About this site

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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

07 Nov 2002: Maharaj, Mac

POM     One thing, Mac, I left you with yesterday that I said I would ask you and that was when you were in the GDR as a student people in the town and other places you went must have asked you about your background, where you came from, what was post-independence India like, just about yourself.

MM     In Bischofswerda in the village two things would happen, the Central Committee of the party had clearly informed the Party Secretary in Dresden, which was the main city, and they had informed the Party Secretary in Bischofswerda so these two guys were privy to the fact that they needed to put a screen around me. But at the level of the ordinary people in the community I did not face much questioning. Yes, my documentation said that I'm from India. The name I was operating was Das Gupta. In the social conversation and at the beginning there was very little curiosity in this little village. The curiosity was about my colour. The curiosity about India was peripheral. No intense questioning. But then I positioned myself –

POM     Nobody asked you what are you doing here?

MM     What am I doing here? I'm training, I'm studying printing.

POM     Where did you come from?

MM     Oh I'm from India, I have been living in New Delhi in the capital city. I have moved around a bit. India is a huge place and I divert the discussion to religion, Hindu religion and philosophical concepts. So what I am saying what was interesting was, and I located it in a village mentality that one of the things that struck me in the village is that outside of one person who had worked in the merchant navy nobody had seen a person of colour face to face, they had only seen them in magazines and it is such a tiny village that I got the impression that their minds were circumscribed by village life. Yes the party structure, for example at the factory, had a leadership of about six people. I attended one or two of their activities but their vision was very much circumscribed by the immediate problems of the GDR and the problems of West Germany. That was their world and I explained away in my mind the lack of interest because it was convenient for me but I explained it away in terms of that village way of life. To the extent that I had discussions my knowledge of India was sufficient to carry me through but also I always sought to broaden if they focused on a discussion and curiosity about some things about India, I tried to broaden the chat around the problems of the colonial world.

POM     So you would subtly change the direction of the conversation.

MM     Yes, from a probing of me to a broader discussion of life in the colonial world.

POM     So you had really two things going, lack of curiosity would be due to the phenomenon of village life which is only very inward and even if a stranger arrived they're not very much concerned about where the stranger came from. It's they get on with village life, the stranger is there.

MM     What does he speak? What does he eat?

POM     And they don't know what questions to ask because the world is circumscribed by circumstances of their life.

MM     Even when I went once to a dentist – do youknow the conversation was amazing. The nurse was exclaiming about the whiteness and my perfect teeth and then my black hair and then saying, "Can I touch your skin?" as if to say the texture of the skin must be different. Is it the same as the texture as our skin? I remember that's the first time I came across the word 'schön'.

POM     It's German for beautiful?

MM     For beautiful, I don't know how it's spelt now. But she was exclaiming right from the beginning and the words that were appearing were 'schön zähne' and I couldn't work out what's this until I realised and she started pointing to the dentist at my teeth, then I realised that what she was saying was, "Look, he's got beautiful teeth." Often I would go, I remember going to a couple's home where there was a party on and all the women were coming and sitting around me, "Can we touch your hair?" "Oh look at his teeth." "What food do you eat?" And you sit down and you start enjoying the German food. "Oh look he enjoys the food we like." "But you come from India, you must be missing curry." "Yes, I miss curry." "Well do you like our sausages?" "Fantastic, I enjoy it." Then they see you having blood sausage, "Oh do you like that? This is a delicacy of ours." So that was the level of the curiosity. Always the reference point was the way they lived, the way they ate, the way they behaved. Were you dissimilar to them? And if they saw any dissimilarity they often saw it, like my teeth, as superior to theirs and then they would say, a man would say, "You know what she is saying? She is saying that she would like to have a child by you." That's the sort of conversation and the level, the type of curiosity that drove them. There was no political agenda curiosity.

POM     But wouldn't that question, just she would like to have a child by you, strike you as, given the German obsession about the Aryan race and the purity of the race, as being the last thing in the world a German would say to somebody of different colour?

MM     No, I attributed that to the ideological conditioning and propaganda that was going on, the anti-fascist position because East Germany had overwhelmingly dressed itself in the garb of the anti-nazi forces, the anti-Hitler positions, the anti-Aryan race and here were people now brought up in that feeling the need to say, listen, I'm not like the nazis, I see you as a wonderful person, somebody that I admire, I like the colour of your skin. And of course I'm not pitch black and I've seen it in many other places, like my wife, she's much fairer than me but you see how many white women would say, I wish I had that colour of yours. So you laugh and say, well I suppose you spend all your time sun-tanning trying to be that. And then they say, yes but it passes after a week.

POM     Exactly.

MM     And then they say to you, not an untypical thing between white and us blacks, they say what's your age? But you haven't got a wrinkle because of the colour of your skin. Look at me I'm wrinkled and I'm not your age yet. But I am saying in Bischofswerda the exclusive domain was the point of reference of what they do and you're a stranger, how can they show their generosity to embrace you into the community? The jarring thing that I experienced in the first week in Bischofswerda was when kids began to follow me as I was walking saying, "Neger", and for a while my blood was boiling, look at this racism, calling me nigger, until I got to my flat and opened the dictionary and looked for the word 'neger' and nigger on the English side and opened the other side and found 'black' 'schwartz' and 'neger'. Those were the two words and in the kids' definition it was that. And I called the kids and the little girl who slapped me and said 'schmutzig' meaning dirty, took her to the bathroom and they all came there to scrub because I felt that's the only way I could communicate with these nine and ten year olds, a six year old was the youngest. But to say to them, "Now, Walter, try and explain to them, they have scrubbed my hands, now you can start explaining to them about colour."

POM     Was Walter any more curious about your past?

MM     Walter was a member of the SED Party and clearly the party Secretary General had at some stage taken him into his confidence, at least insofar as don't probe this man much, there is something about him.

POM     OK, leaving the GDR aside perhaps finally. Going back again I want to deal with in Lusaka where you were now headquartered but moving between your various centres in the surrounding countries, you had your own intelligence reports coming in from SA, your gathering of information from other parts of the world, what would have been, again from the period 1978 when Botha comes to power through the first state of emergency in 1985, what would have been the ANC's, or the struggle's analysis of PW's actions? Was he perceived – you said he was perceived as being hawkish, was he perceived as having a plan? How did this compare to Vorster's plans, Verwoerd's plans? What was the change in his agenda, a plan that was leading to something or that was leading to a dead end? Was he looking for a way out of something, not quite know where any action he took might ultimately lead him? You talked yesterday in the end that he couldn't cross the Rubicon because he was stuck in a mindset that couldn't allow him to take that decisive step. But in that period.

MM     Well just to do a quick characterisation, Verwoerd, the ideological architect of apartheid, cast that ideological perspective in terms of separate development. He was a man with an academic record and he had a certain capacity to use words, to dress concepts in words. This whole race theory, he was the one as the architect who couched it in seemingly reasonable terms, that each nation has a right to self-determination and therefore he used the separation of ethnic groups as a basis to say now you can run your own affairs provided I am the big brother over the whole entity. And at his time when asked the question – did those separate homelands which became Bantustans, did they have the right then in running their own affairs to end up for independence? He answered that question by saying, yes in theory but in practice it will take hundreds of years before they evolve to that level of civilisation.

     His reaction to the world was to withdraw into isolation. He pulled SA out of the commonwealth but in pulling SA out of the commonwealth he tried to make it a victory rather than an expulsion. He was facing expulsion and rather than wait for the expulsion he stood up and said, "I pull out." And he came back and cast that in an heroic mould here.

POM     It was also the final assertion of Afrikaner nationalism.

MM     And independence. That's why he proclaimed the Republic also. But the point is that he is the architect then that the consequence of apartheid was an isolation from the world, withdraw from the world, isolate, and he cast that isolation in an heroic mode. As the problems of this ideology being implemented begin to manifest themselves indeed the first issue that comes up is Transkeian independence, something that he said would take place in hundreds of years in the future suddenly was a reality and it was a reality under his successor.

     Vorster's period is characterised by two elements, internal repression accompanied by internal tinkering and the road to tinkering is open now when Vorster says to the English cricket team that is due to tour here, I don't know which date, I'm just looking at events, and they put a South African coloured, Basil d'Oliviera, who failing to get a place in SA in professional cricket went to England and in England he got his citizenship and was selected for the English national team. The tour was due to take place and the English announced their team and there was Basil in the team. Vorster said, "I will not accept an English team visiting SA which has Basil d'Oliviera." He stuck to his guns, it caused an uproar but the reaction of the world was so powerfully against him that in his own inner chamber counsel began to say, "You have to make compromises along this path." That's where his internal policy was characterised by cosmetic changes. It was a thing like, "Oh, black people who are from outside SA can come in here when they come as business people, as diplomats, and they can be allowed to use certain restaurants which can apply for designation as international restaurants."

POM     They can stay at the Carlton.

MM     Yes. And then he brought the President of Malawi, Hastings Banda, with whom he was seeking to create close relations, he brought him on a visit to SA and received him as a state guest. He brought Leabua Jonathan from Lesotho as an honoured guest of the state. Now here's a black man, African, coming here, but no, he can stay at the Carlton, he can ride in the President's car, both of them have met at the airport, he's gone and received them, huge photographs of the two of them shaking hands and beaming and all friendly. He says, "No, no, no, we're not inhuman, we don't have a problem", but he's making exceptions at that petty level.

