This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
09 Jan 2003: Maharaj, Mac
POM You said you got a telephone call?
MM At half past five this morning. And the person says to me, "I thought about you at half past twelve last night and didn't want to disturb you at that time and I thought about you all night since then and I hope you're awake now and I'm not disturbing you." So I said, "Who's that?" And he laughs and says, "Don't you know?" And the laugh gave me the clue, I recognised the voice and I said, "Desmond." He says, "Yes." Now before I complete this discussion, just to make sense of it, this is a chap who was of Indian origin, Christian, and he was in Lenasia in the early sixties and he and a chap called Billy Nana were detained when I was detained and Paul Joseph was detained and they were connected with me in the underground in the sense that to distribute an illegal publication called The Freedom Fighter, which we started after the Rivonia arrests, we used to roneo them, cyclostyle them in different suburbs so that you didn't have to transport things in bulk and they were responsible for the Lenasia side of The Freedom Fighter. Be that as it may, they were detained, somehow or other the police got information identifying them and after that Billy Nana was brought to give evidence in our case and he was refusing. We then urged him to give evidence because it was not incriminating.
Desmond got away, he eventually fled to Zambia, connected with the ANC there, took up a teaching job to survive, he was a teacher by profession, and two or three years later while working with the ANC in Zambia he arranged to meet his mother and she travelled quietly through SA, through Rhodesia by road and went to the Victoria Falls to meet Desmond. As I understand the story Desmond came from the Zambian side and the boundary is half way on the bridge, there is no boundary marker, and Desmond went over on the bridge at the half way point to collect his Mum and the Rhodesian forces pounced on Desmond and combined SA/Rhodesian security forces captured Desmond. They kidnapped him from there, handed him over to the SA Security Police, he was extremely severely tortured, kept in detention for almost a year and all the pressure from the international agencies and governments eventually led to him being returned to Zambia. He recovered from his tortures. Comrades who were detained with him who had come in from exile and were captured told us the story of how badly he had been tortured.
He had in the meantime in Zambia met a Welsh woman, Mary, who was teaching as a volunteer in Zambia. They fell in love and then they moved off to Britain after he was handed back to the Zambian government. They settled in, I think, Portsmouth or Bristol, Desmond remains in touch with Paul and all and over the years has gone into the Hindu religion very deeply, so he wears a huge beard, very down to earth. I met him in 1977/78 when I got to Britain, haven't seen him for the years thereafter and he turned up a few years ago at my doorstep at about nine o'clock at night on a Sunday evening, rings the bell and I answer and here's this chap in my video which distorts the face, huge beard, white haired. Who the hell is this? "Yes?" "It's Desmond." No appointment, nothing, comes into the house. We had a few guests over the dinner table, he joined in, he took over the whole evening, he presented me with a wonderful photograph of the inauguration of Madiba which he had enlarged, which he had taken. My kids found him fascinating and he said, "I'm visiting SA and I said I cannot leave for Britain without seeing you. I got hold of your numbers, your address and people told me that you live a very quiet life but you're very busy and I said you can't be too busy not to see me."
Right, he saw us and he disappeared and this morning this call is Desmond Francis and I said to him, and I'm thinking something terrible has happened, "How are you, how's the family?" He said, "All very well." I said, "Where are you phoning from?" He said, "I'm in some hospital", he names a hospital, "I came in here five days ago, I've been operated. They found a kidney stone, they've removed it and last night at half past twelve I thought about you. Besides thinking about you I realised that your telephone number, cell phone number, ends 1291, now that has 12 in it, the ANC was born in 1912, and it has 91 in it, yesterday was the 91st anniversary of the ANC. For those reasons I thought about you, your telephone number last four digits are 1912 and the ANC is 91 years old and I said I've got to phone." "Are you well Desmond?" "Yes I'm well. I'm in hospital but I'm well and I felt I just had to phone you."
So we had this pleasant chat and I'm driving here, I said, "The bloody bastard, I think he thinks he's dying and he's waiting for me to get to bloody hell with him. He wants company."
POM What's eerie about that is that his name came up yesterday afternoon at about 6.30. I didn't even have time Daso didn't even know who he was but he had the name. I'll tell you how the name arose, he says that he was alerted when his brother Paul was being arrested and that he went down to the corner of the block on which he lived and observed Paul being taken away by the Security Police and he said at that time that he went to your flat.
MM Yes to my room.
POM And informed you that Paul had been arrested and that you would probably be next and you'd better get out of the way.
MM That's when I began to worry about Desmond Francis' ticket.
POM And you, he says, brushed him off and got into your car and went looking for Desmond Francis.
MM Yes, so that he should fly off the next day.
POM And he says then you came back and the Security Police had surrounded the house and that Tim was in the flat at the time.
MM No she was with me in the car.
POM He said she was in the house.
MM No, I had taken her with me because I said it's a very dangerous situation, I may be picked up but I may have to go into hiding and I would not be able to reconnect with her. So I said let's go together, I've got to sort out this problem, there's a chap called Desmond Francis who has got to be flying off tomorrow for his military training and Paul is supposed to hand him his ticket and instructions, who contacts him and how he contacts people in London. Now Paul is arrested, I don't know what's happened to the ticket. Has he given it to Desmond? Now I've got to sort out this problem before I start worrying about where do I go to hide. I had a hiding place in Jeppe so that was clear where I would go to hide, but Tim was saying shouldn't we pack up, because we had no other clothes. So I said, "No, nothing of that sort. Come with me so that whatever happens we are together, we don't get separated, and after I've found Desmond and sorted out his problems then we will come and pack up and go to hide." So we sorted out the problem after about a whole day's effort, got home in the evening about half past five, six, and as we drove into the street and stopped the car in front of the house to walk into the back yard the police emerged and both of us got arrested.
POM Now wouldn't all of your instincts have told you don't go back to the flat?
MM Yes but I had no contacts left.
POM But you had a safe house.
MM I had a safe house but I had not even clothes and money. I've got to go and clear the incriminating stuff at my house, which I should have done first before I stepped out, but my mind was only on how do I get Desmond off for training. He was supposed to be in Czechoslovakia for a specially arranged course, six month course on ignition devices, and being a teacher he had worked for years and saved his holidays for a six month long holiday so that it would not look unusual that this teacher was going abroad. He had to leave the next day otherwise in those days there were no computers, you couldn't talk on the phone, the arrangements have been made months ago by letter that he must get to London, at London airport he must do A, B, C, he must get out on his own, then he will make contact with Vella and them and Vella and them are sitting with the ticket for him to get to Czechoslovakia and in that chain if anything goes wrong Desmond would be destitute in London and I knew Desmond didn't have money. Now all the details were never revealed to anybody but a few days before that event Paul was given the details to transmit to Desmond so that he doesn't see me in an MK role. Paul has the ticket, Paul is supposed to give him the ticket, give him his instructions, tell him who to contact in London, and Paul is detained.
Then of course I was arrogant and over-confident because to track Desmond I don't know where to start. I start trying to find Daso again because people don't know where to find Desmond. No progress. I end up going to Paul Joseph's house through the back yard and get to Paul's wife, Adelaide. "Addy, did Paul leave a ticket? Did the police capture a ticket?" Because the ticket would have Desmond's name. No. "Did he say anything when he was being detained?" She says, "Mac, he tried to signal something. We had all sorts of pet names for each other." She says, "Your name was the only thing that he mentioned but I don't know what he was trying to say." "OK Addy, do you know Desmond?" "Yes." "Can you find Desmond for me?" "I think I can try." So I said, "Now by hook or by crook you get Desmond here. I'm coming back, I'm going around travel agents I'll find out which travel agent. I'm going to get his ticket but I want him here so that I can give him his instructions." So that was all, I was so cocky that I know those back yards and I can slip in and out of Paul's house where he's just been detained four, five hours ago and as for my safety, OK, OK, it's a hideout, who knew the place? Daso knew it, Paul knew it, Wilton knew it, Kitson I didn't regard as knowing it because he had come to my house at night once brought by Wilton. Piet Beyleveld, I said he doesn't know it. Paul had brought Piet once. I never thought of Lionel Gay because I didn't know who's Lionel Gay, but Lionel Gay had been to my house only once at night. So I'm being cocky. Who else knows it? Mrs Naidoo, Shanti's mother, no they won't discover, they are my cover. So I said I'm safe, I can afford to first attend to Desmond, I'll come back, quickly pack up and go.
