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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
09 Oct 2002: Maharaj, Mac
POM We had stopped at the run-up to the Rivonia trials yesterday, but just to back up to before that, how often did you meet with Joe Slovo after you had that interview in the car?
MM I didn't meet him again.
POM The next time you met him was in - ?
MM I met him in exile after that, in 1977. A few months after that meeting with Joe I had a call to drive in with Ruth First into Rivonia Farm and on the farm road, within the farm as we were driving in he was driving out, and the next day the papers carried a report that he had left the country. He had gone abroad on a mission and while he was away the Rivonia arrests took place and he couldn't come back to the country.
POM So he didn't actually leave the country with the intention of not coming back, he left the country because once the Rivonia trials took place he knew he would be arrested as soon as he put his foot back in the country.
MM Yes. He had left the country on a temporary mission. He and the late J B Marks had left the country to discuss the draft Operation Mayibuye plans and the type of support that would be needed abroad from the external mission. Mayibuye was still under discussion but he had gone out to lobby for that and ascertain views and consult as well as to look at additional support arrangements being done by the external mission and while he was out of the country on this mission the Rivonia arrests took place and in the Rivonia arrests of course and in the trial he featured prominently as one of the, not as an accused, but as one of the accomplices and therefore it became extremely hazardous to even think of him coming back.
POM I know this is speculation but do you think had he come back and been arrested that he would have been given a life sentence to Robben Island too or that because he was a white person of some prominence in the community with lots of well-connected friends that it would have been a lesser sentence?
MM No way. Dennis Goldberg got a life sentence even though he was white. Bram Fischer was subsequently tried and given a life sentence and Joe, his involvement was at the level of the Central Committee as well as of MK High Command and there was no way that he would have evaded the maximum sentence.
POM How did Ruth First evade it?
MM Ruth First was detained I think for 117 days. She's written a book on that experience. Yes, it was 177 days.
POM At the time of Rivonia?
MM Before, just before the Rivonia arrests. Let me see, no, after the Rivonia arrests. After the Rivonia arrests Ruth First was detained for 117 days and then they released her from detention and she was under house arrest. Given that Joe was out of the country and the Rivonia trial was due to start that she was implicated and she had three young kids, her father had had to flee the country and gone to Britain, it was felt that she should get out of the way. She had had harrowing time in detention.
POM Did she get an opportunity to talk to you about that?
MM Not about that. She talked to me about her need to leave the country and I supported that she should leave the country. We didn't talk about her experiences because we would meet very fleetingly and it was dangerous for me to be seen with her. I met her then in 1977 in Maputo where she was lecturing when I got out of prison. We had several discussions but I read her book, 117 Days when Milo was born and after Milo's birth went to London to meet Zarina and see Milo and also be with them and come back with them to Zambia and one night I got a phone call from Ruth congratulating us on the birth of Milo. She was passing through London and she didn't have time to come and visit me when she learnt about the birth of Milo so she phoned and I told her on the phone I had just finished reading 117 Days, I can understand where she comes from in that book but I think I am now in a position to sit down and discuss her experiences against my experiences because she too had attempted to commit suicide when she thought she was breaking down or on the verge of a breakdown in detention. Interestingly in her book the two interrogators who worked as a pair, one playing bad cop, one playing good cop with me, had reversed their roles with her. The bad cop in my case was playing good cop in her case and the good cop in my case was playing bad cop in her case.
POM These were do you remember who they were?
MM Yes there were three characters. There was a Lieutenant van der Merwe who had trained abroad either in Algeria or Portugal, there was a Lieutenant Viktor who had also trained abroad and just come back, and then there was a Lieutenant van Rensburg.
POM Is he the same Van Rensburg that has cropped up in the news in the eighties and nineties?
MM The same Van Rensburg and the same Viktor. Viktor was at Bisho, he was Commissioner.Viktor and Van der Merwe. Viktor in Ruth First's book played good cop with her to the point where in the context of detainee and investigator he played good cop and almost won her confidence. He was a bad cop in my case, he was one of my key torturers and so was Van der Merwe. Van der Merwe has disappeared from the scene because I never knew his first name but he's never been erased from my memory because in trying to identify him while he was torturing me I remember distinctly that he was left handed and secondly that on his elbow on his left arm he had a tennis elbow and he was particularly brutal in his physical assaults.
POM Now these three were interrogating you before you got to Swanepoel?
MM No, no, simultaneously. There would be days when others would be torturing me. It's not as if every day continuously it was Swanepoel. Swanepoel was more in command of them and he would intervene in his view at strategic moments.The day-to-day torturers were Van der Merwe and Viktor and a chap called Erasmus.
POM This is Paul Erasmus?
MM Not Paul Erasmus. This is General Erasmus who is retired now but he retired as Police Commissioner for Witwatersrand.
POM OK, I want to try and get to see him. I told you his lawyer is this Jan Wagener who represented all the Generals. His first name is?
MM I think they called him Rasie, Ras, but that would be a pet name.
POM Just their torture was physical?
MM Physical and psychological.
POM Beating you, very severely?
MM Yes. Van der Merwe is the guy who broke the baton on my skull.
POM My God!
MM Yes, you can feel it here.
MM So in Ruth First's case when I read 117 Days in London after my son was born I saw there the agony that she went through and I empathised with her agony and I said to her on the phone, "Ruth, I've just put down 117 Days. I think you and I need to sit down and talk about our experiences." She said that would be a fantastic idea. She flew off that night to Maputo and hardly a few days later she was killed in that bomb blast at Maputo University. So you ask, did I ever discuss it? No, we had casually referred to it and we had reached a point that having read 117 Days we had agreed that next time we got together and we had time we would talk about these experiences.
POM If that had happened what points do you think you would have brought up to compare and contrast with her?
MM Well I think I had a number of points at which I could empathise with her. For example, that she had attempted to commit suicide, and I could empathise and through such a discussion both of us could have benefited by trying to understand what was going through our minds. Therefore she was living, in the book it comes out, she was living with a sense of guilt. The police were alleging that she had made a written statement. I don't know what is in that statement but to the extent that she may have divulged some information and it remained a source of guilt in her conscience, I could have been of benefit to her to adjust and either minimise or remove that guilt. She could have benefited for me by giving me a better understanding of the cops who played good cop/bad cop with her. Remember I was now Secretary of the Underground and I needed to understand these people so that I could ensure that cadres continuing with the struggle inside the country and in the underground were better equipped.
One of the series of preparatory lectures that we had prepared was to first translate a pamphlet written by somebody in Portugal based on his Portuguese underground experience of torture and trial. We were using that, I think it was translated by Albie Sachs, it was used by the underground section in the political education and preparation of cadres but it was a foreign experience and we needed to brief them continually and discuss with the cadres what do you do if you are detained, how do you survive detention? And to do that you had to relate it, to equip them you had to demystify this fear of torture and to do that demystification you had to understand who were the potential torturers and the detaining officers and the interrogators. Then only, in my view, you would equip the potential detainee with the capacity to withstand that detention.
Similarly you would have to brief them and discuss with the cadres continually what happens if you, after detention, you're brought to trial. How do you handle yourself at the trial? In my view both in detention as in the struggle before you are arrested, during arrest and detention and in the trial and serving as a prisoner you must have a mindset that says the struggle goes on, I am involved in the struggle, the only thing that's happened is that the terrain of struggle has changed. So you need to use detention as a terrain of struggle, you need to use your arrest as a terrain of struggle, you need to use your trial as a terrain of struggle and you need to use your imprisonment as a terrain of struggle. That is what, I think, will give you the mental and psychological strength to keep yourself intact.
POM What advice - was there advice for people who felt they were on the verge of divulging information, that the torture had become was just taking a toll where they knew that they were going to break?
MM It's a very difficult question because there is no straight answer. If you said to a potential detainee, 'Don't talk, don't co-operate', it would be a good thing but the point is that you have not equipped that person with how to handle the problems when you fear that you might be reaching a point under torture where you are breaking down. Now if on the other hand you advise that at such a moment when you are fearing that you may be breaking down or you may enter a period of breakdown, if you tell them, 'Still don't talk', what you have done is that when the breakdown comes the person collapses altogether. But then if you advise them that you talk by having assembled the pieces of information and do so without divulging any crucial information, what you've done is you've probably entered a dangerous territory where you have pre-warned them that you will break down. So you've broken the resolve not to break down.
POM And you've also given them a tool that they can use if they do break down making them more susceptible to providing that information.
POM Innocuous as it might sound you've kind of
MM All you can do in your preparation is to tell them, 'Comrade, if you are detained do not be surprised if you are tortured', and the tricks of the torture may be the most unexpected ones that they would use. Physical force, they would use psychological torture and they would use psychological forms of threatening your relatives and loved ones who are not detained. Now your compass is you are now in a different terrain of struggle, you are face to face with the enemy and they are many in that room and you are alone and in isolation. You need to constantly focus on one thing, this is a terrain of struggle, you may be alone and separated from your comrades but you are part of that larger struggle and how you conduct yourself in that terrain of struggle must always be kept in mind. I am not going to be their slave, their tool. I am going to be my own person, I am carrying the whole dignity of the struggle inside of me and how I conduct myself must be to get out of trapping my mind on what they are doing to me and keep my eye ahead. The rest, I cannot predict how it will go, but I can only say to you that at the worst of moments keep this thought uppermost in your mind. Don't think about the pain, don't think about the psychological effects that you are going through, keep saying to yourself they are trying to manipulate me and break me and when they have broken me that will not be enough for them. When I have spoken and given them information they will toss me aside and my life is of no value to them. So say to yourself, I am valuable to the struggle, that dignity of that struggle sits in me, the integrity of that struggle is now sitting in me and much as I might bemoan it life has put me into that role where I am now face to face with the collective enemy and I am alone, keep your mind there.
POM So one aspect of that would be to remind yourself that while you keep your mind focused on the struggle you know you are of value to the struggle. And you know if you don't give information you also have a value to the person who's torturing you but if you break you lose both values. You're of no value to the torturer and you're of no value to the struggle.
MM And you're no value to your own esteem.
POM Or your own estimate of yourself.
MM The difference is that you're now in detention, now you come, even in detention, while focusing on the struggle they have to put you in a cell, they may isolate you from other prisoners, constantly look for ways to connect with the other detainees. For what purpose? For the purpose of encouraging them to be strong. You do that and you will find others will make you stronger. Then when the terrain shifts and you are brought to trial the terrain has changed now. You are now in court, it's the court of the enemy, but the public is reading, no matter how distorted, and again keep your upright stance because you're now in the public face and you are able to be a role model to others. So use that courtroom not just to get yourself acquitted, use that courtroom to promote the struggle and you are promoting it just by the dignity that you uphold in that courtroom.
POM Did you go through the whole thing with them that if you are detained you'll probably find yourself in a situation where there's a good cop and a bad cop? This is the role the good cop plays and this is the role the bad cop plays.
MM Those are the sort of tricks that they would play.
POM Did you go through these probably are some of the forms of torture they may use so be forewarned that if it starts happening to you don't say, wow! I must be the first person they ever broke and baton on their skull, they probably have done that routinely.
POM So you're never the first in what they're doing.
