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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
16 Sep 2003: Maharaj, Mac
POM Mac, I asked you to explain what a 'one-time pad' was.
MM A one-time pad in sending coded messages is a set of two equal interacting pads, sheet number 1 to, say, 100. Each writing pad has sheet 1 100. Sheet one will have a unique set of numbers allocated to all the alphabets and the punctuation marks.
POM Like for example?
MM Like for example an A may be represented in that particular message using sheet one by the numbers four or ten or 15 or 16. Both pads are similar but having encoded the message using sheet number one, I send off the message to the recipient, he used sheet one to decode that message. The numbers are the same. But once the message has been completed that sheet is taken and destroyed. Sheet two will have a different set of numbers for each of the letters including the A. The purpose behind it and calling it a one-time pad is that you use that set of codes for the letters on sheet one once only and destroy it.
POM Now what if you don't destroy it?
MM If you don't destroy it you have left the chance that it will be found and it will be related to the intercepted messages and the message can be decrypted.
POM So the possibility always existed that the person who was sending the message might not destroy it, and the person who was receiving
MM Might not destroy it again. And if that happens that's a human failing but the system has made it very difficult for an interceptor to decipher because message one used a certain set of numbers for A, message two will use a different set of numbers and the theory is never will the numbers coincide.
POM So whereas a single message could be intercepted the second message, if it were intercepted, would not have the same codes.
MM Code numbers for each of the alphabets. If there is out of those set of four possible numbers an accidental reoccurrence the idea is that by giving the letter A, which is a vowel which occurs often in communication, if you gave it ten possibilities in that message the code breaker would look at that and say, well this isn't the English language. In the English language a vowel has to appear in every word, can I detect the separation of words? A sentence usually starts with a three letter, five letter or single letter word. Now if you can disguise the break of the end of the sentence so that the code breaker has difficulty where is the start of the sentence? And you conceal the start by adding in dummy letters which mean nothing, now the code breaker has got to sit down and work through that problem as well.
POM And you would do the same with vowels, would you, as well?
MM You'd do the same with every letter but the point I'm making is that if a particular vowel is allocated, for example, five different numbers, in your message you will keep on using one or other but you would not consistently use just one number for A, you've got a choice of four or five numbers. This makes it difficult for the interceptor trying to decipher the message and the one-time pad takes the difficulty to another level, that is having used that particular sheet with the particular numbers for encoding the message you destroy that sheet so it does not exist any more. And if you are caught yourself and they find the pad they have lost the sheets that you have used.
POM Now how many people were allowed to use these one-time pads?
MM For each team communicating you would create a separate one-time pad. But in the case of the computer system we took the same principle, Tim Jenkin took it, and put those randomised numbers on a programme which automatically once you had finished your message and signed off wiped off that sheet of numbers.
MM So that is why I keep on using the example of a one-time pad because it was regarded in the manual system of encryption as one of the most sophisticated and easy to develop. The Germans, you would remember, used a machine to generate the numbers called the Enigma and in the second world war the British, in particular, spent enormous efforts finding that and eventually when they located the machine they raided and captured a copy of that machine.
POM Didn't they break the code? I thought they broke the code.
MM No, but on Enigma part of the breaking the code was to realise that it was being used, generated by a mechanical device and it was a drum-like device that you spun and it was called the Enigma and they mounted an operation I think in one of the neutral countries or German occupied countries, they got information that this particular number generator was located at a particular place and they raided the place and captured it. It was called the Enigma. But today we don't have to use drums and things like that to generate numbers, computers generate randomised numbers.
POM Your telephone probably does it, or will do it.
MM Yes. The problem arises again even with the random numbers, there's a danger that a pattern may arise, that a pattern may emerge. No matter how random it is there always is a danger that a pattern emerges.
POM That's the theory of the pattern in chaos, chaos isn't chaos, there's a pattern to chaos.
MM That's right.
MM Then the question was, how did I get my message on Harare to Madiba?
POM Yes, the question was how you got the draft of the Harare Declaration, how did you get it to Madiba and from Madiba back to Harare?
MM For purposes of smuggling the draft Harare Declaration to Madiba I printed it out on a narrow strip of paper, sort of like 20 cm wide, using a five point or six point print face with a bit of spacing between the lines to compress the message. I sent it along rolled into a tiny roll with Mr Ayob to deliver to Madiba and to give Madiba time to read it and then make his comments. When the comments returned they were given to me verbally, I transcribed it as the comments from Madiba. I did the same thing with some others because of time pressures, for example I showed a similar strip to Billy Nair. But with others I went and personally conveyed the thing in a properly typed out draft and some had some time to respond, some had to respond fairly instantaneously. I gathered all these comments
POM You flew, had Billy or Dullah Omar ?
MM Yes, for example Dullah Omar was in Cape Town and because of time pressure I was going to be in Durban and I found somebody who could get a message to Dullah to fly over to Durban and I met him that evening, gave him the draft, let him read it, sat down with him, let him comment on it verbally and then later in the evening sat down and put that together as a message.
OK, so that's how one collected the messages and given the deadline that the National Executive was meeting on Saturday morning, I am certain that we sent off all the messages, collated viewpoints and the responses from people as a single message to the President in Lusaka by Friday evening to London to be transmitted that very Friday evening to Lusaka.
POM Now you gave a nice anecdote about Billy Nair.
MM Yes, I was illustrating how with the best of intentions one slips up. Because of those time pressures that particular format in the 20/25 cm wide strip of paper with the small type face, instead of typing it out in a full format I gave it to Billy Nair in the same strip format for his comments. He did so. But some time later he was part of a group that went to visit Madiba in Victor Verster and there Madiba had still retained this strip of paper and was briefing them about his reading and amongst others briefing them about the Harare Declaration that was under consideration. Billy's eyes nearly fell out of his head but when he came back he looked for me and at our first meeting he says to me, "Bloody hell, you've been in communication with Madiba." I said, "What are you talking about?" And he says, "The same strip of paper, don't lie to me, the same strip of paper on which you showed me the draft of the Harare Declaration was there in Madiba's possession. I recognised it. You cannot even deny that you are in communication." Of course I turned to Billy and asked him not to tell anybody that he was now in the know that I was communicating with Madiba because it would be hazardous for the survival of the underground and for all sorts of other developments which I had no reason to believe he did not know yet.
But it shows that under pressure you may do something and you may think there is no slip-up, but there how was I to know that a week or two later Billy was going to be with Madiba and Madiba was going to use the same strip of paper to brief others and there the connection would have been made. If others made the connection, and I don't know who else I might have shown the strip of paper to, were there others who made that connection? Well others didn't come and tell me but they may have made a connection and in that way you could seriously jeopardise the security of your work.
POM In terms of how the communication system worked is that you would send the encrypted messages to London and they would be re-encrypted?
MM As I understand it, what Tim Jenkins did in London was to decipher the messages by use of computer, re-encrypt them.
POM Then he would get them and
MM Tim then for security reasons decided that rather than let the one coding system run through from London to Lusaka and back so that interception on the South Africa/London route and interception London/Lusaka would not match, he, for those reasons, took the messages as they came, deciphered them, re-encrypted them using a separate code for Lusaka and sent it on. This was a matter of very short it didn't take long by computers. Lusaka in turn would send messages meant for us to London, London would take it, decrypt it as I understand it, re-encrypt it and send it off to us.
POM So Tim would be one of the people who was in full possession of the flow of traffic between you and Lusaka and Lusaka and you?