     His error vis-à-vis the world is characterised by make those petty changes to try and defuse the opposition but he then soon develops an offensive in the international arena and his offensive is shaped by an offensive into Africa, what was called 'the outward looking policy'. He sponsored the coup which brought Leabua Jonathan to power in Lesotho. The fact that Leabua turned against him later is another question but he saw the use of economic and military power as an instrument by which he could subdue neighbouring states and cajole them into a friendly bilateral relationship with apartheid SA. He began to erect this outward looking policy as a good neighbour policy but whose core was create a buffer between the ANC forces in exile and SA internally.

     That is why over Rhodesia, well starting with Namibia, he conceded that international pressure was forcing a solution in Namibia which would grant it independence. He tried to manipulate those elections, he poured money into opposition parties, he sent advisers and everything to the opposition parties and when the election voted SWAPO in he had already prepared a second line of defence that, OK, I'll have to live with that. My western, northern neighbour is Namibia, it's independent but I have economic relations –

POM     The independence of Namibia didn't come till 1990.

MM     But the point is theoretically, 1990 yes you're right. The talks, the Group of Seven negotiators through the UN came into being in 1977. So the consequence of that outward looking policy was, let's try – in Vorster's time he sent in forces to help Smith fight it out. The reason is if Rhodesia is kept in the white laager the ANC's boundaries in exile are pushed beyond the Zambezi.

     He then made overtures to Kaunda a la the model that he developed in Malawi and Lesotho. Malawi he accepted the leadership, he poured in advisers and economic assistance and he then said, "Kaunda, let's have an agreement." That's when the Lusaka Manifesto came up in 1969 which led to the ANC having a very tenuous existence in Zambia because the Lusaka Manifesto now no longer looked at a perspective which said overthrow apartheid. He said, "Apartheid is changing. We will change but let us have friendly relations with all of you, solidifying economic ties, and you need to support processes that will encourage internal changes by us in apartheid." That was the foundation of the Lusaka Manifesto. I don't remember the full text.

     So he was making a foray into Africa right up to the Ivory Coast, to Gabon, etc., and it is in part inheritance of that outward looking policy that South African business became excited. SA business became excited because Verwoerd's isolationism had confined them to an economic zone of SA. All the profits that they were making – the only place they could re-invest was inside here. His outward looking policy now suggested that there was a field of expansion for them which was in sync with Vorster's outward looking policy. So even now the fact that SA business has closer relations with business in Gabon than with Tanzania, which is closer, is an inheritance from that period.

     Vorster goes and PW comes in. Under PW you have the Angolan war. PW coming from a military position digs his heels in, sends his forces into Angola post-Angolan independence, buys and gets the support of the US because it sees the SA force intervention in line with its policy objectives but without having to send US soldiers. PW begins to believe that he can, through those things, create relationships with the US. He can consolidate relations with the establishment in Britain, he is making overtures to France, he makes overtures to Israel to help them to develop their nuclear capability on co-operation agreements which are kept clandestine. But the military adventure, open military (intervention) which he's utilised in Angola led him to a dead end because at a certain point the US said, enough, we're not going to go fully down that line. We will pursue the same objectives but by different means, namely, bolster Unita, send supplies to Unita, have your lines through Mobuto Sésé Seko in Congo, consolidate Unita and Congo support as the staging post. The direct military invasion route of sending SA forces has reached a dead end, Cuba is now pouring in its troops and what is happening, it's now becoming a Cuba/SA fight. That is the period when relations begin to come closer with the US but also dangerous super power elements come in and that's when the US reveals that SA has developed underground nuclear test site capabilities in the desert.

     Be that as it may PW's tinkering internally along those cosmetic changes has now led beyond saying oh, a Taiwanese is an honorary white, a Japanese is an honorary white, a Hastings Banda is a foreign African and therefore qualifies as an international visitor, and there are certain venues that are for internationals. His tinkerings have inevitably led him to address questions like the labour relations issue, the Wiehahn Commission. Those are beginning, as I said, to open real space inside the country for mass action.

     His celebration of the Republic, as I explained yesterday, opens the door for mass action and our assessment of that 1981 period was that straight after the Republic Day celebrations, which was in May, I think the Revolutionary Council met in September at an extended session in Lusaka where not just the head office people of the Revolutionary Council but the full Revolutionary Council supplemented by additional invitees from the neighbouring countries were called in to review the developments. That is where we saw the need now to escalate but we saw the need to co-ordinate the pillars. That's where the APC document which involved in it a decision to send senior people home came up and we said we will review this decision in a year's time to see is it taking us forward, what needs to be done.

POM     So the Area Political Committees are now under the control of the Revolutionary Council.

MM     The Revolutionary Council and directly of the Internal Political.

POM     So they are parallel. I just want to get the decision, the administrative change was they are now organs of Internal Political Development?

MM     No, a little bit of difference. We are now bringing in the military to work together in the neighbouring territories and the revolutionary headquarters has now got military and political working closer together and head office is going down to the neighbouring territories and talking to the military and political structures and bringing them together, to work together, to co-ordinate.

POM     But in Lusaka you've still got two structures.

MM     Yes, and even in the neighbouring countries we've got two structures but we're saying you have to regularly meet and plan together. You have to co-ordinate your activities.

     But the more important thing that I was coming to, that one I mentioned just to locate it because it's a residue of the past. The more important thing is that we now said that the pockets of activity at the mass level, Release Mandela Committee, Ratepayers, Tenants, Housing Committees, etc., they had now begun to feel the need to come together. We said now it is appropriate to urge the people at home to begin to co-ordinate those mass struggles. I think it is in 1982 that the January 8th statement by OR calls on the mass organs and the people to form a united front against apartheid, he actually uses that word. We've also had the anti-SAIC, South African Indian Council, boycott campaign, debates about the tactics to be used. There's a rise of feeling against the urban councils for the African people, there's resistance to the Coloured House of Delegates and PW is saying, his model that is emerging is a Council of Ministers drawn from the House of Representatives for coloureds, House of Delegates for Indians, and the white parliament and he's now having to answer the challenge, if that's the structure for the Indians and the coloureds why are you excluding the majority, the Africans?

     So the tricameral is running into trouble and our analysis says the next appropriate mass move is to bring these pockets of resistance under whatever little name into a relationship with each other so that we don't suppress the initiative on the ground but we get them to co-ordinate them. We didn't articulate that concept fully. In the January 8th statement all it said was, in reviewing the activities it said the time has arrived for everybody to gather together into a united front of struggle against apartheid.

     In the meantime at home people in the mass organisations are also sensing the same thing. Where to next? And the matter arises in the Transvaal Indian Congress meeting, conference, I think in 1981/82, (the date should be establishable) where for the holding of their conference, and there was a debate, should there exist an Indian Congress revived or should it not exist? This is an ethnic organisation. I think the President of the TIC was a chap called Cas Saloojee, he's now in parliament. At their conference they invited Allan Boesak to present a keynote address. Allan had already emerged in the World Council of Reformed Churches, through the church route, as also a voice of opposition and a very, very promising orator. I think already his positioning in the international arena, in the World Council of Reform Churches, was bringing him into prominence. So they invited Allan and Allan, as far as I can recall prepared his keynote address but when he arrived in Johannesburg on the night before the conference a number of them in the TIC and the Indian Congresses met with Allan Boesak to discuss the conference. In those informal discussions the idea of a co-ordinating body at the mass level emerged and again the comrades saw the merit of that. It removed the debate should the TIC as an Indian organisation exist or not exist. It said let's take all, however small, however big, from sports to overtly political, to cultural organisations, let's call them together to set up a mechanism to co-ordinate. When Allan spoke the next day he made a call for the establishment of a United Democratic Front. The idea was now planted, directed at a conference in SA. That idea is what culminated in the launch of the UDF in Cape Town, I think in 1982/83.

POM     1983.

MM     1983. People who have written on this episode either tend to treat it as something that was directed by Lusaka or tend to interpret it as something that only grew up home grown. Both sides are wrong. There was an interaction, not specifically around the agenda of creating the UDF in the form that it emerged. It was converging from both sides because the reality had made the issue a necessity of the moment. A number of comrades who emerged in the UDF in an individual capacity had relationships with the ANC. Some had tenuous relationships, some were committed to the ANC but had no organisational links any more because they were banned, restricted, etc. Others had relationships where they were involved in ANC underground or military side but all of them saw this as a gap that had opened up and needed to be occupied.

POM     What role did the Political Area Committees play?

MM     The Area Committees had not yet matured to the extent that they could play a significant role but the contacts and discussions with activists coming out from home for meetings outside centred around the discussion, and I was involved in some of them at the Botswana end, was to say it's correct to talk about creating a co-ordinating structure and the need for that is to escalate the level of mass action and mobilisation.

     Following the statement of 8 January, the 1983 is the one I think that said now make SA ungovernable, make apartheid unworkable. I think it's the 1983 statement. So the discussions that were taking place, e.g. the ones that I was directly involved in, but they were endorsed by a paper that had been developed by the internal political headquarters and the Revolutionary Council was that we should encourage the coming together of such a co-ordinating body but we from the outside should not prescribe the form that it should take. That has to be determined in the actual conditions that people inside the country find themselves. The challenge is we agree with the direction but you find the form.

