (who became the General Secretary of the Communist Party in the eighties and who was Secretary of the Revolutionary Council) to come to London. So Moses and Wilton had got together, they were in Swaziland when the state of emergency arrests took place in 1960 and Wilton was in the treason trial so he was the one treason trialist who evaded arrest and fled first to Basutoland, from Basutoland to Swaziland and then we had to arrange for them to come over to London and from London we arranged for them to go to Prague to work in the World Federation of Trade Unions. So I had continuing contact with them.
POM He was a member of the SACP?
MM SACP and the trade unions, and Mkwayi is still living in Middledrift.
POM That's in PE is it?
MM Yes, outside PE.
POM I'll visit him.
MM So I was asked to go down to Natal to make contact with Steve Naidoo, bring him up to Jo'burg. I did that and it was then decided that Steve
POM So Ruth First asked you to approach him on a matter involving the MK even though you weren't a member of MK?
MM Yes. So I went and brought Steve over and Steve met with the necessary structures and then Ruth came to me and said, "Look, one of the problems with Steve is that we have to get him a cover which will explain his existence in the country", and the best thing to do was to get him articled by a lawyer so that he looks clean. She asked me to go down to Durban and speak to J N Singh, the lawyer, with a message from her, ostensibly from her only but it's clear it's from the underground but I must go and see J N and ask him to employ Steve and once I got agreement to make arrangements for Steve to come and see J N Singh in Durban and formalise the arrangements. So I did that and Steve officially began to work for J N Singh in his legal office in Durban.
POM You had just talked about you had gone and gotten Steve Naidoo set up. What role was Ruth First playing at this point?
MM Well Ruth First was clearly in the Central Committee of the party and at that level of the Central Committee she was privy to who was in charge, who were the top people in MK and who were the top people in the ANC. So the co-ordination and avoidance overlap was only taking place at that level. She is the one who took the steps to formally integrate me into tasks in MK because while I was rendering this assistance to MK without belonging to an MK unit
POM What assistance were you rendering?
MM Well Mkwayi would come to me, it started off one day he came to me Steve Naidoo was in town and he was staying at my cottage and one evening Mkwayi turns up, obviously he knows that Steve is visiting Johannesburg because Mkwayi was in MK High Command but he rocks up at my home, come to greet Steve, and he produced in a brown paper bag a pistol and he says to me, "Mac, I'm in trouble." He says, "I've got a brand new pistol", I don't know if it was Spanish Astral, I'd never seen one before of that make. He says, "I was running a course teaching the group about the structure of the pistol and how to assemble and disassemble and clean and maintain a pistol. The class went very well and I dismantled this pistol very nicely in front of the class but when I came to assemble it I couldn't assemble it. I'm really embarrassed, can you help out?" So Steve was there, put these pieces on the table and Steve who had done training with Mkwayi was the first one to tackle it and he was failing. He wanted to force it, the pieces, and I said, "No, oh no, hold on. Let's put our heads to together. If you disassembled this thing easily then we should be able to reassemble it easily without forcing anything. Let's sit down and work out the function of each of these loose parts." So Wilton is sitting there and we tried to work out, it takes us quite a time, a couple of hours but finally in working out the function of each part we find that there is a missing part to make it a functional weapon. As we debate this thing Mkwayi says, "I brought all the parts chaps, there is no missing part." And suddenly we tumble onto the fact that in the disassembling he hadn't disassembled a particular part.
POM He hadn't disassembled a particular part?
MM So there was one part where two pieces were still attached to each other and so we looked at it and we disassembled that part and it came apart and now when we start reassembling it everything fitted nicely because the order was being disrupted. Now Mkwayi says, "Mac you're a genius. Now I have other problems. I get weapons coming to me, into my possession, and I don't know whether they are functional. Can I bring them to you to check out? Every time I'm able to buy a weapon clandestinely can I bring it to you to check it out and just tell me whether it's a functioning and whether it's worth buying?" So a thing like that, I'm not integrated in any unit.
He comes to me and he says, "Pipe bomb ingredients. We can't get them because the regime has found out what ingredients we are using and the result is when you go to the shops you can't buy them." So I say, "What are you missing?" He says, "Charcoal we can make. My problem is sulphuric acid for the detonator, my problem is saltpetre." I say, "What's your problem with saltpetre?" He says, "You can't go into any of the shops and buy saltpetre now, there's been a police alert to all suppliers of saltpetre to note who is coming to buy it so you can't buy it in quantity." So I say there must be a way. On one occasion when he visits me I said, "I've thought about this problem and I have read up a bit and saltpetre is used as a fertiliser for roses." So he says, "You show us." "Yes, here it is, encyclopaedia on gardening." So I read up on roses and he says, "You think you can buy it?" I said, "I think so, if I walk into a florist and enquire as a gardener." So I say I think I can find a way. By this time I had a clandestine car for my printing work but everybody saw me using this car and I say all I need to do is to get myself a gardener's overall and I think I can walk into gardening shops and buy saltpetre provided nobody can see which car I am using. I go around enquiring at shops as discreetly as possible and I find saltpetre and I'm able to buy stocks of saltpetre.
POM Can you remember where you bought them from?
MM No I can't remember at the moment, can't place them, but it will be shops selling gardening fertilisers and all that sort of thing.
POM Would these be Indian owned shops?
MM White owned.
POM White owned, OK.
MM There was no Indian shop like that. But I would go there as a very expert gardener on roses, engage in discussion with the shop owners, display my knowledge, so-called knowledge about rose gardening and in the conversation talk about what sort of things, what's the best thing, and the shop owner would start telling me what's good for roses, his advice what's good for cultivating roses and in the conversation we'd tumble to various fertiliser and I would reject some and I would say that one I know, it doesn't really work so well, it really depends on the soil. Then he would say, "And also saltpetre."
POM So he would bring the subject up? You would lead him to bring the subject up?
MM He'd bring the subject up and sometimes in another shop I would bring it up and the chap would be very impressed, he would say, "You know a lot about roses." I said, "I'm a rose gardener, I specialise in it." Sulphuric acid, I found a contact through Amien Cajee, Doha, for sulphuric acid. I don't remember where it was stolen from but he'd made contact. So I would do those things for Wilton Mkwayi.
In the meantime Steve Naidoo is a radio technician trained in China and I remember that he came and told me on one of his visits to Johannesburg that he has outlined to them how he could make a home made oscillator.
POM To 'them' it means?
MM It's the gadget on which you transmit in Morse Code, but he could make one both as the oscillator itself and a homemade one which would be very useful in training people on how to transmit in Morse Code. So one evening he tells me that he can do this job and when he went back to Durban he constructed an oscillator which he sent to me so that I could get it to MK because they had no other way of reaching him, so I would fulfil that role.
POM Would you give that to Wilton?
MM No, I would by that time give it to a chap called Lionel Gay. He became a state witness in our case.
POM He did? Because he was in Doha said he was in a bomb manufacturing unit but we'll get to that. He brought his name up but he didn't say he had become a state witness. His memory is a bit jumpy.
MM Yes, he's about 84.
POM 84, all he can look at is he says he's going to live to be 125. I love that bit. I told you when he looked at his wife? He said, "Look at her! She's 13 years younger than me, she's a Granny!"
MM So you've met him?
POM Oh yes, I did one interview with him.
MM He's quite hilarious isn't he?
POM Oh yes, God! I couldn't get out of the house. He desperately needs to talk.
MM When I recruited him to the technical unit of printing he wept, he was so honoured.
But Ruth First, to come back to her, at the moment the underground is saying Mac, just concentrate on the printing side. It's a big job, Propaganda Committee, printing and overtly running Sports Parade is a handful. Don't get involved in anything else.
POM But you were already involved in the political, which they don't know.
MM Yes, in the political which they know, the Central Committee. Ruth knows.