MM Tim would therefore be privy to the contents of the two-way flow but I don't believe that he was keeping any copies for himself. That was the discipline. In Lusaka on the other hand, up to the time of her accident Zarina was manning that station so she would be
POM Zarina was Tim's counterpart?
MM Counterpart, and therefore she would be seeing what is coming through and what is going backwards and forwards. She was doing this part time because she had a day job and the pressure meant that they had to get an additional person and they recruited somebody from London, a Dutch woman, I think her code name was Lucy or Lucille and when Zarina met the accident Lucy (Lucia Raadschelders) took over that work. Now from there the hard copy of the message in a decrypted form, that is unencoded, would be given to Ivan and through Ivan would go to Joe Slovo and to Oliver Tambo and sometimes when they were not in town it was Ivan's job to get the messages to them wherever they were in the world and to consult with them and get their replies to us.
Some of the replies Ivan could attend to himself, for example messages about when the next shipment of arms would be sent and where it would be collected and on which day and what method. That was a matter of operational tasks that he could attend to and simply report to Slovo and Tambo when they come into town and review how the work is progressing. If we asked for propaganda material at the beginning in hard copy and later on electronically and later on we began to ask for it to be formatted and laid out because we developed those printing capacities that he would be able to attend to straightaway himself with his team of people.
But the political issues where we were seeking political guidance and political responses, those he would make sure that he was taking it to Oliver Tambo or to Joe Slovo and to both of them sometimes to make sure that they prepared their responses for us.
POM Now you were also making reports to Slovo in connection with your work with the SACP and Slovo would be sharing that with the Politburo of the SACP.
MM He would be sharing that with the Politburo and some of the operational detail work with the internal committee of the party, that is the internal committee dealing with the building of the party inside the country. But as I say, the political terrain as it was developing and changing, the analysis would not be different for both organisations, it would be the same. It would be more to the party on the operational details of the progress in creating the party organisation, carrying out party propaganda work and carrying out party educational work amongst the cadres recruited and organised within the name of the party.
Now that information would be put at periodic meetings of the Politburo without disclosing where it's coming from, who it's coming from, but it would disclose things like, yes, now in the Johannesburg region we have a viable district committee functioning, it has so many units under its control. In the Durban region of the 26 magisterial districts the party unit is organised in so many of the suburbs, that it is distributing so much of propaganda that comes from outside, that it is reproducing it, that it is writing its own leaflets tailored to the situation at home and how many copies they are distributing and how strong the party structure is becoming. That would be the sort of report that would be filed together with reports from all the frontline regions of what progress was being made at home without disclosing the source. But of course members of the Politburo would be able to work out that I was at home. They were privy to that, they were informed on the eve of my departure by Slovo at a Politburo meeting, which I was a bit unhappy about, but he had done it so they were all privy in the Politburo that I was heading home and that it required a mandate from the Politburo that I should have the mandate while at home to become actively involved in building the party. So that was the circumstances under which he disclosed that I was going home and so they could begin to speculate and they could go one to one to Slovo and maybe sometimes at a Politburo meeting say, "Is this the progress because of what steps we've taken of sending in our friend?" And he might have said, yes.
But I am saying that from the point of view of who would be privy, I was responding to the question that political developments, external, were directly under the control of the President, such as the meetings that were taking place, the pre-negotiation meetings taking place in London and elsewhere headed by Comrade Thabo and Zuma and others and what we were doing at home, what was happening in the mass organisations. All that was centrally in the knowledge of Oliver Tambo. Slovo would have been privy to some of it. Comrade Thabo would be privy. How much OR would share with them and how much when he briefed a meeting they would be able to derive from that as attributable to me and something to others would depend on how he puts that across. And it may well be that on a one-to-one basis some development may reach a point where the President would say to a particular comrade, "Now I think we need to be cautious on this because it may cause a problem for what is happening at home and in particular it may endanger Comrade Mac."I know that I've looked at the diaries of Tambo in Wits Library and I see there that, for example, there is a cryptic note about Goitsemang. That's the name of a comrade.
POM A code name?
MM It was his pseudonym. His real name is Vusi Tshabalala, his brother Mbuso was killed in the arrest of -But we found traces when we were in the country, we found traces that Paul Goitsemang seemed to be in the country. Now it was inevitable that we would bump into his presence as our work expanded and when we bumped into that we quietly verified who is this person that seems to be from outside. I recall writing a note to them to say
POM To OR?
MM To OR and Slovo and Paul, saying, look, as we are working and expanding we now seem to be in touch and are intercepting with work being done by Goitsemang. It's becoming imperative, necessary, that we should either link up or find a way to put a Chinese wall between the two sides' work. My own view is, my monitoring says it's Paul Goitsemang and he's doing some very good work on the ground and I think that the two structures need to be brought together. Now in OR's diary I see a note there 'Goitsemang', this would be a danger for Vula, which means that when he heard about it in his diary he recorded, wait a minute, this could cause problems, how do we keep them separate? And he would have consulted with people who sent in Goitsemang, he would have been sent in from the Maputo side, what are his lines of command, who's linking up with him, how dynamic is the command, what work is he doing? So that he could work out and consult with Slovo - what do we do? In the meantime either he authorised us or we said that that situation developed so rapidly that it became necessary to be in touch with him and we of course met him, I met him personally, and discussed what he was doing, what we were doing, we shared information and I briefed him then and said, "I think it's time that you joined our structure", and he agreed.
POM Who had he been sent in by?
MM He would have been sent in by the political underground from Maputo/Swaziland side.
POM So did the political underground in the frontline areas, since they didn't know about Vula but you could make reports on them because you would send people out or go out, could they on their own send people into the country to establish underground, political underground organisations?
POM So you could have people bumping into each other, like the people in Maputo might send in somebody to do some underground work, say, in Johannesburg and somebody in Swaziland underground might send in someone to do the very same thing.
MM Botswana would send in, Harare would send in.
POM They might all be bumping into each other or they might not be bumping into each other but they might all be working at, I won't say cross purposes, but certainly
MM Sometimes. It could be that they're working at cross purposes.
POM They're certainly not in co-ordination.
MM Our job was to be sensitive to all those people and carefully craft how we integrate. Similarly Charles Ndaba, the late Charles Ndaba, we found him in the country, Charles Ndaba who got killed with Mbuso. Charles Ndaba, again as our work expanded, you know while these were little isolated units, you can say there are two, three needles in a haystack and they would never come near each other, but as our work was expanding and our reach was developing it became almost inevitable that if there was somebody doing work we would find traces and begin to smell that somebody is here and active. Once we smelt that we would begin to say now how do we keep our work separate and how at the same time do we expand our reach?
Now with Charles the same thing happened, and it was through the military work side in the Durban region that we came to understand that, hey, there's somebody here seems to be from Swaziland/Maputo side. And we did a quiet check, he was using a different name, and we slowly identified, hey, that's Charles Ndaba. So we wrote to Lusaka, we have come across Charles working in this area, we have looked at how he is working and who he is connected with and we have a picture. We think it is time to integrate him under us and you will understand. Do you agree? And once we do so you will understand that he will stop reporting to Swaziland, as if they've lost track of him. So don't be worried, we are in touch with him. And then we would report, now we have met him and he's in a structured relationship with us, his lines of communication to Swaziland, he's been asked to just cut it off quietly without explaining, like he had disappeared in the country, let them speculate. And he was then brought into the military work.
Vusi was brought into the political work and brought into the political leadership for the Durban region and then brought into the overall command structure which combined the military and political work.
POM Let me just continue on this line. When I was talking to Thirion yesterday he gave his understanding of Vula and it was that it was to infiltrate senior MK people into the country, not for the purposes of trying to mount an armed insurrection but to enhance the armed struggle as a whole working with the mass democratic movement to create a climate of greater ungovernability.