     When the UDF was launched in the Cape Town rally all the positives were there but the danger was, the problematic was, does it align itself with the Freedom Charter or does it fudge that issue? The thinking in Lusaka was more in favour of fudge it, that's a premature issue to the extent that it will arise later down the line but already in the country in moving to the UDF the organisations that claimed the mantle of the Black Consciousness Movement already refused to move towards the UDF co-ordinating structure. The result is a cleavage opened up between Black Consciousness and Freedom Charterists. Our intervention after the Cape Town launch was to say go carefully, try to gather the maximum number of forces. You've got prominent people whose very presence there indicate ANC support. For example they made Archie Gumede, Albertina Sisulu patrons, well known ANC people and leaders.

     Our interventions then were don't prescribe to home, discuss with home, give advice that will strengthen the UDF but avoid it from becoming a centralised body because a centralised body would have the danger of squashing local initiatives. Secondly, a centralised body would make it vulnerable when the state acts to chop it off. If you relied on a looser form of structure even if the regime hit at the UDF its constituent components would continue to be vigorous and active. We cannot anticipate but we are saying you need an instrument that takes what has come into existence and give it greater focus but at the same time allows the space for more and more spontaneous structures to develop.

     Now an intervention of that nature by its very content could not prescribe but I would concede that from time to time even comrades in the ANC would have different understandings of what guidance to give. There would be the pressure to race ahead of the circumstances and therefore make it vulnerable to attack by the state. There would be the over-cautious approach because, remember, mass organisations when smashed in the sixties had led to a period of almost quiescence for more than five to eight years. So we had to be very cautious but that was the nature of the intervention and we prepared guidelines, there was some consistency in our interaction and discussions with cadres at home. That is why you will find Pravin Gordhan says what I find an interesting thing about me, he's in record in some book where he was interviewed, he said, "Our interaction with the ANC and with Mac was that they never instructed us what to do, they discussed with us and they left the shape of what we were to decide at home to us to decide." I am saying that is in sharp contrast at times to some of the comrades from time to time who would tend to want to give instructions.

     So you have insofar as the history of the UDF, you have a tension where commentators have tried to interpret this either as a spontaneous growth thing and other commentators have tried to portray it as directly at the initiative and under the direction of the ANC, Lusaka. The truth is sitting in between because the conditions had matured where from inside and outside everything said you need such a co-ordinating body.

     There was a more active intervention over FOSATU, the trade union movement, because FOSATU too had grown up in contact, clandestine contact, between unionists and the ANC and SACTU but FOSATU when it carved its space in 1973/74/75 in an environment where the Natal strikes had taken place, the need for unions to co-ordinate had come up, it tried to carve a space in this grey area of are you legal, are you illegal, to say, "We will not take part in political action." That's where the workerist argument came up and that's where the danger of labelling came up too because the dialogue to the extent it became are you pro-SACTU or anti-SACTU ipso facto therefore because if you are pro-SACTU you are pro-Freedom Charter, if you're anti-SACTU then what are you? You're a communistic person so you're workerist. The labelling was dangerous because the dialogue that was needed was you are existing and widening a space in the country. What are the tactical positions that you have to take that will facilitate the widening of that space so that at the appropriate time you could align yourself more and more politically?

     But with the emergence of the UDF a parallel process took place in the unions which was suggesting that FOSATU had a certain base now and it was necessary to widen that base and to do that rather than just talk about expanding it and because it has become controversial, are you workerist or are you not workerist, the idea grew up for a new federation to replace FOSATU with its agreement, with the participation of its affiliates and that new body restated its mission in such a way that it no longer put the constraint that you will not take part in political action. But it still didn't put it in such a crude way as to say we openly align ourselves. So it took the process a bit further and I think COSATU emerges in 1984 or 1985.

     Two things then matured under PW, a UDF vibrant and taking the stage and beginning to grab the public mind and a COSATU taking a centre stage and no longer constrained that it will only act on the economic plain. As those two things are maturing spontaneous anger on the ground is bubbling up because Botha with his State Security Council is going for more and more internal repression and when the Vaal Triangle explodes what happens is that all the power of his repression cannot bring it to an end. It keeps bubbling.

POM     You referred to this yesterday. Elaborate on it.

MM     Well in the whole Vaal Triangle in spite of ring-fencing it with his military, the mass upsurge was increasingly taking violent forms. The elections that he tried to have for the urban councils and the black authorities ended in a mass boycott, I think in Soweto the chap got elected with 6% participation, a chap called Tibedi. So these bodies were being paralysed, had no legitimacy and from Sebokeng to Uitenhage he would be ring-fencing Sebokeng in the Transvaal with the military. Then Uitenhage erupts, his military run there to ring-fence. Then some other place erupts. So in this context PW resurrects the idea of a state of emergency.

POM     So is the Vaal Triangle the result of OR's advocacy of people's war?

MM     No, no. In his statement he is talking about people's war but in 1983 he has raised the question – make the country ungovernable, make apartheid unworkable. This concept, slogan, gripped the imagination of everybody involved in revolt. It gave them a focus to understand what they were doing in their own area. When they opposed the Bantu authorities in the election it was to make it unworkable. When they put up road blocks it was to make it ungovernable so it gave them a framework in which they felt part of a larger whole. It no longer left the masses with a sense that we are fighting in our township and we are just a little community. It said, no, we are part of a huge stream that was bubbling. His answer to that was a state of emergency, lock up tens of thousands of people. His answer to that was, this is the terrorist and every revolt by him, he portrayed it as the work of the ANC even when it was not the work of the ANC. But in the public mind then and in the mass mind they said, hey, I'm doing this thing, he says it's ANC so that's fantastic, yes I'm part of the ANC.

     Remember by now the Soweto generation of cadres were coming back and they were coming back as direct bearers of the revolt of Soweto but now as MK cadres. You had an explosive ingredient there and I am saying again, it would be wrong to interpret the revolts as the direct work of Lusaka, it would be wrong to interpret it as the completely isolated work of people in SA. I think they were both elements but the larger element was the spontaneity.

POM     At that point was there a feeling that he was becoming trapped by events or was there a feeling that he was responding to events by increasing the power of the securocrats, that he was militarising the situation rather than politicising it?

MM     We presented our analysis in such a way that it gave us space to get some resonance in the white community. We said in the democracy that had been existing for the whites, and exclusively for the whites, in the name of white rule Botha was now eroding even that democracy by putting the securocrats and the State Security Council above even the white parliament. Now the fundamental core of that proposition was the military have taken full control disguised as parliament but by presenting it in that way that he was now even destroying what little democracy existed for the whites we felt that that presentation opened the door for more initiatives by us to reach out to the whites, they were going into conscription into the army, there was an End Conscription Movement resisting conscription growing up, there were other pockets of whites coming up and expressing themselves more openly against apartheid and we felt that we needed to give them a framework to address white people and gather them into the anti-apartheid fold. So that's how we presented it.

POM     No direct control over the UDF, no centralisation, no formal structures as such, informal structures, but you would give direction and allow them to take the directions and move events.

MM     No, we would engage in discussions analysing the situation and what was needed. We didn't even send an analysis saying this is the analysis. We would engage them in discussions around let's analyse the situation, then from that analysis, discussion, that is the basis to determine what should be done. Now I returned to Lusaka and reached discussion and the people at home returned home and reached also, better equipped to discuss the matter in the UDF what should be done. That's why you find that the UDF was also characterised by the creation of a publication, I forget its name, which was devoted to analysis of the situation and for me that was important because whether their analysis was correct or not they were creating an environment where people would determine what to do, not by just imposition or by emotional reaction but by measuring what the situation required.

POM     Would you not take their analysis of the situation and compare it with the information that you were getting from your own people within the country and saying – ?

MM     That was our work constantly at head office and in the senior organs in the neighbouring territories. Are we analysing the situation in a way that takes into account what people at home are thinking? That is why we used to say OR's January 8th statement needs to be considered carefully so that when it is stated over Radio Freedom and published in the underground media to people at home it offers not a directive but a strategic guideline for the coming year. So January 8th statements began to occupy a central place even in key activist and leaders' thinking at home. They would tune in to Radio Freedom on January 8th with huge anticipation and listen to it to say here is an analysis coming through at a strategic level that we have to look at carefully to see does it help us to understand our situation and help us to know what we need to do. So there was no thing like – yes some people saw it as a bible but the real purpose of it was give guidance in such a way that it deepens their political understanding but at the same time helps them to concrete steps that they've got to take.

POM     Yesterday - through the ANC's war opening up in Natal between supporters of Inkatha and the ANC, now as I understood you yesterday you were saying that in a sense Buthelezi and the ANC shared the same objective insofar as that he wanted to rid the country of apartheid. Where you disagreed was over the form the new SA would take.

MM     No more than we disagreed over the strategies that you had to adopt.

POM     Over the strategies. OK.

MM     And Buthelezi's strategy was exclusive and treated the ANC strategies as unacceptable.

POM     A situation of where you saw some of his strategies as being acceptable, he had a situation where he saw – or were both your strategies mutually exclusive?

MM     No. We saw his potential of Inkatha to mobilise masses. He saw the ANC strategies as strategies that he should not just distance himself from but actively oppose. That's where the cleavage opened. We still see the potential for it to mobilise people but we disagree what he's mobilising them for. He's mobilising them today still for a creation of a Zulu kingdom. We are saying it's integral to a united SA.