POM OK Ruth knows.
MM I am at Rivonia assisting in the printing equipment. Then comes the Rivonia arrest in 1963 and after the Rivonia arrest Ruth comes to me, after her detention she meets me, she says she's got to leave the country. So I said I support that, get out. Then she raises my circumstances and she says, "We have a problem now. We have a problem in regrouping MK and there is a desperate need for people who have got skills like you." So I said I am quite prepared to add on that task. She says, well, Wilton has been asking for me and there are those who are saying no.
MM So she said Mkwayi was asking for me and she herself felt that there was a dire need that I should make my knowledge available to MK. So I said OK. By the way in the meantime after the Rivonia arrests I had been taken into the Central Committee of the party.
POM Of the SACP?
MM Of the SACP.
POM Slovo had left the country at this point?
MM Slovo had left the country before the Rivonia arrests but Bram Fischer was around. The Rivonia trial was still going on and I was approached then to go to a certain venue in disguise. They said I must come to that place, they gave me the address at that precise time but I should come in a disguise. So that day I disguised myself as a person delivering laundry. I stacked up into my station wagon things on coat hangers that looked like laundry and I dressed up in a dust jacket, put on a pair of specs, I used to not wear specs in those days, and I went into this building, it was in a white area somewhere in Berea or Hillbrow. It was a flat, fourth, fifth, sixth floor, and I had been told use the tradesman's entrance and tradesman's lift. So here I took this stack of ostensibly dry cleaning, had a brown delivery man's jacket, a cap and spectacles and I went to this flat at the precise time and knocked on it and somebody opened the door and I walked in and they all wanted to run away because they thought the police had arrived because they didn't recognise me. There sitting in the room was Bram Fischer, Hilda Bernstein, I think Ivan Schermbrucker and Bartholomew Hlapane, the chap who got killed. I was then informed by Hilda that this is the regrouping of the Central Committee and that I am required to serve on it. After that came this Ruth First meeting where she was leaving the country.
POM Now at this point when you got there what did the committee tell you? This was the regrouping of the SACP Central Committee?
MM Central Committee.
MM Then the Ruth First episode takes place and Mkwayi visits me one night and he says, "Look, MK, we need you to serve in the High Command in the capacity of the Commissar." Now traditionally the Commissar also becomes the Deputy Head, Deputy Commander. So I said to Mkwayi, "I have a problem about that proposal. My problem is that the function of a commissar involved interacting with the units and I could not see myself fulfilling that function unless I had experience, direct experience being a member of an ordinary squad carrying out ordinary sabotage activity." I said, "Unless one has gone through that experience you cannot be expected to motivate and ensure that the units were functioning properly, otherwise you'd be talking with no experience behind you." So we argued this matter and we agreed that I would follow that course and he asked me how long, he said, "We need you immediately to serve as the Commissar." I said, "Well let's agree, give me six months in a unit, let me function in that way." He had problems about that, he felt that six months was too long, he felt that serving in an ordinary unit carrying out sabotage was too risky and I said out of the risk we've got to balance the fact that this task, this post, requires that sort of experience. So we agreed that we will follow that path but not set such strict time limits. So I said, "Fine, let's go ahead on that basis." That is how I got introduced, not to the High Command in a formal meeting, I got introduced to the individual members of the High Command, I began to work with them.
POM And they were at that time?
MM At that time there was Wilton Mkwayi, there was Dave Kitson and I met Dave Kitson, there was Lionel Gay and I met him, and there was Laloo Chiba and I met him. Parallel with that, because I was now serving in the Central Committee, I now had direct access to the Secretariat of the underground ANC but again I had direct access with individuals in the Secretariat. The individuals there were Mkwayi and Michael Dingake who's now in Botswana.
So, by the time my arrest comes I am serving in the Central Committee, I'm in the District Committee of the party and I am in touch with the ANC Secretariat through Mkwayi and Dingake and I am now serving in MK but I am serving in MK on almost ad hoc, we're living in an emergency situation. Anything that Mkwayi is stuck with or Kitson is stuck or Gay is stuck or Laloo Chiba is stuck, and they come and raise matters with me and I would advise or I would do the job. Like, who came to me? They came with a problem about the radio transmitter, Lionel Gay. Lionel Gay was constructing the radio transmitter had been captured, I think, at Rivonia, we were now constructing another radio transmitter.
POM When they went to Rivonia did they pick up all the printing equipment?
MM Yes, not all, no only those that were stored at Rivonia.
POM Sorry, that's what I mean. That's the one where your fingerprint was on the machine from you having fixed it.
MM But Lionel Gay comes to me and says he's constructed this radio transmitter. The big problem is the squad to do the transmission. And I say, who are they, how many people are there, how many have you got, what are you missing? And he says, "Well I'm missing a person to fulfil some role", I don't remember what role in the transmitting job. So I said, "OK, I will be able to find that person for you."
Then Mkwayi comes to me and he says, "We have need for a large stock of pipe bombs, we need to manufacture them and assemble them and have them ready for use. I've got a problem, I don't have the facilities." So I say, "Well it means we've got to manufacture the gunpowder, got to buy the pipes and the gadgets, the bolts and everything. We've got to buy the threading machine to make the threads. OK, what do you want done?" So he says, "Do you think you can buy the threading machine?" I said I can buy the threading machine. So I go and buy a threading machine.
POM Why would buying a threading machine be so difficult?
MM You don't want the seller to know who you are, you don't want to raise suspicion. How do you walk in just a stranger, a black man, buying a threading machine for R500 or R1000?
POM What is a threading machine used for?
MM You have to clamp a pipe, a lead pipe, on a vice and then the threading machine is to make the threads so that the cap can screw onto it so that you stop the two ends of the pipe bomb and it's got to be done in the right dimension to fit with this thing. Having bought the thing he says, "Crisis! Manufacture the gunpowder for putting into the pipe bomb." So I say, "How many pipe bombs?" We're talking about making about sixty or a hundred pipe bombs. I said, "OK, all right, leave it to me." I go to Doha. I say, "Doha, I want you at my home, in my kitchen", in the servant's quarters which was near the police station. I say, "We will manufacture the gunpowder."
POM Oh you're going to manufacture the gunpowder?
MM So we manufacture the gunpowder.
POM He talks about this incident of where you had it on the stove and he was saying, "Mac you're going to blow, it's going to blow!" And it blew.
MM It blew because we were in a hurry. The whole floor was littered and gunpowder has got to dry slowly. Now I can't afford to leave this thing standing for days and so I say, "No, no, let's speed it up, let's heat it a little more, just a little more, a little more to take the moisture out", and then it blew up.
POM So he said he got showered, he had to go get treatment. You had to call a doctor.
MM I had to call a doctor.
POM Now how do you at that point in Johannesburg, the treason trial is over, is it? Mandela has been arrested.
MM Rivonia arrests have taken place.
POM Rivonia arrests have taken place, the trial is scheduled, it's going on and here you are there's a blow-up in your neighbourhood and you're close to a police station, you have to call a doctor.
MM No, I knew the MK doctor and the MK doctor was in the District Committee of the Communist Party with me. He was Abdullahai Jassat's brother, Dr Essop Jassat (he's now an MP, he lives in Johannesburg and he serves in parliament). I had a code name and a coded arrangement with him, I had an emergency number that if I called him and I spoke in a certain coded way he would know that I need his services as a doctor.
POM Did you have a phone in your flat?
POM You had to go out?