MM Not the first. You must keep saying others have been through it, others will go through it and they have managed to survive and defend the struggle, I can do it.
POM In the trials that took place right across the board, do you think the judiciary were fair within the laws they had to adjudicate or that they were out, no matter what, just to say guilty and the longest term possible sentence?
MM There were a few high profile cases where the judge was aware that the attention of the world was on them, e.g. the Rivonia trial, it was a matter on the UN agenda, foreign dignitaries, lawyers were attending, huge media interest and the judge at least tried to maintain the semblance of being a representative of justice, a semblance I say. But in the majority of the cases, including the trial in which I was involved, the judge was patently and blatantly biased. The judge in my case was Justice Boschoff. My lawyers told me that we had an uphill battle. He had been detained in the early forties during the second world war as a member of the pro-Nazi sabotage group called the Ossewa Brandwag.
POM That's the group that Vorster was part of?
MM Vorster was part of. When he was an advocate because in his advocate chambers they found explosives hidden away. So he was a partisan in defence of apartheid and he used the courtroom and his privileged position not only to judge us by his own lights but he intervened in the evidence from time to time to protect state witnesses when they were saying untenable things and to reprimand and curtail our defence panel when they were cross-examined.
So, very patent. But there were other forms that remain a blot on the conduct of a judiciary. In the Eastern Cape a chap arrested for attending a clandestine ANC meeting, that would be in your mind a single charge, membership of an illegal organisation, and it carried a penalty of minimum five years, maximum ten years or so. But the prosecutor split the charge that one event of attending and belonging to a cell of the ANC, he split the charge into several additional charges: (i) membership, (ii) recruiting, (iii) attending an illegal gathering, (iv) soliciting support and funds for the ANC. And on each of those four charges the judge gave the person five years sentence each to run sequentially so the chap ended up with a 20 year sentence. This scandal was a scandal of the judiciary in the Eastern Cape in 1963/64/65 and the comrades who arrived there with sentences of 20 years, by 1968/69 they individually appealed and most of them succeeded in their appeals because the judiciary had abused the law for one act to be split into four separate charges. Now this was a common thing.
So I am saying the judiciary in SA under apartheid had a few leading lights who tried from the bench, from the prosecutors' side and from the defence lawyers, to maintain some probity but I think by and large if we look back the judiciary had so tainted itself that some of the proud things that are happening now would be unthinkable under the apartheid judiciary. The judiciary today is showing that there is an increase in the number of judges whose mindset is beginning to acknowledge that we are living in a constitutional state, that your job at the bench is to ensure that the evidence is fairly presented and that both sides of the issue are fairly presented, the evidence for the prosecution as the evidence for the defence and that your judgements must be based on legal principles which put you at a distance emotionally from the persons who are on trial. You cannot allow your own attitude to invade your judgement.
POM Looking back at that period up to Rivonia who were your major points of contact? Which circle did you move in that you were in fairly constant or fairly regular contact with other people?
MM Well after the Rivonia arrests
POM I'm talking about before Rivonia.
MM Before the Rivonia arrests it was Kathy, it was Ruth First and through her Dan Thloome, Duma Nokwe, Rusty Bernstein and (who was the other one I said on the Propaganda Committee?)
MM No, I'm talking first about the Propaganda Committee because they were my key dynamic. Kathy, Ruth First, Dan Thloome, Duma Nokwe and then my technical unit, then, still before the Rivonia arrest my contact with Wilton, he had just come in, just before the Rivonia arrests so my contact with Wilton started there. I was in touch with there were other people in other units. Oh, Paul Joseph in London, he's now in London, so Paul Joseph was here, I was in very regular contact with him. Then comes the Rivonia arrest, post-Rivonia arrest the little bit of contact that I had pre-Rivonia with Bram Fischer became increased. My contact with Rusty, he was on trial but it increased with his wife Hilda. My contact with Michael Dingake became very regular because he was on the District Committee of the party and he was ANC Secretariat. My contact with Kathy was gone, then my contact with Paul Joseph increased, then my contact with Laloo Chiba began to develop, my contact with Dave Kitson increased, my contact with Pieter Beyleveld, Piet Beyleveld. Funny how I didn't mention him before, he was also on the Central Committee.
POM Is he still alive?
MM No he's dead. He gave evidence in our trial as a member of the Central Committee, for the state he gave evidence, and then he gave evidence against Bram Fischer.
POM For the state too?
MM For the state, and the state stopped using him as a state witness after a trial in Pietermaritzburg somewhere around 1967 and Piet Beyleveld died a lonely death of natural causes where he became isolated from the struggle. He had given evidence for the state. He kept protesting that he had tried to minimise the damage but that was not good enough.
POM Did he die here in SA?
MM Yes. So Beyleveld, Beyleveld quite a bit of contact I had with him.
POM What role was he playing?
MM Well Beyleveld was the immediately after the Rivonia arrests within about two weeks of the Rivonia arrests, or three weeks, he was sent to me to meet me and he came to me together with Paul Joseph who knew where I stayed.
POM They were sent by?
MM Let me just explain. When he came to my home that evening he then spoke to me saying that he was sent by the Central Committee so I saw him as representing the Central Committee as it was regrouping and indeed he was and thereafter I was in regular meetings with him at various specialities. I would meet him in a part of a group looking at printing because he also had some interests in the printing industry. Then I would look at him from the point of view of contacting other people. He became a conduit as I began to have the list of names of all the party members. That came to me via him and that's the information he gave to the police that I've got the list of members. Then he became the conduit through which money for the MK operatives would come to me and I would pass it through other comrades to the respective operatives.
POM Now if he gave the list to the police?
MM No, he told them I had the list.
POM That you had the list. Clever.
MM Yes. That was the crisis. Well it's true, I had the list and they ran into hundreds but the point is, and these were the full time ones, the point is that he put me in the most difficult situation, that's when I tried to commit suicide when I feared that I might divulge where the list can be found and I said that would be the most criminal thing that one could ever do against the struggle.
Oh, the other person that I worked closely with was Doha, very closely. Then there was Paul Joseph's brother living in Ophirton. He's now in London, he goes by the name of Daso Moonsamy.
POM You gave me his name before but you didn't give me a telephone number I think.
MM No, I've lost it, all wiped out on my cell phone which packed up yesterday.
My cell phone packed up, I had to go and get it repaired and they had to do things and all the addresses and everything have gone. So you think you've got headaches? Please realise that this world is made up of people who have bigger headaches than you.
POM Well I'm glad you put your headache in front of mine. I'm glad you put homelessness in front of losing a series of telephone numbers. They're replaceable of course.
MM The other person I worked with was a chap called Josiah Jele. He was from theAlexandra Peri-Urban. Then there was, I don't know his real name but his code name is Peter Boroko. He is somewhere here in the Intelligence Services now, he went into exile. Then there was Peter Dlamini who also went into exile and is back somewhere here but he's had a stroke. Then there was a chap from Ophirton. I knew him as Freddie. The man who knows him is Michael Dingake. Freddie evaded arrest and he has disappeared. I've never come across him again but he was a wonderful comrade from Ophirton area. Michael Dingake would know him and would know where he is today.
POM Your relationship with Kathy, did that grow over that period? Would any of you see each other on a social occasion?
MM No, all these people because I was living in the underground, socially I didn't meet them. I tried to avoid them. I did not move in their social circles, had very little social circles and Kathy understanding my circumstances that I was socially completely alone introduced me to a group of comrades in Mayfair, Indians primarily, whom he spoke to because they were in the underground in different positions, to at least provide a social home for me. That included in particular this chap Esakjee that I mentioned yesterday. In fact this morning as I was driving I saw him turning down the street in an old rickety car, the one I said Doha will know where to find him. Kathy spoke to Esakjee to say they should invite me to his home just as a friend so that when they played bridge and they drank I would have some company but I never really took to that. I went to his home three or four times, had meals with his family and with the friends that were there, played bridge a few times, but for the rest I found that it was safer for me to live in that isolation and my relaxation became, besides my reading and things, it became my carpentry. I found that that was a safer way of surviving.
POM Now at what point did Tim come back?
MM I arrived here at the beginning of May 1962. Tim arrived here Easter 1963 and shortly thereafter, probably three months or so thereafter, she went off to Durban and in July 1964 when we were arrested I had gone down to Durban, she had completed her registration requirements, picked her up and driven back, arrived in Johannesburg on 4 or 5 July and both of us got arrested the next day.
POM So you never really lived together while you were here?
MM We probably lived together for about three months. That's why I say all told we spent in 20 years only 18 months together.
POM Well she said, she told you, not you telling her, she telling you. That was pulling a fast one there, you just transposed.
MM First we were in the UK, we were married and she was in Aylesbury and I was in London. Then she's here from Easter that April 1963 to July 1964, just about one and a quarter years and in that one and a quarter years we've seen each other for three months.
POM Was that continually or just for the three months that she was here before she went to Durban?
MM Three months we stayed together. We stayed together in Mayfair, then I got the place in Pearce Street, we stayed together there. Ruth understood, I'm sure you're not going to use all these instances but just to understand me, Ruth First was a person I had great empathy with while I was in the country because even though it was risky my salary from ostensibly my Parade salary, which was my underground salary, was 15 a month. In those days it was still pounds. My rent for those servant's quarters was a month so I was left literally with for my own needs and Tim's needs. So after Tim joined me and I moved to Pearce Street - no my rent was a month.
Now one day Ruth First, obviously from some comrade she heard that you know this chap never raises these questions, but he's living on a shoestring. So one day Ruth says to me, "When do I visit your home and meet Tim?" So I said, "It's very risky." She says, "You know this life is terrible. Yes it is risky but I will take the precautions, I want to visit your home." So she came home. We had this servant's quarters. Now she walked into the servant's quarters and what she saw was literally in the kitchen a wooden crate on which was standing a two-plate hotplate and the kitchen had no sink, nothing. In the so-called lounge, tiny room, was just a set of wooden boxes, these tomato crates, over which my wife had put a cloth so it looked like a coffee table and then there were wooden crates that we were sitting on as benches which we got from the shops, retail shops, grocers when they threw away the stuff. In those days they still had instead of cardboard boxes they had thin wooden boxes. So she came in and she sat and she had tea and she chatted. She didn't say anything to me but she went to Paul Joseph whom she knew better because Paul used to have a job at Ruth First's father's furniture factory, and clearly she discussed with Paul my circumstances and she must have said, "I see him living on wooden crates, no chairs, no benches, nothing." And Paul must have confirmed it because he knew my home. So she must have said, "Can we donate something to him, give him furniture?" And Paul must have said to her, "Don't you make that mistake because if you make that mistake he will just reject it." So what she does, a beautiful imbuia coffee table, she takes it to Paul and she says, "Paul, offer it to Mac, say I've won this in a raffle for five shillings, that's what my raffle ticket cost, but I have won it and I have no need for it. If he wants it what I insist is he must pay me is what I paid for the raffle ticket, five shillings." Now you couldn't have bought that imbuia table anywhere. It was a beautifully carved little coffee table.
POM Is it a wood that's native to - ?
MM Southern Africa. And it was a carved coffee table with stylish legs, polished well. The sort of thing you saw in rich people's homes.
POM It must have looked really good among all those crates.