What it turns out in detention is that Paul was trying to tell me that the person you met one night at your home under a code name, his real name is Lionel Gay and he is detained, so he was trying to signal that Mac, it is possible that you will be identified and your address be given. But I never got the message because in fact I'm detained on the Monday evening, Paul is detained in the morning, but on Sunday when I arrived from Natal because of the arrest of Bram and company, my first stop was Ophirton at Daso's place. "Daso, my home", he knew the house and I had entrusted him, "Is there any sign of surveillance or untoward activity?" No. I said, "Now from the recent detentions any sign of danger that I should take into account?" No. I leave Daso, I go to Paul, get into the back yard, "Paul, is everything OK?" Yes. "You realise you might be detained?" "Ja, but I don't think immediately. This wave of detentions took place about a week ago and they've only been tackling the whites, Bram Fischer and company." OK. "My home?" "No, fine." "Anything else Paul?" No.
The next morning when they're detaining him he realises the vital information he didn't give me was about Lionel Gay, so now he's trying to tell Addy but I'm thinking that he must have been trying to tell me where to find Desmond's ticket. So that's the story.
POM That's interesting. So this is fascinating that he rings you, his name just crops up and suddenly five hours later he calls you.
MM After all these years, then he's in hospital and he's thinking about me. What the hell is he thinking about me for? He must have been in agony, a kidney stone operation is a very painful operation so in his agony he must have been swearing at me and said, "That bloody bastard", so the name crops up and it shows Desmond, even though he's now a pensioner, he cannot leave Britain because he's married to a British woman, she's a pensioner too, they've got two kids, they've got grandchildren who have married in Britain. His family in SA, his mother and all have died. He's got a sister, but to come back to SA means cutting himself off from his children and his grandchildren and of course he's got a pension in Britain because he was a teacher. So that's all he's got and that holds him now to Britain. But in his mind my telephone number, he thinks of phoning me, he checks up, oh 082-8071291, twelve, 1912, birth of the ANC. Hey, look, 91, it's their 91st anniversary. No doubt the reason why he's got to phone me.
POM The other thing, one was to tell you did not Lionel Gay rejoined the ANC in London?
MM I was never aware.
POM Daso said he turned up a meeting in England, who was sitting there? Lionel Gay. It turned out that branch was being run by a Solly Smith and somebody else.
MM Who became an enemy agent.
POM That's right. So he tried to get another enemy agent! He said that you needed a driver's licence and that he had a relative, a Mrs Jacobs, and that he asked her he went through a story with her and he said would she mind if her name was used and she said not at all, and you got a driver's licence in the name of Matthew Jacobs.
MM No! He's triggered something. It was more than a driver's licence. This old lady that he found had been living in Kimberley, a coloured lady. We paid her a small sum of money, maybe R20, R50 no it was still pounds, for her to write an affidavit that I was her illegitimate child, that she had not disclosed my birth because she was married at that time in Kimberley. No, she was married in Jo'burg and when she got pregnant with me in an illicit affair she went to Kimberley and gave birth to me and got friends to bring me up. Now we have reunited and I have no papers. So she signed an affidavit that she was my mother and I used that affidavit.
POM Didn't that have to be signed by - ?
MM Commissioner reports, yes, all, commissioner reports, everything, to claim that I was her child and that her husband is now dead and so her conscience has been worrying her and she feels free to disclose and is now asking that I should be acknowledged as her son and I should get my identity card. So I got an identity card as Solly Matthews. That's how I get arrested as Solly Matthews.
POM Yes, he's got it down as Solly Jacobs or Matthew Jacobs.
MM She may have been a Jacobs in Jo'burg but her maiden name may have been Matthews, so I got the ID book as Solly Matthews, born of her, and that's how then I could get a driver's licence as Solly Matthews and that's how when I'm arrested I'm so cocky when Swanepoel says to me, "What's your name?" "Solly Matthews." "Bloody fib." "Look here's my ID book." So he looks at it, he is now confused. When we get into my back yard quarters and they start searching they start in that middle room and they are searching and searching and searching and he gets the first thing they find is a pistol. "Aha! Got you." So I say, "Well, it's not licensed. You know this area, this is a tough area, this is a criminal area. I am a self-employed carpenter. Yes, it's mine. Yes, it's not licensed, but what are you doing this to me for?" They search and search. Swanepoel says, "Kitchen." They search the kitchen and they go to my bedroom. Now in the bedroom I've told you the story of this 40 ounce bottle of sulphuric acid sitting on my desk. They actually move it but don't look at it. At the top of my wardrobe is the affidavit of this woman, because I kept it as my proof. They don't even look at that affidavit.
By this time of course certain things have happened in my rooms because it's in the kitchen that I am smoking, they haven't arrested me yet, and I have one hand in my pocket and I'm smoking because basically what I'm trying to do is as they are searching I am looking what is dangerous and Tim is watching so I am trying to say, "Tim, anything incriminating capture it, move it to the next room." I've got my hand in my pocket and I'm smoking and Swanepoel has been in and out, comes in, looks at me and he says, "Get that hand out of your pocket." I said, "Why? My home." And I say to myself this is a psychological war starting now, the boundaries get defined now. And he says, "And get that cigarette out of your mouth." I said, "Why? This is my home and what's wrong with my smoking?" And I make the mistake, as we're arguing I say to him, "I'm not under arrest that you can order me to take my hand out of my pocket and my cigarette out of my hand." And he says, "Well, you're now under arrest." So I said to myself, oh shit, now it's time to back off this psychological war. You're not going to dig in so far that you're in a bigger problem. So I said, "Oh, under arrest hey? OK, all right." I take the cigarette, I throw it on the floor and I stamp it out and I said, "Under what law?" Now I realise I'm walking into trouble because this is supposed to be this Standard 6 educated, self-employed carpenter, not political. And he says, "90-day detention. I don't need a warrant."
I'm piecing together the information, what do they know about me? I've baffled them with my name Solly Matthews, so clearly they don't know my real name so who has told them about me? But the next clue comes when they're now taking me from the house, they put leg irons, they put my hands between my legs in the car and they handcuff the hands. This is being done by one of the Security Branch men under the orders of Swanepoel, but in telling them he says, "We've got a big terrorist here, be very careful." So they had started off, the cop had tried to handcuff me behind, the usual way, and Swanepoel said, "No! chaps," in Afrikaans, "This is a bloody big trained terrorist, watch out. Don't do that. Put his hands between his legs after the leg irons." So I said, oh shit, that means to say whoever has told them is saying I've done military training. We get to Marshall Square and that's where the incident of the one eye crops up, because as he's questioning me, I say my name, address, "Where did you grow up?" I say Sophiatown, that's my legend, it was a mixed area, a coloured area, lots of coloured people there. And he says, "Your father's name?" I said, "I'm not prepared to answer these questions." It carries on like this and I happen to brush my eye and he says, "What's wrong with your eye?" I said, "I've got one eye." He leapt from his desk and he says to his fellow Security Branch officers, "Kerels, ons het hom", chaps, we've got him, lock him up. Now they're taking me and I say, "Jesus! What happened?" And that's when I put it together that the information they had was that he has one eye, that he has come from abroad from training, and, three, they didn't know it's my wife, his girl friend is a trained nurse. Those are the three bits.
So those were the three bits of information that I could distil that were in their hands and that is why when I speculate who gave them the information and gave the address it comes to Lionel Gay because it couldn't be Dave Kitson and the reason why it couldn't be Dave Kitson is Dave Kitson knew me in London and knew my real name. Secondly, I had met Dave in SA when I went to his home, not told where I was going, taken by arrangement with Ruth First, given the address to go there and when I knocked at that door, I was going there to look at a Multilith lithographic machine that somehow had been bought by the underground but nobody knew how to use it. So I was told by Ruth, "Can you go to this address, check this machine out and if there's anything wrong with it get it working?" So I get to this place, I knock at the door, I don't know whose place I'm going to. Who opens the door? Dave Kitson I'd last seen in London in 1960. So I don't know whether he's recognised me. The rules said you give name A, the false name, and he will tell you some name, that's all, and this is the address. So I walk in and I give my name and he gives his name and he says, "Come through", and he takes me to their bedroom, I don't see Norma at all, I know her, and he sits on his bed, he's in his pyjamas, it's about nine o'clock at night, he's in his pyjamas on this double bed, here's this big machine and I start examining it and opening it out and take out my tools and start working and checking and obviously Dave is intrigued.
POM Yes, he's sitting in his pyjamas.