MM To a public call box and I go and call him, I call Essop, I don't mention my name, he doesn't mention his name and I say to him, "Doc, I need your services urgently." He says, "How urgent?" I say, "Very urgent, there's been an accident." I don't tell him anything more. He knows I'm saying come to my home and he rushes up to my home and, as he puts it, the fact that I said there's an emergency he guessed it must be a blast injury. So he arrives there with all the equipment for any anticipated injury in a blast and one of them is a full burn kit. He arrives there and finds next to the kitchen I've got Doha lying down there, I've plastered him with anti-burn solvent called Acriflavin which I used to use for my printing. I used to carry this always with me because in my printing, working with lead, you could get burnt and I had once got burnt. So I always had a stock and I had just simply, after I had put him aside, plastered his face, hands or wherever I could see burns and injury, just plastered him with Acriflavin and then concentrated on cleaning up the kitchen in case the police arrived. And there Essop arrives. Doha is a banned guy and he has one look at him and he realises this is a gunpowder explosion. "What happened?" he said. I said, "Gunpowder exploded onto his face and the lot." He says, "You've done very well, you've put on Acriflavin," and he simply says, "Now there's an emergency here, what do we do? He's a banned guy." So he lanced all the blisters on the guy's face, treated it, bandaged him and he says, "Now what do we do?" I said, "No, don't worry, you've done your job doctor, I will get him to his house, to his flat here in Market Street, at Kholbad House", the old flat of Kathy's. So I say I will get him to his house.
POM Because he said you looked after Kathy's flat for 27 years.
MM Yes, that's the flat and it's still registered in Kathy's name. You open the telephone directory I think it's still there.
POM Here's there's a Kathrada, A H Kathrada.
MM Could be but it's no longer listed that way. What I see listed here is Market Street, that could be it, Arizona, etc., that's it.
POM I'll just try it as a matter of interest.
MM Doha would know. Until very recently he kept it still listed as A M Kathrada. I took him and we prepared a legend that he would say that he was assaulted, because he was all bandaged up, hands and all, face, and he would lie in bed. Then one day I visited him during the day because there was a delivery of sulphuric acid due to be made to him.
POM Even though he was banned?
MM Even though he's banned. Now he's got to go through this delivery and I get message to say you've got to come and visit me, I'm stuck with all this stuff.
POM But why would you have a delivery of sulphuric acid made to somebody who was banned?
MM He's made arrangements to buy it clandestinely, stolen goods and all that.
POM So he was taking care of that.
MM So the person who has stolen this quantity of sulphuric acid in a 40 oz bottle, 1½ litre bottle, and he's delivered it to his house and because the police are visiting him what he's done in his bed he's put this whole bottle of sulphuric acid next to him under the blankets. I got a message, urgent. So I have to take a chance and because it's a block of flats I walk in during the day, his wife Ayesha opens the door and she realises this is trouble but he has told her that, "Look, Mac comes, you let him in but just make sure it's safe that there's no police here." She lets me in and I go into his bedroom and there he is lying in this bed all bandaged up and Ayesha leaves the room and he says, "I've got 40 oz of sulphuric acid here." So I said, "Shit, I get caught with this thing!" He said, "But you've got to get rid of it because the cops come and visit me." So I said, "Where is it?" He says, "I'm sleeping with it in my bed. What else can I do?"
POM What happened to poor Ayesha? Was she kicked out of the bed to make room for sulphuric acid?
MM So I had to collect the sulphuric acid. In fact it was standing on my bedroom desk, the desk in my bedroom in the servant's quarters the day they arrested me. I was looking at the sulphuric acid, it was in a discoloured bottle, one of these brownish bottles, big bottle, and I had been eyeing this thing as they were searching me. What do I do about this thing here? And I had been saying the moment they go for it I'm going to fall over and make sure I hit the bottle so that it breaks on the ground. But as it happened the policeman searching actually lifted this bottle and put it in another part on the table but never investigated what was in the bottle. That was Doha. Essop Jassat is still around, I don't know if he will admit.
POM When he tells it, Doha kept saying, "Mac, you're going too fast, Mac you're going to fast!" Suddenly he's on the floor.
MM Essop Jassat used to run a surgery in Mayfair.
POM Was he a doctor?
MM Doctor. One day I had to deliver a document for his unit now in the party.
POM Now where does he fit?
MM He was one of the people in the party unit, ordinary political unit, clandestine, but he was also one of the doctors available on call to Rivonia and for MK. So to a limited number of people you were told, you have an accident there's your doctor, you go and make the arrangements with him.
POM Now when he was banned was he banned from his practice too?
MM No, he was banned from attending gatherings, taking part in political activity, etc., addressing meetings, etc.
POM He wasn't house confined?
MM He wasn't house arrested. But I remember visiting his surgery one day to deliver a document and I walk into the surgery like a patient and I get into his room and he says to me, "You can't leave this document here." I said, "Why not?" He says, "The police are watching this place." I said, "What!" He said, "They're watching this place." I said. "You mean I walk out with this document and suppose they search me? I'm caught. No my friend, I'll leave this document here." He says, "No you can't leave it here." So I say, "OK, OK, let's work out something."
POM Was he banned at the time?
MM Yes he was banned, and I realised I've got to dump this document. So I look at his examining table for his patients and it's got these nickel legs with rubber at the bottom, so I lift the thing and I take off the rubber and I find it's hollow. I say, "Well, get me some rubber bands." And I take this document, I roll it into a cylinder smaller than that and I wrap it with rubber bands so that it's a tight cylinder and I push it into that leg, put the cap back and say, "Now, Doc, when it's all clear you retrieve the document, I've delivered my document."
POM What kind of document would you be delivering to him?
MM Communist Party documents, discussion documents. Then I'm sitting at home one day in my servant's quarters, I'm doing carpentry as a hobby because for days you'd be sitting doing nothing and then you'd have five days and five nights of activity without sleep.
POM When you say 'activities' you're referring to?
MM Clandestine activities, one form or another, whether it's printing or it's making pipe bombs or whatever.
POM You're not still at the Sports Parade?
MM Sports Parade. By now Sports Parade has fallen through because the banning order banning New Age was one of the most sweeping banning orders. It banned virtually every journalist from for ever having anything to do with writing for publication or being involved in publication. It banned also the newspaper title and it left us completely denuded because now how do you write the reports? All the journalists working for New Age right around the country are all prohibited from serving.
One of things that I was doing to occupy myself when I had free time is that I needed to do, because I'm confined to the servant's quarters, I needed to do something with my hands so I got hold of carpentry equipment and I would do carpentry. When I thought about Essop Jassat's problem I suddenly hit on an idea of making him a picture frame with a concealed compartment on the back that he could open and close and put documents into it.
POM What was his problem?
MM Where does he store this document in his surgery when it's delivered?
POM Sorry, you said?
MM Essop Jassat. Not Doha. The doctor.
POM Oh yes. Doha. Not Doha. The doctor who came to treat Doha, OK.
MM You can call him the underground doctor. So I say, how do I deliver documents to him in such a way that I've left it there but the police raid him and they don't find it? So I say, OK, I'll make him a picture frame, I'll mount a picture into it and I will make a concealed compartment in it so that when the delivery is made all that he has to do is unclip this picture frame, slip the document behind the picture and let it be hanging on his wall. So I gave him that as a present, as a wedding present because he got married.
POM At the wedding. I'm sure the bride was thrilled!
MM She must have been so fed up, what sort of present is this? It used to hang in his surgery, in his consulting room.
POM The carpentry then was unwittingly your introduction to, not in a roundabout way but in a very direct way, that allowed you to construct the taking out Mandela's autobiography.
MM And storing the radio in Robben Island.
POM Storing the radio. Now I want to get to that in case I forget. I'm jumping. The story of the radio, OK, just quick till I get back or I get the transcript. I went into a book store and it has Robben Island, Mayibuye Centre publication and it had big pictures of a number of people including yourself and your number on top and it had one page on you.
MM I haven't seen that.
POM In it it said that you had made a master key to all the cells, the single block cells. Is that correct?
MM And the main gate.
