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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
17 Oct 2002: Maharaj, Mac
POM Mac, I want to back up on a couple of things. One is after Rivonia but before you were arrested, what kind of, if any communication lines were open to Winnie Mandela? Who was looking after her? What kind of profile was she being told to adopt or being counselled to adopt?
MM Winnie was already fairly high profile and her profile went further up with the Rivonia sentence. As far as I can recall there was a relative of the family called Brian Somana. He was a journalist on the staff of New Age in Johannesburg and I understand that, or my recollection is, that Madiba had made arrangements with the agreement of Winnie that Brian would keep in touch with the family and see that they had the necessary support, both moral and material.
POM She was banned in the mid-eighties, 1985, but had she within the period after Rivonia, at the time you were arrested which would be roughly a year or less, or the period you were back here, had Winnie become a political figure in her own right as distinct from Nelson?
MM I would say that inevitably Winnie's emergence into the political scene, visible political scene, dates from the time of her relationship with Madiba. Before the relationship with Madiba there was no profile of her so inextricably her profile was linked to Madiba but she was now in the Women's League, active, she was now addressing meetings like the Annual Conference of the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress, she did the opening address, and therefore she was now acquiring an independent personality, an independent image. But it was the start, the start of her independent image began to be visible from the time of Madiba's first arrest in 1962 and it began to increase.
She was linked in various ways to the movement and I recall that post the Rivonia arrest in the reorganisation of the clandestine networks that was going on she was being shifted into different units because she was now high profile and the Rivonia arrests had taken place and there was need to keep her in a collective contact and yet not make it too obvious that she was linked to the underground. So various mechanisms that I am aware of were being tried, such as even putting her into a more convenient women's unit so that it would be easier for them to get together and meet as a unit without being detected that they were meeting for political purposes. It would look more like a social meeting.
Those things were going on. I think you are wrong about when she gets banned for the first time. I think she's banned some time in the sixties because I think she was detained in 1969 for about two years.
POM For two years?
MM Yes, and that's where the regime started their smear stories. 1969/70.
POM What jail would she have been in?
MM She was together with a group of women and men. There was a major group detained the woman who was detained with her has written a book called Window on Soweto, it's Joyce Sikakhane. She's now married to Dr Rankin.
POM How would I contact her?
MM I'm just thinking, I've lost all my bloody numbers.
POM I know, I'll come back to it.
MM Through the Sisulus because she's working with Eleanor Sisulu on a documentary on Sisulu. Rankin is a doctor at Kahalafong Hospital, he's an orthopaedic surgeon. The other person she was detained with was Shanti Naidoo, Indres Naidoo's sister. She's here in Jo'burg, I don't know where to trace her but Indres would know.
POM Were they jailed in single cells or in a communal cell?
MM They were in detention without trial for two years.
POM Just under the Act, just charged with anything?
MM They eventually were brought to trial, the trial for some reason collapsed. I think she was found not guilty, but there was torture, there was disinformation. That was the time that they came to Madiba and tried to leak information that Winnie Mandela was having affairs with people. As my memory goes, detained for two years incommunicado and Shanti Naidoo
POM She didn't have access to a lawyer during that time?
MM Nothing, nothing.
POM So how did Madiba react to all of this?
MM He kept writing to the Minister of Justice demanding that she be brought to trial. So he kept trying to make interventions from prison to protect her and, of course, finding ways to get in touch with lawyers and the lawyer was George Bizos in that case, George would have defended her. Maybe that's about the time that Ayob becomes her lawyer too.
POM It must have been a very extraordinary, difficult time.
MM Extraordinary, extraordinary.
POM He's in jail, she's incommunicado and he simply doesn't know what's happening.
MM In fact I think in the detention was Winnie's sister's husband, Alf Khumalo the photographer, Peter Magubane the photographer was detained. I think Rita Nzama -
POM He's not the same guy?
MM He's the photographer. And I think Alf Khumalo, the photographer, was detained. I think Rita Nzama, the Women's League leader was detained. It was a substantial number of people who languished in detention for up to two years.
POM So the regime after Rivonia, like you had said even Mandela in his Long Walk to Freedom talks about almost the easy way in which he was arrested, they said, "Hey, Nelson, we know who you are, come on." And they didn't even search the car he was in, he had a revolver in the back of the car. They didn't handcuff him or anything like that and then after Rivonia it seems there was a shift to handcuffs, shackles.
MM Before Rivonia the first deaths in detention come up in March/April 1963 before the Rivonia arrest.
POM So this is during Verwoerd's tenure?
MM Yes. To come back to the point, in my memory at the moment that detention of two years was now the real tightening of the screws on Winnie by the regime and it was now a confirmation of her status in the community because the regime had acted against her so viciously, this was long before Brandfort and all, her banishment to Brandfort. The regime has acted so viciously, she had got acquitted but she had sat in detention for two years without seeing a lawyer. It now placed her as almost the visible voice of the ANC vis-à-vis the ordinary people. That's how it sits in my memory.
POM Was she detained, as you recall or know, in a single cell situation or were a number of them held together? It was all single cells?
MM All were in single cells, detention without trial, the circumstances where torture could be practised.
POM Was she tortured?
MM I would say yes but what precise form I don't know because I remember in prison stories, rumours coming through that Winnie is ill and she needs doctor's treatment and all that sort of thing. Your best bet is to speak to Shanti Naidoo, she's here in Jo'burg. And it's after that that Shanti takes an exit permit and leaves the country.
POM After she got released?
MM After she got released. I think Shanti was then brought to be a state witness and she refused in the box to give evidence and she was sentenced for refusing to give evidence for the state and I think she was sentenced for six months or so and I don't know whether she served her sentence and then she took an exit permit and left the country and went to London.
POM She was sentenced and had to serve her sentence? Could she get an exit permit?
MM She would have served her sentence but I don't have precise memory of the facts because we were in prison but, as I say, she will give you the names, she will give you the dates of the detention, how long the detention, the circumstances in which they were kept, the tortures, etc., and the trial.
POM So when you came out of prison in 1976 were you escorted from Cape Town? Did you go to Newcastle first and then to Durban or straight to Durban?
MM I was taken to various prisons. I was kept for a day in George Prison, then I was taken to PE Prison where I was kept for about a week, then I was taken to Kroonstad Prison in the Free State where I was kept for about a week, then I was taken to Leeukop Prison where I was kept for about two weeks and then I was taken to Durban Central Prison and I stayed in Durban Central Prison for about three weeks and I was released from Durban Central Prison.
POM While you were in these prisons were you just left there on your own to sit?
MM I was always put in isolation on my own in a single cell. In Kroonstad in the Free State I had my worst experience. It was a huge prison complex which I never saw during the day time.
POM You never saw it because?
MM Because I arrived there late at night in a prison van, I was driven into the complex and I was driven to what appeared in the dark like a one or two roomed bungalow and when we entered that building, that one or two roomed building, in the entrance was a stairway going down to the basement. They took me down the stairs and they locked me in a cell, fairly big, probably half the size of this office, but instead of a door that entire wall was a steel grille of bars and it had a bar door also but steel, open, so it looked out into a passage, the entire wall. It had no windows, it was in the basement and day and night to see you needed a light there.
POM You had the light on 24 hours a day?
MM The light on 24 hours a day. I had no idea when it was daytime or when it was night time.
POM Did you work out any mechanism for trying to - ?
MM The only mechanism I worked out, which I became afraid of, was I could only judge by the food and they delivered the food, they never opened me out, under the bars was a little space above the floor and they would slip the plate of food under the bars and I would judge by the food, porridge, I suppose it's morning. They locked me in there and they disappeared and there was deadly silence, it's a huge complex, no roads nearby so you couldn't judge traffic, no traffic sounds.
POM Just silence.
MM Just silence but as I used to do in most of these prisons, once you are alone you then shout to try and make contact with any other prisoner, shout things like 'Amandla' or something. I shouted and there was only an echo, nobody was in that building, no warder appeared. The only thing that happened was during mealtimes when my meal was delivered a warder would appear with a white prisoner serving as the waiter and the white prisoner would come and slip the food under my grille and I tried to greet him, to greet the warder, to get into conversation with them, they wouldn't talk. I waited for the routine that somebody comes on inspection, a prison officer comes on inspection to check whether everything is OK, have you got complaints, have you got requests. This just went on. I would say to the warder who was accompanying the chap delivering my food, "I want to see the officer", and he wouldn't answer me. I came to the conclusion that that was part of their attempt to disorientate me. They moved me from Robben Island two months before my release and I thought that they were now trying to disorientate me from the point of view that if I was smuggling any messages I would be disorientated.
POM Where were your possessions at this stage?
MM My possessions were locked up I don't know where in the prison complex.
POM So they had Mandela's autobiography locked up?
MM Locked up but they wouldn't give it to me. At each prison when the officer came on request and for complaints, as at Leeukop, and I said I wanted my study material, I'm due to write an exam and they would move me, and at Leeukop they came and I pleaded with them. They said, "No." I said, "But I'm going to sue you on this because I'm due to write an exam, I need to be studying. You've given me permission on Robben Island to study", hoping thereby to get the material but they wouldn't let me get access to it right through until my release.
POM In Kroonstad how would your body react, with the constant light 24 hours a day, how did your metabolism react in terms of wanting to sleep, fatigue?
MM One had already been 12 years in prison, one had lived in isolation and one knew whatever you do, number one, keep engaging the authorities but there was nobody to engage, number two, exercise in the cell, make sure you're doing physical exercises, intersperse it with mental exercises, keep your bread, the crumbs of your bread, make up chess pieces, draft pieces, hide them but keep activity both mental and physical, and secondly, keep focused, keep demanding to see the authorities, keep challenging them and keep reminding them that you're on your way out of prison and therefore whatever they were doing to you they had better be watchful what's going to happen when you get released.
But, as I say, at Leeukop I just never got an officer to come to me and the warder who was accompanying the chap delivering the food, I would demand, I would say, "I want to see the officer." Next time, I don't know whether a day has expired, two days have gone, by this time I'm saying, "If the officer doesn't come, tell the officers I will be suing them." And after some time, again one night they just came, opened the grille door and said, "Right, come." And when I got to the ground floor I could see it's night time and they put me in a van and they drove me through to Leeukop Prison near Pretoria, the prison between Johannesburg and Pretoria.
POM Before that in the cell, 24 hours a day light, when did your body tell you when to sleep or was there that kind of disorientation of - ?
MM What you did was you said, ah, it's porridge so it's breakfast. Then you tried to remember did I have another meal? Yes. Then, did they come with a third meal? That would have been supper. Right, it's night time. You had no idea of time, no watch so even ten minutes sitting there alone and saying, do I think it's now night time? Let's assume they gave me my food at three, four o'clock in the afternoon, my supper, well has four hours elapsed? Right. Are you tired? Right. Sleep. Try to sleep. Wake up, oh it must be daytime. Oh, well, breakfast should be coming just now. Then you're sitting and it looks like it's hours before breakfast comes and you're saying to yourself, good God, I must have got up at two o'clock in the morning. Then the food arrives, it's porridge. Oh, hooray, it's breakfast, the day has started. Then always in those circumstances well maybe today the officer is going to come. Right, another mental activity, prepare yourself. What are you going to say to the officer? Don't start listing a thousand things. What are the priority issues that you want addressed now and how are you going to put it. He's probably not wanting to give you a hearing. So the first demand that you put must be the major demand because sometime or other an officer will have to turn up and you know that this is November, sometime in December, 17 December, you are going to be released so keep a hold on yourself, remember these things, if the worst happens what are you likely to do when you get released? How would you tackle them?