MM He's lying in his pyjamas and he's watching me working and I'm feeling at the back of my body that I've recognised Dave who had disappeared from London, has he recognised me? And I'm not talking to him, I'm busy, don't talk, just carry on with your work. Suddenly Dave says, "How do you know about these machines?" And I feel that that question is like there's an uncertainly in his mind, he's beginning to identify me but he never knew me to be a printer and we met in London.
POM But it's also the kind of question he shouldn't ask.
MM Be asking, yes. And I said to him, "No, that's my work." Curtly. We finish and I leave. I don't see Dave again until post the Rivonia arrests when he comes to my home brought by Paul, because when the Rivonia arrest took place he was the one man that struck them, he knows Mac, and Paul at that time was in the Central Committee. I was not in the Central Committee so in finding me, that this character that is somewhere and everybody, Bram and them and saying reconnection, regrouping, we need Mac. So Dave comes to my home. By this time I'm satisfied that Dave knows who I am, so I am saying if Dave had given my address he would have given my name and he would have raised the question that he knew me from London. They didn't know that. Secondly, Dave would be more likely to know that I am married. The information with the Security Branch was that it's my girl friend. Again, it didn't fit what the reality was and what the Security Branch were saying.
So on these two scores I eliminated Dave as the source of their information and in my mind it remains clear that the person who identified my house was Lionel Gay. Now that could not have arisen from severe interrogation and torture, that would have been a volunteered bit of information because nothing in the Security Branch questioning would have isolated is there a chap like this? So I remain convinced in my mind that the person who spoke in detention identifying me in that vague way is Lionel Gay and it's vague because his information was vague.
POM The third thing that he mentioned, you sent him a lot of letters.
MM Yes, from where?
POM From Robben Island.
POM And that he couldn't understand a lot of them, they were
MM Too cryptic for him.
POM Too cryptic, it looked as if they were in code so he took them along and gave them to he said, "I wonder who these are for?" And he took them to Vella and he took them to Yusuf Dadoo. He figured they were the two people they were meant for. Now you're using a code that you had worked out?
MM No. What had happened is simple and the classic one is because it's published, Kathy has kept his letters. The prison authorities kept them too, his incoming and outgoing letters, so Kathy has published this book, Letters from Robben Island.
POM I have it, yes.
MM To start that sort of communication just to get news of friends in the struggle, what it did is that we began to make almost sort of lateral connections, e.g. when I give this warder, this Seventh Day Adventist guy who gave me the newspapers, I raise with Madiba and them, I say, "Look, we need money. The only way to get money is via London because if we get it from inside the country you're endangering the person. Suppose this warder breaks down, suppose he's playing double, or suppose he's honest but when he realises he's getting drawn into more serious things he may panic and go and make a confession." So Madiba and them say, "How are you going to get the money?" I say, "Chaps, I've thought it over, I'm going to send a letter to London." But what I have remembered is an address in London that was used by me in the underground to communicate with Vella and Dr Dadoo. It was, it's come back already, you had to address the letter to Elizabeth Edwards, and the address was an address in Kentish Town, a street address. I say if I send it to that address if whoever is that British occupant who was used by Vella and them, if that occupant is still there that occupant will know to take this letter to Vella. So they said, "OK but what about the contents?" So I said, "Guys, one of the things that I used to do was to use invisible writing using milk."
POM Use invisible writing?
MM Using milk. Now we are not given milk in our diet but in the hospital, the hospital patients are given milk. So I will have to steal a little quantity of milk and I will write an overt letter in my handwriting leaving reasonable space between the lines and in between the lines I will put an invisible message. "How are you going to take it further? Let's assume it gets to Vella how will he know it's from you? Because if you write the letter and sign your name in the overt portion you're in trouble because if the warder gives it to the authorities you're caught, you're smuggling a letter." So I say, "OK, that's a problem." Now comes the code issue. What I know is that Patsy, Vella's wife, when she was in the YCL, shared a flat with Ruth First, but in my memory bank what crops up is that flat was in Twist Street, Hillbrow. So in the overt content, "Dear Elizabeth", I write a very casual, innocuous letter and in the body of the letter I say, "And I have been thinking of the old times where P used to share a flat in Twist Street with - ", some name, First was not difficult, you just had to find the word in Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, for first, "with First." And then I go on to say, "Those memories reminded me of you, Elizabeth." Now that means to say they've reminded me of the underground communications. We will construct that letter and I say the overt portion makes no sense to anybody. It's a very casual, chatty letter. But I have said enough by invoking Twist Street and a few other incidents and names like the different name for First, that will tell Vella and Patsy, hey, who's this? This is Mac. And from that the next issue arises, that there are hints here, it can't be so innocuous, and I am hoping that they will now try to decipher the invisible writing. To do that, because we used to use it before my arrest, they would have to try that out and in the invisible I say, "I need £100 and send it to the following address." And I say, "Don't treat any further communications as authentic unless in the overt portion it does not refer to the incidents I've referred to today but will always refer to a unique incident between us", a very small incident such as a reference to a party that he and I went to where we had an argument with Barbara Castle. There's no way that that incident could arise in anybody's mind who's not party to that experience, like this one of Patsy and Ruth sharing a flat in the mid-forties in Twist Street. Who would know that? Dr Dadoo, close colleagues of theirs. Anybody in the Security Branch would not have that click, and I'm not putting Hillbrow or anything, it's a letter being posted in Cape Town.
So that worked with Vella and them but I am told by Vella, if he still remembers, but when I met him he says there was a furious argument between him, Dr Dadoo and Joe Slovo when the letter arrived because when he made sense of it and he saw that there's a request for £100 he took it to Joe and Dadoo. He said, "Here, this is from Mac, this is what he's saying. He wants £100 posted to the following address." And they started debating, is it a trap, is it authentic, is it going to put him in more serious trouble and how is it possible that from Robben Island he's posted this letter? No, this is the enemy." Big sessions debating this issue and finally the dice rolled on my side because one or other of them said, I think Joe was arguing don't send it, until I think Dr Dadoo said, "But chaps, what do we lose? What do we lose if we send the £100? Suppose it is true that it is Mac, let's take a chance, send it." That's how I got the £100.
I am saying your question, did you have pre-arranged codes? No, we began to develop those codes. So, for example, I would write to Daso, now the contents don't make sense to him, but I have made the assumption that Daso and them know that when I was in London my contact was Vella. So when it makes no sense but it's coming from me in prison who would he turn to to make sense? So we go to Paul, from Paul somehow or the other he'll get to Vella and when he gets to Vella, Vella looks at the thing and he finds names who could this be? Oh who is Idris? Oh Vellasays, "Wait a minute, Idris is Idris Cox, the head of the International Department of the British party, because Mac was in the International Department Committee of the British party. So the Idris is Idris Cox." Then if Vella couldn't make sense he would take it to Dr Max Joffe because if I referred to my father and then also raised the question of a doctor, well Dr Max Joffe used to call himself my father and called me his son and he was in the SA Communist Party living in London. So Vella would be able to say, "Wait a minute, I'd better take this to Max", and when they take it to Max, Max says, "This portion doesn't make sense but, wait a minute, this portion makes sense to me. I think Mac is talking about Dr Mervin Susser here who is in Manchester." So Max would give the clue that way.
But by this time what's happening to Vella? They are learning that if they are called this name I would know it's Mervin Susser and they would write a reply and possibly give it to Daso to say incorporate these four sentences in your reply. Now you will find in Kathy's letters to Daso he's enquiring about me. Unfortunately the editing is so bad that the editor had no way of decoding it so he hasn't decoded those letters. But I know that there is a letter.(Break in recording)
MM He sat on Kathy's thing for a long time, he was a great friend of Kathy's, a South African, and he had left the country in 1963, he was in the underground too but he's now an academic at Michigan. Kathy has come out of prison, given him the letters. He says, "We'll publish it and I'll edit it." Fine. His interactions with Kathy are when he visits SA for two weeks or Kathy is passing through the States. Now he starts asking Kathy this, Kathy decodes some of them, but Kathy has got no time to sit down to everything and tell him what it means. And the guy assumes that he himself has now got the picture. Well, very clear, this is letters to Daso. Oh clear, this is a reference to Dr Dadoo, and he comes to something else that doesn't make sense. Forget about it.
So when I got the book and I opened the thing I see letters Daso here, Daso Iyer, Daso this, Daso that and some other name and Navi, Navi is a name we used to use for Paul. Amien Cajee was a great man at giving people pseudonyms. Kathy was known between Amien and myself as Ranghra. Now I don't know the Indian languages but when I heard Amien one day saying, "Ranghra", I said, "What's that?" He says, "Broken leg." Kathy had fractured his leg in 1948 and Amien nicknames him in our communication as Ranghra and I find out, I never knew that Kathy had fractured his leg in 1948 but Ranghra became Kathy's name through Amien Cajee.