POM And the main gate. OK. That's one thing. Then it said that you had gone to Cape Town with Madiba and one other person to the dentist.
MM Wilton Mkwayi.
POM With Wilton for your teeth and you were planning to escape when you were there but you looked out and saw it was very quiet and said, "Hey, this is a set up, they want to kill us." Right? Now I suppose, since I didn't know that till I looked at the book and I said, "Gee, why didn't Mac bring up either of these things to put in the foreword?"
MM Don't think of all those things.
POM Well I might have had that. Is it with - ?
MM Oh, I'd better phone Jakes, I left a message this morning to let me know how far he's gone with that.
POM Say who you are, I need it pretty quickly.
MM I have called his office.
POM But we might add just three things, just a line on that because it's true and, I mean, God!
MM No, it's true.
POM That will grab a reader right there. Well just as a diversion, how did you come to make the key?
MM The key was made by, the keys for Robben Island were made the master key, and that was the first key, it was made over Easter weekend 1971 or 1972 because they had built the dining room extension and they used to now leave us open on the weekends, open from our cells but locked into the corridor and the dining room.
POM So you could mix with each other?
MM We could mix with others and play games.
POM This is in the single cells?
MM Single cells. And then the corridor for the cells would be virtually empty because most of the prisoners would be in the dining room playing games, Kerem board, draughts, cards.
POM Would Madiba take part?
MM Madiba would take part.
POM Would that be political discussions or would he play games?
MM It was voluntary, he used to play draughts, he used to play chess, but while the bulk of the prisoners were in the dining room, most of them were out of their cells, but they could stroll over to their cells any time and we talked about making the key, that is Kathy and myself. Jafta Masemola, the PAC man who is dead now, had been brought to our section because he and two others had been caught with a key so I knew that Jafta
POM They were on the Island? On the PAC side?
MM In the communal cells.
POM His name again was?
MM Jafta Masemola. So I said to Kathy that even though Jafta was in the PAC I thought I could persuade him to help me to bring his technical knowledge on how to make a key and we agreed on the project and I had collected a piece of metal, rusted, and I had got hold of a little piece of a hacksaw blade and I had managed to get a small triangular file, all of which I kept hidden away. I then approached Jafta and he agreed to help me to make the key. He then told me that the technique to use, because we couldn't make a mould, was to smooth out the piece of iron on both sides until it's shiny and smooth and that we would use the lard from our breakfast bread and smear it on both sides and put it into the keyhole and turn it and pull it out gently to see where the obstruction was on the lard and that we would file it bit by bit. So what we did that Easter weekend is that I lined up Kathy and Laloo Chiba to help and I think Michael Dingake. Laloo Chiba, Jafta and I would be in the cell doing the filing and making the key while Kathy and Michael were patrolling the corridor to warn us not only of a warder but to warn us of any prisoner coming past because nobody must suspect what we are doing. It was an Easter long weekend because it was Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Easter Monday, we made that key successfully.
POM Now Madiba was aware you were doing this?
MM Oh yes, we informed Madiba and Walter that we were going to do this and they allowed us to do it. So we made the master key. What was left was the making of the outer door key, the wooden door.
POM Now the master key allowed you to?
MM The master key would open the grille and with an extra turn would be the master on the grille. We made a single key that would serve as the key for the grille but also do the master locking.
POM So the grille was?
MM The grille in your cell.
POM OK, so the same key was used for everything?
MM We found that by making the master key we could open the door sealing off the corridor and we could open the door on the ramp. The master key worked for all.
POM On the ramp?
MM On the ramp as you entered the section and that meant that that key worked at the front grille also, the master key. All it needed was a few extra grooves in it so that normally the warder had two keys. He would insert key number one and turn it to lock or unlock, then he would insert another key to turn it further. That was the master key. Now we made one key that served as an ordinary key and it served as the master key.
POM So you had access to the cells.
MM Everything, we could have walked out of prison. The only thing that was left is that you know the door to the cell had inside it the grille which needed that master key and outside it with no keyhole on your side of the cell was the wooden door and it had a very simple key but the keyhole was outside. Now to work on that key you need a key with a hole in it to get in it. It was a little key like that, it had a hole in here and this was the key handle.
POM Don't say 'this' because that's no good on a tape. You'll have to you can't draw it either. Why don't you describe the key? It's just an ordinary key really.
MM Just an ordinary key for a panel door, very simple, just got a few grooves.
POM This would be the same as the key to the cottage. I've got it.
MM So this is what we had to do. But we couldn't work on it in the corridor to keep testing because other prisoners would see you and the warder would see you so I was left with this one to make and what I did was I assessed one of the warders we were now having conversations at times but I assessed him to have a conduct which was volatile so it was easy to provoke him and, secondly, I assessed him to be very lazy in that he would during day shift walk into his office and you'd hear him pull his chair back and put his feet up on the desk and relax on his chair. He loved relaxing like that. So one day when the rest went out to work I got hold of Laloo Chiba and said, "Don't go to work today, stay behind."
POM What kind of excuse did you have to give?
MM Sick, we were going to see the doctor, something like that.
POM So it wasn't very difficult.
MM Not difficult. So you put yourself on the list to see the doctor that day and you stay away from work and during the morning I said to him, "Now here's a piece of soap, I want you to make an imprint of that particular key from the warder's bunch of keys", and I judged him that he would take this huge bunch of keys when he got into his office, pull the chair, slam his keys on the desk, put his feet up and relax. So I said to Laloo, "Now I am going to go and provoke this warder and make him come out of that office leaving the bunch of keys on the desk." He says, "How are you going to do that?" I said, "Don't worry, but the issue is the moment I get him out of the office you have to nip in and make an imprint of this key."
POM Now why would he have access to the corridor?
MM It's the daytime, the team has gone to work, all the cells are open. He's staying on guard duty for the few who have stayed behind.
POM But all the rooms are - ?
MM Open, all are open.
POM Oh, so you could mix with each other?
MM No they've gone to work.
POM No, no, but the few who were left behind, could they mix with each other?
MM Yes, staying in the quadrangle. This is 1972. So I said, "That's all you have to do Laloo, leave the rest to me." My job is to get the warder out of the office but in such a way that he leaves the keys on the desk. So I study the dictionary of how to insult this warder and provoke him in Afrikaans and I walk into his office and his feet are up, "What do you want?" "Oh I've come to have a chat with you, meneer."
POM Now are you staying behind too? You're also on the sick list?
MM Yes. So I walk into his office, Laloo is hiding in one of the cells, got a piece of soap in his pocket, and I start a conversation with this warder. His name was Van Zyl, we used to call him Rooibos.
POM That's like as in Van Zyl Slabbert?
POM You called him Roy?
MM Rooibos, after Rooibos tea because he came from Rondebosch. So I get in there and I start a conversation with him, polite conversation, we're talking about something whether it's sports or whatever, just chatting away. And then I insult him and he insults me and he tells me that he will kill me. So I said to him, "No ways, you come with your R1 rifle, I come with my AK47 in a dark alley and", I say, "who's going to be dead?" He says, "I'll kill you, I'm a fantastic shooter." I say, "You are not going to kill me, you're a dead man. You know in the dark you're a white man, you are an entire target that I can see. I'm a black man, all you can see is my eyeballs. You're going to miss me I'm going to get you." So we start arguing and he starts insulting me, calling me a terrorist and everything and I throw in all these insulting Afrikaans words now and he gets furious and he jumps up to assault me and I run out into the quadrangle while he's chasing me. By the time we get to the end of the quadrangle, that open I get to the corner there and I said, "No, meneer, please, please, please, what are we fighting about?" He says, "I want to fuck you up." "Oh no, please man. I just went out of the rails, don't take it so badly." So he doesn't assault me but in the meantime we're in the quadrangle and Laloo Chiba has nipped in, made an imprint on the soap and we've got the imprint of the key. So now we can start finding the piece of metal to shape it to that key imprint and we've got the key.