POM Why I'm bringing it up is that did the regime just use this routinely when they got heavily into torture as a way of disorienting people because it would be a very effective way of
MM I am not aware that they had done it to anybody else. When I got to Leeukop they put me in the single cell, in a complex of single cells, about ten. Now Leeukop was the first prison that I went to as a sentenced prisoner in 1964 and a lot of assaulting went on under the leadership of a lieutenant whom we called Magalies, it was a nickname. Everybody, warders and all, called him Magalies. Now he was a lieutenant in 1964 and when they used to assault us Magalies would supervise the assault and he, particularly with Wilton and my group when his officers and warders assaulted Wilton, Laloo and myself, they would say, "You wanted to take over the government? You think you are in a five star hotel here when you complain?" They said, "You're going to die here." And the day we left Magalies said, "You're going to die, you'll never come out of prison alive."
So here I returned in1976 to Leeukop Prison and I'm put in a single cell in the middle of a row of single cells and I wait. It's daytime when I arrive at Leeukop and the warders come to give me my blankets and I say, "I want to see the officer in charge." "He'll come, he's been on inspection already today, you'll see him tomorrow." I say, "No, I want to see him now." Now these cells were very narrow, the length was just a little more than if you slept on the ground, quite a big gash beneath the door but a ceiling that was double storey, the lights right at the top of the ceiling so it was in semi-light. So it was in semi-light and that evening, no, before the evening, in the afternoon
POM The light is still coming. Are you still - ?
MM Very dim light.
POM Dim, OK.
MM But when I would hear in the afternoon, that afternoon, I heard doors opening so I realised it's exercise time and I would try and peep between the chinks of the door and I spot other prisoners and I saw some prisoners exercising, they would just pass the chink from time to time. I couldn't identify them, they were youngsters.
POM Would they be exercising up and down the corridor?
MM No, the quadrangle, sunken, it was below ground level. Then came my time to exercise which they gave me alone in this quadrangle. It was a sunken yard, the ceiling was two storeys high but if you looked from the ground it would look like one storey. I did my exercise, got my supper, waited till I heard the prison bell that it's now sleep time for the whole complex and when everything was quiet I heard some prisoners shouting and talking to each other and I had seen, I had overheard some prisoners. Then I shouted, Amandla, etc. and they responded. So they responded and of course I began to ask, "Who are you?" and it turned out that they were a group of young men who had been sentenced in 1976 and they asked me who I am, I told them. "Where are you from?" I said Robben Island. They were very excited, the usual questions, "Were you there with Mandela?" etc., "What's happened to you?" I said, "I'm on my way out." Then I say to them, and then I learn that a number of them have been punished arbitrarily with spare diet, etc., so I say to them, "You must stand up for your rights, there are regulations and you must complain and I will give you support." So they were very excited but the next morning
POM You still hadn't seen the officer in charge?
MM No. On the second day when they opened me for my breakfast and exercise I kept asking the warder who opened, "I want to see the officer." He says, "The officer is coming." When the officer arrived it turned out to be Magalies. So the way they inspected us there is that they would open the door, it was a galvanised iron, steel door. They opened that and then there's your grille, the bars, but for me they opened both and when Magalies arrived I looked at him and I greeted him, I said, "Well, I'm back and I'm still alive." But I'm doing it in a loud voice to encourage these youngsters because this is their first time in prison, sentenced, they're having a rough time, they've been beaten.
POM Were they on their way to another prison?
POM So this is a waiting - ?
MM This was a transit prison for politicals. So I said to Magalies, after greeting, I said, "Remember 1964?" He said, "What?" I say, "You told me I will not come back alive. I'm back, I'm on my way out."
POM You said this in a loud voice?
MM A loud voice, and he says, "No, I am here to receive any requests and complaints." I said, "Yes, I want to see you." So he said, "What's your request and complaints?" So I loudly say, "Number one, I want a bed", which I never had, "I want a bed with a mattress and a pillow, bed sheets and blankets. That's item number one." Now everybody is tittering, what the hell is this? We've never heard of a thing like this. He says to me, "Where do you think you are?" So I said, "I know where I am, Leeukop Prison. You told me in 1964 I am going to Robben Island Prison and you said don't think you're going to a five star hotel." So I say, "I'm back here 12 years later and I'm saying I want a bed, I want a mattress, I want a pillow, I want bed sheets, I want blankets." He says, "I'll come and see you later", because this is loud. Pushes off. I said, "No, come back." He says, "No, I'll see you later." They lock me up.
POM You were saying you were out there in the yard.
MM So Magalies comes back to me but this time he comes later in the afternoon, he gets the warder to open the cell and he gets the warder to close the cell behind him.
POM Lock it?
MM Lock it behind him so that he and I are alone in this cell and there's no seating arrangements, there's just the rolled mat. And he says to me, "Man, you're on your way out, please don't cause trouble. Before you there was another prisoner fromRobben Island here, I think he was from the same section as you." I said, "Who?" He says, "Masondo, Andrew Masondo." So I say, "Yes, he was released a year ago." He says, "Yes he was here in this section. He spent quite a bit of time here and we were able to resolve our problems. I even allowed the steel door to be open for him most of the day, just the grille was locked. So if you conduct yourself properly we can come to an arrangement." So I said, "What are you getting at?" He says, "Well, for example, the bed, I can't give it to you. Everybody will want it. I have no beds in any case for you." I said, "You have beds in the hospital, you bring one of the beds here." He says, "But how do I justify it?" I said, "Listen, I've got a neck injury, I need a pillow, I need a bed." He says, "What else?" I say, "I need a desk, I need a chair, I need my study material. I want that light lowered with a cable so that I have proper light to study, it's too high, it doesn't throw enough light to read." The chap says to me, "Please man, don't cause this trouble." I say to him, "Magalies, I'm on my way out. I'm going to sue you through your pants. My studies, I am registered for an exam." I didn't register for the exam, I had registered for the course, I had no intention of writing an exam. I was too worked up getting out. It was my second year BSc. I said, "My studies, I've registered, I don't write the exams, I've got to inform them which centre I'm writing. Have you informed them? It's supposed to be any day now that I'm writing exams and if I don't write the exams I'm suing you guys because I paid those fees myself, you've wasted a year of my life." The chap says to me, "Please, please man, calm down, calm down. The things you are asking for I can't do." I said, "For a start where are all my crates of study material, boxes of them? Bring it here." He said, "No, ask me what you want and I'll try and bring it." I said, "No, I don't know where they are in the boxes. I want all the boxes here." So we end up inconclusive but I realise now really, really leading a real strong hand because the guy doesn't know how to handle me. And he says to me, "Please don't make trouble." And I said, "No, I've got another problem. I've seen your warders assaulting those other prisoners in this section. That comes to a stop." He said, "But you know nobody has assaulted you." I said, "Yes, nobody has assaulted me but if you can assault another prisoner in my presence that tells me tomorrow I might be assaulted, so don't come to me with these prison regulations that I must only complain whether I am assaulted. I witness an assault, the danger is tomorrowI'll be assaulted and I have got grounds to complain. So those young boys that are being assaulted, that's got to come to a stop." He is exasperated, he doesn't know how to handle this. "I'll come and see you again." Runs away.
That evening the rest of the prisoners shouted, "Hey, what's happening?" So I tell them. They say to me, "Shit man, you're really standing up for us", because I say I want these assaults to stop. I say, "But chaps you've got to take it up too." They said, "But when we complain we are just told 'three meals stopped'." I said, "You challenge that, you say to them you cannot impose it, they must charge you. You must try and do it loudly so that I will listen and I will take it up." So quite a bit of solidarity began to develop.
Be that as it may I think I spent about two to three weeks in Leeukop and then suddenly as I'm continuing I need my study material, I need this, and I'm sure I've missed the exams, I'm going to sue you guys, I want my bed, these blankets are lousy, everything I'm picking out, I'm not accepting one hour exercise, you leave me in the yard. They're running backwards and forwards. Round about two to three weeks time suddenly they come and say, "Come." Now they don't tell me where I'm going because I've got nothing, just toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, they say, "Take your toothpaste and things." I said, "Where am I going?" "You'll find out at the office." I get to the office, "You're shipped out." "Where to?" They said, "Can't tell you." So, OK, they get ready to put me in the van.
POM After you raised the issue of the assaults on the other prisoners did they continue?
MM I don't have a memory so sharp but I think it had tailed off. Certainly with the other comrades in prison, these young chaps, the relations became fantastic. Every night they wanted my guidance how to handle this problem, how to handle that problem. But also, "What's life like on Robben Island?"
POM Were they all going to go to Robben Island?
MM I think most of them were but I don't know. If they were short term sentences then they would go to another prison. If I recall some years later when I was in exile and Secretary one of the chaps I bumped into in Botswana. Now I had not seen their faces properly but here he was saying, "Comrade Mac, Leeukop Prison when you were there, I was there." This and this happened. We had no faces. When I was then being shipped out, passed through the office, checked out, I'm demanding, "Where's my study material, where are my crates?" This is my security that my boxes must not be detached from me in case the stuff which has got concealed things disappears. But the fact that they are not being hostile to me suggests that they have not found it yet if they have searched. I am assuming that they're searching it in every place. But as we left the office I turned to the officer who was in charge, I said, "Where's Lieutenant Magalies?" They say, "Why?" I said, "I want to say goodbye to him." "Oh." That surprised them. I said, "Yes, he was the officer when I came to prison the first time and surely I should be able to say goodbye to him because I'm now on my way. In another few weeks I'm released." "Oh, we'll check, we'll check." And they bring Magalies.
POM He comes?
MM He comes. Of course he comes with a beaming smile because to his officers, look this Robben Island prisoner has asked to say goodbye to me. So he comes up, "Oh, so you're on your way." So I say, "Yes, Lieutenant but I just want to leave you with one word, I've been here two to three weeks and you've behaved like a coward. You have never addressed any one of my complaints. What you've done is now you're shipping me to another prison. You're not telling me which prison I'm going to but all you're doing is you're running away from the problems that I raised."
POM This is in front of his officers.
MM In front of the officers. Of course, "It's taken up." I said, "I just wanted to leave you with that thought, so bye-bye, see you next time when I come back."
POM You should have said, I'll see you next time when you're behind the bars!
MM No, no, I said, "I'll see you next time when I come back." It was more bravado than anything else but trying to leave a thought, think again. So that was Leeukop. Then I got to Durban Prison again.
POM Did you ever bump into him again?
MM No I've never bumped into Magalies.
POM So on to Durban.
MM Down to Durban, same saga, put in a single cell.
POM Which prison, C R Swart or a different one?
MM A prison called Durban Central Prison. Again confined to an area of the prison, single cell, alone, lousy food, same food, demanding changes to that, demanding my study materials which they wouldn't give me and then the Commander of the prison came to me in Durban, he had been to Robben Island, served a stint there and had been stabbed by one of the prisoners or assaulted, a chap called Major Harrison. He thought he knew how to handle Robben Island prisoners, saying, "Oh you're a troublesome chap because you come from Robben Island." And we went on like that, see-sawing, and then my release date came and I was saying to myself it's clear I'm going to be banned, I'm going to be house-arrested, etc., but when are they going to serve the orders. If they allow me to slip out of that prison a free man how do I disappear before they serve the banning orders on me? And I'm thinking, hm, if they delay my release by an hour beyond my release time what time is the latest release time in the day? And I come to the conclusion that they have got to release me before 12 o'clock on 17 December.
POM Because that's officially when your
MM Officially when my sentence is over. So I say if they keep me for a few hours longer I'm going to sue them for wrongful arrest and detention but as happens that morning, 11 o'clock comes, I'm asking the warder in charge of me, "What's the time?" They brought me clothes to wear, my brother has delivered clothes, I wear the clothes.