MM So Paul comes to me, he says, "Ruth First won a coffee table in a raffle. It cost her five shillings the raffle ticket. She says to me anybody who is prepared to pay five shillings can have it because she has no need for it." And of course I bought it for five shillings. So I am saying I thought that incident had an element of empathy and style behind it because literally she gave it to me but she never allowed herself to transgress into my space where I would have rejected any handout. That's how my relationship was with Ruth.
POM As you recall her she stands out in my mind as a very somebody who was number one, involved at the highest level of decision making, number two, who was passionately engaged in what she was engaged in and, three, that she was a thinker and a mover in her own right. She wasn't somebody just carrying out instructions handed down by a group of men.
MM She was all those things and she was uncompromising in her views, forthright, uncompromising, bit of an ascerbic tongue but that was the surface. Quite often, not quite often, a reasonable number of comrades couldn't get on with her easily because she was intellectually challenging but together with that was a sharpness of her tongue and they couldn't handle it. I have always found her a very stimulating person.
POM Was they couldn't handle it because it was coming from a woman?
MM Coming from a woman.
POM From a white woman?
MM Maybe for some but I had already lived in Britain, it was not a problem and in the movement in the underground and even in New Age as I have said in the fifties when I got active in the New Age there was Kurt Danziger, there was Harold Strachan, there was Jean Middleton, so in that circle we were already mixing and in those days people used to go to social events in homes mixing. I used to stay away because I didn't want to jeopardise my underground position. So I don't recall interacting with them in a way where I was I was conscious that they were white but not deeply conscious in the sense that I would openly criticise as I raised about our salary in the underground. There were white comrades who were in the underground, there were African, Indian, coloured full time and therefore they were paid by the underground.
POM But you were saying about Ruth.
MM But what I found is that when the issue of my salary came up, because I was earning a month and now I was paying a rent of 13 a month and my wife was living here illegally, how do you manage? So the question came up and it came up in the case of Michael Dingake in the District Committee of the Party. Michael had lost his job no, no, he hadn't lost his job, we asked him to leave his job to go full time and he said, "Well chaps, what's going to be my salary?" Now he was earning in his job about a month and when the matter came up in the District Committee he said he couldn't leave his job unless he was paid a month and somebody said, "But that's beyond the salary scale." And I said, "What is the salary scale?" And they said, "Well we have different scales but essentially we are giving a salary tailored to each individual to maintain the lifestyle that you were leading so that it doesn't become suspicious that you've left work." So I said, "What does that mean? Mike has been leading a lifestyle on a month and you are saying that's not the scale, that you can't pay that amount. Surely he must maintain his same lifestyle?" Then I asked, "Well what does a white comrade get?" And they said it varies, so I said, "What does it vary?" They said, "It varies according to the lifestyle that he's leading." I said, "I don't want to personalise this but who has determined what should be my lifestyle? And how do we determine that Mike must drop to I don't want to make a big issue but I think this is problematic because then what you are doing is that racially the country has decided that whites get high pay and live in nice houses and blacks live like this and here we are in the party, the underground, saying these discrepancies are justified because they're historically belonging to a lifestyle." It was a bit of a tough discussion.
What I am saying, Padraig, is that the atmosphere was such that we could talk about these things. And sure there was an issue of race cropping up, because I was saying, you mean to say Comrade A who's white, who's living in Yeoville, yes sure he can't go and live in Alexandra Township, so therefore in your world the rent is a month so he must get his rent, 100 a month, but I am there, Mike is there, Mike lives in Alexandra Township so, OK, his salary bill a month, and Mac is living in a grey area where crooks and criminals live and he's living in a servant's quarters. But I'm living in a servant's quarters not because I want to, I can get another place, but I am living there because in this environment all sorts of criminals and prostitutes and crooks, that's the environment, and for me to survive there I don't stick out. Nobody asks me how come I'm now suddenly driving a car. It's a station wagon and yet I live in a servant's quarters and then at the same time I disappear for three days and nights and then for another five days they only see me, doesn't appear as if he's gone out of the house at all. I said, "Because of that you're saying OK, but then what you're not noticing is you left me with for food." So I say, "I can accept the differential on the house rental in the salary but I can't accept the differential on food. Surely we deserve to be able to buy the same food."
POM Or a lifestyle that would require just a higher level of expenditure.
MM I'm just giving you, just to make the argument very crisp, what's the food requirements of Padraig who's white and Mac who's black? Yes I may like my rice and curry and you may like your grilled steak, but the point is our grocery bill for the month should be a grocery bill that says eat reasonably and if you say to both of us for your food bill you're given 10 a month, Padraig must manage and eat his grilled meat and I must manage and make my curry. You can't turn round and say now because of that the food component of the salary should now be different for Padraig and for me. How you manage is your business but you can't differentiate because now you're running into a huge race trap. We're going to suddenly go to genetics and my metabolism rate and whether I should be eating mealie meal, but who's prescribing all that? It's prescribed by a race criteria.
So discussion like that took place. It took place also in 1977 when I got out of the country and I went to London. I spoke to Defence & Aid to Rika Hodgson, Phyllis Altman, comrades who were running the Defence & Aid Fund which was the clandestine fund through which we were getting support for our welfare. Defence & Aid used to assist our relatives to visit us in prison and I say, "My wife in Durban is given a rail ticket, she's got to travel three days by rail to Cape Town, three days back, be away from work for a week and lose the salary for a week but a white comrade his wife or relative is living in Jo'burg or Durban, you pay an air ticket and Thompson Duarte, he's living in PE, his wife is a washerwoman, you give her a third class rail ticket. We're the ones that lose, we're the ones that when my wife doesn't go to work for a week she's docked. I don't understand that. I think it's problematic."Yes, uncomfortable to discuss it but it needed to be discussed.
POM In either case was there an adjustment made?
MM I don't recall in the underground the adjustment being made because I was just also too proud a man because if you came to me after that discussion and said here's I'd tell you to piss off, don't come and talk nonsense to me, because I have this problem inside myself that while in an argument I may illustrate something with my own example, or sometimes I will suppress my personal example, I become inhibited if the benefit of that discussion immediately flows to me. When it starts flowing to me I don't know how to handle it because I feel it's tainting the argument. But I don't recall it becoming a problem for me. I've never seen money as a problem and the reality is the more I've earned the more broke I become.
POM That's how capitalism wins.
MM What is the big change in SA, post-1994, that slowly it is becoming the norm that whatever your colour if you do a job for an equal job you get an equal pay. Here I have never, from day one, I didn't even negotiate my salary, I sent somebody else to negotiate my salary. And they have said to me, "Come back", very nicely, Wendy you saw just now, at times she's said to me, "Do you need an adjustment?" I said, "That's your business, don't come and ask me." "You're making it difficult." I say, "Yes that's your difficulty, sorry. That's your difficulty." I have it in my briefcase, they just wrote a letter to me changing my salary and my bonus and very diffidently when I bumped into the CEO who wrote the letter I said, "Thank you very much." And he wanted to talk. I said, "Don't talk." "Are you happy?" I said, "About what?" "Are you unhappy about your salary? Are you happy?" I say, "Don't ask me that question. You pay me what you think in your mind I am worth and let's leave it at that." So I have that twist in my mind, I'll advise everybody else to go and demand and fight. I can't do it, I can't do it.
POM Did you raise this at the district level?
MM District level.
POM So you don't know whether it ever went to the Central Committee?
MM I think in Mike's case we succeeded in getting him his
POM OK. But when you became a member of the Central Committee you never raised the issue?
MM No I didn't. I didn't raise the issue and I don't recall well also bear in mind we were living post-Rivonia, there was turmoil when you met, you're not going to sit down and talk about what's your salary.
POM Did it ever strike you as, particularly being a member of the SACP, that well-off white people would be interested in the overthrow of the capitalist order and the establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat and yet live the lifestyle that they lived which one would gather from photographs and things was not an unlavish lifestyle?
MM I don't think it was an issue for me. From a Marxist point of view I accepted the working class interests were the key interests but I have accepted that there are non-working class people who participate in that struggle in an unreserved way and it's not a phenomenon of SA. After all Engels was a cotton mill owner and the letters between him and Marx where Marx is complaining about money and touching him for money all the time and Engels replying in frustration as if to say, what do you think, I'm a charity here? Engels was a factory owner but a founder with Marx. Marx himself was married to Jenny who was from the German aristocracy and he pawned her jewellery and he was an intellectual. OK he wore threadbare coats in Soho but that didn't mean we had to wear threadbare clothes - because we want to.
So in SA, yes, the race factor has been present in our debates and discussions and sometimes it becomes personally heated but it took the form, for example, that in reading about the background I knew so many of the white comrades were from the trade union background and working class background. So was Joe Slovo. His father had come to SA and was a hawker in Yeoville and Joe started work at the age of 14 hawking and delivering goods. Eli Weinberg was a trade unionist and I can name you hundreds of them. Ruth First's father had come as an immigrant and then become a businessman by his own bootstraps and owning a furniture factory and living what looked like a grand lifestyle.
POM He was an immigrant from?
MM They were mostly immigrants from Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, the old Russia if you dig into their backgrounds, and many of them were Jewish, those who came like that. There were others who came from the Afrikaner side like Danie du Plessis. He was an Afrikaner.He was one time Secretary of the Communist Party in the thirties. Then there was Eddie Roux who has written these books, Time Longer than Rope, that's an Afrikaner name. And I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Ray Alexander's husband, Jack Simons, an academic, is an Afrikaner.
You were saying about the whites, no it wasn't a problem. Just as I saw a lesser number of Africans, but Indians I saw the J N Singhs and the Ismail Meers had become lawyers, begin to live in better suburbs, bigger houses, dress better, drive a car. But I say theoretically I accepted that there could be people from other classes, including from the bourgeoisie. I saw it in Britain. In Britain a member of the House of Lords was a member of the British Communist Party, Lord Montagu, and he was President of the International Table Tennis Association which is the first association, international, which debarred the SA Table Tennis Association which was all white from being a member of the International Federation as far back as 1957. And I met Lord Montagu in London. So I also saw in Britain those rare individuals. I saw leading academics, Maurice Confort and Maurice Dobb were fellows at Cambridge and they were leading members of the British party.
POM So were most of their good spies.
POM Just on that, if you read through, you won't because you haven't gotten it yet, but when you get it and you read through it you will see that you never mention on a single occasion the ANC.
MM I only mention the ANC post my release.
POM Post 1976.
MM The reason is, well I've mentioned the ANC Secretariat that I would be in touch with in the underground, Michael Dingake.
POM That's here. OK.
MM The reason is that structurally the way the organisations developed was that you had an African National Congress exclusively for membership of Africans, the Indian Congress for people of Indian origin, the Congress of Democrats for whites, the Coloured People's Congress of so-called coloureds and the SA Congress of Trade Unions as membership of workers. Now there was therefore until I came out of prison no ANC that I could belong to and be in a meeting as a branch member of an ANC.
POM That didn't change till 1985.