MM No, that's a limited view. For example, the fact that I was described as the overall commander and Siphiwe was my deputy was to emphasise the need to ensure that both pillars worked in sync. Now our mission was not just an MK mission. Sure, we had to strengthen MK's presence but we had to look at the long term capability of MK, not the short term capability. There are numerous targets that one came across as one travelled in the country and Siphiwe and I were travelling very widely, perhaps I more than Siphiwe. But as target sites, military encampments, power stations, all sorts of things you'd see, we'd note it, but we did not become enamoured with just hit that target.
Our job was to build up the stockpiles, select the officer corps, train people on the ground, from them select the officer corps for outside training so that outside training was not just bulk training but concentrated on developing an officer corps in such a way that they could come back and settle in. And of course you had to keep a military machinery going but the primary acts that we carried out of sabotage were minimum because they were merely training ground. When you take a person and recruit him to MK the best political will does not mean he's yet ready to be a soldier, he or she. You needed to school them on rudimentary techniques of sabotage and actually have them perform that under your supervision.
I gave the example, I think, that cutting a railway line with TNT, it is a simple job but you would have taught them theoretically, you would have taught them how to make the detonating device, how to strap it to the railway line, to cut it and then you could take them out and see them do the job and see how they perform to discern who has got this ability of leadership quality, officer quality, because no matter how much you planned there are all sorts of little things developing there and there's one chap who will get cold feet or just get paralysed. Another one would, because of the fear situation, would become over bold, and the other one would be sitting back and pulling everybody together. So you're looking at all that to determine who is officer quality that I want to send out for further training.
POM So let's say in a sense MK had two forks, you had the fork on the outside where the leadership would send people into the country to do
MM Sabotage, etc.
POM - and then go back out. And that was fork A. Then fork B was Gebhuza and you
MM Long term capability, stockpiles.
POM Recruiting within the country.
MM Recruiting within the country, training them within the country, sending out selected people for officer training in such a way that they could come back undetected, not like the flood of refugees that had gone out. It was now difficult for them to come back because the enemy knows that they had left the country. So here we were sending out people selectively but we were building capability, building structures, structures which were related to the political structures so that we would be able to co-ordinate the military/political action and structures that were looking at what was happening at the mass organisations.
POM And the difference between the MK people who were coming in on these hit and run operations and the ones you were training, sending out and then bringing back, is that the ones who were coming in on the hit and run operations and leaving the country were unfamiliar, basically unfamiliar with the terrain of the country?
MM Yes and sometimes they recruited people that they knew to give them some capability and assistance on the ground and then they would go away and the person would be left with very little contact and control.
POM Whereas your people knew the terrain so that when they came back they knew the country they were coming back to, whereas many of the others
MM And they slotted into a structure.
POM So that the others who were coming back doing hit and run really came back to a country that they may not really know very well?
MM They might not, not necessarily, but it often happened and it often happened that the pieces of infrastructure that they created sometimes for more than one act of sabotage, then once they had to retreat it was left unattended. You needed to keep a military machine and a political machine oiled and running. You know the problem that arises with a sleeper? Unless the sleeper knows he or she is going on a sleeper mission when you try to reactivate them three, four years later unless they have kept themselves unobtrusively in training and fit and unless they are so committed that whatever jobs they take as a sleeper to cover their tracks, when you touch them three years later half of them are not ready. They won't tell you you're not ready but you'll assign them tasks and quite often they won't be able to perform it. Unless the sleeper has been mandated to create a structure and while sleeping there wait and not act and keep himself or herself well geared you've got a problem. So there's a loss rate in sleeper manoeuvres.
I sent in people for accommodation purposes from Canada, from Germany, from Holland, they performed at different levels of efficiency because they came in sometimes one year before I entered the country and by the time I contacted them, even though they were told your mission is to provide accommodation, the environment in which they were living was not suitable for our accommodation.
POM The Douglases would be one example.
MM The Douglases were one example, Susan from Canada, Anita from Germany, there was somebody from Holland in the Durban region, I forget his name.
POM He's the guy whose house you went to the night you were looking for Janet and Ronnie?
MM Janet and Ronnie, yes. So I am saying they performed at different levels of capability sometimes because they were single, sometimes because the job that they got, the house that they bought one got it in Hillbrow and when I established contact I went to the place, met the person at the flat in Hillbrow. In her assessment it was suitable but in my knowledge of the country it was not suitable. And I had to say, "Now you have to change, you have to find a place in another area. Here are the potential areas." "But I am doing the following work for a living and it's near to where I'm living." I said, "No, no, no, you either change the job - " She said, "It's not easy to change jobs." I said, "OK, keep the job", she was a teacher. "Now go and live in Orchards, Norwood, find a place there." "But I have to travel." I said, "Yes, you have to travel." So we bought her a car provided she moved to a suburb which was far from her work but to an accommodation suitable to our needs. So those things happened. And if that happened at that level of rudimentary infrastructure, how much more to a sleeper who is lying low for sophisticated sabotage action.
So to come back to Thirion. That's a limited view of the military. Yes, the overall position was that we wanted to bring in leadership people so that it would not become a leadership on its own inside the country but it had to integrate with the leadership existing in the country that grew up in the country though the mass democratic movement so that those pillars began to work together, not to dictate to the mass organisations but to get into a proper dialogue so that we could strategise together and they would have some perspective when they are planning where the overall struggle is going and we would have some perspective of where the mass struggles are going.
POM How many people do you think you brought into the country?
MM We didn't bring a very large number. I think of the illegals brought into the country, myself, Siphiwe, Katherine Mvelase, Susan Tshabalala, Charles was in the Western Cape, Janet Love, Max Ozinsky, Little John, then we integrated Paul Goitsemang, we integrated Charles Ndaba.
POM When you say 'integrated' they were already here?
MM They had come independently into the country and we integrated them into our structure. That's ten at the moment. Then Ronnie came in, that's eleven. Probably fifteen, maximum twenty. But we were requesting a specific type of people. Oh, Raymond Lala came in. That's twelve. Kevin came in, that's thirteen.
POM Kevin is a code name?
MM Code name for the chap who was specialised in ignition devices and timing devices. He had trained in Cuba. That's thirteen. I think fifteen/twenty would be about it.
POM How would they be divided between, say, MK people and political people?
MM It depended on our assessment of where our needs were and what the person's training was and how we assessed the person on the ground.
POM I'm looking for a quote from Charles Nqakula which he made on that BBC programme. Oh I'll find it and we can talk about it tomorrow.He wasa commander of the operation of the ANC called Vula. Was he in Vula?
MM He got integrated into it, sure. I was sent to Cape Town by instructions from Lusaka to integrate that structure to the single command and I found him there with Little John and Max Ozinsky and they had settled in the country for some time.
POM How had they come in?
MM They had come in illegally, separately. They were coming in as part of the infrastructure that was being created for the entry of Chris Hani.
POM OK. So they're kind of doing the groundwork for him. It said, this is Charles Nqakula: -
"The idea of Operation Vula was to set up a network of ANC leaders inside South Africa. There would be commanders and agents establishing stores of weapons and ammunition. Hardly anyone inside the organisation knew. To lead Operation Vula Oliver Tambo, the ANC president, and Joe Slovo who headed the South African Communist Party, chose a senior colleague Mac Maharaj. He had been in jail on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela. To many inside South Africa he was a hero. Joe Slovo high risk was well known, he wasn't allowed into the country.