POM Which brother is this?
MM My younger brother. And I'm asking the warders, "What's the time, what's the time?" It's 11 o'clock. I'm saying to myself, don't panic, don't complain, let them delay their release, you'll sue them. Shortly after eleven they call me, I get to the office, escorted to the office, taken to a separate room and there are two to three Security Branch officers in plain clothes. They greet me, I don't know them. They say, "Maharaj?" "Yes." "Well, here, here's your house arrest order", and they read out the terms and conditions. "Have you understood?" I say, "Shit, the bastards are serving me with the order before I can get out." "Yes, I've heard the order." No, no, we've got to go through the whole thing, I've got to sign. Next, "Here's your banning order, you are prohibited from this, this, this, from going into these suburbs, that suburb, that suburb, prohibited from meetings, prohibited from publishing, prohibited from working for a publisher, prohibited from writing. Sign, sign." So I sign all these banning orders, this thing takes about 30 40 minutes. "Have you understood everything?" I say, "Yes." "OK, you're released." So about a quarter to twelve, fifteen minutes before deadline they release me. So I lost my chance to sue them for some money, that would have given me some money to live on.
POM Did prisoners actually sue cases?
MM I recall, whether from my law studies or something, that somebody had sued and won damages and for a day had got a fairly big amount.
POM So your younger brother was waiting for you?
MM My younger brother was waiting for me. As I walked out of the prison he and his wife were there with his car, clearly they had liased with the prison authorities and the car was brought on the roadside to the exit. As I walked out across the road there was a wooden railing on the pavement, on the grass verge, and I saw a group of 20, 30 people but amongst them I spotted an ex-Robben Islander called Bobby Singh and there his face was beaming and of course he and his group put their fists up and shouted, Amandla, but I am under banning order now and I know Bobby is not house-arrested but he's got a ban. So instinctively my hand went up to shout Amandla and then I realised, hey, wait a minute, will I be charged for communicating with Bobby now? He can have a defence that he didn't know I'm banned but I've got no defence so my hand went up and the Amandla died half way. It was, hey, you're getting locked up again, the cops are around.
Then I got into my brother's car, drove off. He had a flat in Merebank, south of Durban, and as we were driving of course we were excited, chatting. He had an old Toyota car and after a bit of a distance I said to him, "Hm, do you mind, I'd like to drive." So he says, "Wait, take it easy, just hold your horses. You've been inside 12 years, you haven't driven." I said, "No, no, no, just stop", it was on the freeway, when we were on the freeway I said, "Stop, stop on the side, give me a chance, let me drive. I just need to get familiar with this world." So he got into the passenger seat, I got into the car and drove. I said, "Now I can feel alive." I suppose it was a restlessness. I am told other prisoners, I'd heard stories, for months would be afraid to walk on a pavement and to cross a pavement because here there are in crowds of people and they are not used to that. But in my mind with all that nervousness I needed to do something to feel that I was in control of my life now and I was going to take control of my life so I'd insisted, "Please, please, give me the car to drive. I've just got to drive." I couldn't sit as a passenger and while excited, talking I just needed to do something.
POM Now in those weeks when you got out and following, what were the biggest adjustments you had to go through in terms of like you were talking about your own behaviour, but what changes were there in the external environment? Had people television now?
MM Yes people had television.
POM You would have seen TV in Britain, but now you're seeing it in SA for the first time. What other things can you point to where you were saying, gee, that wasn't there before I went to prison. Gee, this has changed, that has changed, the other has changed.
MM Part of the route was on a portion of a freeway in Durban which circumnavigated Durban centre and we had to go through Durban centre and get onto the freeway. Now this was a new road, dual carriageway. It was old already but I had never seen it. I knew the South Coast road but here I was driving on a freeway with these huge signboards and my brother saying there's going to be an off ramp coming up saying Merebank, don't miss it, you've got to take it. Don't miss it because if you miss it we're going on for kilometres to the next turn. But I had read about freeways so here I am on the freeway. No, changes besides TV, my mind was differently focused.
POM When you turned on the radio, is the news that's coming across different than the news that you had last heard in SA? What was the emphasis of the news?
MM 1976 the emphasis is post-Soweto. The word that has become common in the media is 'terrorists'. The government is busy saying how they are adjusting.
POM While you were in prison, this is what I want to get back to, in 1975 Mozambique had fallen, Angola had fallen, so SA the frontline states that were a barrier that had all disappeared. Were you listening to something different in terms of the context in which the state was propagating its news?
MM Yes the state was propagating its news with a tone of being beleaguered, under siege.
POM Was it communism now?
MM Communist threat, Mozambique, people had been sentenced, but my mind was differently focused, Padraig. I knew by discussion with Madiba and Walter that I've got six months. Although I'm house-arrested for five years and banned I've got six months and the reason why I pleaded for six months and how I persuaded them to allow me not to seek to escape from the country straightaway on my mission, I had said I need at least six months in the country to get a feel so that when I get to Zambia and I meet Tambo I will also be giving him my impressions of the country. Number two, my mind was therefore fixed in terms of this banning and restrictions, how do I manoeuvre to get that knowledge and I knew that my knowledge must not be newspapers. I want to meet active people and how do I meet them clandestinely? Number three, I have to now determine how I am going to escape from the country in six months time. Number four, I've got to get these files with these hidden things out to the UK. I plan to get it to the UK because I said that's where I know people are in a stable environment and if I can get it, and I knew very reliable comrades, in my mind I said if I can get it to Rusty or so-and-so or so-and-so it's going to be safe, because if you sent it to somebody you don't know on a personal basis you don't know whether they must just stash it somewhere and it's lost.
So to expand my opportunities, number one was to get employment that will give me movement, get employment that will force the regime to give me permission to move outside of the suburbs that I'm confined to. I can recall that in about a month's time through the post I had a huge excitement because through the post there arrives in a wrapper and I open that wrapper, it's addressed to me, to No. 6 Havergale Villas, and I open it, it's a pamphlet wrapper, I open it, it's a clandestine publication called Inkululeko of the Communist Party, it means freedom. And I opened this, now this was the title of a newspaper published in the thirties by the Communist Party and here cyclostyled a little booklet of articles under the name Inkululeko and I realised this is the underground party. And I say, how do they so quickly know my address and they've already got me on the mailing list? So great excitement, hey! There must be somebody around this town. Little did I realise that it was either Raymond Suttner's team or it was Tim Jenkin's team who got arrested a little later who had simply taken the Government Gazette's and read off each person who's banned, because your name for banning had to be gazetted for house arrest, and in that Gazette your name would appear and the address to which you are restricted. So it just needed two or three people working with a cyclostyling machine to be posting this thing to all sort of people.
POM The government in fact was giving information to the underground as to not only who was banned but where they could be located.
MM Where they could find them. But the sense of exhilaration, the sense that, hey, there is an underground around you somewhere and it is active.
MM So here comes a letter and I'm suspicious, look at the stamp before I open it, posted in Ireland, I don't know whether Dublin or what place in Ireland, no sender's name at the back, open it gingerly and look inside. No letter but a postal order for 14. It is the movement anonymously sending me Fantastic, posted in Dublin. Jesus! The movement has got supporters everywhere and it's posted it anonymously, it just says 14 postal order made out to me, this is the organisation once more.
The third thing that happened was that sometime no, the first thing that I did in my campaign was that I got released on 17 December, friends came to see me and the Security Branch were popping into my brother's flat at all odd hours.
POM That is where you were saying, right?
MM And I took up the stance, because I was living in the sitting room, it was a one bed-roomed flat and in the sitting room besides the sofa, the TV, my brother and his wife had put a bed, so the Security Branch come in and my brother is extremely angry. The first time they come they say they've come to see me. When the knock at the door I say let them in and they say they're Security Branch, "Let them in, come in, sit down." And my brother hears them questioning me.
POM What kind of questions are they asking you?
MM Are you aware of your banning orders? You are not allowed visitors. If you get visitors you're going to be locked up. And I decide, I think on their second visit, and they're coming at odd hours, so I decide the second visit to engage them and this time when they came in the evening I turned to my sister-in-law who was in the kitchen or in the bedroom, I go out of the sitting room into the porch, into the sort of entrance way or the kitchen and hiving off to the bathroom and the toilet, and I see her and my brother and I say, "Would you mind making some tea for these guys?" My brother says, "Tea! Not in my bloody house." I said, "Calm down." He says, "You know they are here waiting for you to make a mistake, to lock you up again. They're not your friends." I said, "No they're not my friends. Make them a cup of tea. Calm down." Now the cops are hearing all this. So my sister-in-law brings the tea and goes away and the one cop, an Indian cop, we were sitting like this, he says to me, "I heard that", and puts his hand out to shake hands. I said, "Why do you want to shake hands with me?" He said, "No, you're a good person, you don't see us as the enemy, you're treating us like human beings, like friends. I heard how you insisted that we get tea. You know you're the first banned person that we're visiting who has offered us tea." So I said to him, I don't shake hands, I said, "You're making a mistake because I'm telling you just as your bosses if they told you to detain me you'd detain me, if they told you in detention torture me you'd torture me and if they told you kill me you'd kill me." "No, no, no, I wouldn't do that!" I said, "Please don't contradict me, just listen to what I'm saying. That's you. I want to tell you from my side. You know I've been a member of MK, your records will say I've done military training." "Yes, yes, yes, we know that." I say, "Well, if I got instructions to kill you I wouldn't lose any sleep about killing you but in the meantime have your tea."
They didn't know how to handle it. In the meantime my brother is listening to the conversation from outside the room and of course as quickly as possible they got up to leave and when they leave my brother rushes in, he says, "Bloody hell! You're going to go back to jail." I said, "For what?" He says, "You told them you'd kill them." I said, "No, I didn't say that. I didn't say that. All I was telling them is that don't understand the giving of the tea to mean I'm their friend. We're on opposite sides of the camp and there is no friendship between us and all I was saying is just as they would kill me if they were ordered I would kill them if I am ordered. I have received no such orders." Oh my brother couldn't stand this. He says, "First you give them fucking tea, then you threaten to kill them. I've had enough of this nonsense." But by the next few visits they came in and I had now spotted that they would park
POM How often would they visit?
MM Oh they would come sometimes twice a day, waiting to see you and they would want to sit down and chat. You know why? They wanted somebody accidentally to walk in to visit you, you're breaking the law, because I'm not allowed a visitor.
POM Your banning and house arrest meant that you could not receive any visitor?
MM No it was this way, first of all I had to be in the flat by six pm. I could not leave the flat before six am for five days a week, the five working days. Weekends I had to be confined in the flat from Friday night six pm to Monday morning six am, could not walk out of the flat. Now I was not allowed to attend gatherings and any gathering of more than two people was a gathering in terms of the law so I could not be in the presence of three or more people in a chat. Outside of exempted people like in my brother's flat, there was my brother and my sister-in-law, so I could sit in their sitting room with the two of them but I could not have any other people.
POM No visits.
MM I could have one person at a time but not after six pm.
POM So somebody could come at nine, from nine to ten, from ten to eleven, from eleven to twelve, twelve to one, one to two but one person.
MM But there would be no more than one person. But after six pm no visitors, not even one person. They would be waiting to catch me if somebody visited, but also they are identifying who is visiting me so you're endangering somebody else. Now this is already the very first week but in the second or third visit I'm trying to get out of my confinement, I'm confined to a few suburbs of Durban, Merebank, two suburbs, Merebank and Wentworth where the police station is located where I have to go and report once a day.
POM So after you got out at six o'clock you had to go and report to the police station?
MM Between six am and six pm when I am allowed out of that I had to go and report to the police station once a day.