POM     So he hasn't even today as a member of the cabinet, as somebody who seems to be grooming himself to run for President, at least according to some commentators, given up on the idea that there will one day be a Zulu nation?

MM     No, he actually argues that there is a Zulu nation and that the head of that Zulu nation is the monarchy and that what is required is a kingdom to acknowledge that monarchy.

POM     So how does he see the relationship between the state of SA and the Zulu kingdom?

MM     He sees a federal relationship with the largest area of autonomous and unique powers to that kingdom and he therefore sees SA as a loose federation.

POM     He still hasn't given up on it?

MM     No he hasn't given up.

POM     That's the one remark, I asked him once what would he die for? And he said he would die for a federal SA.

MM     Federalism.

POM     This was years ago.

MM     Yes, and some of his ingredients while they look plausible in a certain confined space have huge implications. For example, when we were in the final rounds of negotiations, we had completed the constitution at Kempton Park, it was now over Inkatha's participation in the elections, at that stage he thought he had the king in a subservient position to him. When we met at Skukuza in the Kruger National Park, it's deep in the Kruger National Park –

POM     Who met at the meeting?

MM     FW, Nelson Mandela, Buthelezi, the king, all the four parties were there.

POM     Four?

MM     Was FW there? Yes I think he was there. He raised the question of the king as the make or break issue. I recall meeting, I was there, meeting outside the debating room with Inkatha people and saying to them, "You want a position for the king? What about the other African tribes who have kings?" And they said, "The Zulu king is unique." I said, "That's your argument, but then why shouldn't there be 15 other kingdoms in SA, all autonomous?"

POM     Each of the others would say they were unique too.

MM     Yes. I said, "You can't say because you believe your king is unique therefore no other king is unique, because what you are raising here and your inability to answer this question means that if you carve a special place for the Zulu king it's a recipe for war and division amongst our African people." And some of them conceded.

POM     Who were you talking to?

MM     Individuals in the IFP delegation, they are still in the IFP.

POM     People like?

MM     Joe Matthews. Joe Matthews actually said to Slovo, he said, "I agree with you but I am afraid to say it." What I am saying here is that the differences are of an order that really hangs around the question are we looking at SA as a united county and are we looking at larger nationhood than a conglomeration of nations. There were times at Kempton Park that Walter Felgate, at that time the chief spokesman of the IFP, actually argued for a consociational state that is modelled on Switzerland with its cantons.

POM     That's the Dutch practice.

MM     No the Swiss model. However, just a little retrace, we've so far focused on Inkatha/UDF/ANC fighting, violence. The true precursor of the black on black violence and the vigilantes is around the birth of the UDF and the charterist AZAPO/Black Consciousness debate which led to huge tensions in Alexandra Township where even Archbishop Tutu had to intervene, he was perceived as pro-Black Consciousness, to try and bring peace. The real centre of the experiment was in Port Elizabeth where vigilantism came up and the first black on black violence burst out. It was led by a chap called Reverend Maqina who had cast himself as representing the Black Consciousness forces and who very quickly all of us were able to pin down and show proof that he was an enemy agent. For a long time the BC defended him, AZAPO defended him as a bona fide person but he has disappeared from the scene now because within a space of one to two years there was incontrovertible evidence that he was an enemy agent.      

     Now that's the start in the early eighties of black on black violence and of vigilantism. It began to bubble up in various Bantustans, in Kwandebele, it surfaced in the urban areas and it disappeared under this IFP/ANC/UDF violence because the IFP was able to provide a more stable mechanism for the SA security forces to foment and guide that violence to the point where by 1992 the Mail & Guardian was able to publish evidence that Inkatha forces were being taken to a SADF army base in the Caprivi and trained in assassination and warfare and that the man master-minding that was Buthelezi's personal secretary.

POM     That was?

MM     Khumalo.

POM     Khumalo. I want to concentrate on Inkatha for a bit, you have that book and I think we've probably discussed it before but that doesn't matter, by Jeffery, Anthea Jeffrey who was in the SAIIR which was a huge book documenting almost incident by incident the whole conflict, or at least up to the late 1980s. You've one school of thought that would say it was primarily ANC/IFP but that the state and the IFP – it was in both their interests to collaborate in order to defeat the ANC since that's what both wanted to do. That's one. Two, that the state acted as an instigator creating situations of violence between the two while not actually participating in the violence. And three, that the state would provide assistance to the IFP in terms of arms, equipment, maybe even intelligence, whatever.

     Now one can look at all of those scenarios and there can be evidence, partial evidence provided for each of them but in your opinion and, let's say two opinions, because at this point you were in the country, you were looking at it and a lot of your operatives were working out of Durban. In fact, who did I see? The woman Katherine Mvelase said that the unit that she was training, involved with training in KZN in Inanda, was to fight off the IFP. So you guys are diverting resources from fighting the state to fighting the IFP.

MM     I haven't read Anthea's book but I have been aware of the positions preceding her book, her positions.

POM     But leaving that alone what's the ANC's analysis? You're the guy there in the National Executive.

MM     Let's get back to the building blocks. I have raised the question of the rise of vigilantism and for that there is a book written in the eighties by Fink Haysom, it's a booklet that thick, it's called The Rise of Vigilantism. Yesterday I referred to the fact that Buthelezi when he begins to become outspoken and when he is contacted by the ANC cadres who came in in 1967/68/69, was perceived as a friend of ours and they went to see him. I mentioned that there were attacks on Buthelezi, attempts to bomb him, etc., which I believe was done by the enemy in the sixties. Car bombs were found, as far as I can remember, under the bonnet of his car. They didn't explode and he made a lot of noise about it. But there's an enigma there. In the sixties there was the head of the Security Branch in Natal, his name was Jac Buchner.

POM     Interviewed him 12/13 times.

MM     By 1969/70/71 when Buthelezi has now been boxed in, cajoled and terrorised by the state, who emerges as the KZN Police Commissioner? Jac Buchner. I am talking about 1970. This is not at the time of UDF/ANC/Inkatha violence. I don't know whether Anthea goes into Jac Buchner but his emergence as the Commissioner of Police in KwaZulu was the start of the process of creating inside the so-called KwaZulu enclave the mechanism for the establishment of the warrior grouping in Inkatha because the next thing is KwaZulu demanded independent policing powers. When you go back to the raid that Fanie and I staged on Mhlaba Camp in March/April 1993, just before the elections, when we descended on that camp and that camp disbanded it is agreed that there were 5000 people under training there. They scattered, they were under Powell. They scattered before we could bring in the forces to raid the camp. By the time the forces raided it, it was deserted in a hurry. They went through the road blocks that FW's forces put up. Powell went through the road block and they found a homemade shotgun under him exactly the same as the shotgun that I was shown by the Security Branch in Pretoria that night when I was called at one o'clock and exactly the same as the homemade shotguns manufactured and captured in the hands of the white right. But they let Powell through.

     However, what happened to those 5000 people? They were immediately deployed into the KwaZulu Police and emerged as the election monitors and manning the electoral stations in KZN in the elections of 1994. That was within a month. So they were coming through, recruited and brought into a disciplined structure under the name of the KwaZulu Police. They were then being trained by the Powells and they were trained with a view to being re-deployed either to conduct open warfare or, as happened, to immediately go and capture the electoral stations and become the people manning the election office in the deep rural areas of KZN. That operation carried out within six weeks, a month, could not have been achieved, that integration of the 5000 into the electoral machinery, it could not have been achieved without a very good control of the governing structure of KZN. Buthelezi had won from FW the right to create an independent police force, a police force not controlled by Pretoria.

POM     From FW?

MM     From FW. He then achieved another thing. He won from FW the right for Inkatha people to carry arms when demonstrating.

POM     Traditional weapons or actual - ?

MM     So-called traditional weapons and traditional weapons began in practice to be from the knobkerrie to the spear, from the spear to the gun. That is why in the Record of Understanding of 1993 this was one of the crucial clauses that FW had to agree to reversing that decision and saying that you cannot carry arms in public events and demonstrations. Until then FW was saying, I can't do it, can't do it. The reason why the word was 'traditional' was because he said, "I cannot ban traditional weapons. It's their tradition to go to demonstrations with weapons." And at the Record of Understanding we said, "If you don't agree to this, given the violence that's ravaging our people, we cannot see our way to resuming the multiparty negotiations." FW battled to resist that clause, he really battled at Kempton Park.

POM     Why did he battle?

MM     Because he didn't want to agree to that power being taken away from KZN. He is the one that had granted that power.

POM     OK, but for what purpose, in what sense was it putting him in a stronger bargaining position at that time given that the economy was now going to be –

MM     It was granted at a time in the early nineties by the FW government at a time when they envisioned the negotiation process as being a three-cornered table, FW, Buthelezi, Mandela, and they saw that three-cornered table as two corners were theirs. So at the early stages of the negotiation process even politically they saw that they would – but Buthelezi was extracting space to create his own army. That is one of the reasons why the Record of Understanding was treated by the IFP as the greatest betrayal of itself by FW, not a betrayal by us. It said, "FW, you've caved in to the ANC. FW you have changed track (subtext) from the informal alliance that we were working in. You've now changed it to a bilateral thing between you and the ANC. You've marginalised us."

POM     Yes, but I want to go back to the start of the violence.

MM     That's why I put you –

POM     You've taken me to the end.