"Conny Braam was the head of the anti-apartheid movement in Amsterdam. For Operation Vula she had to give those returning to South Africa a new look and a new identify. Actors trained Mac Maharaj to walk differently in clothes made with padding to make him look fatter, and a wig.
"He made several visits to Amsterdam, in fact he was smuggled to the border of South Africa."
MM Who is NC?
POM That's Charles Nqakula.
POM "Mac Maharaj made several visits to Amsterdam: creating a new identity took three months. Not even his colleagues in Lusaka could be let in on what he was about to do."
MM That's not Charles Nqakula. CN would be Charles Nqakula. NC would be Nigel Cook the presenter.
POM That's right, sorry, yes.
MM No, I would be surprised if Charles
POM OK, CN, that's Charles Nqakula: -
"I viewed myself as a revolutionary. I was a guerrilla and I was going to kill. This would have meant that I would have killed people that we construed as our enemies. These would be the armed forces of the government as well as government officials which would include even government ministers."
Question: "You would have no hesitation killing the minister who used to live in this house for instance?"
"I would have no hesitation in killing."
I'm just trying to establish, his function would have been to create a basic infrastructure for Chris, not to be engaging in acts of sabotage himself?
MM Well as it happened Chris's entry that would have been handled as a type of Vula-type of operation as I said, separately from me, because I had said to OR and Joe, "Don't let me know, but here's the strategy which we've agreed in writing." Now I assume they would use that strategy to discuss with Chris. Now it would be Chris's job to brief them segment by segment as progress was made. You wouldn't send in the cadre whom with everything sitting in their head what you're trying to do and what's your strategy. Whether that was done in Chris's case I don't know but certainly he would have been party to selecting who was being sent into the country, into the Western Cape. But he was happy with it and he would be briefing them.
Now given that he didn't enter the country what was Lusaka to do? Lusaka says to me, "Will you please make contact with the Western Cape. You people are doing very well and you are pursuing the strategy well but we need to get Western Cape integrated and pulling in the same way." If Charles and them, for example, frustrated, sitting there, getting arms in and stockpiling, saying, what do we do now? Lusaka might have just said, "Well you're in charge now, Chris is not coming in yet." Now have they been briefed about the strategy behind Vula? My job when I got to the Western Cape was to take stock with them, where are we comrades? Where are you in your work? Now let us start discussing where we go. That was the purpose and I had one or two meetings with them and when I exited the country and came back I found Siphiwe and them had continued the links with Western Cape but in ways that I thought were a security risk so I interrupted that process because they were going to hand over communication equipment and techniques. I said, "No, hold on. This is too dangerous. You are over-centralising." As it happened our arrests happened.
So the description, would Charles have known and been briefed about what really was the objective of Operation Vula? The description that he's given there is a limited one. I expect that limited one would have been amplified if Chris had come in.
POM Now if Chris had come and began setting up a structure similar to the one you had established in Natal primarily, would it have used the same communication system or would he have been required to develop his own communications?
MM Tim would have developed for them the same basic one but adapted to their environment and adapted in such a way that the enciphering techniques he would have now been able to brief them what infrastructure we found in the country to use. When we came in we never knew that we could use public telephones. It's only as a result of going on with the work that we said, hey, it looks like we can use the public telephones with greater safety than a telephone in a hotel room and then we had the problem that there was a coin drop interrupting the message and causing a disturbance and interrupting the deciphering. By the time Tim solved that we found we could buy phone cards and the phone cards eliminated that coin drop interruption. So public telephones became a very easy way. Tim might have said to them, "That's safe but let me give them their own encryption system, let me give them their own set of equipment." Tim may have been experimenting with other means that may have come in which he didn't tell us about which he may set aside for them by discussion with Slovo and Ivan and all. So that would have been happening.
What I was having a problem with was us taking our equipment which I used for external communications which had to run through one point because otherwise we are no different from everywhere else, each one do your own understanding. I had already assessed that one of the most crucial things in building the structure was to get them to think alike about the strategy we are pursuing.
So when I met Charles and Little John in Cape Town, got an assessment of where they were, decided with great sensitivity let's nurse them now into developing a common understanding, don't rush into action, get the roots. Amongst other things I would be asking them, what are your contacts now in Cape Town? Who are you in touch with in the Western Cape? So that have you got that breadth of linkages with the mass democratic movement so that when you act you are acting in concert driving the same objective. Clearly a lot of work was needed to be done in that regard. What propaganda are you doing or are you just looking at your task as a military thing?
POM OK. I'm again trying to develop something conceptually in my mind. You were the commander of Vula. It began to take root in KwaZulu/Natal, the Durban area. Then if a Chris Hani had come in would it have been a situation then of where you were commander of Vula in the Durban area and he would be commander of Vula Two in the Western Cape and if somebody came in for, say, the Transvaal would they be commander of Vula Three?
MM That was the scheme although in practice I was now saddled with KZN and Transvaal. But the idea was that different people will come in to different regions and my view when I had left OR and JS to come into the country, which I believed they had accepted, was you will assess in Lusaka out of four regions where work is being done, you would (a) ensure that the work is kept separate so that there's no criss-crossing, and (b) when you saw the need for criss-crossing and linking you would assess whether to put region A and B in touch so that it falls under a single commander. Oh, and leave out C and D because they're not yet sufficiently developed, and then look at how A and B who are linked together can help C and D. But you would only connect them once they had laid roots in their region.
POM When they had developed a certain level of capacity.
MM Capacity, style of work, approach to the work and progress in work. You wouldn't just rush to link them because then there would be great danger that the one that is less developed or the style of work is not good enough could lead to both being knocked out of the field. And you had to assess whether the leading figures have made sufficient accommodation arrangements such that if the structures began to collapse they would still be safe, that they could evade detention, arrest and carry on with the work. This is where I thought that the foreign component was important, that they would be undetected because they're not active.
But I also took steps, and I think I mentioned it to you, that in the Durban region, for example, when I was now moving to do more work in Johannesburg, I said, "Gebhuza, you stay in Durban and Ronnie is coming. Concentrate on KZN but let me make arrangements through the late J N Singh", whom I mentioned, a lawyer, "make arrangements because he's got a very good contact system, and he's an old stalwart, of people who are not connected with the political struggle, citizens of South Africa." And so for me he found accommodation north of Durban and for Gebhuza he found accommodation south of Durban. We never used it but it was explained to him that this is a fall-back. I must not know where Gebhuza is staying, he must not know where I am staying. We would have our communicating techniques and if danger arose he would take cover and I would take cover and we would link up. So if I got caught I can't say where he is and if he got caught he can't say where I am. So we were simultaneously developing that capacity that could absorb not just us but other people sent in.
POM You had a sentence here, you talk about, and this is earlier on, when you were preparing yourself to come that you did refresher courses. Where did you go to do those refresher courses and what did you do the refresher courses in?
MM I did refresher courses primarily in GDR and Moscow and I did go to Cuba as part of the preparation. In Cuba I didn't do a full course, I held discussions with leading people on issues that were worrying me. Let's start with the GDR. In GDR I did a refresher course on urban warfare, specifically on urban warfare because I felt that my limited training in 1962 was inadequate for the purposes and conditions that I would anticipate meeting at home. So I felt a component in urban warfare was crucial.
POM Where would the GDR have any expertise in urban warfare?
MM Oh they had from exchanges with the Soviets and Vietnam struggle and various other struggles, in Angola, Mozambique where they had offices involved at different levels. But they prepared a course for me and that was a six weeks or two months course where it was specifically focused on urban warfare both the practical side of it and the problems of command control at leadership. In the GDR I also did a course on intelligence work, developing an intelligence infrastructure, penetrating the enemy, analytical work, etc.