POM You had to be confined to those suburbs that were prescribed in the order?
MM And then I was allowed into the white suburbs of Durban but not the African, Indian and coloured suburbs, because I could go into the centre of Durban but not cross Grey Street. So I say to the cops, "You know my father died when I was in prison and I am the eldest son from my mother. In terms of Hindu custom I have not been at his funeral, I have not performed the Hindu rituals that have to be done by the eldest male. I now want permission to go to Newcastle." So I say, "Are you people going to deny me that?" So they said, "Apply", and I used the lawyer Zackie Yacoob, now the Constitutional Court judge, the blind man. I was introduced to Zak who had his offices in a white part of Durban, and he applied.
They gave me permission to leave I think it was on 30 December, it was a long weekend. I was allowed to leave Durban on the Friday, I had to give the registration of the car I would be using. I was the sole driver and I was the sole passenger. I was allowed to drive to Newcastle. Before leaving Durban I had to go and report to the police station at Wentworth that I am now leaving and upon arrival in Newcastle I had to go and report at the Newcastle police station and sign a book, then go to my mother's home and sit inside that home and not leave the yard until my departure, the yard in which the house was located. And across the road the policemen went into the neighbour's house and commandeered their front lounge and they sat there with binoculars looking into my house and the ceremony, now they said, "You said ceremony", I had used it as an excuse, they had already gone and contacted the priest and my mother and the priest had to come and do the ceremony with the policemen sitting in the ceremony, in the room, inside the room, not in the yard, in the sitting room.
POM The priest didn't say, "What ceremony?"
MM No, he accepted that it's the ceremony for cleansing but Hindu custom they make a fire and they put incense, that fire had to be made on a tray in the lounge, in a tiny little lounge, but there were two cops, my mother, some of the children from my brothers and sisters and myself and the priest. The cops had to sit there observing what ceremony is being done, what the priest is saying. So I went off to Newcastle that way. I had a similar saga in Newcastle because when I got to the Newcastle police station to report that I've arrived they just didn't know what to do. So I said to them, "Here's my order, I have to report to you." So the cop at the counter says, "What are we supposed to do with this?" I said, "You must have a book, you have to record that I was here, I have to sign it that I was here and you have to sign it as a witness that I've come and reported."
POM You were telling them what they ought to do?
MM So when I go off home and I realise, I get word that the neighbours' house front lounge has been commandeered and there's a cop on duty, on shifts with binoculars observing who comes in and out, and amongst them is an Indian cop who comes over into my lounge in the evening, he's sitting there and he does this to his jacket so that I can see his pistol in the holster and of course he's trying to chat in a very friendly way and I say the same thing to him, I say, "Look my friend, what is this, you interrupt my privacy? You're observing me with binoculars, I can't stop you, but why do you have to come in here and waste my time. I've just got a weekend with my Mum, I want privacy. Why are you sitting here in this lounge?" "No, no, I'm your friend." I said, "Listen, you really need to be careful. You know I'm MK, you know I can use a firearm. Now why do you do this to your jacket so that I can see the pistol in your holster?" "No, I didn't mean that." I said, "But why do you do that? For 12 years I haven't seen that, I haven't had my hands on a pistol and you're tempting me to grab that pistol and shoot you. I don't want to do that but you're tempting me." Within five minutes he was gone.
POM Now your Mum, this is a total surprise for her?
MM No, we'd talked on the phone.
POM Oh you had talked by phone.
MM By phone from my brother's flat.
POM So your brother had now that was a new thing, there was a phone in your brother's flat?
MM No he didn't have a phone in the house. I think I had gone to a neighbour's phone during the six hour break, or Zak's phone and talked to her and said I'm coming over, I've applied for permission, don't know what conditions are imposed but I'm coming, don't worry we will be seeing each other. So it was all expected and the whole of Newcastle was abuzz that this chap is coming. When I drove in I did the same thing, I knew where the police station was but instead of doing that I stopped in the main street at a fruit stall, I knew the owners, and I said to myself if the cops come to me now I'm going to say I'm looking for directions, where's the police station. So I walked into the fruit stall and of course this chap was there, the owner, a young man about my age, extremely excited to see me and he says, "You're looking for trouble." I say, "What do you mean?" He says, "There are cops parading here, it's known that you are coming any time now. They're watching you." I said, "Calm down, calm down, I stopped here for directions to the police station and secondly, my friend, you're a fruit and vegetable stall and I want to buy a present for my Mum. Can you make up a tray of fruit and vegetables so that I can take it as a present to my Mum?""Oh, shit", he says, "Sure", and he packs up a huge tray and I want to pay him and he says, "No pay." I said, "You're going to get locked up. I've got to pay you so that I'm doing business with you." He says, "Oh, I'd better accept then." Then I drove down the road to another shop, I knew a little tailor shop who were friends of the family. Again I said it's for directions and I stopped. I know there are plain clothes policemen, I've been told, watching me. I stopped, went in there, asked for the owner. The owner came from the back, from the sewing machine, greets me. I said, "Listen, when the police come and ask you what I was doing here just tell them I was seeking directions to the police station. Is that OK? You've got your legend?" "Yes."I say, "But I wanted to say hello to you and greet you guys." The guy's excited and then I drove to the police station because I knew once I get to the police station -so that's how it went.
POM When your Mum saw you she must have been very excited.
MM Absolutely, absolutely.
POM You had nieces and nephews you'd never seen before.
MM Yes, never seen before.
POM What did they know about you?
MM Obviously from the stories, the talk in the town, this is a prisoner, freedom fighter, all in awe but also because it was my Mum's home they couldn't stop visitors to my Mum. During the day and in the evening while I'm not allowed visitors they would be sitting in the kitchen, I'd be chatting with them. Everybody is looking out, the kids are looking out, where's the cops? All ready to warn Uncle when the cops come. So I had a good weekend there.
But I was giving you my mindset. The next thing that happened
POM When you drove back to that street, that was the first time you were back in that street for 12 years.
MM More than 12, yes 12 years.
POM Since the time you and Tim left, the day to go to Johannesburg.
MM Yes, July, 12½ years.
POM How had it changed? When you looked out did you say, "Gee!"
MM Very much the same to me. It looked the same. Newcastle was a stagnant town. The main industry, Amcor, had closed down and what had opened was Iscor had opened a division. There was a bit of a surge in economic activity round about 1973 and then it had died down. Africans had now been removed entirely to a suburb about ten kilometres out of town. There were no Africans living in that suburb where I had grown up. Whites had disappeared. There were still a few coloureds but many of the old families were still there and many of the old men and women came past to visit my Mum to come and say hello to me.
POM Some of the old cronies were still around?
MM Old cronies, the few that were still around came around to visit my Mum, to say hello to me and I would tell them, "Listen, if the cops come to you, you tell them you came to visit my Mum." I remember one old man saying, "They can go to hell, they can go to hell. I came to visit you. Who are they to stop me?" I said, "But my banning order doesn't allow it." "What do you mean? You're going to obey that banning order? They can't do anything to you." So that's how it went.
Then I had an interesting thing that occupied me, because some time in April I read a press report that there had been a visit to Robben Island by the media, 1978 February/March and the papers were splashed with this visit to Robben Island and what wonderful conditions the prisoners are living in. There was a photograph of Mandela from his back and they described it as Mandela refusing to see them and hiding behind the bushes.I read this report, saw that it was making a huge impact in the community that life was good on the Island, which I could see was patently false and so I began to check how do I take up this matter? I learnt a few weeks later that there was created while we were in prison a Press Council to which you could complain, so using Phyllis Naidoo the Attorney as my Attorney, I built up a dossier of a point by point complaint to the Press Council that I drafted but I was late
POM Was this about 100 pages or so?
MM Oh 300 pages. From diet to everything in the reports and then I used that as an excuse to put in what was the actual conditions from work to labour to everything and challenging every press statement and report. In the meantime Phyllis was investigating how do we file a complaint to the Press Council and she had indicated to me, yes, there is a basis to complain to the Press Council but you have to prove certain things.
So I sat down and prepared this dossier and by the time I was ready Phyllis had now got the necessary laws and regulations and we learnt that the complaint had to be filed within 14 days or 21 days of the report appearing and we were past that time. So Phyllis had to investigate with Zak whether you could apply for condonation for late complaint and I made an application for condonation and I filed this through Phyllis. I now thought that by filing the complaint I would open the door to some media to be brave enough to publish what I was saying because it's not a document written for them, it's written for the Press Council but the Press Council out-manoeuvred me, they simply replied saying that, "Your complaint has been filed late, your application for late filing is refused." So what appeared in the media in April was that a complaint filed by me has been turned down.
I took that document when I got out of the country and when I went to the United Nations I filed it as my submission of treatment in prison.
POM Phyllis Naidoo. Can I have a copy of that?
MM No, the only place that would have it is the UN Special Committee against Apartheid.
POM Trotting all over the world, Algeria, New York, Swindon. Saw someone last night, how long does it take to get from London to Swindon?
MM One hour.
POM One hour. I said Mac said it takes one hour. Paddington right?
MM Paddington Station.
POM Do you know the platform?
MM But regular trains and they take an hour. You just tell Joel and he will meet you at Swindon Station. You tell him what time train you're leaving and on that train you also have good services, there's a restaurant car, you can get your breakfast on it. By the time you finish your breakfast you're in Swindon.
POM Obviously this is part of British Rail, it's not been privatised.
MM Mind you I didn't think of that, it's since then been privatised.
POM Sure they'd be saying how do you make money on an hour's run, serve breakfast.
MM United Nations Special Committee Against Apartheid and they are the ones that would have the records, definitely they would have kept it.
Now that had occupied me more than a month, doing the research and making a watertight representation because you could only challenge them with a complaint which shows that they had deliberately falsified it and I was now seeking to prove the deliberateness of the falsification of the press reports. It was in all the papers about this visit. It was a show exercise that the SA government did. Every paper Cape Town to Durban carried pages and pages of this, of this visit. Media report. Glorifying, saying people are treated well.
POM Are some of those journalists around today?
MM Yes, yes. We're talking about 1977. Yes they're around.
POM Are they writing differently today?
MM I don't know. Never had time to follow it up and check the names.
POM Oh come on! You look at the name. Mac!Hold on, you look at a name, right? Give me a name.
MM I can't remember a name. I honestly cannot remember the reporters' names.
POM In every paper?
MM Every paper. It was 1977.
POM I'll have to go back to it and get all the archives with all those papers of 1977 and bring you the list of all the writers and go through them one by one.
MM Oh then I will identify them, then I would be able to identify them. I would tell you which ones are still around, without difficulty. But imagine my bumping into them after that and saying, by the way, do you remember this visit that you made to Robben Island and the report you wrote?
POM Better still you say, you're going to appear in a book about what you wrote in 1977 and what you wrote in 1994. I just want to go back to your Mum. Was it the last time you saw your Mum?
MM No, no, the last time was in 1978 in Lesotho. But I had a very nice morning with my Mum while I was house-arrested in Durban. A friend who had been a student with me in 1954 at Natal University who was a member of the Indian Congress and who had now graduated he was a lawyer by profession but he also opened a hotel in Reservoir Hills, an Indian suburb, the Ashoka Hotel. I got Phyllis and Zak to approach Rubbi Bhagwandeen (he's passed away recently). So Zak and Phyllis to whom I said I need a job, I am not worried about the income, I want a job located in a suburb or an area of Durban that would require the minister to give me permission to go through various areas, give me space. So they came up and they said Rubbi is prepared to employ me as a clerk. So I said, "Fine. Let's apply to the minister for permission to work." I had no income.
POM This is in an Indian area in Durban?