POM And you got that key too? So you've now got two keys.
MM Got both keys now. We've got all the keys we need.
MM Somewhere around 1970/71/72 they gave us a bench in each of our cells.
POM In each cell?
MM In each cell. It was a stool really, two flat pieces of wood as the legs and a flat top as the seat and a side panel to give it stability, not right down the legs, just at the top about a four inch side panel on each side screwed on. They left that in our cells and by that time I, Laloo Chiba, a chap called Samson Fadana (he's now dead), we're part of the painting team, we're painting the walls in the cells so we used to not go out to work in the quarry with the others and at lunch time we used to sit around in the courtyard locked up while the warder went away. What I did was, with Laloo, just the two of us, we were in the communications team, we took these side panels, we unscrewed them, and on the inside of the flat panel of the legs we cut a groove and we installed an additional layer below the seat leaving a compartment, a layer of wood. You see, like this panel.
POM Where would you get the wood from?
MM We found pieces of wood like tomato boxes and things and we smoothed it down, looking like the seat. The problem was our workmanship and the tools we had didn't allow us to do a fine piece of workmanship so it was a bit crude but we made that false bottom under the seat on one bench about that deep.
POM About an inch, inch and a half, two inches?
MM Inch and a half. But it was made with a view to storing the clandestine radio which we had managed to get hold of, transistor radio. Because of the crudity of the workmanship, we didn't have a saw, we didn't have a chisel, we used pieces of hacksaw blades and everything, so we fitted it in this false panel and we stuffed it up with putty to make it look solid but the way to open it was to open the side panel screw or the top panel, yes the top panel, the seat, unscrew those four screws and the seat would come up and there's the cavity. The problem that arose was that at a reasonable look you could see that this has been tampered with but because we had access to paint I painted all the seats in every cell so that it hid the workmanship. This bench used to rotate between Laloo Chiba and myself to listen to the news from the radio at night when you're locked up, access the radio, listen to the radio, transcribe the news, switch off the radio and we had got an earphone for the radio so we could listen to the radio on the earphone, transcribe the news, switch off the radio, seal it and leave it in there and pack the thing with toilet paper so that it doesn't shuffle about.
During the raid of 1971/72 this bench was operational. Madiba knew, Walter knew, Kathy knew. I was clandestinely writing a novel. I think I was on chapter six or seven of the novel but that was abuse of study privilege so I used to hide it in there too.
POM Would it have been in miniaturised writing?
MM No, I was writing small but stored the thing in there and the night of that assault and raid in March/April/May 1971 or 1972 where Toivo was assaulted and everything.
MM Toivo ya Toivo, the Namibian. That night the bench was with Laloo Chiba and during that raid and search they even opened the toilet rolls to see if we had written and re-rolled the toilet paper in each cell and in Laloo Chiba's cell they actually, one warder actually picked up the bench and put it down. Anyway the raid is over, they found nothing, they didn't find the radio, they didn't find the hidden compartment, but after the raid Madiba who knew we had got a radio, and as far as he's concerned it's in my possession, he greets me from his cell, "How are you?" So I say I'm fine. He was trying to judge am I safe. But next morning we get up, everybody, we're all buzzing talking about this nonsense that's happened, and during the day Walter comes to me. He says, "Instructions, destroy the radio." I said, "But it's safe." He says, "No, no, there are people from various political organisations and our own organisation, if it was caught there would have been collective punishment on the whole section." So I said, "But old man, do you know how long we struggled to smuggle in this radio?" He says, "I know, but you destroy it." So I said, "Well don't ever come back to me to smuggle a radio again, it's over."
POM He had asked you in the first place?
MM When we told him the prospect of smuggling a radio in, Walter, "Yes, yes, smuggle it in, get it in, we need the news." And then he says to me, "And that novel that you are writing." So I say, "Yes?" "Did they find it?" I said, "No." He said, "Destroy that." I said, "What? No, no, you can't do this to me." He says, "But when you get out of prison you can write the novel." I said, "I'll never be able to, never."
POM You can't reconstruct a novel.
MM No. Destroy it. So we destroyed the radio and I destroyed my manuscripts. And of course three weeks later no news is coming through. Walter comes, "Chaps, what are you doing about news, the communications team? Can't you smuggle news?" I said, "Don't come to me with that nonsense."
POM Back to the keys. You have two keys so you could have walked out the front door but that's about as far as you would have got. You'd have looked at the ocean and said, "Oh boy!" A long way to Tipperary.
MM The essence of that type of life is that you put if you want to escape from an environment like that you don't make a grand plan right to the end stage before you start. You have no access to wire, you have no access to a piece of metal, you don't have a file, you don't have this, you don't have that. The mindset you need is you see a piece of rusted metal, you don't know what use it's going to be, collect it, hide it. A year later you come across a small piece of rusted hacksaw blade, don't leave it there, you don't know what you're going to use it for. Collect it, save it. You come across a file that you can steal, steal it and hide it so that when the stage arises and somebody says make a key you've got the piece of metal, you've got a piece of hacksaw blade, you've got a file. Then you can make it. Make it and don't say - wait a minute where's the boat? You'll come to the boat next stage but just get your pieces going.
POM Where were the keys hidden?
MM We used to hide them in the bench and eventually when we got orders from Madiba and Tychobo(Walter) to say, "Hey, chaps, these keys, too dangerous. You guys have got to hide it away outside of this section or destroy it." So we met Kathy, Laloo, myself, it was nearing my release time and I said, "Chaps, you hide it but don't let me know because if on my out I am arrested smuggling the manuscript and I'm tortured I might talk about the key, so you hide it. I don't want to know where you've hidden it." They took it and buried it in the quarry but as it happened after we stopped working in the quarry they brought in bulldozers and further bulldozed so when they got back years later after we are free to look for the spot they find the quarry has become bigger. Where have we buried it?
POM How long were the keys - ?
MM In our possession?
MM Probably for about four years.
POM And you used them for? Within - ?
MM We used them, round the corner, that corridor, there was a grille separating the corridors and the rest were empty and we would use those to sneak in during the day behind the backs of everybody to store all sorts of clandestine communications and things in empty cells.
POM So you never used them to go from cell to cell within? Too dangerous?
MM No need. And you would make other prisoners aware. You don't want to do that because to me the keys to Kathy the keys were for that purpose but to me there was a longer term objective that if one day I want to escape and the pieces fall in place then I've got the keys. But if I told them at the beginning I'm making keys to escape they would say no, don't make it.
POM And the visit to the dentist?
MM The visit to the dentist was an attempt to escape. The dentist's name was Kolevsohn, Jewish name.
POM How would you arrange to get to a dentist off the Island?
MM They had now for the first time allowed us because we'd insisted that you can't just extract our teeth - we were demanding that our decaying teeth should be filled and they had said at your own cost. They first brought a dentist with his dental chair to Robben Island and those of us who went to him for treatment he said he could only do extractions, the fillings needed more equipment and drills and all that. So we said, "No, we want fillings." So suddenly it took a turn where a number of us were demanding dental attention and on one occasion I was taken to Cape Town alone to the dentist. I had been manacled and handcuffed in transportation.
POM What year would this be?
MM Round about 1973. And when I got to this dental surgery escorted by two warders, the surgery was upstairs on the first floor.
POM Do you remember the street it was on?