MM It didn't change till 1985 but when I went out from prison the ANC already had taken a decision in 1968/69 at Morogoro that non-Africans could be members of the ANC in exile except that they could not be members of the National Executive Committee. They could serve in any other position. When I went out that resolution was in implementation so I was straightaway integrated into the ANC and I was straightaway integrated into the Communist Party and you will find then my task that I was assigned as Secretary of the ANC Internal, the man who informed me of this
POM Sorry, you were Secretary of the ANC?
MM Internal, Internal Reconstruction & Political Department, which is an ANC department.I was in London busy transcribing the Mandela manuscript. Dr Dadoo, Indian, chairman of the Communist Party, had come down to a meeting somewhere in Africa, must have been the Revolutionary Council, and he returned to London at the end of November and he calls to see me.
POM Is this the same Dr Dadoo who was part of that pact in 1946?
MM Yes, same Dr Dadoo. And he says to me, "Mac, it has been decided that you will report for duty in Lusaka and you will be made the secretary of the ANC's Internal Political & Reconstruction Department." No questions from my side. That's decided. I say, "What does that mean?" He says, "You will be based in Lusaka. From there I don't know what happens. Number two, you are required to attend the first meeting of that department on 5 December taking place in Lusaka."
POM That would be 5 December 19-?
MM You will have the ticket here, it will be provided for you to fly to Lusaka in time for that meeting. I say, "What about my work that I'm doing here?" "Your ticket will allow you to come back to London after that meeting."
So, this is the instruction from Dr Dadoo. He doesn't tell me who has decided, he just says, "It has been decided." To me what does that mean? Obviously the ANC has decided that I will occupy that post. Obviously the Communist Party is aware that that decision has been taken and has agreed to that decision and so here I'm told and my job is this is what's decided I must do. Good, now do it, sort out all the little problems that are in the way, when are you going to finish up in London? In the meantime get to Lusaka and when I'm there discuss the matter, how much time are they allowing me to close up what I am doing in London? When do I report back to Lusaka? And where will I find a place to stay in Lusaka and does this thing require me to stay in Lusaka stationary or move about? But now let's start grappling with the work I've got to do but I'm not asking is it ANC, has the ANC agreed, has the Communist Party agreed, has there been a joint meeting or a separate meeting or a one-to-one meeting? It's enough for me.
I just see myself as serving the struggle irrespective of where they put me. If they put me in something that I vigorously disliked, which I told them when I got out of the country and I got to Lusaka from Dar Es Salaam I was picked up at the airport by the ANC.
POM This was when you were going to visit Tambo was it? With the manuscript?
MM Yes. My first reporting. When I got to Maputo I said I've got to get to Lusaka to report to O R Tambo. They flew me to Dar Es Salaam, they provided me with a travel document at the ANC office and they accommodated me in Dar Es Salaam. Then they came and said, "Here's your ticket, you're flying tomorrow to Lusaka." When I got to Lusaka there was somebody at the airport to pick me up and he picked me up and he drove me straight to a farm, the National Executive of the ANC was meeting and I asked him, "Where are you taking me to?" He says, "Well the NE is meeting in Makeni Farm." Makeni is a district and the farm was called Makeni Farm. He says, "The NE is meeting at a farm at Makeni, my instructions are to take you straight there." I get to the farm, it's a farmhouse, walk into the kitchen. They say, "Wait", somebody says to me, "Wait." A little later comes back from a room where the NE was meeting and he tells me, "You are required to come into the meeting." So I walk into the meeting, there's O R Tambo chairing it, they interrupt, everybody greets me, tell me to take a seat and I take a seat. Tambo addresses me, welcomes me, puts a few questions to me and says, "Sit down. This is the National Executive meeting here, we thought you could sit down for this item and participate." And I sat, participated. I am not asking on what basis. I accept the authority of the ANC.
POM The item?
MM It must have been they must have been debating and analysing what's happening at home. I sat at the meeting. Lunch break came, I say, "How many days is this meeting going to be?" They say, "Well two days." "Am I expected to be at the meeting?" "Don't know. Yes, I think so." I said, "Where do I sleep?" "Oh, don't worry comrade, there are beds here, you can sleep here, you've got to sleep." OR sees me privately, I discuss with him and he says, "OK, let's get the messages, I'll arrange to see you", and when I see him and I tell him about the autobiography he says, "Well, what do you suggest?" I say, "I don't care where - "
POM Now where was the autobiography at this point?
MM Still in London.
POM It's in London OK.So it was taken from the time you got out.
MM I smuggled it from Durban to London to the care of Rusty Bernstein.
POM OK. So was it with the ANC or with the SACP in London or with an individual?
MM Individual. My courier, I sent it to Rusty.
POM He's not living in London is he?
MM He was living in London and my message to Rusty was, "Keep this thing safe even though it makes no sense to you, it's just a file with all sorts of maps in it and statistics, economic data. Just keep it absolutely safe. It's from me and you will get it by Slater from me." So I tell OR it is safely in London. What is involved, it has to be transcribed, typed out. He says, "What do you need?" I said, "Well I need a typist, a good typist who can take dictation. I need a place to do the work." He says, "How long?" I said, "Probably about six months." He says, "It seems to me to be more convenient if you did that in London, we don't have any facilities here." So I said, "That's fine, my wife is there and, sure, I'd like to visit her and retrieve these things." He says, "Fine, you will get your ticket, you will go to London. We'll try and sort out your logistical problems and we'll sort out the question of a typist and everything."
A few weeks later I get to London, I go to visit Dr Dadoo and all the comrades, I go to the ANC office, they all welcome me and then Dr Dadoo says, "Let's meet." So I go to the Communist Party office and there's Dr Dadoo. He says, "I believe you need a good shorthand typist?" I said, "Yes." Now I'd only mentioned this to Tambo but he says, "I believe you need this." So I said, "Yes." So he says, "Well, I've been asked to find a person, Sue Rabkin, would you like to interview her and decide whether she's suitable?" So I said, "Sure, where do I find her?"
MM Rabkin. She's now the partner to Pallo Jordan.
POM Oh OK.
MM So I said, "Fine." And he says to me, "Where will you stay?" I said, "Well my wife has got a place, is looking for a place and I will move in and stay with her." He says, "Fine." And he says, "About your expenses here, what else do you need?" I said, "I need a typewriter, I need a dictaphone machine, I need a magnifying glass, I need paper." He says, "Fine we'll look at all that." And I go and see Sue Rabkin and she had just come out of prison from SA, she had two little kids. Her husband was in jail in SA and she's got a flat. I say, "Where will we work?" She says, "It's more convenient to work from home, I've got two little kids." So I said, "Fine. Are you a typist?" She says, "Yes I'm a typist." "Let's talk. What's your time availability?"
POM She's shorthand too?
MM Yes. So I say, "What's your time availability?" She says, "Well I take my kids", I think her kids were about one was just about a year old and the other one was about four years old, she says, "I take them to nursery school and kindergarten so after that I'm free by nine o'clock in the morning, I'm free till twelve, one. Then I'm occupied and free again at three o'clock in the afternoon till about five in the afternoon and then when the kids are in bed by eight o'clock at night I'm free." So I said, "Fine, let's look at your flat, where will you work?" She said, "Here in the lounge." So I said, "Fine. Let's try it."
POM So the process of going through that biography, when you took it out and read it or began to, you would use a magnifying glass?
MM To make it easier to read and then originally I thought I will dictate and then she would transcribe but we found it more efficient for me to read it aloud in a dictating way and she straight away just typed away because the advantage of that was that if she had any query she could make it as I am dictating whereas if I put it on a tape, remember those were not the computer years, so if she had typed it out now from the tape and it's got mistakes she's got to retype the bloody thing. Better dictating and she's typing away. She has a query, she has a spelling problem, she has an understanding problem, she queries me straight away. We worked through it that way.
In the meantime other things would be happening. I'd get a message from the ANC office in London, which was the first one? Oh, the first one was a message to say that the ANC wants me to be part of the delegation at a conference in Nigeria in Lagos. Here's your ticket and then one of the ANC staff members in London says to me, "From Lagos you will be proceeding to New York to the UN." No, no, the first one was Lagos, August 1977. You're going to the conference there, here's your ticket, etc. I go to the conference, OR is there, Thabo is there, Duma Nokwe is there.
POM Is this the first time you had met Thabo?
MM No I'd met Thabo already. The first time I met Thabo was here in 1962 or 1963 when he was on his way out of the country.
POM How did your paths cross?
MM Our paths crossed at the Naidoo household where I was boarding and lodging.
POM Indres Naidoo?
MM Yes and Thabo, Gerald and a whole group of Youth League chaps.
MM Gerald, Walter Sisulu's nephew. I'm trying to think of his surname.
POM OK I'll get it, pick it up on the way round. So was Thabo in the Youth League at that time?
MM He was in the Youth League and the whole group arrived at the Naidoo household. They were going out, Indres and all of them were going out having a good time and I was introduced to them as a boarder and lodger and when they left that evening when I was with Indres he says, "You know, they're on their way out, they're leaving the country." So I knew and a week or two later I read in the papers that Thabo and a group had crossed the border into Botswana.
POM Was Essop Pahad with him at that time? No? When he was introduced to you he thought you were just a non-involved political person but you were boarding at the Naidoos too so you were invited along.
MM Yes, and when they said join us, we're going out to some party or somewhere, I said, "No, excuse me, I haven't got time, I'm busy", and so they forgot about me. But I went to the Lagos conference, returned to London and then in October, yes October 1977 the ANC office says to me in London, "You have to go to the UN, there's a special session and you will be speaking there but before that you have to get to Nigeria again for a meeting. From that meeting you will proceed to New York."
POM Now what was the nature of the meetings?
MM It was the World Support Against Apartheid. The Lagos conference was the UN special conference against apartheid and for sanctions against apartheid. At the UN session was a session on the treatment of political prisoners in SA and they said there is a demand in Dublin from a group of South Africans that I should come there and they said, "What we will do is we will give you a ticket, you go to Nigeria, from Nigeria you proceed to New York, from New York you go to Dublin and from there you return to London." So I said, "Fine."
Then the logistics man in the ANC office in London says, "I need to see you." So I go to see him in his office and he says, "We have instructions from the President", Tambo, "We have to buy you a suit." So I said, "Why a suit?" He says, "No you can't go dressed like this to these conferences and so Tambo has instructed that the ANC office must buy me a suit." So I said, "Where do I start?" He says, "Don't worry, my wife knows London, she will be available. Can you come here to the office tomorrow? She will take you around to the shops and outfit you." So I went, she took me to the shops, she bought me a suit. I didn't know what price or anything.
POM A tie, a shirt?
MM A tie, shirt. I bought the thing, I went to New York. I came back from New York and Indres Naidoo was in London. His build was about the same as mine and they were all ragging me that I am in a suit so I said to Indres, "I hate this suit." So he says, "Hey, Bub, let's see if it fits me." He put it on, it fitted him. I said, "Have it." "No, no, no, but you need this." I said, "No, please, I don't want to go to these conferences. Just leave me to be scruffy as I am and that way they won't send me to conferences." I gave the suit to Indres. I still remember it was from Austin Reed.
POM Do they still have a store in London?
POM They must have. I must go by that store when I go there and walk in and say, "I'm going to take a photograph of this place", and they will say, "Why?" And I will say, "Well you don't know it but the first suit this man ever wore - ."So did you go to Dublin too? Was Kader in Dublin at that point?