MM From Merebank I would have to travel into the centre of Durban, then travel though various other suburbs, coloured, Indian suburbs, and get to Reservoir Hills. So I say, "Here it is minister, I want permission to work, I've been offered a job by Ashoka Hotel as a clerk, receptionist or whatever, and this is the only job I can get, and I have no income." It was Vorster. I get a reply, "Your application to be employed at the Ashoka Hotel turned down." And that Sunday Phyllis or Zak gave the newspapers a report saying that the minister had turned down permission for me to take up employment and that I had no employment, I'm out of prison and I have no income.So the headline was for that particular article, 'Minister Turns Down Banned Person', it was the Sunday Times.
My Mum is told about this in Newcastle and that Sunday evening there's a phone call to the neighbour's flat where my brother used to receive calls and he is called. He goes there, it's my Mum. She has gone to a neighbour and got them to phone my brother's neighbour and she says, "Tell Mac not to go anywhere tomorrow morning, I am coming there to visit him. I will be there by about 11 o'clock." She hires a taxi or asks friends and gets them to drive her to Durban. My brother and his wife have gone off to work, I am sitting alone in the flat. I usually go off to Zak's offices in Durban but I'm waiting for my Mum. It's on the ground floor and I leave the front door open and at 11 o'clock my short mother marches in. She comes marching into the house. I get up, "Mum!" kiss her and greet her, but no, she's determined. She doesn't read and write English or anything but she's been told what has been said in the papers. She says, "You! Who the hell is that minister to deny you permission to work? Do they think I'm going to support you? I have no work, I have no income. What is wrong with this minister?" I said, "Mum, just sit down and calm down." "What do you mean calm down? How can you who have been turned down permission to work just sit here smiling away?" I said, "Sit down. Let me give you a cup of tea." "No I don't want tea." So I get her seated, I'm dramatising it a bit. She says to me, "Get back to this problem. Who the hell does this minister, this Vorster, think he is? Is it true." I said, "Yes it's true." "Why do you need permission?" I said, "Because I'm restricted and I'm banned and I am not allowed to meet people." "Not allowed to meet people, does that mean you're not allowed to meet me?" I said, "No, you're my mother, they can't do anything to you."
I then become mischievous. She happens to say to me, "You are this big freedom fighter. What are you doing here, just sitting here doing nothing? I can't support you. Tell that minister." So I said, "Mum, calm down. You know what, if you feel so strongly why don't you write a letter to the minister?" She said, "I would if I could write and I'd tell him off." I said, "OK, OK, let me get a piece of paper, you dictate it, I'll write what you want me to write and you can scribble your signature." She could write her first name. "Bring a piece of paper, write the letter." So I go off to my brother's bedroom to get a pad and by the time I collect the pad I become more mischievous, so I come back and I sit down and just as I'm starting to write I say, "Hold on, Mum, there's even a better thing to do." "What's that?" I said, "I think you need to get a rifle." She said, "Bring it!"
POM You need to get a rifle?
MM Yes. She says, "Bring it." And then sort of delayed reaction, 30, 40 seconds later she realises that a rifle is a weapon and she says, "You damn devil." She forgets about Vorster. "You're still up to your nonsense. Your twelve years in jail haven't taught you to shut up and stop this nonsense of wanting guns." So we laughed. She forgot, I said, "But what about Mr Vorster now?" "To hell with Vorster, I've got to sort you out. You stop this nonsense. You've been 12 years in prison, that's enough." So we forgot the letter and we had a wonderful visit and a few hours later she drove back to Newcastle.
POM You were turned down for the job, you spent most of your day in Zak's office. Were you able to use his telephone? Were you able to communicate?
MM Yes, I phoned London from his office. I turfed out Zak from his office, you should interview him, Zak Yacoob. He's a judge in the Constitutional Court here in Braamfontein. I am introduced to Zak on the 18 December, the next day. He had just qualified as an advocate. So I get to his office on the 18th and am introduced to him, because I say I need an advocate who will be available whenever I get into trouble. So I go to consult him.
POM He went to school with you right?
POM Sorry. Phyllis Naidoo introduced you to him.
MM Yes. I go to Zak and we chat about my banning orders, etc., and I tell him I have every intention to obey the orders in the letter but I have every intention to break these orders so I'm going to get into trouble at some point and I want you to be on standby to defend me. We got on from the first meeting like a house on wildfire. He's a very jokey chap, he likes to play pranks and as we're chatting he says, "I'm going off for a holiday for three weeks." "When do you leave?" He said, "I'm leaving in a few days time?" I said, "What happens to your office?" He says, "I shut it." So I said, "Hey! Why can't I use the offices? I've got no place." He says, "Sure, you can use my offices." So I said, "Give me your keys." I've got a working place for three weeks. "Do you mind, I'll be using your phone?" He says, "For what?" I said, "I want to phone London, I want to phone these places, I want to make contact with my comrades. I want to meet people and during the day I can meet one at a time but your office is in a block and they can come in here." He says, "Oh shit, you're going to get caught." I said, "No, you just go and have a good holiday. Just give me your offices for three weeks."
I got his offices and we used to play pranks. The car park was on a particular floor and we would get into the lift and he had a driver and a reader and I would press the lift for the wrong floor. We're going to the car park but I'd press it on a different floor and the lift would stop and I'd say, "Let's get out", and Zak would say, "No." "What do you mean no?" He says, "Wrong floor." Then later on I chatted to him, I said, "How do you know?" And he explained that he was accustomed to the breeze, in a parking lots there's no enclosure so he knew the breeze and he could realise when he's on the parking floor and when he's not on that floor. I used to sit and chat with him and he would read something or use an ashtray and I would steal the ashtray when I go and then when he wants his ashtray he puts his hand in the right spot and can't find his ashtray. "Where's my ashtray?" His receptionist or his reader comes in, his name was Daddy, "Daddy, where's my ashtray?"
POM The reader is who?
MM A chap called Daddy.
POM What is a reader?
MM Because he's blind.
POM Oh, OK. Sorry.
MM So he'd say, "Daddy, where's my ashtray?" And Daddy would say, "There's no ashtray here." He says, "That bloody Mac has stolen my ashtray." The next time I come in, "You've stolen my ashtray." I said, "Yes, you insulted me so I have to hit back." So we'd have great fun. Then I go back to Zak one day
POM Of course today he'd take you before one of the many commissions for abusing people with disabilities and you'd get a R10,000 fine or something.
MM I would get back at him because the ashtray that I stole was an ashtray that belonged to Holiday Inn, Swaziland and there was a delightful story about it because Zak had gone there with his wife and his daughter on holiday, his daughter was young, about three, four years old. He found this ashtray where you could clip the cigarette on the groove and it wouldn't fall off and burn the table. Now this was a problem for Zak and he was so enthralled with this ashtray that he stole it and he took it to his house in Durban, in Reservoir Hills, and it was a practice that when he got home from work, he was passionate about his little daughter and she would come and greet him, hug him, "Daddy, come, sit down", and he'd go to his specific easy chair and she would bring him his slippers and then she would say, "Daddy, do you want your ashtray?" and do all that. One day Zak got to the house with a number of clients, he couldn't fit in the appointment at the office so he made it at the house. So he arrives at the house and the daughter comes and greets him and he tells her, "Look, I'm just going to meet some people", and he sits down in his usual chair and the clients are sitting there and they are discussion and Zak shouts to his daughter, "My daughter, darling, please bring me my ashtray." And in front of his guests she says, "Daddy, which one? The one you stole from Holiday Inn?"
POM She didn't arrive at his Constitutional Court hearing.
MM If he tries to hook me I've got something to defend myself. But the interesting one with Zak was, of course I'd started meeting people, Pravin Gordhan, I began to meet him at the King Edward Hospital where he was a pharmacist. It was a huge hospital complex and looking for a secure meeting place and Pravin being the pharmacist there knew the ropes of the hospital, so he knew all the rooms there.
POM Now did you know Pravin from was this the first time you met?
MM I met him for the first time Pravin and Khetso Gordhan came to visit me at my brother's flat because they too were seeking advice and they were active and then I arranged to meet him on a fairly regular basis, I think we used to meet every few days for discussions.
POM Would the police not notice this?
MM I'd walk into the hospital
POM So you'd go to see him at the hospital?
MM And go through that whole complex and he would tell me to go to store room so-and-so and I'd make sure I'm not followed and just disappear into a locked storeroom. We would sit there and chat for an hour at a time.
POM Was he involved with the Indian Congress at that time, the SACP or - ?
MM He was involved with the Indian Congress officially and he was involved in community work, but they had already been involved as students in boycotts and all sorts of things. So he was interested in theoretical questions to teaching questions, tactical. From them now I was learning what was happening on the ground but I mention him because he could find a convenient place in that huge hospital complex where I could disappear and meet him safely and nobody noticed, if they were surveying me, I could slip them in this huge complex.
As a result of those type of contacts - I had already made contact with a former Robben Islander called Judson Kuzwayo, he had been a former prisoner in the communal cells, had been released, was banned, was working in the Research Division of the University of Natal and it's through him that I set up my escape route and capacity. But I had sent a message via couriers to OR to say that I was out of prison and I'm coming abroad on a mission that I've been entrusted to by Madiba and Walter but I don't want help to get out of the country. I sense an insecurity about who's working with the regime, who's reliable. I said I will make my own way out and I will touch base and the likely way I will get out is via Maputo but I will touch base with him when I get to Maputo and will he make arrangements that wherever I surface I'm facilitated to get to him in Lusaka. So through Judson I began to set this up.
The third thing that I did in my consultations to get an understanding of what's happening in the country, there was coming the long Easter weekend and my brother and his wife told me that they were going to go away for the long Easter weekend. Now that was going to be Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday. My orders, banning orders, required then that on Thursday night I would get into the flat and that was it, I would only emerge on Tuesday morning at six am. So I went to Zak, I said, "Zak I've got a problem. My brother and my sister-in-law are leaving, I'm going to be alone in that flat. I won't even be able to step out to buy a pint of milk. If I run out of sugar I can't go to the corner café." So he says, "Yes, so what are you getting at?" I said, "Well, can I employ a temporary domestic?" So he says, "I see no problem." So I said, "Because it's a temporary domestic can I employ one for Friday and a different person for Saturday and a different person for Sunday and a different person for Monday?" He says, "Shit, why are you making it so complicated?" I said, "Because it's Easter weekend. I don't know who I can get as a domestic to come and work for just four days, giving up their Easter weekend, but I can envisage employing a different person just for one day." So he says, "What are you getting at?" I said, "Well, let's be frank, I don't intend to waste my weekend, I intend to get comrades who are in the struggle to come and work for me one per day so that I can engage them in consultations and discussion." He says, "Jesus, you can't do that, you can't do that." So I said, "Tell me Zak in the law where does it say I can't do that?"
POM Because if they come one on one
MM And officially they're employed as a domestic so they're allowed to be in the flat and if the police walk in they are cooking for me, employed, and washing and ironing for me and cleaning the flat. "Now, Zak, tell me where in the law does my banning order prohibit me from employing a domestic? And surely you can't employ a domestic without communicating with a domestic?" And Zak says, "You bastard! You bastard! That would be a very interesting case to defend." So I said, "That's all I wanted, legal advice." He says, "No, I haven't given you advice that you can do it." I said, "No, no, no, that's not what I want. I'm telling you I'm going to do it, I just want to know whether you see a challenge that when I'm caught you will relish defending me and you will get me off." And Zak says, "Jesus, Mac, you've got such a devious mind. How do you think of it?" He's blind, so his hands are waving all over. He's sitting in his chair, he says, "Come to think of it that's going to be a wonderful case to defend. I hope they arrest you!" That's the type of chap.