So that's how we began to construct it. But I am saying in the letters to Daso there is a clear enquiry about me which Daso could not have made sense of but it was enquiring in fact what has happened to the Madiba manuscript and there was no way that Daso would know that this is oh yes he has enquired about Das because in prison I had told Kathy that my pseudonym under which I lived in GDR was Das Guptha. Now who knows Das? Vella knows that my name in the GDR was Das but Dr Dadoo, Paul, nobody knows. But if it is shown to Vella that sentence Vella would say, "He is enquiring about Mac." So that's how the codes began to develop and Kathy and a number of us, Madiba too, Walter too, we began to explore how to probe these questions and get information backwards and forwards. Oliver, I mean I laughed at that one, because Madiba took his shot by using Reg, he took his shot to get a message through, he made an effort, by referring to OR as Reggie and I was laughing at Madiba. I said, "This is stupid codes." He says, "Why?" I said, "I can see it's Oliver." He says, "How do you see that?" I said, "Because Oliver's name is Oliver Reginald Tambo. So you think you're being brilliant?"
POM Now you would sign these letters, right?
MM Yes and give it to the censors.
POM So the censors would look at these letters and say, wouldn't they say these letters make no sense?
MM And that is why if you go and see the volumes of the NIS documents that are in three volumes that I gave to the Mayibuye Centre, one volume is an effort to decode my letters where they say he's referring to Oom. Now Oom must be one of this or that and they conclude Oom is some Uncle in the struggle, it is 'Uncle' in Afrikaans. In the meantime Oom was my wife Tim. They misread it.
POM Who misread it?
MM The Security Branch. So this volume identified Oom as some active person in the struggle inside the country and doesn't realise that I'm talking about Tim, to Tim. Because in a letter written to Tim I suddenly switch to talking about Oom. I'm talking to her about her and she knows I'm talking about her but I am saying if you tell me this information about Oom I'll know it's about you, what you're doing. But the Security Branch trying to decipher this misread it and identify the wrong person and it's hilarious how they misidentify people, a whole volume where the chap had sat down with all the intercepts of my letters and he's trying to decode what is this thing passing here.
POM So there were letters going out and they were trying to decode them and replies coming in and they were trying to decode them. In the meantime they were taking things out that looked political so you always gave them a couple of sentences that they could at least say they -
MM In the meantime very innocent things, that look innocent, are actually referring to comrades and enquiring and getting information. So that's how the codes were developed and each one developed their own codes.
POM So would Vella have those letters still?
MM They were living in such bloody fear they were debating that this is a plant and this is a trap that they couldn't even send me R100 without a bloody three weeks debate.
But the reason why I had to say a unique incident would be referred to, in case this old man uses that address to access more money and pocket it, or in case the old man goes and confesses to his superiors and they say, OK, keep going, you'll get more incriminating things and we will be able to charge a group of people for conducting a conspiracy from within prison. So to prevent that I say to them, feel secure, no letter will repeat the same incident but each letter will refer to a unique incident shared by us. That is the identification route that you know that here is something in invisible writing. But of course when Vella told me in London, he was not interested in the intricacies of the debate, he was interested in telling me, "I had faith in you. Those buggers Dr Dadoo and Slovo they were hesitant, they didn't want to send you the money and I said I know this boy, this is him, and you listen, I sent you that £100 otherwise you would have not got it."
POM OK. He's a very nice man.
MM And I hope you enjoyed Daso last night.
POM Oh I did, I was there for 2½ hours, he invited me to stay for supper and everything but I had Ronnie outside and Ronnie's wife is visiting from London, she's a nurse there and she's only here for three weeks and I want to get him home by seven o'clock at the latest every evening. But I said I'd look him up in London, the two of them again on my way back to Boston.
MM I mean look at Daso
POM All the notes.
MM And he doesn't want anything important from this country.
POM I tell you what, pensions. The three of them. I said I would bring it up.
MM I could only get Daso because the law says you're only entitled to that special pension if you had no other income and if you were not employed for the years that you had no income and were serving the movement full time. Now for Daso I managed to get them to agree to give him a five-year service pension. I can't get it for Paul, I can't get it for the brother Peter because Peter was always working in a job as a waiter, things like that. Paul, there were only two years that he was unemployed when he shifted from here to London. Then he got a job. Yes, it was a low paying job but he had a job.
POM I don't think they understand that.
MM They don't understand that. And I've written and I've quoted the law and I've explained it to Daso, I've explained it to Peter. I know what it is, it's not the money.
MM They know that others who never served and who were professionals, a chap who was a doctor who was never in the underground has collected the pensions. Secondly, what they want is can their name be inscribed in some place where their children and grandchildren can say here's proof that my father and my mother served in the struggle even though I am now living in London, even though this is my grandparents, their son married an English girl and I am the grandson so I am growing up in my English environment but I can show here this is where his name is inscribed in the rollof honour. That's what they want, and they don't want anything more.
You know, Padraig, I told somebody the other day, I said you have the Washington Monument for the Vietnam war veterans, and if we just put up a wall on Park Station and on that wall are the names of those who died in the struggle and don't worry that it's comprehensive. As each names comes we will go and chisel it in. I said, you change the ethos of this country. Then somewhere else you put up another wall of people whose names don't feature in the history books but who were part of the struggle and are maybe still alive and just chisel that name. And it doesn't matter if it's chiselled, don't worry about gold lettering, just a bloody chisel on the marble. And I tell you these guys when their friends are visiting SA they'd say go to Park Station, go and read there in column so-and-so half way down you'll see my name.
I was telling Kathy the other day when you get to Robben Island, when you jump off that boat, you know that blue wall there, and then you walk to the entrance which says which says 'Robben Eiland Welkom', that whole space as you get there, I said let's just put black marble and chisel in the names of every sentenced prisoner. Kathy says, "We've tried to get that list, you can't." I said don't worry about the list, take the ones you know, there's lots of space and as each names comes through and is confirmed, you confirm the records, you have a section, somebody visits Robben Island and they say we saw this name, how come this other name is not there? They write you a letter and they say my nephew was there. Contact the person, what was his name, when was he sentenced? Oh I don't remember when. Well who remembers? A little bit of work, you confirm the details, chisel his name on. And what an impact it would make on visitors from all over the world. They will be walking this wall that is about half a kilometre long and they'll be seeing it just full of names. Maybe they'll go and see one name but they will go back with a memory that there's a wall with inch tall lettering but that wall starting from the bloody edge of the jetty right to the entrance, half a kilometre long is just full of names. Their memory will say thousands. And I think it will pull together people, it will pull together relatives who are alive because they will draw a sense of pride from it.
I said to Kathy, "Come on, do this bloody thing." Then he comes and says, "Oh it's a committee this, it's a committee that." Next time I have R100,000, R200,000, I'll just go to them and say, here, I'm giving you this, this is what it will cost to put the marble there, you put the bloody marble. The next time I have R100,000 I will say, here this will pay for the first 500 names, and it will happen, but not this bloody committee nonsense because in a committee they start saying is my great-grandfather's name there? And if it's not going to there, whose name is going to be there?
POM Perhaps when Daso talked about giving £100 to Kingsman the constructor, you had the idea
MM Harold Kingsman.
POM To build a theatre and then underneath there would be a place where you would manufacture bombs.
MM A workshop.
POM So he donated, he saved up, he didn't tell his wife but he saved up £100 and gave it to Kingsman and then you got arrested and that was the end of it but he thought it was a brilliant idea.
MM Out in Grasmere.
MM What has happened to Harold Kingsman? He was furniture worker in the same factory as Paul and Paul had recruited him to the Communist Party and Harold then came up with this idea, because the coloureds were moved to that township in Grasmere past Lenasia and Harold got a house there and then he got a plot of land and then he got an idea that he would put up a cinema which would serve for films, which would serve for dances, would serve for weddings and he'd make money and he'd build it himself with his own hands, slowly as he has money. And I said, "Hey, wait a minute, can we construct under the stage a basement with a concealed entrance and escape tunnel?" "Yes, why not?" "OK, you can have your bloody cinema." It was not a question of where are we going to find the money. So Daso hears about this idea, he's so chuffed with it he starts saving.