MM Yes. Kader was in Dublin. I stayed at his house that night. I met all the South African students. I met the Anti-Apartheid Committee also. I think I addressed one Anti-Apartheid Committee meeting. Then I met the SA students in Dublin at an evening meeting and the next morning I flew off to London.
POM I was going to ask, in fact it was Judy who brought this up and I thought it was kind of an interesting observation, that you had met Kader in London, in fact knew him in London when you were there in the early sixties yet he married Louise and went on to Dublin and to teach at Trinity for 30 years. Would that have been a decision of was Kader a member of the SACP?
MM Kader joined the Anti-Apartheid Movement at its formation, the London Committee in 1960. He joined the study class, the Marxist study class that the SA section of the Communist Party was now running in London, trying to attract South Africans towards the party but not said to be the party, just said to be studying Marxism. [Kader, this is not for publication, I told you I was approached, Kader was recruited, we made an overture to him to recruit him to the SACP and he agreed but hot on the heels of that the issue of training came up. So that was already the end of 1960 early 1961.]
I was approached, as I say, I think in February of 1961 to go for training and then Vella Pillay and I had a discussion. He said, "Well at home they need a number of people to be trained and for it not be detected that they have trained in various skills." So we sat down and said now who else should we approach and we agreed that Vella would approach Steve Naidoo and would approach Kader. While that was supposed to be in motion I went away for my training. When I returned to London while I'm in the GDR training I learn that Wilton Mkwayi, Nanda Naidoo have gone off to China in September 1961 for training.
Then Vella came to the GDR on a visit and we met and we talked about what was happening at home and I said to him, "When does Kader go?" He was very disappointed. He said to me, "Look, I don't want to hear about that chap because he agreed but the next thing is we just heard that he's getting married to Louise and he's never come back to say, when do I go, or to say that his circumstances have changed. So Kader didn't go off for training. He decided with no instruction, no decision and no consultation, he decided his private life he decided he was going to marry Louise, he decided he was going to study and he decided he was not going to go off for training but he never said I'm not going. The issue disappeared from the radar screen. Then after qualifying he got a job at Dublin and he went off to Dublin with Louise and there he became involved in the Anti-Apartheid again and carried on with support work. So that's how it was.
There was no such thing, he had not yet been, in my view, integrated into the SACP. He had agreed but not yet formally been integrated and I suppose in his own mind he never felt he was under that sort of discipline. That's how life has turned out.
POM Had he gone into exile or gone to study?
MM He had not gone into exile.
POM He went to study in London. Did you see, when you were in London in the sixties this would be, did you get to see Thabo again or any of the guys who were at Sussex University?
MM No. I left London in 1962 and came here. Thabo left the country some time in 1962/63 and I only saw Thabo again in Lusaka at the NEC meeting when I arrived in Lusaka but when I came back from London in December to attend that meeting on 5 December 1977 I went to the ANC office and Alfred Nzo and Thabo called me aside and we went off in that little Fiat 127 that we owned, the only car we had in Lusaka, you had to push it to make it start. The office was too small, it had a desk for Nzo and a desk for Cindy the Administrative Secretary and typist and you couldn't get into the office, if you were seated you had to shift the chair to open the door to come in and out. That's how little space there was. But Thabo and Nzo, Nzo called me out, took me to the car, got into the car, Thabo got into the car and Nzo said, "Well you've been informed that this meeting that takes place on 5th you have been appointed Secretary." I said, "Yes." He says, "Well we thought we should use this opportunity now before the meeting starts on the 5th to brief you about the restructuring that's going on in the ANC", and Thabo then outlined the structures and outlined this department and the mandate of the department. He said, "This is the mandate of the department and you will be functioning there as the Secretary and the following people are in that committee."
POM These would be people who were in Lusaka?
MM No, they were spread over, they were in Lusaka, in Botswana, in Mozambique and at the first meeting, and he told me the chairman will be John Motsabi a member of the NEC, that attending the meeting will be Henry Makgothi, a member of the NE but based in Botswana who had been a former prisoner, that from Maputo would be coming Indres Naidoo, that from Swaziland would be coming John Nkadimeng, a member of the NE, that from the women's section will be Gertrude Shope, Florence Maphosho, that Ray Alexander based in Lusaka would be part of that committee, a member of the Executive of SACTU, that Reg September, the Chief Representative of the ANC in London would be part of the committee. Anybody else? No, I think that's about it. That was the first committee. That's when I now really met Thabo to sit in a discussion where his presence, my presence was really we could notice each other.
POM What was your first impression?
MM He gave a very clear briefing. It was clear that the chart he used, the organogram that he used, had his handwriting. He was very clear, he was very succinct but it is clear that he was speaking with the authority of Alfred Nzo the Secretary General.
POM How would I put it? Your assessment of him?
MM I knew that he was the son of Govan Mbeki. I knew that he had already studied at Sussex, I knew that he was attached to the Revolutionary Council as Secretary to Mabida and I knew that he had been in Swaziland so I was positively impressed with him but I can't say that at first meeting there was anything outstandingly impressive.
Sorry, I had met him earlier, I met him at the Lagos conference in August 1977. Yes, yes, yes. And in the Lagos conference I was impressed but it's my first brush with his style. It was a UN conference and it had a Steering Committee made up of member organisations and states, member states, the Steering Committee, and it was a two, three day conference. OR was attending, there was a substantial ANC delegation. Johnny Makatini our UN Rep, Thabo Mbeki, Duma Nokwe and quite a few others so it was about a ten person delegation.
POM This was a conference - ?
MM In Lagos, Nigeria.
POM Oh sorry, the Lagos conference, yet.
MM August. So I arrived there, conference has started and in OR's hotel room we would meet at lunch time. I am told to come there to a meeting in the evening, the first evening. So we get to OR's hotel room, the whole delegation, and it's a meeting planning how do we make our inputs into the conference. So the first question that arises is preparing OR's speech and Duma Nokwe is the day-to-day leader on the floor of the conference and the next thing that arose was a report back from the Steering Committee from Johnny Makatini about what's the preparation for the final declaration, is the drafting going on? And Johnny says he's having problems.
POM That's for the final declaration from the ANC?
MM No, from the UN conference. And Johnny says he's having problems, the member countries' representatives are being difficult in accepting some of our wording and around that item he reports the different positions being taken by, for example, the delegate from Tanzania, the delegate from Ghana, Nigeria and other countries, Algeria. So I don't know these people but it is being discussed and OR then says, "Well Johnny, do you need reinforcements? Do you need assistance in that committee?" He says, "It would be very useful if Mac could join me. He is fresh from home and they are likely to listen to him a bit more." So they asked me to accompany Johnny there.
Then on preparing our inputs to conference on the floor and OR's input, OR proposes that Johnny Makatini, Thabo Mbeki and I should work as the drafting committee to draft his input, and Duma. So straight out of that meeting, from his room we proceed to I think Johnny's room or Thabo's room, yes Thabo's room. We sit down, it's about eleven at night and we are drinking and chatting and in my mind we are supposed to chat what goes into this input, let's get the bullet points, but I find the discussion rambling. About twelve, one o'clock I say, "When do we start drafting?" Johnny Makatini says, "I'm busy drafting", and we say, "Read out what you've drafted", and we find it's too clichéd and we react to it. About four in the morning, I say, "Guys, we've got to have this input ready, we haven't even started and we're trying to collectively draft." So Thabo says, "No, no, no, I tell you what, the best way to proceed look, I will have something ready by nine o'clock in the morning and we can meet at lunch time and discuss the draft that I will have."
In my mind the committee idea was not working and I thought this was a good suggestion to get movement and progress. So when we met at lunch time Thabo presented a draft which he must have drafted at five in the morning. We discussed the draft, it was very useful, it was strong and we just discussed modifications, additions and we finalised it. That was the first interaction where I saw (a) that Thabo was very able, had a strategic mind, was a very good draftsman, but that he liked to work alone and later on I came to realise that it was part of his technique that he would do the drafting, he would self-assign the drafting to himself but he would do it.
It was the first occasion where I sat through the night in a discussion and my impression when we left in the morning with the task that he would do the initial draft was that he had not taken hold of the discussion to focus it, he had allowed the discussion to drift backwards and forwards to irrelevances and relevances as each of the people drove it. So at that level he was not focusing the group. I made rationalisations in my mind for that lack because I said senior to him, present at the meeting, was Duma Nokwe the Assistant Secretary General and a stalwart and a very competent draftsman who had been with me in Propaganda Committee, very able, the first black advocate in this country. Secondly, Johnny Makatini who was the Foreign Affairs representative of the ANC and who was deeply involved in the UN and that this conference was a UN conference, that Thabo was much younger than them and that therefore he avoided driving the meeting, that he left it to Duma but Duma had already become an alcoholic and was, as it turned out, in his last throes. A year later he was dead. And that Johnny had met a major car accident in Algeria in the sixties which had left him an insomniac, so Johnny was a great networker but he was not a great draftsman and so I rationalised it that what I thought Thabo should have pulled the meeting together was not done. Thabo at that time was the Chief Representative of the ANC in Nigeria. So that's how I left my first meeting.
POM Could I give you an alternative suggestion? That you said he self-assigned himself to be the draftsman and he really let the meeting drift until a point where he could say, "Listen guys, we've gone on for four hours and we haven't really gotten any place, why don't I do it and I'll have it for you in the morning?" So it was kind of deliberate to let things drift until he could insert to do it himself.
MM Well I've suggested that, I've suggested that that was an impression but I've also suggested how I explained it away. I don't want to be caught up into making a judgement which suggests a manipulative tendency. I am saying that there were plausible explanations for how it actually happened.
POM Was there warmth between you, was there any kind of personal engagement?
MM Yes there was and there wasn't. He obviously knew that I had stayed in the same section of Robben Island as his father but he never asked me how his father was. Clearly he knew from other prisoners who had been released, notably Andrew Masondo who is now in the army, he's a General in the army.
POM He's the guy who Joe Seremane had the reconciliation with?
MM Yes. Now Masondo had aligned himself in those debates with Govan and had come out
POM This is on the Island?
MM On the Island, and had come out abroad a year before me and obviously had given reports and spoken to Thabo with messages from the father but also briefed him about that I was more with Madiba and Sisulu. So I thought again he didn't touch those subjects because it would have raised some awkwardness and to be fair to Thabo, when I got to Lusaka in December and was assigned to work in Lusaka and arrangements were made to extend my stay in London until the middle of January when I would permanently relocate to Zambia and I returned to Zambia in January/February 1978, I got accommodation with a German couple through Indres Naidoo, in Lusaka. But a few weeks thereafter I met Thabo's wife Zanele who was working for the IUEF, Inter-University exchange programme. She was an employee of the IUEF in Africa and she had got a flat in Lusaka, very nice flat, maisonette, and Thabo would stay with her. So one day I met Zanele, casually, no pre-arranged meeting, I had gone to the IUEF offices or something and Zanele chatted with me and she offered me accommodation in their flat. I thanked her for it and said I would come back, I am at the moment living with a German couple, I would clarify what the arrangement is because it was like a temporary thing that the Germans were accommodating me in their sitting room. I then went back to her about a week later and thanked her for the offer and said that the Germans had offered me a permanent room, they were taking a bigger house. They were moving out of the flat where I was sleeping on the couch in the lounge, they were taking a house which would have a spare room and they would accommodate me and I thought that her flat could be useful to others who could not find accommodation.