In Moscow I did a military course again, again because I felt that there were certain things that were missing in my course that I needed added on in my training and in Moscow I added on again some intelligence work because I felt that some of the answers were not sufficient for what I imagined the situation at home.
In Cuba I had discussions on the political formation because the Cubans had a particular experience, that is the relationship between the Castro movement, the July 26th movement, and the Communist Party of Cuba led by the General Secretary Blas Roca, he was the General Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party. I felt that in going through that course with them and discussions I would get a better understanding of how two formations with differences between them and existing separately came to work together and eventually ended up post the Cuban revolution in a united force. I also felt that the Cubans had their own experience in intelligence work and for that reason I wanted discussions with the Cubans particularly because I felt that they had developed their own style of penetrating the United States and I thought if I could talk to some senior people in the structures and in charge I could get some benefits.
So those were the areas that I went through.
POM Now in terms of seeing how the merging, so to speak, of the July 26th movement and the Communist Party happened, what is your parallel what parallel were you looking for with regard to South Africa?
MM I was simply looking for how I would build a relationship with the mass democratic movement and the local organisations in such a way that we don't see ourselves in a competitive, antagonistic relationship but a working together. That was the issue for me. I was also concerned that you can't build an underground with completely unknown people. I had tried it and that was fine but at a certain stage it does not mean that they are attuned leadership meant you were dealing with a highly politicised mass in South Africa up to a certain point, you were dealing with mass organisations that had been steeled in battle and you needed to create a relationship with them that would bring what we had called the four pillars into a convergence without a mechanical approach to it. That was one of the key political problems and I got a sense of too much mechanical answers in GDR. I never said this to them but I then said to Slovo and OR that I would like to go to Cuba, I want to have discussions with leading people in Cuba, and that was arranged.
So that's what I called refresher. I mean refreshing my knowledge, my practical knowledge and theoretical knowledge and grasp of issues tailored now to the mission I was going in, not tailored to what everybody was going to just go in in a batch of forty, go through a military course. I said, "It's not my job, chaps. I'm going in there to take command. What are the basic tools that I need to understand both of the environment of battle and how you approach tactics and strategy in that battle and how you look beyond a singular battle forward? So I'm not interested in how to conceal weapons, not interested in how to store weapons. Those are technical details I can pick up anywhere. The issue is, are you preparing me in this limited way for a command position that I'm going to take up?"
POM You had a phrase, this is from what I did in my edited version. "There were times when the refreshers Meanwhile the parallel implementation of other projects for other regions takes place in a different form. Instead of the way I approach the business of building the infrastructure in other regions one contact is provided, a relatively low junior level cadre is sent in perpetrated to a senior level and the junior level remains there and nobody else comes in, so they do no work, they continue surviving and then in desperation they try to assert their authority and they fail."Are you referring to the Western Cape?
MM No I'm referring to a larger experience.
POM This is on page five of my chapter Vula No. 1 Seeds of Vula.
MM I'm referring to a longer experience, Padraig, because even preceding Vula we were trying to settle in cadres to live semi-permanently in the country, not just come hit, run. Various initiatives were taking place on the political and the military side. So we would send in the cadres and some of them survived for years but their focus became inevitably only military work and to the extent that they found contacts in the mass democratic movement they took that person to serve the military needs only because they didn't understand their mission that they are not to give leadership. So the danger was that the mass democratic movement was simply something, a recruiting ground.
POM They were poaching.
MM They were just poaching and that's inevitable unless you see your duty as larger than that. Now who could come in to see that duty? Would you leave it to the cadre who has come into the military formation or the political formation just to decide on their own or would you bring in people from a senior level who had been in these debates and understanding of the overall need.That's why I felt that senior people being sent in was so important. Of course it was risky sending in senior people and it was not an assurance that senior people will fulfil that need.
POM I'm just going back to page six on my chapter. We're talking about, this is before you go and a couple of issues that came up involving tentative openings to negotiations. You said, "Other overtures came from an American chap." Who was this chap?
MM The one that I recall at the moment, that's sticking in my mind and I can't remember the name because it was a one-off meeting. Tony Mongalo who was in the President's office, Mongalo contacted me and said there was an American academic who needed to discuss something serious with us. My memory is not clear on this one, whether I met him I think I met him together with Tony and maybe Cedric, but he raised the question
POM You said you and Thabo and Tony were mandated to meet with him.
MM Yes, but as it happened I think at the actual meeting Thabo wasn't present. I think Tony told me that the request is that the person is in town, coming into town, could Thabo, Tony and I meet him? But when the meeting took place I think Thabo was not present. Why I say Thabo was not present because this particular gentleman had come from South Africa and he had met the South African government and he raised his assessment that we should take the possibility of negotiations seriously. When we discussed with him what does he support that view by
POM But was he just an academic? For whom was he speaking?
MM He had said that he was an academic, that he had contacts with the South Africans, that he got an invitation to visit South Africa and in the course of his visit he met leading government people and he has made his own assessment. You didn't start asking are you sent by the American government, are you a puppet of the South African government, are you independent? You didn't ask all that. What we did was to engage in a discussion to say, OK, we're treating seriously what you are saying but we need to interrogate what you are saying and instead of interrogating it by saying we disagree with you that negotiations are a possibility, what we did was to say to him, "Tell us whether the South African government is prepared to take one concrete step to enable us to feel that it is serious because words don't count." And he said that in his view it would be possible to arrange with the South African government that Thabo Mbeki could come in quietly to meet his father who was in prison still. And he said, "That could happen."
POM Now his father was out of prison at this point?
MM No he was still in prison. His father came out in 1987. He said, "No, I think that that is possible. If it is put to the South Africans they would agree." "Are you sure?" "Yes I think so." "Well, would they be prepared that Thabo comes in with a few more people?" "Mm, I don't know, but I think on compassionate grounds they would allow Thabo to visit his father." We said, OK, whatever the formula they used it means that there would be no high profile attention and no knowledge in the media. He would slip into the country, he would visit his father, have discussions with his father, would he be allowed to see Mandela? We were trying to get his reaction and his answers to all this were that Thabo alone he thought it could be arranged, Thabo plus a few others, possibly, maybe, to see Govan yes, to see a couple of other leaders, maybe. And we parted company on the basis that he would come back to us after sounding out the South African contacts that he had. He never came back on my radar screen. It's possible because he was related with the President's office, Tony Mongalo, it's possible that he later met Thabo, it's possible that he came back to Tony Mongalo. I don't know. My work was more and more on the internal mission that I was going to plan for.
POM Where is Mongalo now?
MM He's Ambassador, I think, in Italy.
POM I'll try him for the guy's name. It's important to establish who the guy is or who the academic was, whoever he was.
Now there was another occasion I think you mentioned to me, and this I think would have been at the time you were at the Ford Foundation.
MM Yes, Ashley White. Ashley White flew over from Washington to New York, phoned me and said, because I had worked as a repairer of his house in Durban, so he phoned me, obviously was monitoring my movements, the first day in New York he phones me in my hotel room, "It's Ashley here." I greet him with enthusiasm. He says he wants to fly over to meet me, will I make time? I said, "I'm here for a conference", and he then agrees to take a shuttle, he says it's just an hour from Washington and can he therefore breakfast with me. And we had breakfast together. My recollection of Ashley's meeting is that basically he came to deliver one message. He called it an unmandated message, he said it is because he knew me from Durban in 1977 when I came out of prison, 1976/77, and from his own reading and from the desk that he's sitting at in the Foreign Affairs section he thinks that conditions are maturing for negotiations in South Africa and that however inadequate the overtures would be we should not dismiss it out of hand.