POM If something had been built and something went wrong when you were manufacturing something the phrase 'the movie bombed' would take on a whole different meaning! It was a bomb at the box office.
MM And so many of those never materialised. I remember on that one I said, "Harold, I want a concealed exit but I want a tunnel that won't take me out into the cinema complex, it must take me out half a kilometre away in the veldt." "Why?" I said, "What if I'm locked up here and the signal says danger, don't come out, what am I going to do? Die here? No, I want that tunnel."
POM That's the hard stuff.
MM But I'm just saying such lovely people, they've got all their problems, all their petty quarrels, but their commitment and they come from a generation where the commitment doesn't say I want this big honour, I want big money, it just says just acknowledge, I've been in London from 1965, when I come to SA I meet people today they don't know that I ever did anything, they are all so full of themselves of what they are doing and claiming their heritage in the struggle and I'm sitting there, a nonentity to them, yet I know I was in it in 1962. That's all I want.
If you see Desmond Francis, I don't reach out to him and he still from a hospital bed at half past twelve at night thinks let's say hello, and I could see the phone call was quite short because he hasn't got the money but he still made a phone call from the UK.
POM I'll make a list of people you have to call, I told everybody I met that you would call them. So!
MM And then you go on and you get caught up with your little problems and it's right and wrong. It's not that you injure people, it's the failure, and this is where the greatness of Madiba comes, the greatness of Madiba is that when he emerged and from this position of President and the staff that he has, what he doesn't forget, and he's got some of the infrastructure, he's able to say, "Oh I thought about Dr Nzima, oh he fled to Birmingham. Zelda, there's supposed to be a Dr Nzima who went to Birmingham in 1961, can you find out his telephone number and address?" And Zelda starts, oh shit! "Madiba, who would know?" Oh, maybe Kathy, maybe Wendy, maybe Mac, maybe this one, he's given her four names as a clue. She phones me, no I don't know Dr Nzima, Zelda, I think you can try Vella in London. Yes, not a problem what's the cost. She dials London, because he's got those resources around him, but he never fails to do that.
When I phoned him recently, last year, the first incident that arose, Kathy phones me and he says one of the prisoners who had served five years, a Dr Masla Pather, who had been in the struggle from the early forties, landed up in prison, a five year sentence while he was practising as a doctor in PE, came out of prison, lived quietly, never took a prominent position anywhere in the struggle, Kathy phones me and says Masla is dying. "What's wrong, Kathy?" He's on a dialysis machine, etc., and he now wants to switch off the machine because he's a doctor. He's in his late seventies. So Kathy tells me this and I say, "Have you got Mavis's number?" Masla's wife. Yes, this is the number in Durban. I phoned Mavis, "What's this I hear about Masla?" "Yes, Mac, there's no hope. He's on life support and he's saying he wants to switch it off." "OK, what's his hospital number? Can he be spoken to?" "Why Mac?" I said, "No, I'll come back to you." I look for Madiba because they say Masla is dying. What's the best gift that he can get? And I say the best gift in my mind is that Madiba phones him. So I track Madiba down to Maputo, "Madiba, Masla is dying." "Oh, you know I last saw him a year ago." I said, "Yes, but he's now critical, last moments." "What number?" I say, "Hold on I'll come back to you with the number, I think he's being brought home now and he wants the life support switched off. So I will just confirm and I will get back to you." He said, "Please just get back to me with his number where I can speak to him or to Mavis." I phone Mavis, "Where is he now?" She says, "He's at home." "Is he able to speak?" She says, "Now and then he has moments of lucidity but he has taken the decision to switch off the life support." I said, "Hold on, go and tell him Madiba is calling." She comes back to me, she says, "When is he calling?" I say, "Within the hour he is calling." Masla took the decision and said, "Right switch off the machine." Madiba called, life support had been switched off, he was in a semi-coma, still able to comprehend and they said to him, "Madiba is on the line." He took that call and they say he smiled and died. It was not too much for Madiba.
Then later in the year when Wolfie died, three weeks before he died I get a call from somebody saying, "Wolfie is ill, he's heading for hospital." I phoned Wolfie, find him at his flat. "Wolfie what the fuck is this? You haven't told us you're ill." "Oh I know, Mac, it's a small thing." "So why haven't you told us?" "No it's a small thing." So we laugh and we joke and I tell things and Wolfie starts laughing and he says, "Well I'm heading for hospital, I'll be out in two or three days time." "When are you heading?" "Tomorrow." Phoned Kathy, "Kathy, is this serious?" He says, "I think it is. You know Wolfie, he will never talk, he will never complain but I can see from his demeanour that it's serious." "When did you see him Kathy?" "I saw him about three days ago." Phoned Indres, "How's Wolfie? When did you see him?" He says, "I saw him today." "How is he?" He says, "I don't have hope." OK, find Madiba. I don't tell these guys, I find Madiba, tell him and I say within the next two hours he leaves home. Madiba says, "What's his number?" Madiba calls him. The mistake that happened is that Madiba told him, obviously they were joking and laughing and reminiscing and Wolfie says, "Where did you got all this that I'm critically ill?" And Madiba laughs and may have told him, "No I heard from Mac." OK, Wolfie goes to hospital, gets operated, then I hear he is still in hospital but critical, fluctuating. Can I call him? What's the number? Somebody gives me the number, I call him. "Wolfie, how are you doing?" He says, "You bloody bastard!" "What's your fucking trouble, Wolfie?" He says, "You've just made my fucking day." "What do you mean by that?" He says, "Don't bullshit me, I know." "What do you know?" He says, "You're the same bloody conspiratorial bastard." "Sorry Wolfie, I don't get what you're getting at." "Well I got a call from Madiba and it was you. I had a call from Madiba and I know you bloody bastard you arranged it, but it was fantastic, it made my day." A few days later Wolfie's dead but Madiba has called him.
And I think that's the beauty about Madiba, it doesn't matter who it is, he has that human touch and luckily he has the opportunity and the resources to put those things in motion.
POM Couldn't you do some of these old guys a call from you, people in Vula who say, gee, Mac never calls, that's how they start. Call once a year, once every two years?
MM I know it's one of the weaknesses of myself.
POM But you call Madiba and let him make the call.
MM That makes their day. Madiba is a special person and anybody who gets that call from Madiba you can see it makes their day and you keep thinking, oh this one, this is going to happen, so-and-so is ill. And I know one thing that between Kathy and myself we just have to call Madiba and he will straight away respond. Nothing like that will miss his attention and it's not something he will do three, four days later, it will be done immediately by him, it doesn't matter where in the world he is.
MM I think this is something that this society is losing here, they don't sit and look at those aspects of Madiba and realise how those acts pulled this country together. The tendency to think is that it's some grand act. He's not a grand act. Of course people cause problems. When you came in I'm consulting Kathy, I'm saying I gave this chap once R5000 for his daughter, then when I did Reflections with the second round of royalties I gave him R4000 or R5000, now he's written to me that his daughter is in school, the youngest, and she's got to pay R19,000 fees within a week's time, can I find it? I said to Kathy, "I can't, I can't." So yes, those things will happen to and by discussing it with Kathy, Kathy says, "What are you going to do?" I said, "I have to write to him and say I can't." And Kathy says, "You're right, you're right, you can't. So find a way to politely tell him you can't." I was saying, "Kathy, but don't you think I could go somewhere and ask, where can I go and get somebody to help him?" Kathy says, "No, that's going too far. You've got your own pressures and you can't spend your life now going all over looking for that R19,000. Just write to him and tell him nicely that you can't do it."
So there will be those pressures because they too are facing their own problems. But don't allow it to inhibit you from doing those simple human things like you are challenging me to do. I think it's right and the only thing that I can hold up as a role model is Madiba and say those are things that he never ignores. That's what makes him what he is in the public perception. It doesn't matter whether it's royalty or a millionaire or a poverty-stricken person. He will hear that Bill Gates - something has happened and he will phone Bill Gates. He will hear that something has happened to Bush, he has slammed Bush over and over in the public arena, but then he will pick up the phone and he will say, "Mr President, I am sorry to hear about your grandchild, that your grandchild fell off her horse." And you say, "What the hell, Madiba! She's just got a few bruises." Anyway, we can carry on like that for ever. But I think those are qualities that in people in every arena of life where you are in leadership, you can contribute to making a caring society.
POM I want you to do a favour.
MM I'll make excuses.
POM I'll make you a list of all these things, it's going to be a great list. What I will do is make an appendix to the book and I'm going to put all the things out of our interviews that you were supposed to do. I'm going to give your cell phone number.