MM     To the eighties, to the emergence of vigilantes sponsored by the SA security forces, and I've taken you to Jac Buchner, the placing of the SA security forces into the key strategic positions in the KwaZulu administration and then giving that KwaZulu administration under the political demands of Buthelezi, autonomy. That autonomy meant that the resources of the KwaZulu state financial, organisational and logistical, were now available to Inkatha to develop its forces and the logic of that in this global picture is that when you come to the election being threatened with violence what you have is an alliance between the white right and the black right represented by the Constands and his wilder elements and the Inkatha forces. The white right were training the black right in Natal and that black right was recruited and coming in through Inkatha and the KwaZulu state and on the payroll of KwaZulu.

POM     But if we go back to the beginnings of the dispute that led to the loss of more lives in KZN in that conflict than in the whole conflict between the ANC and the SA state, initially about a power struggle between maybe his perception of the ANC encroaching on his territory and the ANC saying we've the right to organise wherever we can and convert whoever we can.

MM     If you present it that way you have not gone to the heart of the power struggle. If you pose the question of the power struggle you must define what the power struggle was about. If you define that about Inkatha having a monopoly of certain areas of KZN and the ANC and UDF demanding that any part of the country and the people there were open to it to organise and mobilise, that's too narrow a definition because what was the power struggle about? Was it about organising or was it about our perspective of what to do about apartheid? Over that question the ANC's agenda and the UDF's was very, very clear, bring an end to apartheid in the whole country, stop the dismemberment that apartheid had tried to engage in of the country under apartheid and separate development and the creation of homelands, and create a united state of SA. Buthelezi's agenda was, "I don't want independence for KZN until such time as the ANC is unbanned and Mandela is released." But after that, what do you want? He says, "Then I will negotiate with the SA state." You will negotiate what? "I will negotiate for freedom for my people." Who are your people? Zulus or all South Africans? He remained stuck on Zulus.

POM     Or he remained stuck on a federal state.

MM     But that is saying what is in the interests of my Zulu people is going to be the interests of all people of SA. Unacceptable to us. If that's what you're going to negotiate what is in your perception suitable to the Zulu people and therefore must be suitable to all other SA people you're not the credible negotiator and you cannot become the head of the SA state because your agenda is simply the promotion of the rights and interests of the Zulu people. That's at the heart of the issue. So you cannot present him and say his agenda, because he is opposed to apartheid, is an agenda for SA. His agenda is an agenda for the Zulu people and therefore that must be the agenda of the rest of the SA people.

POM     In other words his agenda would be – you are negotiating with the SA government but the centrepiece of those negotiations are to create a dispensation which is built around autonomy or as large a form of autonomy as possible for the Zulu nation, that all other things are subsidiary to that and that must become the centrepiece of how settlement is reached. So it's not a question of I agree with you that we must get rid of apartheid, but the dispensation that takes place must be built around this concept of there being a Zulu nation that is unique, recognised as being unique, has special dispensations, has special powers, has special autonomies and then the rest of SA can do what it likes.

MM     And then he begins to say, redefine the boundaries of KwaZulu. He says, "I want parts of Mpumalanga because they were part of the Zulu. I want parts of the Transkei because they were part of the Zulu." And what is he going to say tomorrow? I want parts of Gauteng because the Zulus are working in the mines? So when you follow the logic not just that it should be the centrepiece but the interests of the Zulu people should be the determinant in deciding the interests of all South Africans.

POM     You are opposed to that?

MM     Not only are we opposed, it cuts to the quick and the core of the reason for the existence of the ANC.

POM     Therefore the war that emerges between Inkatha and the ANC is built around different conceptions of what a SA free of apartheid should look like.

MM     No, there is one missing step. With that agenda and perspective there is a commonality with the SA state under apartheid. That commonality translates itself in practice that they have to act together against the ANC. That commonality progresses to the point where their action together must be to use violence against the ANC to crush it and it becomes a commonality, one that has already been the tradition of the SA apartheid state but now becomes a tradition of Inkatha too. Use violence to destroy the ANC and if the UDF is perceived then as an instrument of the ANC, destroy the UDF.

     Now he constantly makes a space that he is a man of peace, he never supported violence. He didn't support violence against apartheid but here practically his forces are implementing violence against the ANC and liberation movement. Where's your principle that you don't support violence? Where's your principle. So your stage two of the argument is that is the basis of the convergence of the two forces. If that is the convergence the question arises, if you are opposed to violence against the apartheid state to overthrow it but you are prepared to align yourself and allow your forces to use violence to crush the ANC, where do you stand on the question of freedom for SA? The question arises, you cannot claim to be part of the liberation forces, you have practically aligned yourself with the SA state.

     Now we come in Operation Vula, the picture is still muddy, the framework is clear that he has shifted position. The analysis is saying why has he shifted position and the analysis says he is –

POM     He has shifted position from?

MM     From being aligned to the anti-apartheid forces to aligned to the apartheid forces. The question arises, why? And the current, the predominant currency in 1986/87/88 was he's intent on personal power and what he sees as his regional base he wants to hold uniquely so that it's a bargaining chip with apartheid SA, to be working together. But it's a bargaining chip also for the future positions that he is to hold. But, we say, if that's his bargaining chip and if that's his personal agenda how can he explain it as in the interests of even the Zulu people?

     When we came into the country we witnessed this violence and the temper of the forces on both sides. Our first position is we have got to defend the people because the attacks were against whole territories. It was not saying are you UDF, are you ANC, we'll kill you. It was, are you living in this area? This area the UDF has got a strong foothold, therefore anybody in that area is killed. Confronted with that we have two duties.

POM     The decision to wipe out that village is not being taken by the SA security forces.

MM     Hold on, I'll come to that, I'll come to that. We discussed the matter in Durban and we said, "Chaps, where is end of this? His forces aided and abetted by the SA forces are just killing people. Is our answer just kill people in another township because it's pro-Inkatha? We need to sit back, chaps, we're walking into a minefield here. We are being led into the wrong position." But we say stage one, comrades on the ground who are saying, "But we're living with this danger", we say right, we will get involved in training and organising the communities. To do what? Not to go on an offensive on another community but to defend yourself when the attack comes. That's what Katherine and them were doing.

     But I'm in Johannesburg at one stage with Siphiwe, this is now 1990 when the debate comes to a very sharp point. Ronnie has just entered the country and has settled in Durban and I get a message on the communication system: we have information that the Inkatha forces are going to be attacking in Inanda in a certain zone. We need to prepare for that attack. In the preparation Durban now requests that from our secret armouries that are controlled by Siphiwe and myself we authorise the release of X numbers of weapons. I'm staying in one place, Siphiwe is in another place. I read this thing and I immediately send a message, "I'm not releasing it, I'm coming down. Tomorrow night I will be there. We want a meeting." I then meet Siphiwe and say, "Did you see this message?" He says, "Yes, I've got it." I said, "Well, this is my reply. Both of us are going down, we have to be in Durban tomorrow. There'll be a meeting tomorrow evening starting somewhere around ten or eleven at night." I say, "What's your thinking?" He said, "I've also sent a message back that I'm not releasing the weapons." "What's your motivation?" He said, "I don't know what they are aiming at. Let's go down." We called not just the Military Committee, we called the Military and the Political Committee to come together at the joint meeting.

POM     Of?

MM     Of the underground. The political/military leadership of Durban region.

POM     So this would be the committee we're talking about, the Area -yes.

MM     The overall one. We had a full meeting and of course the comrades in Natal, including Ronnie, were very, very angry with us for refusing to release the weapons. We had a wide-ranging, long debate, it went into the bulk of the night because I wanted all the arguments to come out. Simplistically put they were saying here's a community that's going to be attacked. We're going to put armed people in that community and when the Inkatha forces come down we're going to fight them and defend our people. Fantastic. Towards the end of the meeting I said to them, "Guys, do you realise what you're going to do? You're going to leave generations of injury because we will be mowing down anybody marching and they will be mowing down anybody, man, woman and child on our side and generations are going to carry that wound. Are we isolating and saying to ourselves very clearly here – who's the enemy? We can't allow that indiscriminate type of defence. But practically your plans are flawed. One, what's your source of information?" They say, "We have information that the following warlords (they gave three or four names) have met and have decided on this action (warlords who are Inkatha.)" I say, "Identify the warlords. Give me your source of information. I want to know is it verified that those people met, how do you know?" They said, "That's intelligence." I said, "Well I'm not asking you to disclose in this meeting but I'm prepared to step out but I want that information disclosed. How credible is your source?"I said, "At a practical operational level describe to me once more, (I've been through it many times) describe to me what happens when the Inkatha come into a suburb and start killing."

     And the picture was agreed.First will come in the SADF and the security forces with their armoured carriers. They would come through and search every house, clearing the way and as they went and cleared the way and exited then would come the Inkatha forces. "Are we agreed that's the established pattern?" Yes. "How are your people who are armed going to survive that sweep by the security forces? You can be hiding in little rooms and cottages and houses but when that sweep takes place you're gone and surely you're not telling me that 20 armed people with AKs are going to fight those armoured carriers. There's no chance you're going to win, you've chosen the wrong territory to fight them so operationally it's flawed. You will not survive to be able to shoot when the Inkatha forces come down the road. So there's an operational weakness."