That was it and I don't know whether my refusal to take up their generous offer was interpreted again as putting a distance between him and me.
POM Putting a distance between?
MM Thabo and me. I don't know. But our relations whenever we
POM Interpreted by him?
MM By him. But our relations whenever we met and whenever invariably I would find myself in any meeting where I'm present being put into a drafting committee with Thabo. That happened also in the Communist Party because by 1978 I was integrated into the Communist Party, attended the Central Committee, attended the extended Central Committee meeting in Berlin and there was Thabo. In all these meetings after discussion on any complicated issue or some issue that needs a resolution or a statement more and more I found myself being put into those committees and I found the committees always including Thabo. So in those exchanges, in those discussions I found him very able, very sharp strategically and I worked well with him, I like to think worked well. I now understood his style and I think
POM His style of drafting or working?
MM Drafting and even working, his working style and also when we exchanged ideas I used to have a sense that if he said something and the debate went on
POM Between the two of you?
MM No, others in the room, and somebody said something that I thought was not fitting with what Thabo had said which I had agreed with, I thought when our eyes locked we straight away were thinking the same way, that that is contrary but how do we debate this issue and get it to agree with what I thought was a common understanding.
I told you the story about New York and De Lange where Seretse Choabe threatened to kill the Broederbond man?
MM I must have told you, you'll find it. But I'm saying that he disappeared from the room and was on the balcony of the hall.
POM Which are you talking about now?
MM Princeton 1986, the conference where we met Pieter de Lange of the Broederbond at a conference in New York and there was a scandal that one of the ANC representatives at the meeting threatened to kill De Lange, to shoot him.
POM He's the same De Lange who was ?
MM Chairman of the Broederbond.
POM Right, up to - ?
MM Just about the nineties.
POM Yes, I interviewed him many times.
MM But when Seretse Choabe
POM Who was at this meeting?
MM It was a Ford Foundation meeting, we had a number of people from home attending.
POM This was in 1986?
MM 1986 and it's the first time that the Broederbond, which was the think tank of apartheid, its chairman was present.
POM Was he the only Afrikaner there?
MM No there were other Afrikaners. There might have been a Van - Van Zyl Slabbert might have been there, might not have been there, I can't remember.
POM This was before Lagos?
MM No this is long after Lagos. Lagos was 1977. That's why you don't remember it. But I say that when De Lange got up to speak, Seretse Choabe attacked De Lange.
POM Who was he now?
MM He was in the Education Department of the ANC and based in London and running the Luthuli Foundation. He was an academic, I think he had his Masters by that time or a doctorate. But Seretse Choabe just saw red when this Broederbond man stood up to speak and Seretse challenged his right to speak at this conference, but very, very aggressively and rudely. When somebody suggested that we could not preclude him from speaking Seretse Choabe intervened and Thabo was sitting next to Seretse, I was sitting far away on another side of this rectangular seating arrangement. There were about 40 people, 50 people at the meeting seated around this rectangular arrangement of tables. But when Seretse Choabe got aggressive and rude and got into an altercation with Prof. de Lange, Thabo quietly got up from his seat and disappeared and this was an embarrassing moment for me. Seretse actually turned round and shouted, "You, you are a representative of apartheid, you're a murderer", and ended up by saying, "I'll shoot you." This was in the morning session.
POM The afternoon went better or he was dead? Which is it? Remember what's supposed to be the funniest joke in the world? Did you read it? That won the prize after 40,000 entrants had been processed by a team in London who spent years looking for submissions, as the funniest joke in the world. It is about a guy who was hunting with a companion and the companion collapsed and he tried to put him together. I guess he had a cell phone out in the wild, wherever they were, but he rings emergency and says, "Get emergency treatment here, this guy has collapsed, he may be dead." The operator says, "Well
MM "Let's first make sure that he's dead."
POM "Let's first make sure that he's dead." So he shoots him and says, "What do I do next?" So Choabe said, "I'll shoot you", so what next?
MM Imagine these people who are being painted as terrorists threatening this in New York. So I look up, I'm looking, where's Thabo? And my mind is saying we now have to do damage control but the damage control must not wait for the tea break because then it will look like we were in crisis mode. The damage control must be done before the tea break and I am working in my mind what should be said but in my mind logically the person who should do that damage control is Thabo because I know Seretse has been drunk last night and he's also in a state of hangover. I look up and I see there on the balcony Thabo is standing there and smoking his pipe, so I look at him and our eyes lock and as far as I'm concerned when our eyes locked at that instant both of us recognise, at least that's how I'm thinking, that the damage control has got to be done and has got to be done soon. So there's agreement, damage control needed. So I say to myself, well is he going to do it? When? Because that's what I'm thinking and I don't want to be seen sending him a note and I see him not coming down and it's nearing tea break. Finally I decide, uh-uh, what he is signalling is yes damage control but he's saying you do it. So before the break I ask to speak and I spoke and some journalists have recorded it, they said I did a very good job.
POM Were the journalists there?
MM There were all sorts of reporters there.
POM Were they from SA?
MM No they would have been from New York. Essentially what I said was that please understand our people are being killed by the dozens in the streets of our country. Our educational system is tailored on Bantu education and what you have seen is the emotion around how we feel about what is happening to us in our country, so understand that. Don't just ignore that emotion. But having taken account of that emotion let us now look at what do we do and I said the more the world remains inactive the more that emotion becomes stronger and stronger because we feel beleaguered, without friends. For a cause which we can see patently, everybody agrees with us, so I hope that this conference will take that into account as it continues with its deliberations and makes sure that its deliberations arrive at concrete decisions of what the world can do to help us. So I diffused it.
POM Did De Lange get to speak?
MM Yes, but I diffused it completely and people came to say that was fantastic, you did a wonderful job. But the secret of it was to do the damage control before the tea break. So that was an incident but I'm saying, I'm telling you this incident because that eye contact for me was like we were one mind, that yes this thing needs an intervention that engages in damage control, that it is off the rails now, handle it. But who should handle it was not an issue. When it should be handled eye contact could not say but I saw him staying away and leaving the damage control to me.
POM I want to get back to two things: why do you think Thabo walked away from the table and why do you think he did not come down as he was the senior person there to do the damage control?
MM My own speculation is that Seretse Choabe was quite a volatile chap. He's dead now but he was heavy into drinking but heavy into drinking in a way where he would be on the border of being unable to handle his drinking. When that outburst started my own fear was that if I intervened and directly repudiated him I could not predict how he would react because it could have become an altercation between him and I which would be making matters worse. So I think that that's a concern that was there in Thabo's mind and I think he knew that he was going to be meeting De Lange privately and he therefore was tossing these balls in the air asking himself how would he handle the discussion with De Lange in private, at the same time how do we do damage control without Seretse getting into an altercation with us. I think that he felt Mac would be able to handle it and he felt that if he came back and sat down I would interpret it that he would make the intervention. So he was signalling to me you have to make that intervention, don't expect me to make it, I agree that we need an intervention but you do it. Had he strolled back to his seat I would have read into it that he's going to do it.
POM Why do you think he got up in the first place?
MM He got up, he was sitting right next to Choabe, in that situation my own reaction would have been how to gently draw Choabe's attention even by tapping his foot or something to say cool it. He may have done that. On the other hand he might have decided, and he knew Choabe better because Thabo had been I was new, I was not working in a field where I would meet Choabe often. He might have said, oh Choabe is going to give it to them, let him do it but let me not be perceived as being party to it because if I remain sitting next to him then I will ipso facto be regarded as being part of that unless I take some action. So there are lots of permutations that are possible there.
POM Just before we leave that meeting, can you remember what De Lange had to say? How did he come across? This was the first time you were facing somebody who is in fact the head of the Broederbond which is De Lange.
MM De Lange had already, he was an educationist, and there was already in circulation a Broederbond discussion paper in which from within the establishment he was now looking to re-tailor the educational policy away from the stigma that Verwoerd had given it, that is blacks only need to be educated up to the point where they are hewers of wood and drawers of water. So De Lange was seen as a chairman of the Broederbond who was trying to take it towards an enlightened direction and therefore his contribution, as far as I can remember I can't remember the substance of it, but his contribution was, when he was allowed to speak then, a gentle but firm assertion of the right for people to speak and be heard, his concern that the SA education system was in need of reform. That's all that stands out.
POM He didn't see this as like his participation in this discussion as an understanding on his part that the days of apartheid were numbered in one way or another?
MM No. He didn't say a thing like that. If he said a thing like that there would have been quite a bit of news attention on it and there would have been continuing news attention because on his return to SA he would have been repudiated.
POM He would have lost his position as chairman.
MM Oh his position would have been threatened but it would have been big news also in SA. So he didn't do that. My concern was that when I intervened I needed to distance the ANC from Choabe's position but in such a way that Choabe couldn't take exception. That needed to be my entry point and once I had diffused Choabe from taking exception to what he could see was a repudiation I then had to make an overture to the United States constituency that was present there, Ford Foundation and the others.
POM Could Thabo hear you while you were making your intervention?
MM Oh yes.
POM Did he say anything to you afterwards?
MM Straight after that conference
POM At the tea break did he?
MM He made sure that during the tea break and lunch break we were never seen together by any of the delegates.
POM This is in Princeton?
MM Princeton, I think it was in Princeton.
POM I'll verify that, OK.
MM It was hosted by the Ford Foundation. I deliberately at the tea break, lunch break never went near Thabo or Seretse because I did not want it to be the talk and straight after conference I had received a plea, it was June 15, 1986 because
POM The exact day.
MM Why I remember June 15th is because the Chief Representative in Toronto of the ANC was phoning me and pleading with me to come over straightaway to Toronto and I agreed to fly in the next morning provided he got me a visa and when I arrived in Toronto he said, "I need you here urgently because it's June 16th and there is a very aggressive Canadian TV interviewer, Margaret Long, who has been wanting to interview me on TV on June 16th", but it had already been news in Canada about the threat by the ANC to kill De Lange and she was definitely going to question and he says, "I want you to rescue me, you do the interview."
So what happened in Canada, I said to him, "But she's supposed to interview you on June 16th." He says, "Yes." I say, "Is this a live TV interview or is it going to be recorded?" He says it will be live so I said, "Fantastic, I'll do it. How many minutes have they got?" He says it's a two, three minute interview, peak hour, and he says, "She will be interviewing me from the Montreal studio and I'll be in the Toronto studio." So I said, "Just confirm that the purpose of the interview is June 16thanniversary. That's all, don't say anything." He says, "But she's going to ask you about this threat." I said, "Don't worry, is it two minutes, three minutes? Just let me know."
So I went into the studio in Toronto, they wired me up and I made up my mind that the first question she asks me I'm going to answer in such a way that she's got to listen, she's got to be taken aback, she's got to be inhibited to interrupt me because she's hearing something good and it's going to take the whole interview period. There will not be a second question and there will be no chance for her to ask me about this threat.