MM I think it was Heerengracht, it was on the first floor and I had first been taken into his waiting room by the warders. They had obviously cleared the place of all patients and I had looked out of this window to look around which area is this, because you were transported in a closed van. Anyway in the waiting room I was still manacled and handcuffed and one of the warders accompanied me into the surgery. I was put on the dental chair and the dentist greeted me, hello or good morning or whatever. I greeted him back and I then took a chance. As he was getting ready to treat me, and the warder was standing there, I said to him, "Doctor, I find it unacceptable that I should be treated on your chair while I'm manacled and handcuffed. I don't think that's right." And I was surprised that he supported me and he turned to the warder and he said, "I cannot treat this man unless you take off the manacles and handcuffs", and the poor warder didn't know what to do because we hadn't selected the dentist, it was the prison authorities that selected the dentist. So he obeyed the dentist and he unlocked the manacles and the handcuffs.
Having succeeded with that, as he got ready to examine I said to him, "And I also find it unacceptable that you should treat me with another person who's not a nurse sitting in the room." And surprise on surprise he said to the warder, "Will you please just go out of the room. You can stand outside the closed door."
POM This is like a rehearsal for what happened in Durban later when you were taken to the hospital.
MM Yes. So the warder was told to go out of the room and the dentist closed the room. As he's examining me he says to me his brother in law is a chap called Cyril Jones. Now Cyril Jones was a white comrade who was sentenced - around the time we were detained he was detained and he was sentenced to two years imprisonment for possession of Marxist literature. I never knew Cyril Jones but I'd heard of him and his wife's name was Ray Jones. So he says to me something like Cyril is his relative because he was married to Ray who is related to the doctor. So I said, "That's fantastic, how is Ray keeping?" It was the first time I heard that they were divorced. So I say, "How's Ray?" He says, "She's in Cape Town, she's taken a rough time. The marriage, the split up and all that and the imprisonment of her husband." So I said, "Oh, that's fine, good."
And I go back and I think about this and I say this set up has a potential for an escape. So I raise this with Madiba and Walter. We all put our names down again a few months later for dental treatment but they used to take us only one at a time and one day I visit the hospital in prison and I manage to get hold of the appointments book. I look, this is appointments for specialist treatment in Cape Town for different prisoners. So I open the book and I'm paging through it and I see that in about a month or two months ahead four of us from our section are listed to go the same day for dental treatment. The four of us were Madiba, Wilton Mkwayi, myself on the one corridor. On the other side, this is 1972/73, in the other wing were the APDUSA prisoners (African People's Democratic Union of South Africa) a group of seven or eight prisoners from their organisation were sentenced in 1971/72 and they were being housed temporarily on the other side, the other wing. One of the chaps was on that list, Kader Hassim, he used to be a lawyer whom I knew as a student at Natal University in 1954/55 and he was from the rival organisation unity movement. So his name is on the list so I go back and I say to Madiba, "Oh, here's a chance to escape." We have found out the date when we are going to be taken and we are going to be four of us so your condition is met that if I try to escape I must escape with either you or Walter. The bonus is there's Wilton Mkwayi.
POM Madiba had made this when did he say this?
MM Early when I got to prison. Walter had said I'm not allowed to escape, that if I made an attempt to escape I would only do so if I took with me Madiba or Walter, not both but one of them. So I say here it is. Madiba was disbelieving at the beginning but I said to him I've seen the date when we are going to be taken. He was supportive. We didn't tell Mkwayi yet and he says, "OK monitor the situation." Then I say to him after a while, a few days later, I say, "What do we do about Kader Hassim?" Madiba says, "What do we do about him?" So I said, "Well if he's in the group we take him with us, he has no choice." Madiba says, "No, that would be wrong. He's from a rival organisation."
POM He says it would be wrong because he was from a rival organisation?
MM And because we would not be making him party to the planning. I don't want him to be party to the planning. I can communicate with him clandestinely but what happens if he talks? What happens if he tells his colleagues? So Madiba says, "Well why don't we send him a clandestine note inviting him to take part in the escape?" I said, "But that way he will tell his colleagues. I can't control it and that's dangerous. We're not telling our own colleagues here. How do we tell a person like this?" He says, "No, but you know him, you know him well from your student days."
In the end the upshot was, after a lot of soul-searching, having brought Wilton into the plot, I wrote a note to Kader stating that there was a possibility of an escape and that he would be part of the group. He wrote back to say that he could not see his way clear to participating in an escape. Well that presented a problem to us. What do we do if he is in the group? So we said well if he's in the group we'll give him a choice at the moment of escape, either come with us or stay behind but give us an undertaking that for 72 hours he won't tell them about how we staged the escape.
We had roughly settled on that plan when one day I went to the hospital and again manoeuvred and got access to this book and I found Kader's name scratched off. So I became very happy, came back to Madiba and said, "Problem solved. It seems Kader has withdrawn his request to see a dentist." So he says, "Fine." We had no elaborate plans, it was going to be very improvised. We knew one of the comrades was running a taxi on the Grand Parade, a chap from the fifties was a taxi driver, Tofy Bardien. So we said if we can escape from Kolevsohn's surgery the key to that escape would be that neither Kolevsohn nor his receptionist nor the warders escorting us should be in a position to alert the authorities of our escape. If we could get just a leeway of a few hours we'd make it. The rest of it was going to be very ad hoc, we'd find a way to make our way to the Grand Parade, track down the taxi or a sympathetic person. We had various addresses, we knew of various people in Cape Town. From there we would improvise.
The day of our going to the hospital, it's the first time that more than one prisoner was taken to Cape Town. At the moment the mind is saying it's a wonderful opportunity, it's not looking at other things. Well when we were taken out of our cells we were taken to the reception of the prison, we were handcuffed and manacled at five in the morning and taken to the boat. When we get to the boat and we are put in the hold, Madiba says to the warder, "It's against maritime law that we should transported on the high seas with manacles and handcuffs." And he argues this thing and the warders come back and open our manacles and handcuffs for the trip to Cape Town. We get to Cape Town docks and there's a prison van there and as we get off the ship onto the docks they handcuff us, I don't think they put on the manacles, and push us into the van and they locked the van.
POM Closed van again.
MM Closed van. So I immediately look for every crevice in the van because it's a prison van and I search the crevices from the top round, there's a sort of gash there, and I put my fingers running through it and I come across an object. What's it? Pull it out. It's a knife?
POM A knife?
MM A knife. And I show it to them and we all become excited because our aim was how do we get the warders' weapons when we stage the escape. But now we've got a knife in our hands. So we hide the knife. We got to Kolevsohn's, I think there were about four warders.
POM Where would you hide the knife?
MM We just kept it in our pocket.
POM In your prison uniform?
MM Prison uniform. Now we're getting to the waiting room of Kolevsohn and it's empty and we are looking at now when is going to be the moment we would pounce on the warders and Madiba says to me
POM You're still handcuffed are you?
MM Yes we're handcuffed.
POM Madiba says to the warder, now that we are in the waiting room, he says, "You'd better take off the handcuffs." And the warders take off the handcuffs.
POM No argument?
MM No argument. Just a little bit of protest and he says, "No, but we're going to go now for treatment in the dental chair and we are here in the waiting room. What can we do? You're guarding us, four of you." They uncuffed us. So I stand around at the window overlooking the street when I notice this lack of activity, no pedestrians moving, no vehicles are moving and I say, "Oh-oh, this is a trap. It's all working too smoothly." So I call Madiba to the window and I whisper to him, "Look." So he looks down, he says, "What is it?" I say, "There's no movement, no pedestrians, no cars are moving in the street. They took off our manacles and here they've taken off our handcuffs. We thought they would only be removed as you get on the chair for treatment." And Madiba instantly saw the problem and he says, "You're right, it's off." We then call Mkwayi and Madiba says to him in Xhosa, "Here's a problem." And Mkwayi says in Xhosa, "You cowards, you people now haven't got the guts to go through with it." Madiba says, "It's off."
We go through our dental treatment. We're put in the van but we are not taken back to the docks.
POM Are you manacled? Handcuffed?