POM That was inadequate from the South African government?
MM South African government side yes. He came to impress on me that we should not dismiss it out of hand because their reading in the United States was that the conditions were maturing for such a development. And of course I then questioned him, what is in that reading, and he was a skilled officer, he didn't give anything away. When I reflected on it that was the message. That's all.
POM Did you convey that message to OR?
MM I would have conveyed it to OR, I would have conveyed it to Nzo, I would have conveyed it to Slovo, I would have conveyed it even to Thabo if I met him.
POM You would have met him because you were at the same conference.
MM No, not at the conference. I don't know whether it was the same conference but I wouldn't be spending my time to go out focus on the conference, we were flying off, but next opportunity when we were talking, had a change to talk a little bit then I would be saying that this is what happened, this is the message from the States, this is who passed that message. Because to me that's international affairs section at the moment of Vula, I'm not going to be flying up and down to the United States and forget my prime framework.
POM I've been trying to find him but have had no luck so far.
MM I would have suspected that he would have retired by now because 1976/77 is now 25 years ago, no, more 27 years ago, he would have been in his thirties, 30 35 years of age, his wife Gina was of Italian extraction, American citizen. They had no children but then I don't know whether it was his second or first marriage. I would have put them in 1976, him in his early thirties, 25 years now, let's say he was 35, that would be 60 years old now. He could be still around.
POM Could be still around. Maybe I'll just pick up the phone and call the State Department in Washington, "Can I speak to Ashley White please?" You know what they'll probably say? "Put you right through, sir."Hello, I'm just verifying that you're alive. Thank you.
MM That incident gave me a good reading. There I was coming to a conference, limited trip but on their desk in Washington they knew I would be in New York, they knew which hotel I was at and they were able to contact me.
POM Do you not think they were all over that conference at the Ford Foundation?
MM They could have been as well at the conference. But the point is that some central desk was monitoring us to that detail and obviously he wouldn't have flown over for nothing. He would have flown over by exchanging views with somebody and the same initiative would have been launched by different people in the State Department vis-à-vis different leaders in the ANC. I don't think that they had isolated me and said he's the only one. They would have been transmitting that message to try and get it to OR to impress upon us and they would be sending that message through different sides.
By the way, that reminds me, there was a person in the High Commission in Britain, British High Commission in Lusaka, who was doing the same thing. Not in the same form but the same thing. He was now suddenly inviting me to his functions at his home.
POM What was his name?
MM Can't remember his name at the moment.
POM What year would that have been?
MM Round about 1986/87. So the British were also there and he too I sat down with. He was persistent. I used to not go to Embassy functions but he was persistent. "I'm having a small party of my own. There are only going to be 20 people. Come, have a good time." Go there, very amenable, very sympathetic to the struggle in South Africa. In the meantime Margaret Thatcher is swearing at us but he says
POM Margaret Thatcher was what?
MM Swearing at us, calling us terrorists.
POM Oh yes, yes, terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist, is her famous phase.
MM Yes. Political officer in the British High Commission in Lusaka went out of his way and when I went to a function at his place, small gathering of people, just music and eating and drinking and he coming and talking very nicely and dropping the names. "Last month I invited you and so-and-so from the ANC was here and so-and-so was, and I know this person in the ANC and I know that one and I'm behind you guys, you know. I support your struggle." And you say what's this, why me? It's not my area of work.
So I've got limited energy. That's obviously, they're trying to get close for some purpose and in my reading at that time it was the purpose to say how can we head off the sanctions movement, how can we head off the armed struggle and possibly, thirdly, how can we create an environment some discussion, Margaret Thatcher was very close to Buthelezi, so what's the possibilities of rapprochement and a way forward in South Africa which would isolate the extremists and look for some middle way solution? I don't think it was at that time negotiations but, you know, what can we do to get you guys together? Why are you all so divisive? I support you, I'm behind you.
POM So that would be the UK agenda but the US agenda would be different. They would say they had been perhaps noticing signs of some conflict and division within the South African government itself when they talk to people and they're getting different signals and people are getting a bit tired of PW Botha and saying, Christ, he hasn't crossed that bloody Rubicon yet and we were all ready to jump with it. He just kind of isolated us more than ever.
MM Yes. So all those events were common to all but they had their own national and international interests but they were trying to say that there's an environment developing here and would you guys please take stock, don't be just pooh-poohed. I didn't see our job as pooh-poohing it. I thought our job was to interact and understand and for me what was crucial was to understand what's the South African government's thinking, what are their divisions? What are the different forces developing within South Africa?
POM Now just in that context, I know we're wandering but we're not, when Gorbachev came to power and made his commitment to peace, no more regional conflicts, how was that analysed within ?
MM We began to see its impact, that there was a changing environment in southern Africa, particularly in Angola that we began to anticipate and we began to see signs. There were Cubans there in Angola, the Soviets were there, the Americans had their interests from Zaire. Namibia, when did it become independent? So all these things were at play and we were looking at the southern African countries, how stable, which way will Angola go, what are the pressures on the Angolan government and what does that mean for our struggle and what does that mean for southern Africa? And one began to detect that there were some changes going on but in the meantime Soviet comrades who were attending to people like me were still ready to assist us. But as I had discussions with people, I recently had a discussion with what's his name now the head of the East German Intelligence Services, the Stasi, who retired in 1987 but became advisor, wrote a book called Man Without a Face, the name is escaping me at the moment, he was on a visit here in December and I asked him point blank, we had a very relaxed social gathering, so I asked him straight off, "How high on your agenda, from an intelligence point of view, was support for the South African struggle?" And he said to me, while he said some good things and there's a paragraph on anti-apartheid in his book, there's a paragraph on the anti-apartheid struggle and their support, and he says in his book that he only visited Somaliland, Mozambique and Angola. That's the nearest he came to South Africa. But I said, "How high was support for us in the struggle in southern Africa, a crucial determinant in your equation?" And he said, "Look, I'll be honest, it wasn't a crucial determinant. Myself, my work, I'm called a man without a face in the west. Why? Because I had concentrated on West Germany and the west European countries and America. That was the key thrust and the key determinant for the policy of the GDR. I reached a stage where one third of the MPs in the West German parliament were in one way or the other agents for my intelligence service, including Willie Brandt's office."
POM His personal assistant, yes.
MM So he says that's known, but he said, "When it comes to Africa, sure I went to Somaliland to assist, I went to Mozambique to assist them, went to Angola, but they were off my beat, they were not key things sitting in my vision, they were in my peripheral vision." He said, "That's the truth." So I said, "In the meantime you made us feel very special." He said, "Yes, we made everybody feel very special."
But you are asking me a different question and I'm answering you today in what I regard as a straight and true answer.
POM You must remember his name. I'll make a note of it here.
MM The book is called Man Without a Face.
POM And Tony Mongalo is in Italy, right? And you never heard from him again?
MM And I never pursued it. I left it in the hands of Tony Mongalo because the approach to me to be present came via Tony Mongalo who was in the President's office.
POM OK. I don't know whether you want to get into this this evening, you might have had enough and need some time to do something else. Between your computer and my ineptitude, sorry, your ineptitude and my ineptitude, let us be fair here OK, up until four o'clock I had a great day. I started at eight o'clock in morning and it's four o'clock, what's happened? Nothing.
MM But I think we're making progress.