MM Establishing contacts and planning how I would escape and as part of my escape Phyllis Naidoo had an old Volkswagen car spare and she lent me that car. I had reason to believe that I needed to check is this car bugged? So one day I picked up a friend during the day time and I drove off to Wentworth, the suburb that I'm allowed into, but it has a beach, a secluded beach and a lousy beach, not really a good swimming beach but quite sandy. The route was over a remote road over the hill and you had to get past this hill to get onto the beach. It was a very secluded beach. One day I picked up a female friend from the Congresses and drove off but I was using this now to say let me check whether I'm under surveillance and has this car got a device. So as I drove I could see whether I'm being followed and I could see a long distance back on this remote road and there was no sign of anybody following, no car. We get to the beach and we park and we're sitting a chatting in the car and lo and behold, five, ten minutes later a car appears and parks next to me. Plain clothes, all men, two men, Indians, and I realise, "Oh, this is the cops." I'm not breaking any law but this is the cops and this means that this car is bugged. So I said, "OK", and I decide that's the car I'm going to use to escape. That's going to be my decoy.
So having made arrangements with Judson Kuzwayo and two other friends of his, the second one was also an ex Robben Islander called Shadrack Mapumulo. Judson died in a car accident in Harare somewhere around 1982/83. Shadrack was killed in a raid in Swaziland, they shot him through the door of the cupboard, he hid in a cupboard during the raid and they just riddled that cupboard with bullets and they carried his bullet-ridden body into SA. The third one, the guy that crossed the border, was a chap called Nzima. He eventually a year or so later fled SA and settled in Swaziland and he and his wife Jabu were in the underground based in Swaziland and one morning he and his wife left the flat where they were staying, entered the station wagon and started it and the station wagon blew up and both of them were killed.
POM So everyone involved in plotting your escape was killed.
MM Yes, all three. What happens is I had planned also I bought a set of clothes which I had never worn, I stored it, quietly bought it. I bought a leather coat, I bought pants, shirt and I went and had spectacles made. I used to not wear spectacles in those years. No I used to use spectacles for reading, yes I used to wear spectacles but I bought a pair of spectacles that looked different because I needed a disguise that the moment I leave Durban, and the border is 500/600 kms away, so if I'm intercepted I'm already committing a crime and therefore I needed a disguise that was not too far from what I looked but if you saw me cursorily you wouldn't recognise me and that would enable me to revert to my original appearance if something went wrong.
POM If you were caught in disguise that would be an added ?
MM Well we will come to it, you will see where the problem arose. Then the last element was I visited the offices of the lawyer that I used to work for in 1955/56.
POM The guy who told you you didn't know how to write the wills or whatever.
MM But he had a chief clerk whom I had got very friendly with and indeed when I went and visited they were in the same building which was on the border in Durban, centre of Grey Street, but it was on the white side and if you crossed into Grey Street and crossed it you were in the Indian side of the commercial district and I was not allowed in the Indian part. I visited the lawyer's office and had a chat with the staff and the chief clerk was still around.
POM He's on the white side?
MM Yes the white side, but he's an Indian clerk. So I spoke to the clerk who was very happy to see me and that I had visited there and alone I said to him, "Listen, mate, I need a spare key to the offices." He says, "Why?" I said, "Because I'm banned, I'm restricted and I don't have places where I can sit down in privacy and work, write, maybe meet persons." So he says, "I don't know what you are up to, I don't want to know, but here's a spare key." Now because it was on the border that is the room in those offices I was going to be getting to early in the morning when I disappear and change my disguise and then cross over into the Indian area where at a certain spot Shadrack Mapumulo, the late Shadrack, was supposed to be my contact. He would contact me there and he would lead me to a vehicle. That vehicle was going to drive me to the Swazi border but it was lucky that I thought of my disguise as easily revertible to my original looks. It was just that I had to change my clothes, change my specs, and I had put on a cap, take off the cap.
Came the morning that I'm escaping, I didn't tell my brothers or anybody, they didn't see the clothes, they didn't see the spectacles, but I was allowed to leave at six am and I had made it a practice every morning in that car that had the bug, I would leave the flat at exactly six am and I would go into Durban centre to a car parkade, park in that car parkade in the white area and then walk and go to Zak's offices and other offices in the white area, and every evening at five o'clock I would get to the car park, take the car, drive to Wentworth, go to the police station, report there and drive to my brother's flat and enter the flat at five to six. I made that a practice so that any observation of me shows a very set pattern. But on the morning of my escape on 1 July I left the house at six o'clock. I had already put into the car my leather jacket, pants, spectacles. I had accumulated a bit of money from friends. I drove in this car, went to the car parkade, parked the car, took the parking ticket, put it in an envelope addressed to Phyllis Naidoo and posted it to her in a post box. Went off to this lawyer's office, the office hadn't started. Working time starts at eight o'clock. Got into the office, making sure I'm not followed, went into this chief clerk's office, put on these clothes, put off whatever I was wearing into a plastic bag and hid it behind the filing cabinets, took the fire escape and crossed into the Indian area.
POM So there you are, standing there.
MM On the corner and it's becoming busy.
POM You're becoming obvious.
MM Somebody might recognise me. What do I do? I have to get back to the office, revert to my clothes to find out what's gone wrong. But as luck would have it I was standing at this corner and suddenly Mapumulo appears and he walks up to me and says, "Follow me." So we walk through this maze of the arcade and we get to one of these cheap fast food restaurants in those days, tea and Indian stuff, and he says to me, "Things have gone horribly wrong. The car has broken down." "Oh God! Shadrack, you can't do this to me." He says, "The delay has been me trying to repair it." So I say, "Listen friend, I'm going to get arrested and that's not on. Can't we get a pirate taxi or something, another car?" He says, "Hold on, sit here, I'll come back." He comes back, he says, "Look, I can get a taxi. Together with the guide who is going to escort you across the border", (that's the late Nzima) I don't even know Nzima. He says, "The guide will be in the taxi, he'll get a taxi to Tongaat, jump off there, you'll take a taxi, he'll go to the taxi rank, he'll take a taxi from there to Stanger and at Stanger at the taxi rank you will take a taxi to the border. He will do the hiring." So I said, "Fine, let's go."
POM Did you have money for this?
MM We are waiting. He says to me, "There's only one problem, we haven't got money." Now I've got a few hundred rand that I've collected from friends and I say, "Shit, there's no time to debate. What have you got? How much have you got Shadrack?" He says, "No, we just have money for the petrol for the cars." "Is the money there?" "I've got a few rands, R50 or R60." "Give it to me. Get the taxi, tell me which taxi it is, let me get it. Let's not cry about things, let's move." I take the taxi and in the taxi is Nzima, short, tubby guy. We are not talking in the taxi because now we're in a strange taxi. Get to Tongaat, jump off, go to the rank, get another taxi, the two of us get in, off we go. Get to Stanger, another taxi, and I still remember vividly it's now about midday, nearing midday. We're making very good time and Nzima goes to the Kentucky Fried Chicken, I'd never eaten KFC."
POM They weren't even franchised before you went to jail, right?
MM And he buys it, a bucket of KFC. I never knew you could buy it in a bucket. So as we go on from Stanger now, the longest leg, we're eating but again it's a taxi so we're not talking. As we near Golela, that's heading towards a little village that's a gate, border gate with Swaziland, about five kilometres before that near a bridge Nzima asked the taxi driver to stop. So he stops and he jumps off, so I jump off. I don't know what's happening, and he speaks to the driver, he says goodbye and thanks him.
POM No pay, no nothing?
MM We pay, we pay. We get into the bush, into the river banks where that bridge was. He walks on, gets into a clump of trees, checks whether it's a good hiding spot and sits down, says, "Sit." "What's happening?" He says, "We're too early so we're going to hide here." What happens next, he says, "OK, now as soon as it's getting dark I will be leaving you, I'm going to go through the border gate officially. I have documents. You, you see this direction, you walk in that direction, you will come to a fence, you cross that fence, you will be down in no man's land. You'll come to another fence, you cross that fence and you're going to be in that village there that you see in the distance. You won't mistake it because that's a village called Lavumisa." It's on the Swazi side. And he says, "You get into this little village and you go to a house, there's a shop there with green walls, green painted. Can you see the direction? It's very simple, you'll make it." He says, "When you get to that house which has a green wall I will already be waiting for you."
OK, we're sitting and it starts getting dark and he gets up and he says, "Now come, you give me half an hour. In half an hour it will have got fairly dark before you set off from here. Because I need to get through that border gate before it closes up so I'm leaving early, wait for half an hour, it will get darker, you move." And just as we are parting, it's now getting dusk, Jesus, the thought hits me, he's already gone off, how am I going to recognise a blue wall in the fucking dark? But I can't shout and call him because we're in enemy territory so I'm trying to run to catch up with him, he's gone. Anyway I cross, I find the fence, I have no sense of direction. That's one of my worst things, I don't have a sense of direction anywhere. I cross the two fences, I go into this village, there are hardly any street lamps and I am looking for this bloody house with a green wall. Everything looks the same bloody colour and suddenly when I'm just about exasperated in the dark I hear somebody whisper, "Come, come." It's Nzima. So that's how I got away.
POM You were working for Ashley White so you were using Zac's office and when you were using his office were you able to make calls to London to Vella Pillay to let him know that you were you didn't think that his phone might be bugged?
MM No, I knew they're bugged. I phoned just to say hello, no saying messages as I did with George Bizos because he had been my defence advocate and Joel was now gone, I said it's necessary to make contact with George because suppose I'm in trouble tomorrow, but besides I need to thank him for what he did for me in 1964 and it's nice to know he's around. So I look in the telephone directory, I get hold of George's office number and that was an amazing call. I phone his number and he answers the phone. So I said, "George Bizos?" He says, "Yes." I don't give him my name, I said, "I just want to phone you and thank you for what you did for me." So his voice becomes strange, "Yes?" suspicious. I say, "Well 12 years ago you helped me out and I've had a good holiday, I'm raring to go and I thought I should thank you." "Yes." "And also to say to you that maybe tomorrow I might need you and I hope you'll be there." And he says, "It's very nice of you to phone me, I do appreciate the sentiments. Goodbye." Puts the phone down, because as far as he's concerned his phone is bugged. So switch him off, I've now recognised who he is and, yes, he is also warning me that he may need my services but let the conversation not go on, so he just cut the conversation, goodbye.
I was very careful after that. Through that in a very judicious way I used Zak's phone but I phoned my wife as a very normal conversation. Of course it caused problems because she wanted to know what happens next. I said I'm house arrested, I'm stuck, I can't leave. And she couldn't understand what the hell this was all about because she wanted to know, "Are you going to come out of the country and meet me?" And my answer was, "No, I can't. I'm under house arrest. How do you expect me to come?" "Why don't you take an exit permit?" I said, "No, I can't take an exit permit, it would be wrong." It had it's own problems because I couldn't tell her I'm coming. I had to behave like I'm never going out.
Anyway, we've deviated like hell.
POM So then when you did get employment it was with Ashley White?
MM No, it was a woman called Mrs Rautenbach. She was an old white woman, a widow, who came from a wealthy background but was supporting causes like what became Black Sash. She, I think it's Phyllis that raised the matter with her and said Mac is in a bad way, no job, no permission, can go into white areas, and she said, "Well, if he can go in white areas then he doesn't need permission for a job." And Phyllis said, "Yes indeed if it's not a job in an office or publishing or all that he doesn't need permission." Permission is required to enter the area for the job as long as the job category is not in the prohibited category. So Mrs Rautenbach said that she had a house which she had vacated, it needed a bit of touching up and was going to be let. She had found a tenant, the Director of USAid I think it was, Ashley White, and she needed a handyman to do some handyman painting, repairs, carpentry, etc., cleaning up, and that she was prepared to give me a small basic income and I could do that. Now I found that very convenient because it was in a white suburb near Berea, near the University of Natal. That gave me a chance to set up contacts to see people at that house. I saw the late Joshua Zulu there. But I got the house going, it was minimal work. Mrs Rautenbach then signalled through Phyllis that I could have the job indefinitely as a handyman. So when the White's moved in she had told them that I am the handyman who comes in every day, anything to repair, anything he will attend to it. That was the only job I got, I didn't ask for permission. I continued there and Ashley and his wife Gina moved in. I didn't tell them who I was.