MM I think they handcuffed us. But we are not taken to the docks, to the boat. We're taken to Roeland Street Prison and we're put in a big communal cell, just the three of us and I say, "Oh-oh."
POM Have you still got the knife on you?
MM Yes. I think I have left the knife in the van because now we're getting rid of evidence. But when they put us in this cell it's an unusual development, we should have been transported back to the docks so I realise in my mind it's saying they have put us in a bugged cell, they want to find out why we have not escaped because they had set a trap for us. I think I had smuggled a piece of lead pencil, I take the toilet paper and I say, "Chaps, no talking, no talking about this incident. We can write and discuss but only innocent conversation." Wilton is fuming. So we write and say this is a trap, don't talk. We return to the Island.
POM You're held there for how long?
MM About an hour or two and then we are taken back to the docks and returned to Robben Island and we reviewed the matter very briefly. We were all of one mind now. Madiba was convinced, I was convinced, that somehow or other the authorities had realised that I was looking for an escape and somehow or other whether by bugging our cells or whatever they had picked it up and they had set it up in such a way that we would make the escape and Madiba would be killed. So I said, it must have been about 1974, "Guys, I've got two years before I leave prison, I can last. I've spent ten years, I'll spend another two years. I don't need to escape any more."
POM Did you ever find out whether or not the fourth guy you mentioned, whether he had cancelled his appointment or whether he had been taken off the list?
MM Never did know. He was eventually brought to our section and joined with us, his group, but I never raised the matter. I felt that the issue of escape should be left on a back burner and I should not make it known to him who was party to the plan, it should be left as something that I had been planning as my wild dream and leave it at that. You don't want to dig those things and make it stand in their mind so that the next time we try it they know who you were planning it with and what do I say? Did Madiba know? Was he into it? I don't want to answer those questions to anybody. We never asked him.
POM OK, we've laid those three things aside. They were for later but when I read this book I thought, my God! Mac has never mentioned these things. Foreword, foreword, foreword.
MM They didn't warrant mentioning.
POM They didn't?
POM What was the feeling the first time you got into the boat, even though you were manacled or whatever? It was also the first time for Madiba to be off the Island. Could you inhale - ?
MM We were very tense because so much of it depended on ad hocking and I only know my feelings. It was a great sense of alertness and looking for every move, looking at the conduct of the warders and looking where's the weak gap, where's the moment going to arise where we can overpower the warders.
POM How many warders were there?
MM Must have been about four of them. We were three of us prisoners. They obviously had other escorts that we were not able to pick up in and around us all the time. You were on a high adrenaline at that time, high state of tautness and alertness and looking for the opportunities and your mind was fixed on where is the opportunity, what do you do next, how do you improvise, how do you overpower these guys. When I got the knife I was elated.
POM Do you think the knife was a plant?
MM I think they planted it. When I look back I feel that they had set it up. I don't know who it was but I have to say that if they set it up they were quite brilliant at it. Whoever was the master mind on the regime side needed to be a person who was trying to anticipate how we were thinking. That's how it goes.
POM So back to the sabotage shop, making up the lead pipe bombs. Did you continue with this endeavour after that?
MM Oh yes. We had to go on.Doha was now in bed and Wilton Mkwayi and I made sacks full of pipe bombs.
POM Was the guy from Wits, Gay, was he aware of this?
MM From questions asked in my detention and the way they searched my home they ripped up the kitchen floor, it had wooden flooring. They took me on one occasion from my cell to supervise the searches on several occasions, several searches but on one of the searches they ripped up the floorboards and they said they were taking samples of the dirt there because they believed that there had been an explosion in my home. Now that could only be if Wilton had mentioned it to the others in the High Command, to one or another, to Laloo Chiba, Lionel Gay, David Kitson, and I believe that between Kitson and Gay the authorities might have got that information and therefore they did a sort of forensic search and chemical testing to find traces of gunpowder in my kitchen floor.
POM What happened to Gay? You said he turned state witness?
MM He turned state witness. He gave evidence against us, he was released and he fled the country. He turned to the movement again to help him to get out of the country clandestinely. Our underground helped him to escape to Botswana and he got to London. In the UK when I came out of prison he was lecturing in electronics at Bristol or Swansea. After 1994
POM Did you go and see him?
MM After 1994, after the elections, he visited me in my offices in Cape Town to ask me, to apologise and to say
POM He had come to apologise?
MM Yes. We had a bit of a chat. I said, "No need, forget about these bygones." He then said that he wanted to help in educational projects in the building of this country and I said to him, "Well, go to the Minister of Education, go to the NGO sector." He wanted to know if I could vouch for him and I said I couldn't. That's something I can't stop him, he can do it but I would not be able to give a recommendation for him. That's the last time I saw him.
POM When he turned to the movement for help why did the movement help him after he had betrayed you all?
MM For two reasons, I don't know who were the ones that helped him to get to Botswana, (a) He gave evidence under a pseudonym as Mr X, (b) I did get messages to say he threatened the comrades that he contacted that if they didn't help him there was a lot more that he could tell the police, and (c) comrades not knowing what more damage he could do as a state witness felt it was better to get him out of the country.
POM Why didn't they just get rid of him?
MM I don't think that the chaps he contacted were in any position to take that decision. They didn't know for sure whether or not he had been the person who gave evidence and they did know from rumours that he was a threat and he was saying, "I am a threat and get me out of the way so that I can't do damage." I would have done the same, I would have got him out of the country because we were not yet at the stage where we had anticipated how we would handle a situation like that.
POM When he came to visit you in 1994 did he more or less admit that he had given the evidence?
MM Oh yes. He was apologising for that. He had given evidence, I had seen him in court giving evidence.
POM You saw him in court giving evidence?
MM He gave evidence in our case but under a pseudonym.
POM But you saw him?
MM He was brought to the court room, the oath administered and gave evidence against us.
POM Why would he do so under Mr X when everybody in the courtroom, all your relatives and everybody else
MM The purpose of Mr X was no paper was to publish his real name even if they knew, and (b) we were not allowed to say to people what is his real name. We did that but the point is it was a form of protection in those times for the witnesses who were giving evidence for the state. Even in the Rivonia trial people gave evidence under pseudonyms of Mr X and Mr Y and Mr Z. It was part of the drama that the state created.
POM In the MK did you ever take part in an actual sabotage activity?
MM Very rudimentary ones using the pipe bomb. Pipe bomb, for example if you wanted to blow up a railway line, here's the rail track, it's got ballasts in it and it's got the sleepers so you went between here's the sleeper, here's the rail track, the rail track is over it. Here you removed as much of the ballast as you could, that's the best positioning because you'd have the sleeper, you'd have above it to the rail, below it the ground. You'd push that pipe in underneath it, underneath the rail wedged between the ground and the sleeper, leave the pipe bomb there to explode.
POM How would it explode?
MM Inside the pipe bomb you packed it with gunpowder and then the technique we were using in those years was to take a gelatine capsule, you know these capsules that the pharmacists use to put all sorts of medicines into it for your consumption, you swallow it, the gelatine would melt in your tummy. OK. Into that at the last minute using an eyedropper you'd put a few drops of sulphuric acid and seal the capsule. Now the sulphuric acid would eat through the capsule. Inside the pipe bomb you'd stuff it with gunpowder, then you'd put some toilet paper and then you'd put permanganate of potash which ignites easily, and then just put another tissue and on top of that put this gelatine capsule and seal it. Now given the thickness of the gelatine capsule it was estimated according to the thickness of that capsule that it would take ten minutes, fifteen minutes for the sulphuric acid to eat through the gelatine capsule, because sulphuric is acidic. Once it has eaten through that the sulphuric acid would come into contact with the permanganate of potash, the chemical reaction to that was a fire. That fire would have a high intensity to it and that would ignite the gunpowder but because it's all confined in a pipe the pipe would explode.