Now I did that in Toronto. Thabo flew off to Paris, yes that's right, and there was the launch of a preparatory sanctions conference to be held in Paris and we were the co-hosts of that conference.
POM That's the?
MM International Conference on Sanctions against SA. Thabo gets to Paris on 17th and the first thing that happens is a press conference about the conference. So he sits in a panel of people to tell them about the conference and the journalists listen and the first question they hit him with, the threat by Seretse Choabe to kill De Lange. So he had to face that one in the public limelight. I got away from it.
POM Did he ever get in touch with you after the conference to say well handled?
MM Too small an issue. We bumped into each other two weeks later, there wasn't time to talk about it, we were talking about something else. Those things don't stand out it's gone, it's over, no damage, it's controlled. Maybe one day we are drinking and he says, "Shit! We were in big shit that day, that bloody Choabe." It's finished, forgotten.
POM At that point what was your accumulated impression of both his style of working and modus operandi?
MM For whatever reason
POM You're working in drafting, you're doing
MM For whatever reason in a closed meeting he avoids confrontation. He avoids confrontation, I mean he's confronted COSATU, etc., but that's going there and speaking and walking away. I am saying in a committee meeting my impression is with all the strategic strength and all that his avoidance of confrontation is to avoid sharpening the issues.
POM At a meeting?
MM Yes. There is a tendency to fudge it, which people like by the way. People like that attribute because it has the impression that your overriding thrust is consensuality, so people like that because the fudge leads you to walk out thinking that you're right still.
POM So you can walk away it's like two things could be happening, one is that you've gone in there and you know what your mind is anyway, and two, you allow discussion that allows you to walk away saying my initial position before I walked in is still 95% intact.
MM Or you walk away thinking that if you attached yourself to what he said it strengthens your original position. That's dangerous because we're now being a bit simplistic in my assessment.
MM It cannot be, Padraig, that in the phase that we've just gone through and are still passing through, particularly pre-liberation, that a simple (the way the Mail & Guardian puts it, some of the commentators) a simple bureaucratic manipulator would have risen to his position. Post acquisition of power in any society when the organisation has acquired power it's not possible for the bureaucratic manipulator to just shoot up like a shooting star. The discussions that he was engaged in in the process, run-up to the negotiations with the Afrikaner right wing, with the business side, and 1990 even the Mail & Guardian was singing praises of Thabo.
POM You're talking of his meetings, this would be the meetings with Niel Barnard, Mike Louw?
MM Barnard, Mike Louw and even the business meetings and with Willie Esterhuyse, even Van Zyl Slabbert, they all came back to SA singing the highest praises of Thabo because they mistook this consensuality, non-confrontation to mean just 'nice guy', and now their disappointment has turned to call him a 'bureaucratic manipulator', because by using the words bureaucratic manipulator you cut yourself out of the people who were manipulated. Van will say, "He didn't manipulate me, I'm too clever. He's manipulating the bureaucracy inside his party." Our top businessmen were singing praises and all of them subscribe to this view that he's a bureaucratic manipulator.
But I am saying too simplistic but also isn't there a hidden subconscious position that if I support the theory of the bureaucratic manipulator that's the bureaucracy in the current state and in the ANC so he can fool them, but I, who was engaging in all these discussions with him in my trips abroad, no he didn't manipulate me. I don't know. I'm confusing myself.
POM What was your reading of it? Very clever, this is what I see now, your fudges. You talked about Van Zyl Slabbert, you talked about this person and that person so you removed yourself.
MM I've said I found him impressive, strategic, competent at drafting. Interventions I say clear-sighted. I could see between the lines. But I said there's a tendency towards non-confrontation and consensuality.
POM We'll leave him there for the time being. Like when we left why you left the Communist Party and Thabo both aside.
MM Yes, don't mess me up.
POM I'm compiling this list now you see.
MM You're going towards another book now.
POM Mac we're going for best seller, OK? There's got to be something in there. It's like your man at the conference. You see by him threatening to kill De Lange he effectively it made everything else from a news point of view irrelevant, they had a story. Give me a story.
So we're back to, I hadn't meant you to jump that way today but you just go that way sometimes. We were coming up to the Rivonia trials. I think you said you got news of them, my recollection is that you were in a restaurant and the owner of the restaurant was just sitting there.
MM The same guy, Esakjee, this comrade of mine whose house was set up as a place where I could socialise, he was running that café. Esakjee, that's his surname, I can't remember his first name. We all called him Esakjee but he had work as a sort of café, take-away, diagonally across the street where I had the linotype machine printing works.
POM This is the one where you used to work with your back to the door and the door is open.
MM OK, so what about him? What about that incident?
POM Take it from there. Is this where you heard the news? Your first reaction is? You had to meet Ruth First the following day was it?
MM My first reaction is a shock. Second, attend to Esakjee and get him to he was paralysed. Esakjee was sitting there in his café speechless, immobile. Secondly, go off calmly to my linotype shop, clear up anything incriminating.
POM Did you have a phone in the linotype shop?
MM And secondly make my way who do I contact, what do I contact? And then the question arose that my appointment with Ruth First was going to be the next day or the day after and how do I make sure that I keep that appointment.
POM Can you remember why that appointment was so important?
MM Yes, because she's not yet arrested. From the names that I'm reading Kathy's gone, my contacts who am I going to be in touch with at the highest levels? It's gone. My lifeline to the top is Ruth and I've got a meeting scheduled with her and unless I make that contact I would have a much harder job finding other people. Why? Where would they find me? Suppose I moved home for my own security?
POM Nobody had any phones?
MM No.So we would make contact. That was crucial in my mind as part of the process of finding the contacts and the linkages that would keep me within the underground network and remember with me I am handling so much funds for so many other people and myself, my own work, that if one month I don't get money I've got no resources to fall on. There's nobody I can go to and say I need I'm stuck completely. I can't pay the rents for the clandestine places, anything, and all of them are huge risks. I've got printing equipment in one place in Buxton Street, I've got this place here, I've got a place in Jeppe, all of those if the rent is not paid and the landlord walks in and he might find all the clandestine work I'm doing there so I've got to be fast in retrieving that position.
POM So you go in a disguise, she goes round the block a couple of times, you eventually
MM Up and down the street and then she stops and picks me up and she says, "I thought you'd be crazy enough to turn up." I said, "But what else can I do?"
POM You didn't say, "I thought you'd be crazy enough to turn up too, that's why I'm here." So could she give you any background as to what was going on?
MM No it was too early for her to know how much damage, what has happened. Our preoccupation was let's meet, let this be as brief as possible, no time to discuss today, can't afford to be seen, she might be picked up, let's just get arrangements in place and stick it out. That was all. Within two, three minutes she had dropped me off on the street corner.
POM Within that time you knew who to go to to get the money to pay the rents?
MM I knew, we didn't go through all that, I just said, "Now if anything happens to you Ruth what do I do? Where do I contact, who do I contact, how?" She says, "I haven't even had time to think. I'll make arrangements. Yes I see that has got to be attended to immediately so I'll come with the arrangements."She hasn't come with the arrangements but she says she will sort it out.
POM The follow up to that was?
MM I can't remember. I think one of the key elements of how alternate arrangements would kick in would have been that there's Paul Joseph who could serve as an intermediate point through whom somebody could reach me. I think that the Piet Beyleveld thing arose out of that but Piet Beyleveld again, yes he was brought by Paul Joseph. Yes, the follow up to that was a meeting with Piet Beyleveld.
POM Did Ruth make arrangements how to contact you, say contact - ?
MM No, all I got is through Paul Joseph a message that somebody from the Central Committee wants to meet me.
POM That was Beyleveld?
MM That was Beyleveld. I think he was already in touch with Michael Dingake and he knew my place. Yes, I think that's the way. The key follow up was Piet Beyleveld through Paul Joseph.
POM And through him the flow of funds was arranged to take care of everything?
MM Everything else began to fall into place and additional tasks began to be loaded on to me.
POM How was the regrouping, how did the regrouping happen? Who put it together?
MM MK regrouping, Mkwayi comes to see me and outlines the problems he's facing in regrouping. I can recall the first discussion where I say to him, "Well, the first thing is all these units and platoons that you're talking about, have you cross-checked whether they are still intact or is it what you've been informed was there pre the arrests?" It's necessary to cross-check, verify which of the units are intact and functional as a basis to take stock how do we regroup. At the party level, Beyleveld, the printing side is intact, relatively intact. Kathy's arrest doesn't disrupt it at all but the Propaganda Committee is virtually kaput because all that's left is Duma has left the country, Dan Tloome has left the country, Ruth and I are left, Rusty is arrested. So we will have to see how that goes. On the party side they didn't involve me except the message that says turn up to this meeting and then when I turn up they say, "You are now part of the Central Committee." Yes, that's how it proceeded.
POM Was there a period when everything was on hold as you regrouped and formulated what the way forward would be?
MM There was a big hold because in the Central Committee we had a discussion and we recommended that MK, without announcement, should for a while cease carrying out sabotage, that this moratorium would not be announced but the purpose of it was to make an assessment of how much damage has gone and what should be our stance, what would be the implications of certain actions for those who are going to probably be brought to trial. We maintained that moratorium until the day of the sentence, not the sentence, the day of judgment, the day the guilty verdict came through.
Because of your questions what has come to mind is certain key moments. I think our immediate response contained a problem that we created for ourselves because I think within days of the Rivonia arrests I received, there was no chance to meet now, I received the text of a leaflet from Ruth First already drafted, already written, because there was no Propaganda Committee to look at it, for issuing from the underground. We issued that leaflet, we printed it, we distributed it very effectively.
POM Did you print it in that shop?
MM We printed it all over, on different equipment. Setting was in that linotype, printing was in other places. But the leaflet caused a problem for the defence in the trial because the state introduced it even though it was after the arrest because the headline was something like, "We'll strike back, eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth", and it said the people's wrath will deal with the informers. Now that was introduced by the state when the Rivonia trial started to show that MK was not committed to preventing the loss of life and the defence had a bit of a problem on their hands. But that was our first reaction, the brave shouting from the rooftop.
Then came the discussions in the regrouping of the ANC, the regrouping of the party where we recommended to MK that it should carry on regrouping and prepare for action but not carry out any actions, not even sabotage. Then as the trial resumed we issued underground leaflets and stickers which we plastered Jo'burg and Pretoria with under the theme, 'The world is watching the trial, we are not alone, stand by our leaders', etc., etc. And then as the trial proceeded we began to prepare MK to say get ready, if the trial judgment and sentence goes bad we must be ready to go into a burst of activity, sabotage. If it goes well we must still be ready for a burst of activity but we must be ready to act immediately the trial is over. That was the third thing.
The fourth thing some of us were very, very busy as the trial was nearing its end. We got word of the possibility that some might be acquitted and amongst the candidates for likely acquittal, and of course possible re-arrest within hours for other charges, but amongst the people that it was speculated could get acquitted under the Sabotage Act were Raymond Mhlaba and Kathrada. Certainly those two names featured. So we were entrusted, asked whether we could make arrangements that the moment the court's judgment is given
POM Who asked you to make this?