     Of course the comrades fought back, very heated debate because they wanted me to then, Siphiwe and myself, "What's the answer?" they said. They said, "The logic of your argument is that do nothing, let our people be slaughtered." I said, "No, that's not the position." I said, "Give me that information privately of the warlords who are the head of the planning and are going to lead those Inkatha forces." And they said, "We'll give it to you but for what?" I said, "That is not to be discussed at this meeting, the 'for what'. All I am raising with you is can we not pre-empt that march, even before the march we'll behead the march and that beheading is on the basis that we have tackled that actual people who are planning that whole operation?"

     Now I had virtually indicated what I wanted to do but I said, "It's not a matter to be recorded in this meeting. I do not want to discuss what we will do." He answer was clear – this is what leads to all sorts of rumours about me and it's not a pleasant thing because outside that meeting I said, "Verify the information, identify the warlords, tell me where they stay."

POM     You were saying this to?

MM     To our comrades in the leadership. I said, "Give me that information, name the warlords, give me solid intelligence that they met and they discussed the plans for this march so that I'm clear that yes they are the definite warlords at the head, give me their addresses and their movements." It's not a matter for the meeting. We will go and put up a squad and we will eliminate each of those warlords before the date of the action. But nobody else would get killed, not just the thousands marching which include people who are just incited and without thinking are involved, not a massacre of hundreds of people. Go for the planners and the leaders because the other route is an injury that will be sitting for generations. What was that premised on? It was premised on saying we've got to defend ourselves but please let's not defend ourselves by pitching mass violence against mass violence because in those mass violences not everyone is a soldier, not everyone is marching because they believe in what they are doing. Many are misled, many are carried away by the moment and by simply answering tit for tat we are walking inconsistently down that abyss that is planned by the SA state because, you asked me, how was that going to be done? I say in the pattern of those attacks in the townships first would come the security forces, the police and the armed forces, sweeping through in their armoured vehicles, searching houses, terrorising, intimidating and when they were through the township now would come the Inkatha forces.

     I don't have information who in a particular instance from the SADF and the SA Police and Inkatha met to plan that but that was the uniform pattern of the attacks. It suggested to me that right at the planning stages there was a collaboration between the SA security forces, not just the KwaZulu Police, but the SA security forces and the Inkatha warlords. And I am saying that the cover for that was a relationship via the KwaZulu state and that key person in that KwaZulu state, I'm saying, 90% certain, would have been Jac Buchner. That's my version. That's how we conducted ourselves.

POM     So in this particular case?

MM     In this particular case the intelligence information that said that the four individuals had met as warlords, the source and verification of that never came to me. I said without the verification we're not going to go and kill them. I must have verification. You've got to disclose who's the source. You've got to tell me was the source present at the meeting or was the source in the house where the meeting took place, even as a domestic servant or wife of the household or whatever, so that I can say to myself when I read it, this source really was in a physical position to know what was being discussed there. Or you must show me an intercept of a report from one section to the SA security or to Ulundi, a telex message, whatever, and then I must check is this an authentic message. Before you do that I'm not going to act. I'm not going to release the arms, I'm not going to take steps because I can't go on the basis of just perception in planning action.

POM     Now has evidence been laid before the Truth Commission that in most of the instances in KZN that the SA security forces would make a sweep of a village before there would be a follow up by Inkatha followers, or is this part of the Truth Commission that was never part of the Truth Commission?

MM     I don't know, Padraig, because the honest answer to that is that I never followed the TRC. I was already in government, my key interest was at some points where it directly converged on me. One was I was part of the team to go and put the ANC case. Second, I was interested wherever the matter of Mbuso Tshabalala and Charles Ndaba arose. The rest, and those were the only ones where I had locus standi to go, I had other locus standi, I could have gone in there saying that I was in the country in Operation Vula, this is what happened, but that would have meant –

POM     Did you make a personal submission?

MM     No I didn't. I didn't make a personal submission, I was not asked about myself. I was never called by the TRC and I never applied to see them. And the other time I went to the TRC was over Marius Schoon, the death of Ruth Slovo, Marius Schoon's wife Jenny and his daughter Katryn, and there too the families asked me to please come and give evidence. I said, "Sure I'll come and give evidence." But for the rest I was never approached by the TRC, but I must be fair, I never approached them too. I never approached them, I read in the newspapers certain policemen have been granted amnesty for assaulting me in 1990. I looked at the names, oh yes, these guys did assault me, but I never knew that they had applied for amnesty for assaulting me in detention so I never was told, "Here the policemen have applied, they say they want to be given amnesty for torturing you and what do you have to say? This is what they are saying. On this day they will be cross-examined, this day they will giving their information."

POM     You were never informed of that?

MM     No.

POM     Was this just mal-administration?

MM     I don't know. All I know is that I was so busy with my portfolio. The TRC was being steered through the Minister of Justice. It has been established, I was sent as part of the ANC delegation from time to time to discuss with the TRC how they would handle the question of an appearance by the ANC. We discussed the modalities, arrived at the procedures and then when the time came the ANC said to me, "Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma, Mac Maharaj, Joe Modise, you are going to be the ANC delegation to go to the TRC. You will be examined about the ANC's role, the ANC's past, etc., and you are the ones that will have to present the answers."

POM     So you would give a written submission?

MM     No.

POM     Sorry, the ANC never gave a written submission?

MM     I think there was some written documentation, files submitted, yes files were submitted and we were sent there to face the cross-examination based on what the TRC had heard from others, based on our written responses.

POM     Did they supply you beforehand with the questions that you would be asked about?

MM     No.

POM     So you went in there colder than a witness going on a witness stand?

MM     Just informed that there are all sorts of charges against the ANC for gross violations of human rights, the ANC has responded to a number of those charges, there are files of it, and we want you now as the leadership of the ANC here under cross-examination –

POM     Well before you went were you given the answers of the ANC to the questions?

MM     That this is what has happened so far. Now you go and explain, defend, etc. When we got there we were allowed to make verbal presentations. I think the verbal presentation was made by – the opening presentation was made by Thabo Mbeki and he then left. He was Deputy President of the country. He left and then the rest of us stayed behind and I think for a day and a half we were cross-examined by the advocates of the TRC and advocates representing aggrieved parties. So we were cross-examined, questions were put to us, we answered and we were cross-examined pretty rigorously, even against our own written submissions that had been filed over the course of months, cross-examined quite aggressively. But it is in the course of that cross-examination that I was suddenly confronted by the cross-examiner, Archbishop Tutu was in the chair that day –

POM     Can you remember who the cross-examiner was?

MM     It would have been the Indian advocate from Cape Town, I forget his name, I didn't know him, had not know of him.

POM     Was he a commissioner?

MM     He was the investigator leading the investigation team. Dumisane Nzibensa, Tutu, Boraine, Yasmin Sooka, all of them, it was almost a full house of the commissioners.

POM     What came up?

MM     That's when we had to explain some of our actions in Angola, some of our actions inside the country, some of the bombs that we had exploded including in the Wimpy Bars, doing these things and I had to face the intense fire on those questions. In a response, which I know was carried over TV news, I concluded my response, first I had been explaining each of them, the context, the framework, etc., but I finally said, without being asked I said, "This is the explanation for these actions where innocent civilians died but notwithstanding the explanation I want to say categorically to the TRC and to the relatives of the victims of those incidents, we categorically, unequivocally apologise and no apology is going to be sufficient for them but we make it unreservedly. It's not defendable, it was wrong and we acknowledge that." That was the response that I presented on behalf of the ANC. I did not use the occasion to defend ourselves by attacking the record of the apartheid state or Inkatha or anybody else, but I said in its own act and within our view of that ours was not a war of terrorism, these actions, however they happened, were wrong.

     I have not heard any other party involved in the violence in SA say that. We as the ANC unequivocally took responsibility for the acts that even ones which we were uncomfortable with –

POM     Sorry, even the ones we were uncomfortable with?

MM     We did not betray our soldiers and commanders who carried out those acts and we did not say to the victims that we have justification for what we did. I have not heard Inkatha, I have not heard the SA Generals, I have not heard the SA politicians like De Klerk, I have not heard anybody, not even Tony Leon, say that. Even for a minor thing like saying yes, I was a conscript in the SA army, yes I tried to avoid active service, yes I did passive service by being in the infrastructure but now looking back I have to say morally I was part of the war on the wrong side and for that I unequivocally apologise, because even if I was a cook in an expedition of the SADF which killed civilians in Angola or Namibia I am as much guilty.

     Just to round up on the TRC from my side, I need to put a caveat. I do not believe that our Truth Commission process is the end of the story for SA or is a model for the rest of the world. I know that when we designed it we tried to take the experience of the world into account. I know that its aftermath and as it unfolded has lots of gaps and flaws but I still believe that it is one of the processes that people in different parts of the world who are not even directly affected need to think about this problem because it is a crucial ingredient and instrument that needs to be developed if we are to succeed in this century in finding the answer of how to resolve conflicts without going to war. I am not of a view that it's so unique that it is an answer, I think it is part of that search for an answer but I believe that it is not just the healing of a nation after the conflict has led to this immense loss of life, I think it is part of the issues that have to be taken into account when you look at the problem, the larger problem, how does the century we are now entering resolve conflicts without going to war.