POM So about how many of these were you involved in laying yourself?
MM Directly myself I only was involved in laying about three, three instances. I found the experience very normal.
POM Very normal?
MM Yes. Nothing more in terms of adrenaline or danger than what I was doing in printing. In printing I was transporting things in tons and stealing paper in van loads and I'd learnt to set in a linotype the linotype shop was at a street corner with a double door opening right on the corner.
POM Why would you sit with your back to the open door?
MM To make it look like this was a very normal overt activity so that anybody walking past sees this open door and you are setting away, normal. I had been buying saltpetre, that was more nerve-wracking than going and putting a pipe bomb in the dark. In the pipe bomb you were cautious, you were careful, you selected your site, you selected the moment when there's no activity. I had learnt now to work in the underground doing all sorts of clandestine things, any one of them could get me caught, and therefore I think that the fear and adrenaline was higher in other activity than in putting a bomb.
POM How much would these weigh?
MM The pipe bomb would be, as I remember, about one and a half inches in diameter or two inches and about a foot to 15 inches in length, so it was something that you could just tuck under a jacket, tuck it into your belt and just walk over to the site having done your reconnaissance and plant it and go.
POM These pipe bombs were it was individuals who did them, they weren't done in teams?
MM We usually put them in teams for the following purpose, we needed a lookout. You needed somebody to help you in your getaway vehicle.
POM Somebody would take you there and drop you off.
MM And pick you up again. Not drop you off and sit there waiting in a car because that would draw attention in a remote site. Casually drop you off and go on, turn back, come back, pick you up timeously. So you need a getaway vehicle and a driver and you needed a lookout to feel more secure because your mind is focused on inserting that bomb and doing the last minute filling up of that capsule. That's the last act you do. You need to get to that railway line, make the space to fit this pipe bomb, take it out, unscrew it, get the gelatine capsule, take the eyedropper from a bottle, take off, put the sulphuric acid into it, seal it, put it back onto its bed, seal the pipe bomb and insert it and get away, and you knew that anything within ten to fifteen minutes it's going to explode. So from the moment you put it into the gelatine capsule you had to arrange it in such a way and your mind would be totally focused on that. There's no time to think is there anybody coming past, is there a car coming past, is there untoward activity. You needed another person to do that job.
POM So the bombs would be laid quite close to where thoroughfares, roads were?
MM Not necessarily. You selected your sites according to what would be most feasible and what would allow you your getaway. I am sure many comrades did actions without access to a getaway car. So, for example, if you were tackling the Soweto railway line your only consideration would be you did not want to injure civilians but for the rest you could have conducted that operation by just travelling by bus and train and carrying the bomb on you and jumping off at a spot and walking back to a deserted strip of the railway line and putting it and walking away and boarding a bus. So all I am saying is that the complication of the exercise, the fear factor, if you had not done anything else clandestine and dangerous your body would not be attuned to it but once you had done it two or three times you would be able to handle that without breaking out into a sweat.
POM So you made it between, you and Wilton made it between would you work together?
MM Yes. Now that Doha was injured and we had a time frame, urgency, manufacture for Wilton to distribute it to all the units that needed it. If I remember the one incident that stands out when we made this very big quantity which probably filled up three or four sacks, he and I worked on it and the heavy work was doing the threading, that was hard work.
POM Doing the threading?
MM Yes. That was hard physical work. It all looks very nice and easy when it's done but here's the pipe and you're inserting a threader of the right dimension and then you are spinning it to literally cut through the lead into the right depth of threads. Now it's got big levers and hand operated, not power driven, pretty hard work.
POM So how long would it take you to make a pipe?
MM I think Wilton and I probably made those three sacks full taking a night or two nights.
POM That's working through the night and the day? So how many of those were used?
MM I have no idea, no I don't know how many.
POM Would there not be reports in the paper of - ?
MM There would be reports and there would be no reports. I know when we were on trial there was a group of comrades on another trial, African comrades, about four or five of them, and their lawyers came to consult with us.
POM This is when you were in - ?
MM In Number 4, the Fort, we were awaiting trial. The other accused's lawyers came to consult us about the practicality of a defence line and the advisability and we proposed a defence line because we knew we were shattered now and we wanted to get comrades, as many of them to get off without conviction or if convicted with light sentences. Our recommendation to the lawyers was to allege that this group deliberately did not put in the igniter, that is the gelatine capsule, to simply say that they got caught up in this wave of sabotage, they were approached by somebody and we gave them a name of a person who has fled the country, and that he gave them these bombs to place and gave them instructions and they were afraid to go on with it but couldn't say no, so very deliberately they had not put in the sulphuric acid.
POM Because they were afraid?
MM Yes,because they didn't want to go through with it. They put up that defence and their group got sentenced to five years each. Now we were consulted and I am saying that was a feasible defence line where the bomb had not gone off and while it didn't get them acquitted it got them off with lighter sentences.
POM Suggesting that many bombs had not in fact gone off, that's the logical conclusion.
MM Many would not have gone off because it depended crucially on your putting the sulphuric acid into that gelatine capsule and putting that timeously into the pipe and sealing it and positioning it. If in the dark, because if you poured sulphuric acid onto your hand it will burn you, and here's a tiny little capsule and you're using an eye dropper and in the dark you think you've filled that eye dropper and you press it, in the meantime it's empty. Easy. You put the gelatine capsule in but it's got no sulphuric in it so it won't ignite.
POM Why? Because it's empty?
MM Because the capsule has not got sulphuric acid in it. Imagine, Padraig, in the dark from a tiny Eyegene bottle, in it is a bit of sulphuric acid and you're told to be careful how you handle it, you will burn, so you put it in, you think you've filled it by pressing the rubber cap. In fact you have in the tension not pressed it, you've unscrewed it, you've taken it out. You think you've pressed it and in the dark you hold the capsule and you can't be shining torches and everything and you press it to fill up the gelatine thinking you've got two drops in it, in the meantime you've got no drops in it and that won't go off. It's not rocket science that, even landmines and weapons up to now, mortar bombs don't go off, you find them years later disused.
POM Fifty, sixty, seventy years later. So if a bomb did go off how long would it dislocate the train line? You were mostly concentrating on train lines?
MM They became the easiest target in that period post-Rivonia, they became the easiest point at which you could put people to do sabotage to get their nerves and everything steady with the hope it will escalate them to more sophisticated action. The amount of damage, depending on how effectively you put that bomb together and how effectively you positioned it and the other side, the enemy, mastered how quickly to repair the rails. All it had to do was to come and unbolt that section of rail and replace it with another section and the regime began to build up capacity of repairing that as quickly as possible because it wanted to show that there was minimal damage and the manifestation of that that you went by. What's the delay in the train service? Half hour? No big deal, no big damage but a very effective tool not just for the saboteur but for the propaganda effect as well as the training of your cadres to cope with working in dangerous situations.
POM Getting them used to dealing with fear.
MM And to cope with working as a team. That was a key thing.
POM So the High Command in Wilton was head of the High Command?
POM Post-Rivonia. Before that it would have been?
MM Before that, as I understand it, it started off with Nelson, then with Nelson's arrest for a while Walter worked as the head of the High Command for a short period. When Raymond Mhlaba arrived from the China trainee group Raymond was to take over but hardly had Raymond taken over that position when he had to go out on a mission to Algeria. He went off to Algeria. In the meantime I am not clear whether Walter again temporarily filled in or whether Mkwayi had arrived and filled in for a while. Raymond arrived, was back from Algeria, was taking over that position, the Rivonia arrests took place and Wilton was then entrusted with the job of re-grouping the High Command.
POM It was that regrouping that you met in the flat in was it?
MM Yes. I was not integrated into MK until after the Rivonia arrests.
POM Now the Rivonia arrests must have sent shivers through you've got to go? Let's leave it right there.