POM Were you living there now or still going back to your brother's?
POM You always had to go back to your brother's flat?
MM If I had moved accommodation I'd have needed permission. So I began to regard this as temporarily safe also and when Ashley and Gina came in and began to live there, especially the wife, she used to be at home all day and would talk to me. I would talk, not tell them who I am.
POM So you never talked about Robben Island, never talked about - ?
MM Nothing. But I think about a few weeks later somebody must have spotted me from the US Embassy at their house and realised who I was and Ashley one day in a conversation said to me, "Aren't you so-and-so?" I said, "Yes I am."
POM What name were you going under when you were employed there?
MM Mac Maharaj. But there was no pay slip. So I said, "Yes I am Maharaj. Now that you know who I am I just need to know, do you have a problem about my working as a handyman around your house? It's the only job I can get through Mrs Rautenbach and she's employed me." He said they were comfortable. I said, "Well the only problem is I ask you not to tell others." So he said, "Why?" I said, "I don't want unnecessary attention by the Security Branch. I don't want them to go to Mrs Rautenbach to fire me and I am employed by her but I'm doing services around the house that you occupy." And they said, no, they had no problem. So I continued there until my escape.
POM Did Ashley have any further discussions with you about the politics of the situation? Was the Carter administration in at that time or was he residual from - ?
MM That was Carter, yes. No, I avoided discussion. It was not in my interest to get involved in discussions with him because (a) I was not interested in giving him a reading, that's not in my job, and (b) whatever I needed to know about him I could find out. I tried to avoid, I tried to keep things to mundane levels of conversation. That's how Gina and I became fairly good friends because in repairing the house, it was a big place with a guest wing, self-contained, fantastic bathrooms, and of course the first three weeks when it was unoccupied I used to have my showers and everything there, lord it over and here I am now having a glorious shower. When Gina and them moved in, within a short space of time, days, I asked them, "Is it OK if whenever I knock off I have a shower in the guest wing?" And they said that's fine. So I used to have a wonderful time.
POM At that time would the ANC have regarded the US government as being hostile?
MM Hostile, yes, and also, it's interesting, Carter had put up this has given a high profile to human rights. We were characterising our struggle as a struggle against apartheid colonialism and in much of the literature of the ANC we opposed the characterisation as human rights and so even though Carter tried to shift US policy we looked at that shift with great distrust because in a very immediate way to characterise our struggle as part of the global struggle for human rights would have narrowed down the special consideration to our case and would have diluted the case of the struggle against institutionalised racism. So we didn't look to the Carter administration as charting a way which had an enormous potential for the rest of the world. We looked at it with great suspicion because we also contrasted it with US actions in supporting military regimes which were dictatorships.
POM At that point they were supporting Mobutu, they were supporting everybody who the Soviet Union wasn't supporting.
MM That's all, and human rights didn't feature in that support.
POM Human rights don't feature in national security.
While you were in, and we may have touched on this before, while you were in East Germany Jack Kennedy was assassinated. Did that evoke any reaction or what was the reaction that it evoked in East Germany?
MM Where was I what year was that?
POM It would be November 1963.
MM I was in the country. November 1963. Rivonia arrests had taken place. We are focused on the forthcoming trial, I don't know if the trial had started.
POM You were back in the country then? OK.
MM And the Rivonia trial has not started yet but the Rivonia people are in detention. Kennedy's assassination, big event, but in my diary of those days
POM Or in the movement's diary it didn't account for very much. The other event that would have occurred when you were
MM Martin Luther King?
POM Martin Luther King. Well that would be 1967/68, we're not there yet. I'm going back to 1960, Patrice Lumumba.
MM Oh Patrice Lumumba, that was a big event, very big. I was in London. A very, very big event. I was outside the Belgian Embassy demonstrating day and night, the British police were chasing us away. I was involved very deeply with the British Communist Party in its International Affairs Committee and Africa Committee. I recall now that the British Party Leader, Palme Dat, whom I've mentioned to you, I recall discussing with him in an article that he wrote, he used to edit a publication called Labour Monthly and he used to write the editorials under the title Notes of the Month by R P D, Rajendra Palme Dat. A sort of editorial column. I recall his arguing that the Belgian forces had misused a UN resolution to justify their intervention and support for Moise Tshombe who overthrew Patrice Lumumba. I can remember the graphic photographs of Lumumba handcuffed, being taken off the plane at Elizabethville and his assassination. I remember his successor, Gizenga, Anton Gizenga. So yes, we were far more I was certainly far more incensed and activated to act in the British public arena over the assassination of Patrice Lumumba. I now remember his inauguration speech which caused the problem because when he was inaugurated to his post he made a vicious attack on the Belgian colonial record in the Congo.
So I can remember that one was made active whereas the Kennedy assassination, we'd got problems of our own, setbacks and things to do and it didn't influence my attitude to the United States. It didn't lead me modifying my attitude towards the US, nor did it lead to my becoming more incensed about US policy.
POM In this whirl of events that were occurring at that time was the war in the Congo regarded as a battle for freedom? Did it raise the level of debate about the use of violence to achieve to overthrow imperialists like the Belgians who even at that point were trying to play a double game?
MM 1960. No. The debate on the use of violence was very the parameters were defined as violence was never ruled out as a form of struggle but the debate was, do the SA conditions meet the criteria? The Congo issue did not come into the debate, the Algerian struggle came in, Cameroonian struggle, how an armed struggle was defeated, the Algerian struggle that was winning by primarily terrorist actions, the Malaysian struggle where the insurgency was defeated, the Burmese struggle where they were defeated. These were the lessons that we were studying: the Philippine struggle, the Chinese struggle, partisan warfare in the second world war by the allies of the west, by the resistance movements behind the enemy lines.
POM France, Yugoslavia, Italy.
MM France, Italy, Yugoslavia, those things featured. I remember I possessed a book, SOE, that was the Special Operations Executives on the British Army side which was the arm giving support to the resistance fighters in France. It was called SOE Operations. Those are the sorts of literature and then of course the classic Marxist literature and the Cuban literature, those were the key literature inputs that went into the debates about whether our conditions had developed and met the criteria of resorting to violent forms of struggle, the Congo didn't feature.
POM This is just going back to clarify something, in this draft profile for the Volume 7 of From Protest to Challenge that Gail Gerhardt, you were telling me about the degree part, but she has a sentence in here about, "He was jailed in Robben Island for 12 years during which he helped develop clandestine communication systems among inmates in different sections of the prison." We didn't address that. I remember talking to Kathy years and years and years ago and he was saying that one of the first tasks when they were put in the single cells was how to develop a communication system with each other and that he was given that task. So was there a system of communications already in place when you arrived in the single cells?
MM No. When Kathy was assigned that task it was when we started working at the quarry and Kathy was assigned the task that a group of us were brought together, he was the convenor of that group. The first group that was brought together to execute a mandate was made up of Kathy as the convenor, the late Joe Gqabi, he was assassinated in Harare, Andrew Masondo, who is now retired from the army, and myself. These were the four members of the committee under Kathy that set about to develop the communication system. The first leg of that was communications with the other section of the prison, the communal section.
POM Had you already established a basis for was it necessary to set up a system for communicating with each other in the single cells?
MM No, we were now working at the quarry and we would not have wanted to engage in written communications between ourselves in the same section. We could always find times to whisper to each other but we were totally cut off from the rest of the bulk of the prisoners and that was a crucial element, how do we get into communication.
POM The communication system, Kathy as convenor and then the four of you setting up a system to communicate with the people in the communal section of the cell of the prison.
MM Yes. The four of us met at the quarry having received this mandate and constituted as a communications committee. The four of us met at the quarry at work and the first thing we did was to exchange views on ideas and Kathy reported some of the ideas that he and I had already started exploring because through Kathy we had raised this matter with the leadership saying we need to set up communications with the outside world, with the other prisoners, we need to smuggle news and we were saying what we were doing individually and he and I had begun to work together on some of these ideas. That provoked the leadership to take a decision to say that they were constituting a committee with that mandate so that we didn't just do things piecemeal and on one's sole determination.
So Kathy reported that and that created a bit of a problem because the late Joe Gqabi objected to the steps that we had taken to communicate with the outside, that is outside prison, with abroad and he felt that that was not our mandate. That matter had to be resolved by the leadership. In the meantime we proceeded with the communications with the communal section of the prison and we explored and used all sorts of means, at the start very rudimentary means of trying to solicit the help of the common law prisoners who would deliver the food to try and look for ways that they could, our comrades in the other section, could put into the food drums through the common law prisoner and they would deliver it or they would whisper some news. People from the other section used to be brought to the one wing opposite our wing for punishment, for meal stops so that they would be outside of any environment to get meals. We began to use them.
Along that path we developed a battery of techniques which would break down from time to time. For example, when we began to go to the quarry we found that as you left the prison cells and walked towards the quarry, we found that from the communal section a batch of prisoners used to walk across our path near the watchtower, going off to the dockside. We started off by just putting a message in a matchbox and throwing it on the ground at the convergence of these two paths and sending a message to the other side, verbally, that they must assign some people that when you walk past, if you saw a disused matchbox pick it up, inside it would be a message. Then we refined that one, we created a false base in the matchbox. But then that technique would only work as long as a good few people in the communal sections batch were told what to watch out for and as long as that team was sent to work along that path, the moment they were reallocated to some other path it collapsed.
POM Were they marching single file or ?
MM In fours.
POM In fours, so you had to be on the right side of
MM You couldn't deviate.
POM You couldn't say, excuse me, I want to be on this side today, I'm looking out for something.
MM You couldn't do that. So we kept on developing fresher and fresh techniques including getting people on the other side in the communal prisons to periodically - on instructions of the other side a particular comrade would be selected to break a law such as to smoke in the presence of a warder and get punished and that punishment meant deprivation of meals and therefore being sent to our section and they would use our toilets when we are not using it, and the bathroom, and we would conceal a message in the bathroom and they would have been sent in with a concealed message to insert in the bathroom. There was a spot where they would collect a message from us, here was a spot in the bathroom where they would deliver a written message.
POM When you say the bathroom you really mean the showers?
MM The bathroom and the showers, yes, the showers.
POM So you had to slop out every day so it wasn't a matter of leaving something behind a ?
MM It was too obvious to leave it in the cistern. We would use the groove of the toilet seat where the water comes down when you pull the chain. We would write it on toilet paper, wrap it up in cellotape so as to seal it from water, shape it like a thin tube such that it would snuggly fit into the groove where the water shoots out, but snug enough so you had to walk and sit down like you're using the toilet and put your hand on the rim of this pail, the inner rim, and find the blockage and pull it out.
POM What length or what kind of message could you send in that regard?
MM Oh we could send fairly long messages written on toilet paper and wrapped up. You could send the equivalent of four or five foolscap sheets, A4 size paper, hand-written.
POM Foolscap size pages hand written?
MM Transcribing from a foolscap size foolscap size I'm using to give you a measure of the length, five pages, hand written, transcribed on toilet paper in ball pen in small handwriting, put it in a bundle that nicely rolled would be no thicker than my little finger and no longer than that and sealed with plastic and cellotapeand then stuffed into this groove.