POM     To move backwards to talking about when you were in the country. It's the people who are now preparing the intelligence reports, the analysis of what's happening in KZN and what it means for the struggle as a whole. What is the analysis that you were passing back to Lusaka that Lusaka takes into account when it makes decisions as to what direction it should take, what steps it should take, how the paradigm has shifted from where Buthelezi was perceived to be or was an ally of the ANC, where you all were on the same side, to where at one point the state may have made an attempt to blow him up, where you've now moved around and either consciously or unconsciously he found himself in collusion or his supporters or warlords in collusion with the security forces while still saying he wants to see the end of apartheid and a negotiated solution and is against violence.

MM     At that level my feedback to Lusaka would be saying that on the ground the comrades in the UDF, COSATU, mass organisations, are facing a real problem and they do have to defend themselves. Point two, there is a danger in that defence of themselves that we could degenerate into warlordism so the position we are taking is to take that legitimate need for defence and trying to focus it because it is impossible to say that we stay away from defending the people. But I am saying that the defence doesn't licence our cadres just to go indiscriminately. This is the problem in how we are coping with it on the ground. Secondly I am saying that the longer term answer to this problem is not just on the defence. The longer term answer is that it is a political force on the ground and we have to engage with it even politically and not necessarily as allies but we have to keep looking for where are the commonalities around this question of apartheid that could get us but I know that the blockage to that is a principled question that would arise, which is the way you had couched the problem. Namely, that the principle blockage is does everybody have a right to organise, to persuade people, to take part in the freedom struggle, support their relevant political parties or is there going to be a 'no zone' and to me a no zone is equivalent to apartheid's banning orders. I realise that that is going to be a major obstacle. But if there is to be political engagement that obstacle which is unresolvable cannot be put at the forefront of the debate of engagement. It is an issue that we cannot abandon but we should never do anything that raises this as the first issue. However, if you don't raise it as a first issue any political engagement with the IFP has got to be explainable before the ordinary people in a way that makes sense.

POM     To your own supporters.

MM     Not only to your own supporters, to the ones that you want to win over. Our opposition to no-go was not based on that we want to just speak to our supporters, it was to say that we want to be able to speak to anybody and everybody. So those were the only observations that I thought were relevant for Lusaka to be aware of because Lusaka's framework was there. I was operating within that basic framework. So all that was there, what I could add to the perception and understanding was to say this is how we are facing the real problem on the ground and this is how we are trying to respond to it and if you've got an input that enhances how we have to attend to the matter practically on the ground tell us but we do not have the space here to engage with Buthelezi. It has got to be some other people, people in the mass organisations, people in exile and all sorts of pressures have got to keep moving how to engage Buthelezi. I couldn't add anything more to that and they never came back, Lusaka never came back to say to me that the positions you are taking are wrong. Lusaka came back to say we're very heartened by your report, heartened in the sense that we are happy with the stance that you are taking and the guidance you are giving to people on the ground. I said that these positions we are taking are the product of intense debate amongst us, it's not as if to say we are all agreed, even amongst us as the underground, we're not all agreed what we should do specifically. These are the positions that one is building up and standing firm on and I think at the end of the day in tribute to all my comrades in the underground that we associated with, none of them were able to say you have prevailed on the positions but we question your credentials. Nobody said that.

POM     It would seem to me as a lay person that, let's say I live in village A and village A is predominantly an ANC area or even UDF area and we say, OK, we're going to go out and we're going to go to village B and try to recruit people into the mass mobilisation, tell them we've all got to stand together here. But we know village B is mostly an Inkatha held village but, hey, we've got the right to go there to have our views expressed. However, we know what their reaction is going to be, we're going to be met with intimidation first and then probably violence if we start making headway so we must be prepared to defend ourselves. Therefore when we go there we must go there (a) as political animals ready to put forward and try to mobilise the people.

MM     And we've an armed capacity behind us.

POM     But we have to have an armed capacity behind us because if we don't we're sitting ducks.

MM     Sure, sure.

POM     So in situations like that Inkatha might take the very same position. I'm in village B, let's extend our sphere of influence to village A. We'll make our political arguments, we're all Zulus, we're all for the king, we're all for the nation, all of that, but we'd better be prepared there might be resistance and so we'd better go there with an armed force behind us too. So you're setting up – it's all local. It's local, rural, isolated in many respects, there's no kind of automatic feedback or decision making over the phone or consultation over the phone. It's all done at a very local level.

MM     Decision on the ground. Sure.

POM     Then you've just the potential for what amounts to almost a civil war among groups of people but in one case you have the agents of the state actively behind one side but that wouldn't in itself have prevented the war from taking place. That's what I'm getting at.

MM     In the analysis and discussions one always never failed to say, guys, if the apartheid state has connived and colluded in placing Inkatha at the front line, those of us who are saying you have to fight through that front line to reach the real enemy, be careful because we could get trapped in only fighting there. We have an obligation while we are fighting this obstacle and defending ourselves to do so in such a way that we keep our objective in sight. If we don't do that we're looking for trouble. That the enemy by creating a buffer, the way you dealt with the buffer must always never, never subvert your larger objective that you wanted to get to the enemy, not just end up fighting the buffer.

     There were many things that I disagreed with happening on the ground, that I was uncomfortable about, about our own people. But the issue was not to say to them, you are wrong, the issue was to understand their situation. You start off by saying the people who are on the ground in any locality are responding to a real problem and you cannot, even when you feel unhappy about some of the things that they are doing, simply go in there and bluster and shout them down. You have to show sympathy and understanding for their problem and then you have to direct their energy in such a way that it understands where we want to get to and does not contradict reaching that objective.

     I had a very sharp debate with Harry Gwala on this matter. It ended up in a face to face meeting but it was preceded by a whole skirmish where I sent a courier to say that somebody from outside was there to meet him and he agreed to the meeting. When I turned up at the venue at great risk to my security he was not at the venue and I sent couriers then to find out what's happened and found he was sitting at home and he just said, "Tell that person that the meeting is adjourned indefinitely." And I realised from his response that he knows that it's me that's in the country and I had to send him a very harsh note to say either you meet me at a venue and place to be determined by you, I have come to a venue at great risk and you were not there, you wasted my time and jeopardised my security, now I am saying we meet, you set the date and time and venue or I am coming, I know where to find you and I'll walk into the room and meet you and I'll take care of my security after that. He then answered and gave me no advance notice. He said the meeting is tomorrow morning at eleven o'clock and he set it in Lancet House in Durban which was one of the most dangerous venues because the entire building was seen by Security Branch as occupied by various organisations that are opposition to apartheid. He set the meeting in the surgery of Diliza Mji, a well known activist.

POM     Diliza?

MM     Mji.

POM     Oh I interviewed him.

MM     And when I reported to Siphiwe he said, "Don't go. You're going to be arrested." I said if I don't go the story will be that I avoided the meeting, I have to go. And Siphiwe then said if I'm insisting then Siphiwe will take charge of my security. I said, "Don't, because if I get caught I don't want both of us caught." So I made other arrangements about my security and I went in and I went into the surgery and had the meeting with him and he said, "I am very busy, I can only meet you for an hour." I said, "No, no comrade, we're going to meet here today, I've come at great risk, we're going to meet here for as long as it takes for us to come to a meeting of minds because I can't come to another meeting. If it takes three hours, if it takes four hours we're going to meet and there will be no matters left unresolved and postponed." I said, "The only condition is I have my own security arrangements and if I get a signal then without even a goodbye I'm disappearing from this room. That will be the end of the meeting but until then we're meeting."

     And we met for four hours, not in an atmosphere of acrimony but in an atmosphere of, Comrade you're facing real problems on the ground and you are answering them as you see them, but we're getting locked up, we're getting bottled, what are the jobs that we've got to do? How can we give you assistance and how are we going to reshape our way forward? And he was very unhappy but we talked and talked and talked and we ended up with an understanding.

     So I am saying the issue was not you are wrong, I am right. The issue was you have a real problem, I understand how you are acting and I'm asking you are the actions not driving us away and locking us up in a corner? That corner that we're getting locked into is going to prevent us from reaching the enemy, the real enemy. He was arguing very cogently that the IFP by experience on the ground is indistinguishable from the real enemy. It has become part of the real enemy. Now that's a cogent argument, a legitimate argument, but you had to deal with it and you could not say you had infallible answers, you had to say how do we steer our way forward?

     Outside of getting engaged into an enormously long debate which will take us nowhere except to make you think that I'm mad, I think that's the problematic all over in any struggle. It was there in exile before I came in. I was in Swaziland in 1982, I lived there for six months in the underground, illegally. In the middle of that came the Nkomati Accord and a flood of cadres from Maputo increasingly coming into Swaziland to get home. As they were coming in, crossing from Mozambique to Swaziland, they were being arrested by the Swazi police now. At the time some of them got kidnapped from jail in Swaziland by the SA forces with the collusion of the Swazi police and government. I was in a particular mission but I heard from the commanders, different units' commanders, I heard rumours that there was a crisis, the comrades, our comrades now, wanted to fight back in Swaziland. They were armed, they were supposed to be heading for home but they now wanted to fight the Swazi government.