MM That's why you need to think of changing the title of the book. Just one has come to me now, The Finished and the Unfinished Business. I still remember Helen Keller, no, no, a woman who was in the intellectual circles of the thirties, an American woman, Helen something, quite a prominent woman in literary society, not a very prominent writer in her own right. She wrote a book called The Unfinished Woman and just that title, Unfinished or was it Unfinished Life I just thought that the word 'unfinished' is so fascinating, that if a person just said it doesn't matter what my present conjuncture, the business of life is unfinished for me. Even if you're on your deathbed and you say there is unfinished business, it might be a tiny thing on that deathbed that you might do. It might be picking up the phone and phoning somebody whose name crops up in your mind, old, young, whatever, but I tell you it need not be a pathetic discussion, just a casual chat: how are you? I was just thinking about it and two days later the person learns you die, but from your side you can only do that if you say there's unfinished business.
POM We've got you past that point. You know there's lots of unfinished business. You'd better spend the rest of your life taking care of unfinished business and, do you know what? There will still be unfinished business.
MM Padraig, you start trouble in my life. You cause so much problems.
POM We are now talking about the period after Mac was released and was sent to Lusaka after he was appointed Secretary of the IPRD.
MM Internal Political and Reconstruction Department.
POM Why does Howard always call it IRD?
MM He's wrong.
POM Internal Political, IPRD. One of things you did when you went to Lusaka when you were asked to sit in on the NEC meeting by Tambo because you had just returned from the country, what assessment do you give him, what assessment did you give the NEC as to where you saw things in the country standing at that time?
MM I didn't give the meeting any long assessment because it was unexpected. Secondly, I was diffident about invading a meeting of the NEC and pushing it away from its agenda.
POM Let me change the question. When you came out of the country and after you learned of your appointment as Secretary to the IPRD, you came away with certain impressions from your talks with various people around the country and your own observations before you sat down to open that blank folder, what did you come out with when you came out of the country?
MM Let me just run you though a few incidents because it would not be as if I went and put some profound analysis somewhere. With OR and that NEC meeting I would have straight away, besides expressing how happy I was to rejoin the comrades, have told them (i) that the spirit of the comrades in prison, including Mandela and Sisulu, was firm, positive, confident of the leadership of the ANC, unwavering in that, that even though we were relatively isolated we remained completely united behind the ANC and the leadership of Tambo. Secondly, I would have said that from the point of view of prisoners no amount of hardship in prison was deterring us from continuing to act even in prison and be part of the struggle by improving and resisting the harsh treatment in prison and that we were in good spirits. It was not an issue that they should worry about. Thirdly, I would have said that, that one was I very clear, I definitely said it to them, I said I am here, I am ready to do anything that they require me to do and then in my usual mischievous way I would have said to them, "But if you try to post me internationally then you will have trouble on your hands from me." I would not have divulged more because that would have been the messages and the reason why I was abroad was by a mission to brief OR only, including the autobiography and everything, it was not to be told to anybody.
In my assessment to OR I would have said that the ANC presence in the country, the conditions are such that the ANC presence needs to be rapidly established in the country. It's not enough, there were very hopeful signs, e.g. my biggest thrill in house arrest, the six months in Durban, was within weeks of my release to receive through the post a clandestine copy of the illegal publication of the Communist Party called Inkululeko. Where were we?
POM You were giving your assessment to OR in private.
MM In private I would have been saying it was so morale boosting to receive that Inkululeko from the Communist Party underground. It made you feel that organisation was present. Now if the ANC needs to assert, and it needs to assert that, it must make itself felt on the ground and it does not need dramatic acts, it needs small efforts but systematic.
POM When you say 'make itself felt', what would you mean by that?
MM I felt that, you see coming out from prison and put under house arrest you assumed, because you went into prison in 1964 and all that you heard up to then is that there's a reign of terror, then Soweto explodes and Soweto is being suppressed. You assumed that the fear that invaded the public mind, the masses in 1965, would still be there and yet what I could feel in the six months that I was in Durban that despite the fear there was a resurgence of courage and faith, that people had come to search me out in my flat at great risk to myself, and to them. But they were coming there because they were saying by seeing you you remember Khetso came as a teenager, well the Khetsos and the Pravins would have come, can we hear views? But others were coming just to feel your presence, to say you are here. The other thing that I was experiencing was, people were saying you come back after twelve years, you're still you.
POM Yes, but your analysis would be confined to what you observed in the Durban area.
MM I had asked for six months from Madiba and then before I escape to get a feel of the country, what's the situation in the country. I would have been saying that this is not a view just about my experience in a flat in Merebank, I have been interacting with people, I had students come from Wits University to see me in Durban, I had people come from Cape Town to see me. I had met people quietly in the six months, I was spending my time in that six months not only preparing how to escape, that was a clandestine operation, and another clandestine operation was what's my reading? And my reading was not to be what am I reading in the books, that's known to everybody, but what's my reading of the sort of pulse of the people on the ground and for that I was looking for activists all over.
For example, Janet Love, she came from Wits University to meet me in Durban. I didn't even know who this is but I had said to Phyllis, "Can I get somebody who is an activist at Wits University?" and she arranged for Janet Love to come over. Now I didn't say to Janet Love that I'm preparing to go out, I just said to Janet Love, casual discussion, "What's happening at Wits? What's happening in Jo'burg? What's happening in this and that?"
So in my briefing to OR I felt I should give what's my reading of the mood in the country. So that's what I would have given and I would have peppered it with the anecdotal stuff to lead to the larger question. For example, you get a reading of what I am saying abroad in that article that I wrote in The Struggle is my Life, that introduction that I wrote about the experience of prison and how Madiba is perceived by the young people, that's a reading because it led me logically to argue that you need to mount the Release Mandela and other political prisoners campaign because in the young people's mind, if you read that preface, you see this is a generation who have not heard of Mandela. There is nothing in the newspapers, there is nothing there telling them. But after, this is 1976, after 13, 14 years of Madiba being in prison, when they heard you're from Robben Island their first question was, Do you know Mandela? What kind of a man is he?I was saying now, if this campaign which is already there internationally, the release of political prisoners, if it is mounted at home with Mandela centrally featuring, you will find a resonance in these young people whose rebellion may be primitive but you will connect with them so that you can move them to ANC thinking.
POM Did you say this to OR?
MM To OR.
POM But that never happened.
MM It happened, it happened.
POM But not until - ?
MM Yes, then I told you I had the battle in the first meeting of the IPRD when I wrote that leaflet during the adjournment to be distributed at home for adoption by the IPRD, I ended up with the slogan, 'Release Nelson Mandela, release all political prisoners.' Then two of my comrades in the committee said, "Remove the words 'Release Mandela'." I said, "Why?" They said, "No, we don't want to feature an individual." I said, "Why?" In the end they said, "Because there are uncomfortable rumours about Madiba that he is selling out." I said, "Where do you get this from?"
POM This is in 1976?
MM 1977 December. "Where do you get this from?" And I went back into the meeting and I said, "Comrades, I am saying release all political prisoners but the first line is saying 'Release Nelson Mandela' because that's the issue that grips the minds of the people." OK we struggled over it.
POM Just to hold you there, but is that why in that interview you gave to the IDAF it concentrates so much on Mandela and Mandela's
MM Legendary status.
POM Not only that but his belief in the ANC, in the leadership of the ANC. One thing that comes out of that interview is the emphasis that, we'll come to this later on, but in the interview there's a lot of emphasis on 'everyone believes here that the armed struggle is the way forward'. That stands out far more than 'we believe people's war is the way forward'.
MM At that stage I don't even know that the word is being used 'only the armed struggle'.
POM But in the interview you used armed struggle.
MM But I don't use only but I'm not aware that there has been an imbalance in the approach. Right?
POM Abroad means in Lusaka?
MM In Lusaka, not aware, I've just passed through Lusaka, spent a week and gone. In London the reason why I'm focusing on Mandela is because of course it's to go in a publication of his writings, but you will notice that in that focus I keep on saying the ANC is my life. So I am emphasising the ANC through this mass emotional linkage with Madiba. And then by 1976 there are Bantustan leaders saying no to the armed struggle and the 1976 rebellion raised the question, you guys have rebelled but you can't conduct it without an organised force. And I am saying there are two organised forces, it's the ANC and there should be no debate about the necessity to use violence. It's in that context that I'm emphasising the armed struggle because the Soweto uprising has not led to MK presence but the youth are saying we believe we need to fight. And I am saying, lock into that, lock into the popularity of Madiba and the mystery of Madiba, but I'm putting the message out that you need an organised force, a disciplined force, Madiba says the ANC is the body. And Madiba is saying the armed struggle is the way forward.