POM We are. We're getting now the flow because I can go page by page and then have it fitted in. If I get it transcribed I can just fit it into the disc, I don't have to start all over again. In the Howard Barrell interviews towards the end of it he poses some questions to you about the UDF and what hand you might have had in bringing it about and he refers to some meetings that you had with Popo Molefe in Botswana and then there is a fairly garbled passage about two groups being brought to London and you have them separated but you kind of were working 20 hours a day and you would spent eight hours with one group and then eight hours with another group and you were kind of back and forth between the two. I think it may have something to do with the adoption of the Freedom Charter?
MM It was tactics to be used in the tricameral elections and more specifically in the South African Indian Council elections, that's where it started.
POM Do you want to leave that separately or do you want to pursue it?
MM We can do that one, it's very clear, but the other question is not coming clear at the moment.
POM Which one? When you met with Popo?
MM I can answer Popo also.
POM At the time you met with Popo the UDF had been formed or not formed?
MM I think the UDF has been formed. The UDF was formed in 1984.
MM The Popo meeting would have been 1984/85. And they were planning to align themselves with the Freedom Charter. There were big problems with AZAPO, a lot of tension in places, Alexandra Township, Eastern Cape. But my immediate reason for meeting Popo was that I made a special trip to see a number of people who I thought were in danger and to caution them about the danger that we were reading for them from the apartheid state and to discuss with him whether his reading of his safety and security was the same and what measures he should be taking for his safety, including the possibility that he could come out into exile. So that was the immediate purpose that I called Popo to come out and meet me in Botswana. We discussed that issue, we evaluated the danger and we came to the view which he was strong about that That was Popo.
We then, of course, took advantage of that opportunity to discuss broadly where things were in our reading of the South African situation, the mass struggle, the work of the UDF, its role, its perspectives, the question of the UDF aligning itself with the Freedom Charter, what of the potential for dividing the forces emerging amongst the black people, were there areas of compromise so that we could get the broadest united front moving. That was definitely an area of discussion.
POM Now was Popo one of the people thatafter you come into the country you regularly interacted with?
MM No, I hadn't made contact with Popo as yet. In 1988 I think he was back in detention.
POM Oh in the Delmas trial, yes.
MM I think he was back in prison as a Delmas trialist. So Popo was not around, Terror was not around, Valli was around so I was in touch with Valli, I was in touch with Cyril but not with Popo. But if he was around I would have touched him most likely and found a way to interact with him. So that's Popo.
Now the other one you raised was the London meeting. The London meeting was a different incident. It was a precursor to the differences that erupted in the UDF over the tactics to be used with the institutions that the apartheid regime was creating for Indians and coloureds and being prepared to hold elections.
POM That referred to?
MM To hold elections so that these bodies have an electoral base. It was preceded by the fact that apartheid had created the Indian Council as far back as 1962 but it was a nominated body. Now when I came out of prison in 1976 and early 1977 the regime was talking of the possibility that the Indian Council could either be wholly or partially elected by the Indian people. Before leaving the country I had met a variety of people in the different areas of political struggle in the country including the late Dr Monty Naicker who was President of the Indian Congress before his banning and who was, together with Dadoo, one of the lynchpins. I had briefly discussed with him what his perspectives were, mainly if the elections were to take place for the Indian Council would you participate, would you tell people to vote or not vote?
At that stage he had said it was a dummy institution, a puppet institution and he would not entertain participating. I then raised the question with him how do we reactivate the Indian population? And he said the best way he thought was to build an organisation to be called the Anti-South African Indian Council Action Committee, or whatever, and it would campaign against people participating in the elections. That was left, that was early 1977.
The matter began to come to a more prominent place in the tactical questions in I think 1979 by which time I am Secretary of the ANC internal wing. Some of the comrades in the Indian community began to take divergent positions. There was the one position that they should campaign to boycott the elections and the others were saying that there should be a campaign ostensibly to participate in the elections but when you are elected to reject
POM You will not serve.
MM Yes. What is called a rejectionist participation. Now the matter was under discussion in the ANC as well and the Internal had reported to the National Executive. The National Executive of the ANC met, I think it's 1979, in Morogoro and I got a report. In the meantime the division at home was becoming acrimonious. So we did three things.
POM But Morogoro, was it not 1969?
MM No this is not I'm saying it took place, the National Executive met in Morogoro, not the Morogoro conference.
MM And I got a report to say that the National Executive had endorsed the possibility that a rejectionist participation stance would be acceptable. In the meantime these divisions were taking place at home and I then quietly isolated who were the key people in each side of this debate. I found that the chap who was a fellow student with me in 1954/55 who was a lawyer, who's now a judge, Thumba Pillay now Thumba Pillay was of that group who were saying boycott, have nothing to do with it. On the other side were another group of younger people, I had met some of them, in which key people were Pravin Gordhan, now Commissioner of Receiver of Revenue, and a group of people around him.
POM And they were saying?
MM They were saying we participate but reject. But this was causing huge tensions. I arranged, before the National Executive was due to meet
POM In Morogoro?
MM In Morogoro. I arranged that each side should send a person to London quietly, unknown to the other side. So Thumba Pillay got to London and coinciding with his arriving in London Pravin Gordhan arrived in London together with a chap called Roy Padayachee, also I think he was known as Siba. So I arranged for Pravin and Roy to be in London and I took advantage of a third thing that I knew that the late Ismail Meer, a stalwart from the time of the forties who has been on the sidelines but was living in the country under banning orders, etc., that he had been granted a passport.
POM Who is this now?
MM Ismail Meer.
POM Oh sure, yes.
MM And you'll find a reference to him in his book. So I arranged for them and I went off to London and of course I linked up with our structure in London, Aziz and company, and I linked up with Dr Dadoo. Dr Dadoo then confirmed that Ismail Meer was in town so I had a sort of planning session with Dr Dadoo and I think with Aziz, and I said I'm going to meet each of these groups separately. I had very high regard for all of them but I wanted to engage in a fundamental discussion starting from basic premises. I know Pravin and them, they're going to argue like mad, and I know Thumba, he's going to just shut down the shutters on his position. That's it, nothing else is acceptable. So I said, how do we craft this? I said, "What I will do, Doc, is that I will meet each one separately every day and engage with them."
So I think I spent ten days debating with Pravin starting off from what's the struggle about, what's the strategy, what's the tactics, the need for unity of the oppressed people, how we contain differences, how we handle differences. I said, "Before we decide on what's the right tactic on this issue today or that issue let's take advantage, let's exchange views." Then I would leave them after a full day session and I would go to Thumba and give him more time and try to have a similar discussion with him. With Ismail Meer it was easier, I just needed two or three meetings. To Ismail Meer I'm a junior so to discuss with him was a much more easy thing, you didn't have to discuss the ABCs and the basics and the need for unity.
By the time we were nearing the tenth day I reported to Dr Dadoo that I thought that the time was now ready for a joint meeting of the three groups. I said, "They are ready." They now understand that whatever particular solution we adopt there must be a commitment to stand behind that solution even if you don't like it. The test has got to be what action will unify the masses of the people, not those of us who are already advanced political activists. We agreed on that meeting and if my memory serves me rightly, Dr Dadoo then called a meeting which he chaired and he invited a few others, Aziz Pahad was there, Frene Ginwala was there. I said, "Doctor, invite whoever else." And Doc said to me, "Where are we?" And Doc says, "By the way, we've got NEC decision supporting rejectionist participation." So I said, "Well I'm happy to go along with anything but all I have done is prepare these three elements that whatever the outcome let's have a debate now openly, face to face, and the outcome we will all stand by." So Dr Dadoo says, "Boycott?" I said, "If it is boycott so be it." He says, "The NEC resolution supporting rejectionist participation?" I said, "I respect that, Doc, but what do you say to me now? Here we are at the coalface." Doc says, "Well, OK, fine, have the meeting. You're going to take this meeting." I said, "You're chairing it so that whatever shit we walk into I'm right behind you."