POM How would they decipher it?
MM They didn't have to decipher it, it was not encrypted.
POM I mean decipher for eyesight.
MM Eyesight? Sure somebody can read it. If I wrote something small now you would be able to read it.
POM Can you still do it?
MM Yes, unless you're blind.
POM I'll have to test you on that one day. Start devising tests. I'll just give you some of my ordinary hand writing, OK? So then they would do the same back and forth.
MM We began to exchange documents, study documents, with the communal cells.
POM By this method?
MM By this method.
POM Who would have the task of doing all the reducing?
MM We used to also encipher some of them. We became more sophisticated, we used to encrypt sensitive political messages using the book quote but the leadership would draft.
POM Leadership being Walter, Madiba?
MM Or somebody would be assigned to draft something. The High Command would have to Higher Organ would have to approve of it. Then it would give it to us, give it to Kathy who was the link man. Kathy would give it to Masondo if it needed encryption, Masondo would do the encrypting. Masondo's version would be given to myself or we brought in Laloo Chiba. We would take that and write it onto toilet paper.
POM Did they, I'm asking you this because this arose in Northern Ireland when they used the same system, the 'coms' as they called them, to take messages in and out of the prison. I remember talking to one of the lads who used to do it and he said, "Thank God they used to give us really hard toilet paper because it was easier to write on. They thought they were punishing us by giving us this toilet paper but in fact they were helping us create our communications system." So you had to be pretty careful in terms of the amount
MM You'd try to use a ball point pen with a fine tip, so it had a sharper tip but then if you pressed hard you'd tear the paper. Then we would conceal it into the necessary mechanism. Laloo Chiba, for example, there was a period when they allowed our shoes to be sent to the shoemaker for repairs in the communal cells. Laloo Chiba, we got hold of a needle and we got hold of thread from these sections, we asked for it, and we experimented. Usually a shoe has this patch but it usually has this patch here.
POM The patch at the back of the shoe.
MM Yes inside.
POM Inside at the back of the shoe.
MM So he would open this patch, undo the stitches and we'd put that piece of paper, this time now thicker paper, not toilet, but therefore you could write smaller, fold that up into a piece that would fit in here and he would hand stitch this because he had been a tailor. He would hand stitch this and we would put a sign in the batch of shoes, this particular shoe would have some signal on it to say look for a shoe with this portion nicked off, get that shoe, open this seam, there's a message there. Re-stitch it and you can use it to send back a message when it's repaired. So we would say, right the heel is damaged, it's going for repairs for a heel but in here is a message which Laloo would do because he was a good stitcher, and which warder was going to look whether the stitch has been removed and redone? All he had to concentrate was to use the same holes as far as possible.
POM Who was the specialist besides yourself?
MM The small hand writers were Laloo Chiba and myself, we specialised in that too.
POM Did you have to teach yourself that, to go down and go down and go down?
MM Through my art work, my permission to study art, I ordered drawing pens with a very fine nib and black ink and we began to use drawing pens for it too which allowed you to write very fine.
POM The authorities in an odd way in giving in to your requests or whatever were creating the conditions where you guys could do all kinds of things.
MM Sure, we asked for cellophane tape, cellotape so that we could paste our book covers so we could order for the stationery cellotape.
POM There was a stationery office on Robben Island and you could say well I want foolscap, I want a five by eleven?
MM And they used to take the order to Cape Town for all the students because we needed study material, so periodically they would take orders, accumulate the orders and one day would come, a warder would go off to Cape Town and buy all the stationery and bring it back and give it to you, what you had ordered. Through my art I could get drawing paper, I could get artwork pens, then others could get it and I told you how through my artwork, my shorthand, I got a watch?
POM Sorry, you got a watch?
MM Yes, because I registered after my B.Admin and when they refused me permission to do honours I then applied to study shorthand and art and they granted me permission. I registered and after registering I went to the study officer and said now I need a watch. He said, "You go to hell." I said, "But here's my assignment in shorthand. I've got to time it." And he said, "No ways." I said, "Well then you have to repay my fees and the lost year." Eventually I said, "Write to the college, they cannot accept me for a shorthand student unless I can do the exercises within set time periods." Nobody believed that I would get it but there I got it and as soon as I got it Madiba, the biggest sceptic, rushed to apply for a watch for himself. He wasn't doing shorthand but he was using the argument that Mac has got a watch so what's the threat to the prisoners? Now why can't you allow me too?
POM This points to something like because of (a) the isolation of the Island itself and you had the prisoners and their warders who began to spend long period of time together and would get to know each other, I mean just humanity must have what's in us as human beings must just start to roll in. I don't see you as a prisoner, you don't see me as a warder, we've know each other for ten years, do the barriers - they would change the warders consistently?
MM They tried, I think a maximum term a warder served on Robben Island was for two years at a time but then they would shift them in the prison, from one group to the other because they feared the fraternisation. But that does not mean that a warder didn't come back to you. And yes, a certain level of fraternisation developed and we tried to cultivate that fraternisation even if the chap was going to be moved away because to the extent that you could mellow his hardness it made life easier for all of you but it also created the potential to smuggle. There were also corruptible people amongst the warders and not just corruptible, I would say corrupt people and therefore they were susceptible to corruption, to overtures, because they were engaged with corrupt practices with the ordinary criminal prisoners. Where did they get their tobacco from?
POM These were the same warders who would take here - ?
MM The only difference was that they would be restricted as to only white warders, but the white warders were smuggling. If you speak to Amien Cajee he'll tell you that he bribed a warder at Pretoria Central Prison with an electric shaver to allow us, even though we were confined in individual cells and when we got out to exercise in single file, to put us into that hallway to exercise and walk away so that we could whisper and talk to each other.
POM So the guys on Robben Island who were watching the political prisoners had not been trained specifically to deal with political prisoners, they were just prison guards who were doing common law for maybe six months, then moved over to your section for six months and then
MM Yes, moved over to Victor Verster Prison, Pollsmoor and so on.
POM So they had no training, in other words, in how to differentiate between the way in which a common law criminal would operate and the way in which a political prisoner would operate?
MM No, they may give them a talk when they come into Robben Island, when they are transferred to Robben Island they would obviously be given an induction talk, but the regime relied on the fact that they were all whites, therefore they were on their side. They pumped them in society with anti-communism, these are terrorists, to win their sympathy and support and then they came and told them that these are monsters. But insofar as saying are these different type of people, it didn't fit with the ideology of the regime. The regime said black people are all black people, so that's what they taught them. They may have said these are clever guys, don't be taken in by them, but that was no protective measure. The criminal prisoner was more interested in how to smuggle things for his material well-being.
POM Which meant bribery.
MM Which meant bribery for cigarettes, for tobacco, for sex, for food, but we were not interested in that. We were interested to bribe them to get news and for communications, a different ball game. I think I told you the one warder when I did the crossword puzzle for him and he was short-listed and won the first round, he came to offer me food.
POM No, you didn't tell me this.This is another story you tell the Hollywood people.
MM I turned it down. He offered me perlemoen, abalone.
POM You did a crossword puzzle for him?
MM I'll come back to that. But he wanted to offer me abalone, home cooked by his wife. I said no, I don't want that. He said, "But I've got to thank you. So what do I do?" I say, "Bring me a newspaper, bring me a newspaper." That's outside his experience. So I am saying, no they were not given specialised training but I am saying because the regime itself was incapable of giving that specialised training. It needed to see us as human beings and demystify the terrorism in order to put up its guards properly and it was not prepared to do that because ideologically we were sub-human. It was a trap of its own making.
POM Then the guys came out and saw that you were human beings, like the same guys on the other side probably better behaved in a way than the people on
MM Totally disorientating. A criminal you could give him a bag of tobacco and encourage them to fight and beat each other while you had fun observing this fight like you're watching a cock fight. There's no way you could get a political prisoner to do that. You couldn't say, here's a bag of tobacco, I want you to punch each other to hell and gone. We'd tell him to keep his tobacco. I mean they saw us, they know of instances where now and then things flared up in the communal cells where one of them was with a hammer hit on the head, had to be hospitalised. He comes back, the prison authorities say lay a charge. The chap says, "No I'm not laying a charge." "But you were assaulted, you were almost killed, you've now got a silver plate in your skull." He says, "Yes." "Well just tell us who did it, we'll charge him." He says, "No." Outside of their understanding and the warder is looking, he says what type of guys are these? If somebody had beaten me I would charge the bastard even if it is a fellow warder. What type of people are these? Things go wrong, they have a fight, somebody smashes the other guy's skull but they don't go and lay a charge. What is this? What is it that holds them together to refuse to go to what you would regard as a normal reporting process to get a person punished? Clearly you don't understand him but there are a set of values guiding their lives which you can't comprehend.
POM Do you think that in an odd way might have led to them having more respect for you than they would have had for the ordinary criminals in the other sections?
MM Obviously, they despised the criminals but I think that not just respect, I think that even when they didn't accord us respect they were in a bit of awe of us. What type of people are these who talk to an officer without bending down on their knees? And the officer doesn't know how to handle them and either the officer shouts and he shouts and screams at them, they still have the upper hand and the officer goes away, doesn't know what to do. He's cursing and swearing at them, calling them terrorists, but he doesn't know what to do. He can't get them to change whereas any other prisoner, criminal prisoner, you give him a big whacking and give him a packet of tobacco and every time you go to him he bows and he runs and he calls you baas. These guys just won't do that.
POM Just going back to the communication system,, you had little drop places where you would the toilets?
MM Drop places, we manoeuvred it, then we used shoes, all sorts of things. I can't remember all of them. I certainly remember the matchbox, I remember the toilet pail and adaptations of that. I remember the shoes very well. Essentially you looked for anything, any commodity or goods that moved between the two sections.
POM Did they have a co-ordination person on their side?
MM Yes, the other side had a committee also of the ANC.
POM Would that vary as - ?
MM They called it the DC, the Disciplinary Committee.
POM The Disciplinary Committee?
MM Yes, under the Disciplinary Committee well it changed in composition over the years but the DC also set up particular comrades to check responsibility for communicating with us. I don't remember the identities of any of them. I remember more who wrote which paper on which debate. But they had larger resources there. They had access to the shoe making shop. Then they got into the kitchen staff and they had a large body of prisoners from which they could select and say, "Indres Naidoo, tomorrow, break the law so that you get punished and when you've broken it here's something to conceal in your clothes, etc., to take it and deliver it and this is where you will deliver it and this is where you will collect the thing. For that you have to forgo three meals."
POM So he would be on the opposite side in isolation?
MM And he would have access to the toilets.
MM Now the slops were used for when you are locked up in your cell. During the period when you open you could go to the toilet but initially when we were working in the yard you would use the toilet by permission and shower time in the morning and in the evening. Now similarly those who are sent for punishment in the other wing when we have been cleared away then they would be allowed to go and empty their slops, shower, use the toilet and then go out for their exercise walk and then be brought back. That was the exchange period, it didn't overlap. But the slops were only used by us at night or when you are locked up in your cell.
POM She talks about the radio transmitter. You talked about you, and was it Laloo? concealing a radio in the bench. But you had a radio you had an actual radio transmitter?
MM No just one of these transistor sets, a tiny transistor set that could pick up the radio station and the important thing was to get an ear piece for it so that the volume when put on was not heard by anybody else except by the person wearing the ear piece and it operated by battery.
POM So that was the one that you concealed in the bench that you made? The one that Walter said get, then he said destroy, then he said where the hell is the news?
MM Yes. Padraig, we will call it for a day for today. I've got to go and see what's happening to my son.
MM Are we meeting again tomorrow?
POM I think not till next week.