Those points are brought in from that angle, emphasis on Madiba because it is the book about his writing, but also emphasising Madiba because of his status here, that comes through.
POM OK, let's go back to where you were now.
MM So I was not aware that there were strong rumours in Lusaka that Madiba was selling out. I don't recall discussing it with OR but what happens is MK Day, now it comes back, I've referred to it before but it's come back in context, MK Day is December 16th, that's the day it carried out its actions and announced it. So I've attended the IPRD meeting, OR is not in the IPRD meeting, and I still spend a few days in Lusaka but it includes December 16th and on the morning of December 16th OR's driver arrives where I am staying. I was staying with Almut and Hennie Hinser. No pre-arrangement, he arrives there in the morning, "What are you doing here?" He says, "The Chief has sent me to collect you." OK, I get ready, don't even know where I'm going, jump in the car, we go to a suburb called Lilanda where we had a house. It's one of the outskirt suburbs of Lusaka, very depressed area, but we had a house there for accommodating some of the cadres, etc., and from where the logistics and food and everything and there was a yard.
I get there, it's December 16th, and I find out in the yard, in thebackyard, rows of benches and OR is there. So he says, "We're having a small meeting in celebration of MK Day." So the cadres are there, probably about 50 cadres have assembled in that yard. He says, "I thought it would be a good thing if you are present." Great. These are the cadres of the 1962 generation who went out to MK, stalwarts. There's a microphone and the ceremony starts and the MC calls on OR to speak. OR does a very short address where he ambushes me. He mentions MK Day, etc., exhorts them, emphasises unity and he says, "Now comrades, there is one matter, there have been rumours from the time of the Lusaka Manifesto in 1969 that Madiba was selling out. You know the rumours, the rumours went so far as to say that Madiba had been brought clandestinely to State House of Kaunda and had engaged in secret meetings with John Vorster, the Prime Minister of SA." He says, "There have been those rumours and all of us have been concerned about it. Is Madiba selling out? Now here today we have Comrade Mac, he comes from that section of the prison. He has spent 12 years and was released on 17th December 1976 and then house arrested. We would like to welcome him and I call upon him to address you."
He doesn't say address this question but having put that rumour so forcefully, then welcomed me and asked me to speak, the message was clear, deal with this question. I dealt with it in a very simple way, no preparation, I say, "Comrades, I've stayed in that section from this date to this date. I lived in it cheek by jowl in separate cells, nobody could move away from those sections without you being aware. So the first issue, I'm surprised to hear this rumour that Madiba was in Zambia. There is no way he could have disappeared to Zambia even for a day without us noticing it." I dealt with those aspects and then I said, "But more than that, let me tell you how the comrades are feeling in that section of the prison where there's Madiba, there's Walter Sisulu, there's Govan Mbeki, Kathrada, Raymond Mhlaba", I name a number of names, name some of them who have gone in since then, were arrested and landed up there.
So I deal with this question that these are all rumours and there is no validity and then I tell them about the strength of the comrades in prison and of Madiba. And I say, "Well, sorry I haven't prepared an address, but listening to the Chief, this question has cropped up and I thought I should tell you from me, first hand." When I finished I walk over, the function is over, I'm walking to the car that's going to take me back to where I'm staying, OR walks with me, "Very good, very good. You dealt with these questions very well. I have never been in a position to deal with this question. The way you've put it nobody can doubt it any more. Now do you realise why they were saying don't put the heading 'Release Nelson Mandela'? Because the doubt was that you are going to elevate a person where the rumours are saying he's sold out."
POM The rumours in Lusaka are saying that, but these guys are not in touch with what the people in SA, the activists are thinking which is completely different.
MM Which is why to tell them the anecdotes of my contacts and people that I've seen and prisoners through all the prisons that I've travelled through, these young people, they hear you're from Robben Island, they shout out at night, "Oh, who are you?" "Oh my name is Mac." "Where are you from?" "I'm on my way out." "Where have you been?" "Robben Island." "How long?" "12 years." "Do you know Mandela?" "Yes I've been in the same section." "What kind of a man is he?" And they are heading for prison but to transmit, to convey that sense in my mind is why I requested of Madiba when they gave me the mission to say, "Chaps this means I leave the country, I don't want to leave the country." They said, "You have to." And I say, "If I have to, chaps, can you do two things? A note to OR that he must, after I finish my mission, facilitate my return to SA." Madiba says, "No way." "And my second request is, can you allow me six months, even if I'm house arrested, before I leave the country?" "Why?" I say, "I've got to get a feel of what's happening." I want to convey that feel to the ANC, because we've got a feel of what exile is because prisoners are coming in but is Lusaka getting a feel of what's on the ground with everybody coming in and getting arrested so quickly and are they transmitting that feel back because no matter what ideas you've got you've got to, as a liberation struggle, freedom fighter, you must understand how the people are feeling.
POM But then in very plain language it seems to me you're saying that when you came out and went to Lusaka in December 1977 - or would this be December 1976?
MM December 1977.
POM That you found a leadership and a bureaucracy that was out of touch.
MM Let's not use the word bureaucracy at the moment. I found elements in the leadership and now OR was confirming that in the veterans of 1962 there were doubts, insecurities, about what people like Mandela were doing and there were doubts that they were selling out and the Lusaka Manifesto spearheaded by Kaunda in 1969 had now suddenly raised the question that there could be a peaceful co-existence with apartheid SA. It led to our forces being expelled from Zambia and OR at a subsequent meeting has referred to the cases, he said, "Chaps, you remember those dark days when the government of Zambia took exception to our continuing with the armed struggle and we decided we will not retreat, we will not fight the government of Zambia but we dispersed into the bushes of Zambia while we struggled to convince the government of Zambia that we were doing the right thing by prosecuting the armed struggle. It then led to our re-instatement over a period of time so that once more we were granted refugee status in Zambia."
Now if you read the Lusaka Manifesto it arose out of a dialogue that was between Kaunda and John Vorster at Victoria Falls saying no, SA is now looking at an outward looking policy and an accommodation with Africa and Africa needs to respond to those overtures and by responding constructively and engaging there is a possibility that that would more effectively bring about a democratic order. That was endangering the ANC position.
So the state of the organisation was the leadership was clearly pushing on trying to push with the armed struggle, setbacks, Soweto revolt, and then in the veteran corps these rumour mills were going on which were debilitating and the debilitation was enhanced by the fact that nothing was emerging how to get home and fight. So that was the environment, not the conclusion that the ANC had become bureaucratised.
POM I'll take that word away. So you had the problem of cadres who wanted to go home and fight and nobody could provide a way for them, one. Two, you had
MM Revolt in the country.
POM The country after Soweto was bubbling. You had a leadership that had been out of the country for 14 -15 years and were out of touch really with the mood of the masses.
MM And the crucial question was what do you do? I was saying you've got to project the ANC presence inside the country. You've got to project the presence of MK in the country. Now the fact that we've had all these setbacks and you are still determined to fight is very good but how do we go forward? And I am saying the propaganda aspect of presence amongst the masses is crucial and what I sensed from my experience is the pride when I got that Inkululeko, what went through my head. I said, hey! There is some group of chaps somewhere hidden in this country who are printing Inkululeko, who are mailing and distributing it and they have read that I've been released and they have found my address and they have posted it. You straight away lost the sense that I'm alone. You got a sense that somewhere here, even if it's three people, there are three people printing, collecting the names, posting it so they are here. Who I don't know but I no longer felt lonely and I felt a sense of power. I'm saying if I felt that with Inkululeko how would I feel if I was just a rebel, a young man, if I saw a leaflet in the name of the ANC, if I saw 'Release Mandela', if I saw armed action. What would that do to me? It would say I want to join the ANC, I want to join MK and I want to fight better.
So that's the message. Then I get to London. When I arrive in London I'm collected at the airport and I'm told, I arrive at about five in the morning, and the first thing I'm told, "Today at ten o'clock in the morning it's Women's Day, South African Women's Day, and at a hall," I think it was Caxton Hall in central London, Euston area, "There will be a meeting celebrating SA Women's Day, you are expected to be present." Indres had arrived before me. Indres is expected to be present. OK, we'll be there. I get there, there's singing going on, people are assembled, on the platform there are two or three tables, the chairperson of the function was Sonia Bunting and there are a few women stalwarts sitting there. We get in and they've got two chairs for Indres and me to sit in the front in an all-women gathering. Sonia Bunting opens the meeting, SA Women's Day, welcomes Indres and myself, somebody addresses the meeting as the opening speech in celebration of this day and says, "I call on Comrade Mac to speak." I haven't been told. So I say to Sonia, "Sonia, ask Indres to speak, not me." "No, no, no, you speak."