MM No we discussed this now, this came through from the ANC and the party side but a number of us were asked to take charge of the work and the work was to answer the problem that in case on the day of judgment, distinguish between judgement and sentence, the day of judgment is when those who are to be acquitted would be acquitted and they would be able to walk out of the courtroom so-called free but they could be arrested anywhere in that vicinity at any time. We were asked to look into that problem and see if we could not make arrangements that if that acquittal took place we could not, before they are re-arrested, snatch them away so that they could evade police re-arrest. We were desperately interested that if Raymond Mhlaba was not re-arrested, if he was acquitted, we should get him into our safe hands because he would be the Commander of MK, he had done his military training.
What you've brought to mind is that in line with that mandate I can't recall whether there was a single committee set up as the head committee in charge of that work but I do recall in the discussions planning this and I recall that we used an Indian businessman's son who was having an affair with an Afrikaner girl who was somewhere in the civil service and who had a flat near to the Palace of Justice and we made approaches through some intermediary to get access to that flat so that if we snatched Raymond out, even on the steps of the Palace of Justice, we would create a decoy as to where he's taken but in the meantime just round the corner we were going to house him in the flat of these white civil servants. We had gone quite far down the line in the planning of that.
POM Was the white civil service woman in on this?
MM No. The boyfriend was an Indian shopkeeper's son and I am trying to think how we got to him but what we got was the use of the flat. I don't know whether we got the flat on the basis that he and the girlfriend were to go away somewhere for a week and we did not divulge what we were going to use it for.
POM Get access and get them out.
MM The idea was get access and get them out. Our planning had gone so far, if we could snap him away at the Palace of Justice, which was going to be very difficult, strong police presence, then the next thing was failing that who would transport him so-called officially? Relatives and friends, and where would we intercept that vehicle on the road from Pretoria to pull him out of that vehicle while the police think he's still in that vehicle travelling on and then what would we do? Where would we take him, etc. So that planning had reached it was on stand-by mode but as it happened, and you can imagine how passionately there was huge pressure on a few of us but I know the funny feeling that when judgment came and they were found guilty what a relief I felt! There were so many loose ends.
POM Did you know the day of judgment?
POM Well then you couldn't have had a car?
MM We were all the time monitoring when is going to be judgment, is it going to be which day, which day? Tomorrow or the day after? You were living on that adrenaline.
POM So you had a stand-by car, people circulating in a car, going around.
MM Yes, what do we do, what do we do? How are we going to be there? What's your latest asking, getting word to the lawyers, what's your view? They say, "Oh, well judgment will be next week." And I think about three or four days before the judgment it became clear on that day judgment is likely to be delivered.
POM Even at that point was the feeling still that Mhlaba and Kathy might get out?
MM Yes. As it happened Rusty was acquitted. All I know is we were living on one side preparing MK to act and there was now, I was busy making those pipe bombs and everything. On the other side I'm involved in this side of the operation.
POM Were you with Wilton making the pipe bombs at this stage?
MM And Wilton and I are involved in the possibility of their escape.
POM Now was Doha involved, is this the time the bomb or was that before?
MM That's before.
POM So you were doing some printing? You were doing the bomb making.
MM Printing. Bomb making and I'm involved in this escape planning and then I was involved in the radio transmission for June 26th and my wife is finishing off in Durban. As we are talking what comes back is an immensely hectic period but you had to live a lifestyle where you had to appear as if to say everything is as normal. So you were living in this funny world of pretending to be normal and apolitical and I'm living in Pearce Street, infested with gangsters and fraudsters and criminals, and I'm pretending to be part of them, part of that community, and yet I'm living in this
POM This is just to clarify something yesterday, so being part of that, being perceived to be part of that low life meant that no-one took any attention if you turned up in a car, if you disappeared for days, if you had a new car, no questions were asked if that happened?
MM And if you're seen walking around at eleven o'clock at night looking like you're drunk, nobody is worried. So leaving that so-called normality, which was an abnormality, living this high pressure of so many tasks that one is involved in and trying to focus on if we could get Raymond to escape and secure his safety, that would be a coup in itself for the public and for the struggle. So as I say when judgment came through, guilty, shit I felt relieved!
POM You were living abnormal normal life and then an abnormal life on top of that so you had two abnormal lives compounding each other.
MM And there was nothing normal about my life.
POM Just as a matter of interest, did you through this period still do some carpentry just for relief?
MM That's my relief.
POM So you would even do the carpentry during set aside some period?
MM If I can't sleep at three o'clock in the morning I would get up, go to the kitchen, which was also my carpentry room, sit down, OK it's not good to be sawing at three o'clock in the morning, but take a plane and start planing the bloody wood, start shaping it. I found woodwork first there's the smell of the timber, then there's a feel of timber and the grain, the appearance, then there's the feel of the timber when it's smoothed and then you've got to be shaping it. All of those things were absorbing but non-taxing. You didn't feel you were working but when you finished you were also physically tired. Sure, you may have been mentally tired but you were physically and mentally tired in a pleasant way.
POM This before they had gyms and things like that to relieve your stress.
MM I hate gyms, I can't stand them. But there is that quality about wood. It's my dream because I saw a potter working in the GDR in pottery, my dream has also been that if I could have the time to sit at a potter's wheel and have that clay in my hand I think it would be so, so therapeutic for me.
POM Why don't you?
MM I'm just a lazy sod now.
POM If you were so busy handling two abnormal lives and five tasks at the height of tension in the movement and a point of crisis for the movement you can still know that you had to do, get some relief in some way even if it's at three o'clock in the morning, build it in.
MM At the moment I don't feel I need relief.
POM You don't? But you want to do the pottery.
MM Yes, pottery I still think about it.
POM But why can't you do it?
MM I don't know why not.
POM Where has this man of action gone?
MM Gone. Burnt out.
MM Just relaxing at the moment, leading an irresponsible life.
POM Leading an irresponsible life with a son who says you're off your rocker?
MM No but pottery and woodwork. I sometimes walk around the garden and I say, "Jesus!" No I know what makes it a little more complicated, I look at my children and I say, "Will you join me?" Because I keep thinking if I could use that feeling that I have for it and bring them into it from the ground floor of such an enterprise and if they could have fun with it I would leave them with a lifetime thing that would be their leisure and real enjoyment. And they tell me, "Piss off, I'm going to go and meet my friends."
POM Have you raised the subject?
MM Oh yes, I sent my kids to pottery for a while. When I was still in the negotiations at Yeoville there was a nearby pottery place and they said my son is a very promising potter. I have one or two ashtrays lying around the house somewhere that he did. My daughter now and then goes to Colour Café and she takes pottery and paints them and gets them baked.
POM She still does that?
MM She does that.
POM She's an artist, she was doing that whole thing with the prison, the barbed wire you had to attach to the
MM So she does that but she goes with her friends, she rejects me, she says, "Oh you're going to come with all your bloody theories."
POM Well maybe if you just began it right there in the house maybe they might come down and say, "Gee! What are you doing?"
MM He and I have for the last three years agreed that we would like to take up carpentry together but we never get down to it. It's just that carpentry and pottery I've seen them, I've worked with carpentry and I think you can become mentally, totally absorbed. It has a lot of tactility to it and there's a very nice smell to pottery and woodwork.
POM What if now, seeing this is kind of an opportune moment, you casually one day or first of all say, you know we've been talking to you know what? I'm going to go ahead with the pottery and I'm going to sign you up too because we agreed that we would do it, or whatever approach you take with him, in your language to him. In a casual kind of way just grab it now.
MM It may happen, it may happen. It may happen in various ways. We might go to a pottery class and now I am sure I would be able to afford getting a potter's wheel and just putting it up in the house.
POM That's what I mean, then you get everybody saying, what the hell are you doing? Out of curiosity, the old Tom Sawyer trick.
MM Anyway, that's that.
POM I'm working away here, you'd like to try? That'll cost you ten rand.
MM But those are the sort of things that fall into my category of some of the most pleasing ways of spending leisure time because I can be totally absorbed in my thoughts and in the objects and I can be satisfying my feel to work with my hands. So it can be fun.
POM I'm going to ask you the obvious question
MM Why don't you do it?
POM That's right.
MM It's the obvious question and there's no obvious answer.
POM You don't have time? Don't give me that one.
MM No, no, it's not a question of don't have time. There's something, sure when I retired in 1999 mentally I focused on only one issue and that was the issue of how to help and play a part in getting, trying to integrate our family. That became the very powerful, overriding drive. Of course you can answer me that this would be part of that integration process and you'd be right.
POM And your answer to that would be I'm right. So if this is such a powerful, overriding inspiration then why don't you do it? I will come back to it by saying have you done that yet?I have a list of things I'm making for you to do who's manipulating whom here?
MM But it's true. At a conceptual level I believe that the greatest challenge for society, because I think we are living in a world that is capable and has the productive resources if we can reduce the imbalance to produce plenty of the basic needs and goods and services that people need. I think the biggest challenge is going to be learning how to spend leisure time. That's the biggest challenge and everything in society militates you in favour of quite a bit of senseless activity and passive activity and yet enjoyable as that passive activity may be after a while it can be deadening. Like prison when you were locked up in an individual cell for extraordinarily long hours on your own and with nothing to do, not even reading material, you found that you needed to do something with your hands even if you grabbed a piece of string and tried to make complicated knots and shapes or a piece of wire or a piece of soap and start carving it. You then realise that how you use your capacity to do work, labour is a very integral part of the human psyche, that if you were just told, well you have no work to do, there's plenty of money, you have everything you want, don't work, unless you did something which fell in the category of labour you'd die, you'd be bored stiff otherwise your life would become empty.
POM Well can that work in a reverse direction? Say if you live in a community where everybody is employed and you become unemployed, you begin to lose things, you stand out in your community as you're unemployed, you can't get a job, but say you live in a community where there's a very high level of unemployment, where unemployment is the norm, there's no stigma attached to being unemployed, now I have found people, especially in Northern Ireland, who have never worked a day in their life, wouldn't know if you said to them I've got a job for you, would say, "What's that?" And yet they live lives that are built around a number of social activities with other unemployed people, racing big, studying form, putting part of the dole down on the racing, soccer huge. Just take those two following and take a bar and political argument, that's three. That's enough to keep you going from seven o'clock in the morning until one o'clock the following morning.
MM And ready to wake up early to go for another round.
POM I see exactly what you're saying, particularly if you're on your own.
MM Isn't that what I'm saying, what do you do with your leisure time?
POM Yes, that's on your own.
MM All of this what you've outlined is void, there's a void in it. You can have all the excitement but there is an emptiness about it.
POM It's called not being to sit with yourself, to sit down and say, me and this, we're together.
MM And when you finish that pot, no matter how crude it is, the sense that this I have created, that sense. I think that it's a crucial drive in the human being.
POM Well to get away from theorising, which you very neatly did to avoid dealing with the subject at hand, which we now pick up at a much more rapid level and you're about to say well it's two o'clock, your time is up anyway, this is what it seems to me: one, you talk about family integration. Joey has an interest in working with her hands and with pottery and paints. Milo has already done it and has expressed an interest in you and he doing something together. The weak cog here is Dad.
POM So maybe I will leave on that slightly hectoring note. You should think about it.
MM That's not a hectoring note, that's a judgmental and condemnatory note.
POM OK, so do something about it. I don't have to be judgmental and condemnatory.