     We called a meeting that night clandestinely in Swaziland, in Manzini. There were about 30 commanders at the meeting and I attended that meeting and they were saying, "This is what's happened, the Swazis are arresting us, the Swazis are colluding in handing some of us to the SA government. The SA government is kidnapping us and we have no option but now to fight the Swazis." Again it was a long debate and I said to them, "No, you're making a mistake. Pretoria is forcing us to fight in Swaziland. I agree with everything you are saying but our objective is to get home and fight." And they were saying, "But we can't get home without first fighting these people here." I remember using an opportunistic argument towards the end of the debate which actually swung the debate, I said, "You chaps, comrades, you are looking for the easy way out. You're wanting to satisfy your emotions. Why don't we just go ten kilometres into SA territory from the Swazi side and we have the capacity to blow up every road and rail bridge leading from SA into Swaziland, Swaziland into SA, but let's attack it in SA territory so that the organisation's leadership has a defence that the cadres acted inside SA, not in Swaziland. Because in the end OR will have to meet the Swazi government but by striking in a week and cutting off Swaziland's routes in and out of SA for the goods and services to flow we will force the Swazi government to turn to OR to say don't do that, and when they say that OR will be in a position to say, but don't start locking up our people here." I said, "Come on chaps, if that's the reality that you've described let's do that. I challenge all of us here, let's do that."

POM     And?

MM     That was for the first time it penetrated them that the central argument I was using that the conduct of the Swazi police was driven by a South African agenda forcing us to make the frontline of the war in Swaziland, that this plan we were falling into if we fought back there. And then people sobered up and said, "Ah! He's right." Right to 1990 but we never fought the Swazis even when they collaborated with the SA government.

POM     Did they go out and blow up the roads?

MM     No.

POM     Why?

MM     That was an argument.

POM     But why couldn't they have done it?

MM     Because we saw, they themselves began to say but that will be perceived as an attack on Swaziland. I said, "Yes, but it's an attack on Swaziland where we can defend ourselves." And they now changed because they began to say our objective is not to attack Swaziland. I said, "I agree with you but the point I'm making to you is your desire, your initial point of let's fight them here, was to fight in an indefensible way. When I'm saying let's blow up the bridges it's to fight the Swazis but in a defendable way but both of them are wrong in that we are ending up fighting the Swazis. Interestingly you are now accusing me of wanting to fight the Swazis so don't we agree now that it's wrong to be misled into fighting the Swazis?" Agreed. So I said, "Well then continue with your work. You are living here clandestinely heading for home. You've got targets planned, you've got objectives planned, areas of the country that you are going to, go to those areas." Agreed.

     So as I said I used that argument opportunistically, not in order to conclude the debate but happily it refocused the mind because as long as I was arguing against them fighting the Swazis they were keeping on saying, "But this is our reality." I could not get them to hear me, we were talking past each other, but when I opportunistically used the case of paralysing Swaziland from within SA then they saw that my proposal was to fight the wrong enemy and that's what I wanted them to understand, that to fight the Swazis, even if we paralyse the borders, what message will go to Mozambique? That we'll paralyse Mozambique? What's the message to Botswana? That if you don't agree with us we'll paralyse you? That's not the message we wanted, the comrades were right and I was able to say to them when they objected to my proposal because its objectives were wrong, I was able to say, "You're right comrades, you're right. But now use that understanding to decide what you do."

     I'm only bringing this up because it came from the Pietermaritzburg/Durban thing and the IFP, but to say there's a continuity in different cases where the same issues arise. Is the enemy diverting your attention and making you stage the war at the wrong place, at the wrong time with the wrong objective?

POM     With the wrong people.

MM     And with the wrong people. It's a question that anybody in command at any time -ideally you would want every commander throughout the chain of command, even directly on the ground, to be conscious of that question. And often, often, struggles of liberation get diverted. I don't want to make any definitive statement on the Middle East but isn't that one of the problems of Hizbollah? Because it has redefined the enemy as the entire population of Israel. It can argue from a very real position why it should do that. As Harry says to me, "Your description of Inkatha as being a buffer generated by the enemy, sitting between us and the enemy, is wrong." He said, "This is not a buffer, this has become part of the enemy." Isn't that the argument over Swaziland? Isn't that the argument over terrorism in the Middle East, that it has redefined the enemy on those who control power to the entire people? Having redefined it that way, and the Israelis having redefined it also and made virtually every Arab an enemy – yesterday Sharon said, "After Iraq, after the Americans have destroyed Iraq and overthrown Saddam Hussein, then they should tackle Iran." Yesterday's statement. They agree with him, the enemy, not just every Arab – he's making every Arab state the enemy. To what end? Generations to come will have a wound. What is this going to do in the Middle East? My God! For another ten centuries that will be a memory, that's if a meteorite or an asteroid doesn't come and knock the bloody planet over.

     Now I've gone down that road just to explain what I think in every legitimate struggle and particularly one that goes towards an armed route, how every commander has got to be conscious not just of the responsibility right there on the ground and the particular operation, but has got to be conscious of that big picture. Every enemy, every party on the two sides of the conflict would want to deflect the enemy's attention, their opponent's attention.

POM     How were the ANC deflecting?

MM     I told you about this thing about Stander's statements that I wanted to kill Madiba? That was not the real story. It was a weapon from the enemy via Zuma which I wanted in my position so that I could get our people to use it to kill a Security Branch officer and make the Security Branch think that another Security Branch officer had killed him to turn their attention, dividing their own ranks.

POM     Coming up to the Kabwe conference, how was the agenda for that conference set and how did it differ from the agendas at other ANC conferences?

MM     There was a common agenda running throughout our liberation struggle which I think is common to it even now. You review the past against your strategic objectives. You assess how valid are those objectives in the light of subsequent developments. You then assess how far you've gone to realise your objectives. You then assess what are the obstacles to your realisation of your objectives and then you look at what do you have to do in the coming period. That was Kabwe, that's the format of this conference too. It's the format of all past because a conference is a policy making opportunity and policy making cannot be done against performance, without looking at performance. There's no point in revisiting policy in the air and divorced from performance and what is happening.

POM     In a vacuum.

MM     For that you have to analyse and measure.

POM     What was the analysis in 1985?

MM     I was not involved in the preparation. I was peripherally involved but at the actual start of the conference I had left one of the frontline states for a meeting in New York. At that meeting there were going to be lots of people from home, this was pre-set months ago, it was the only one occasion that suited the people from home so I was in New York. I flew back from New York and arrived at the conference on day two. I was met at the airport and taken straight to Kabwe. The conference had started. I saw the agenda papers, I saw the papers, the documentation and then I was told, "You are now going to be the rapporteur for the Internal Political Developments Commission. Slovo is the rapporteur for the Military Commission and others are doing other things, somebody else is External and your commission and all the delegates belonging to you are going to meet at this and this venue at this and this time. Get out and go and do your bloody work." Finish, klaar.That's all that happened. So you ask me how was the agenda designed?

POM     What were the objectives had been set?

MM     The Internal Commission, my agenda was clear as the rapporteur. Work with the chairperson of the commission in terms of what are our strategic objectives, how far have we reached it, what are the obstacles to our reaching our goals, what are the military obstacles, what are the intelligence obstacles, what are the political obstacles? But now focus on the political. What is needed to be done now? Are our objectives wrong, are our objectives still valid and to the extent that we have not realised it, what do we need to do to realise it?

POM     And the answer to each of those questions?

MM     Not so simple, there are problems in our structural arrangement, inadequate working of the military and political together, synchronising our work. Secondly, long lines of communication, the need to get home, the need to be on the scene, the need to shorten our lines of communication and movement and let's get our house in order as we step it up, and the issue was home is ready to be stepped up. Correct thesis – we now confirm and work towards the realisation of the people's war. The floor for elections, some people went and lobbied.

POM     Non-Africans for the first time.

MM     It was open, the conference decided to open it. People wanted free nomination in the elections. A delegation of veterans, 1962 generation, a group went to OR and said, "We don't know each other here, we cannot just be nominating from the floor and voting." And OR said, "But it's got to be democratically elected, the leadership." They said, "Yes, but the problem is there are so many faces here, we don't know who they are, what's their background. Yes we know they are all ANC and MK but who are they? How do we vote? Can't you put up a list?" And he said, "No, I will not put up a list, I'll be accused of having an NEC that I appointed." Finally OR thought it through and he said, "OK", and he came to the conference and he said, "I've been seen by a group of veterans, I've been lobbied, these are the issues and I have finally come to the conclusion and I want your blessing, what I am going to do is that we are supposed to elect (I think) 30 members of the National Executive, it's supposed to be made up of 30 people. What I am going to do is I'm going to make up a list of 90 names I can vouch for. I'll give you the list and then you can vote which of the 90 you want in the 30. Are you happy with that? Do you agree with the problem?" Conference debated the matter and said, "We agree it is a problem, we agree that you should." He had said originally he would make up a list of 60. Conference said, "No, there are 30 places, make up a list of 90 people and we will vote. All of them will be eligible, all of them will be on the list of nominations and according to the voting 30 will come out on top."

     Conference also decided that the shifting on the need for that co-ordination and collaboration between military and political over who would replace the Revolutionary Council with a structure called the Political/Military Council so that it is clearly understood that the political side of work at home and the military side of the work at home are an integrated part.

POM     So that was the end of the Revolutionary Council and the replacement by the Political Military Council? My time is up.

MM     You've got to go and do your research and so, no, no, no, I've found that his memory is defective on this point.

POM     You're right.

MM     Oh bullshit!

POM     I've got a whole month now to –

MM     What are you going to achieve by proving that my memory is faulty?

POM     I don't want to prove that your memory's faulty, I'm going to prompt your memory.

     END OF INTERVIEW.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.