So we had this meeting in the evening and it didn't turn out to be a very long meeting. We didn't discuss what I had done but
POM Were they surprised to see each other?
MM A little bit surprised but already some newspapers were carrying stories in South Africa that Pravin Gordhan is in London, some were saying Thumba Pillay is in London. So we had a discussion. So we've cleared up the basic platform and in the end in the debate the assessment had to be made which stance would find the greatest resonance in the mass of the Indian community? And as the debate went on Ismail Meer and Thumba Pillay said it would be the boycott line, that it was too late to convince the ordinary Indian person that a rejectionist participation was the right stance.
Dr Dadoo came out in favour of a boycott as well in the debate and we then agreed, the three, that we would support home if home was guided by the need for unity and that if they chose a boycott way forward we thought we would support it.
POM And Pravin kind of rolled over?
MM No, debated and that's agreed. We couched it very carefully. Both sides said, "How are we going to go home and say this?" We said, "But when you go home no fighting between you, no fighting. Don't mislead and confuse the people. Speak one language." And we said, "We're not dictating here, you've got to go home, you're going to go to conferences, you're going to have discussions, consultation, but the approach is start off from the basis that whatever tactic you adopt it must lead to greater unity and it must lead to activisation of the mass of the people. Two, that if it was to be boycott, support it."
That was contrary to the NEC resolution. Of course nobody knew that there's an NEC resolution to that effect but now assessing the thing there at that meeting Dr Dadoo says, "It appears to me that it will be more divisive to go for rejectionist participation than to go for boycott. There are too many people on the boycott side who are going to be unbending and besides as a tactic it makes sense." We said OK. So we say now, "Ismail, you're a stalwart, when you people go home will both of you, the warring camps, be prepared that if the warring threatens to erupt that you accept Ismail's word." Ismail says, "Oh, wait a minute, wait a minute, I don't feel so free but I support the decision." So we say, "OK, we'll draft, let's draft now." So we draft the outcome of the London meeting with no names. Then the two sides say, "No, Dr Dadoo, you sign it." Dadoo says, "I'll sign it." Then they said, "No, no, you sign and Mac signs because we must be able to show this at home, because we're going to be compromised it means you're asking the two warring factions to compromise." We said, "OK we'll sign."
So that was the meeting and I came back to Lusaka and I went to OR and I reported to him the outcome and he was happy with it. I said in a certain sense it was not in keeping with the NEC resolution. He said that was OK. "You people have done well, you've done the right thing. I'm happy if there's going to be less warring at home."
POM Was there no sense at all that it was a bit odd that a body composed solely of Africans would make a decision on behalf of the Indian people?
MM No, it was all Congress. This was in relation to the Indian people and we called in primarily Indian Congress in London in the discussion. When they got home I'm told that that resolution was found years later by the security police. I never received confirmation of that but I know that to pull the people together in many instances that approach, written down and signed by Dadoo and myself, was crucial to persuading people to unite and work together.
The tactical issue erupted again in the UDF when the UDF was formed and it erupted at a conference in Port Elizabeth. But again our guidance was, debate chaps.
POM This was whether to - ?
MM Participate in
POM In the elections or boycott on a rejectionist basis or to ? Yes.
MM It erupted in post-1984, in 1985 in Port Elizabeth. Again the forces were about the same, rejectionist or boycott. Strong feelings. But our guidance was let conference debate it but let the spirit be that whatever is the majority decision everybody will rally behind it after debating things. And there again the boycott stance was reaffirmed.
So there was a great discipline shown by the comrades and Pravin and them were highly disciplined cadres, that whilst they felt that they were not persuaded they went with the decision and they abided by the decision, they didn't undermine it. So that was what the discussion was in this incident but I wanted to set it in perspective that the UDF debate takes places in 1984/85 but this one in London takes place in 1979.
POM Well you certainly weren't Irish.
MM Well what happened after that in an interesting aftermath, Pravin's unit was in touch with Swaziland, he was in an underground unit, I think it was called Providence Unit. Then of course Pravin and them returned home and began to put the matter and when Pravin and them took it to their own structures, by Jove! Pravin and them got a hiding. "What did you go to London for? To sell out?" So they pulled out the resolution, "Listen, Mac and Dr Dadoo are saying this." "Fuck them!" So Pravin woke up and said, "Jesus! I think Mac conned us." So he wrote a letter to Swaziland and sent a courier with a written protest to say that he's disgusted with my behaviour, I had misled them. I was aware that the NEC had decided for rejectionist participation, I concealed the information, I took them on a long spiel of the basics and manipulated them to agree to any majority decision and he was protesting now vigorously against this unethical behaviour. I happened to be in Swaziland when the note arrived. The same Ivan Pillay and the late Jackson Kuzwayo came running to me and said, "Listen to what we've got from Pravin's unit. Devastating criticism of you and they want this communication sent to the National Executive." So I look at it and I read it in Swaziland. I said, "No problem. Now take down my reply. I'm going to dictate my reply and you send it back to him." So I dictate a reply. I say I reject the insinuation that I neglected to advise them. I accept your criticism but let me tell you, I am sending your communication verbatim text to Dr Dadoo and I am sending it to the National Executive, I am sending it to the Internal Department and I will defend myself before them. Let me just outline what happened. This is my understanding and this is the good faith from which I broached the discussion, my task was not to side with boycott or with rejectionist, my task was to unite our forces. I want to congratulate you guys that you united but your protest will be sent and that's my personal assurance."I sent the protest back. They came back, they don't want me to follow up the matter.
POM Yes, because the Irish, Sinn Fein particularly, split, split, split and Brendan Behan, there was a committee to restore Kilmaine jail where the people from 1916 had been executed and Behan is on the committee so before the committee chair attempts to say something, Behan puts up his hand and says, "I propose a split."
MM That's right. You see but that's everywhere, everywhere, and the issue is not the specific tactic. The issue is you get so wedded to a tactic that your debate forgets it's a tactic of how to build your forces amongst the masses and the test must be, are you building and are you activising them? You can change, you can adopt more militant positions, everything, but the debate must be real because that's your task. Your task is not to become narrower and narrower in your forces, your task is to expand it. Anyway, be that as it may.
POM I've taken enough out of you.
MM It is the context in which somebody in the Indian community coined the word in Durban, the 'cabal'. It's the context in which people thought that I am the leader of the cabal.
POM The cabal being?
MM Pravin Gordhan and company. This was a group of young Turks manipulating the Indian Congresses and I am part of that cabal, a secret conspiracy. But the reality was that I didn't side with their solution but I'm still called the cabal, the leader, the guru of the cabal. Because people who debate at home, and they would debate at home, what does head office say? And whoever wanted to win an argument would say, "Headquarters", meaning Lusaka, "says boycott." Another one got up, "Head office says rejectionist." Another one would say, "But I'm in touch with head office and they say this." But how to prove it? That's why we had to write that letter and sign it and send it home because we said let's have no misunderstanding what you guys have said. It was a two paragraph typed out, signed, summarising the outcome of our discussions so that there can be no dispute. And it was done because we didn't want to divide the forces.
So I may have supported rejectionist participation but I ended up supporting a decision for boycott and Pravin and them may have felt, hey, he sold us out. I didn't sell anybody out, guys, not anybody's puppet, but these are my positions. So that's how it ended up.
POM I'll set you free.