POM Why did you want Indres to speak?
MM Indres had already been about a week or two weeks in London and this is a surprise and I felt that Indres comes from a family with a long line of history, let him speak. Sonia then says, "No, both of you will speak." I remember Indres got up and I insisted that he speak first, he spoke, exhorting the women, etc., etc. My turn came. I decided no, this is a celebratory day, don't make a long speech. So I remember up to now that speech. It's primary section was, "I'm thrilled to be here, determined to carry on with the struggle and so thrilled to find you people involved in the struggle, all of you, and celebrating this day. But I want to tell you one thing", because it was a Women's Day meeting, "Let me tell you one thing, I'm embarrassed that you see me as a hero because the truth is different. The truth is you know me because I made a mistake and got caught. You don't know the people who didn't make that mistake and are continuing the struggle because they are faceless. So that's the first thing. Remember that this struggle needs faceless people. The second message, you know me, you see me as a hero. No, more than me, this male, are my wife and family who stood by me. Now my wife is here, I don't know whether you see her as a hero or not so when you shower on me the acknowledgement as a hero, please remember that that is unfair. The real hero is my wife." And that took me to Women's Day. That's all I said and of course greetings from Mandela and a few things like that.
What am I doing? In my mind I need to connect with them. I need to take their own position at Women's Day and link it up to the larger struggle. From that moment I am interviewed by the press, the media and everything, I've told you about the BBC, but when I get to Lusaka for the IPRD meeting, the first IPRD meeting, there of course we spent the first morning analysing what's at home and against our mandate what do we do. In the context of what do we do in the debate I say to them, "Clearly with hardly any capacity, do we have a capacity to even distribute 2000 leaflets at home?" Yes, we think we can manage it using comrades in Botswana, comrades in Maputo, we can do it. Indres is there, Squire is there at the meeting. OK. Then the question is, a simple leaflet, what must it deal with? And I say, "This leaflet should deal with the release of political prisoners." Agreed. They say, "During the break would you mind drafting the leaflet?"
Flowing from that analysis and saying MK is doing its side, your job is the political department, what is the political message that you want to deliver today and what message will find a resonance in the ground? And I say the message that you've got to put is release of political prisoners and detainees. And the meeting agrees. The only thing arose about the end slogan.
So I am saying, you say what was I presenting as an analysis? It is a little later now that I am settled in Zambia, I am assuming that by setting up this department there is goodwill across the leadership and deep into the organisation that this work is important and has to be done. I find a practical reality that the resources have been flowing to the military side. But secondly I find that in the statements it is now saying 'only the armed struggle'. So I don't go and fight it but I say this is an issue we've got to overcome. We've got to bring about a balance in our approach, we've got to bring an understanding that the political mobilisation is the bedrock of everything.
POM Now when you found that empty file that told you something right away?
POM It didn't?
MM No. The empty file was also in the context that people were saying, like Thabo was saying at the meeting in Angola in 1978, he says, "I don't understand, we had done this and thereafter nothing happened." Meaning we had contacted so-and-so at home, we had initiated certain political activity at home with a certain person at home. Now that I knew about when I was involved, since then I am now Chief Representative in Nigeria but I am here at this meeting and I find between that time and now
POM This is in Angola?
MM In Angola at a meeting of the NEC and the RC, December 1978.
POM But you were not a member of the RC at this point?
MM No but I am invited to this meeting and I remember standing up and saying, "Comrade Thabo says that we had done all these things and the follow up doesn't seem to have happened. Now I was made Secretary of the IPRD in December 1977, it's a year ago, but I want to tell this meeting that the file that I was given was just the file covers and nothing about what had been done so I've had to start in the IPRD with no records of what had been done in the past."
POM Which means either one of two things, very little had been done or no record had been kept of what had been done.
MM As it happened during the adjournment I went over to Thabo and I said, "Thabo, where are those records?" Thabo said to me, "Mac, I made records of all the work we did from Swaziland. It was put in a tin trunk when I left Swaziland and it was entrusted into the care of Comrade Stanley Mabizela." Now Stanley Mabizela was at that time the Deputy Chief Representative in Swaziland. So I said, "OK, I'll collect that." He said, "Sure, I used to make notes even of the content of my discussions with people. It's all stored there." That had it's own sequel because subsequently one of the times I got to Swaziland, I saw Stanley and I said, "Comrade Thabo says that there is a trunk of material, records." He says, "Ja." I said, "Can I have it?" And I think the mistake was the politeness, "Can I have it?" He said, "Sure, sure, sure." Days go by, I remind him, he doesn't produce it and he says to me when I subsequently confront him in another trip, "Stan, what happened? Where's that tin trunk?" He says to me, "Comrade Mac, I can't release that to you, it's very sensitive stuff, without permission from Thabo because he entrusted it into my care." So I say, "That's your position, will you release it when you get a message from Thabo?" "Sure." Now I can't pick up the phone and say to Thabo wherever he is, "Tell Stanley." So I say, "OK, I'll bump into Thabo, I'll mention this." And I see no difficulty, he will contact Stan and it'll happen. The truth of the matter, whether Thabo didn't tell him or Thabo did tell him, the trunk was never given to me to this day.
POM As Secretary of the IPRD could you not demand it and say this relates to work of the IPRD?
MM I could have but you don't want to make a fuss like that from status, I'm Secretary of the IPRD, I have a right to it and give it to me. No, it's not me.
POM Let me ask you a slightly different question, and this is an assumption on my part. People have settled in exile and there was a kind of structure of leadership and activity or whatever of meetings and commissions and whatever. You arrive on the scene, you are to them an unknown, you're new, no-one knows you. They know you've been in jail, but you as a person are totally unknown and you are like this, I won't say a quiet pool which is like a stone is dropped in and suddenly you start creating ripples.
MM Causing waves.
POM Creating waves. So when you start creating waves that always creates forms of resentment, who the hell is this guy? He's here three months and already he's got the plan formed as to what we should do.
MM Not just the plan, it's worse. What does he do? I am appointed in December, I go back to London to wind up. I return in January. The head committee of the IPRD has dispersed, those who have gone back to Botswana, somebody's gone to Mozambique, John Nkadimeng has gone back to Swaziland. But who is there? John Motsabe, Gertrude Shope, Florence Mphosho(?), Ray Simons are there and I meet them now, I meet the rump, and I say to comrade John, "OK, first thing, I want to get to Botswana." He says, "It's difficult because you are there in semi-legal position." "No, no, no, it's OK. I'll go to the Indian High Commission and get a passport"' Now remember because I'm of Indian origin I can get that but if you're African you can't.
MM India was giving it to people of Indian origin.
POM Oh I know that but if you're African why couldn't they get a passport?
MM From Zambia?
POM Zambia is too scared to give it because it will be attacked by SA.
MM So if you were an African living in Zambia you wouldn't get ?
POM You'd get refugee documents from the UN, and as I read now in the Sisulu book that Max Sisulu in 1986 was travelling on a Ghanaian passport. Anyway, I said to him, "I'll travel as an Indian from India. I'll go and speak to the High Commission." He says, "Will you get that document?" I said, "Let's see, what's there to lose?" I go to the Indian High Commission office and I say I need a passport and they say OK, in the end they give me a passport. I say, "Does this thing need a visa to get to Botswana?" They said, "No, our bilaterial relations between India and Botswana allow people with Indian passports to get in." So great, I said, "John, I've got my passport, I want to get to Botswana." He says, "Yes, it's important to get to Botswana." "So how do I get there?" "There are only two ways, you drive, it's 1300 kms and you pass the pontoon bridge where Rhodesia, Botswana and Zambia converge. Previously people have been kidnapped there by the Rhodesians and handed to the South Africans. Botswana Security and Immigration has got people who are co-operating with the South Africans. Botswana government is sympathetic to us but does not want to show overt sympathy. You are allowed to visit Botswana but not to do political and military work from there." I said, "OK, I'll fly."
Now here's this guy who's just come out, here are the '62 generation sitting around where each trip there has got to be made elaborately. Well, I'm going. I get to Botswana, I spend a month there. I come back to Zambia, I give John a report and whoever is there from the IPRD.