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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
19 Sep 2003: Maharaj, Mac
POM OK Mac, we can pick it up from the end of the sentence in fact where you stopped and that was where you said Sydney Mufamadi met with JS and OR.
MM Yes, I was at the point, I brought that in because I was trying to illustrate some of the type of problems that arose. When OR and JS met Comrade Sydney they had a long discussion with him about all sorts of political issues, the trade union movement, the political struggle, the state of the mass democratic movement, and I had sent him out and told them that he was coming so they were clear that he was in touch with me. Comrade Slovo then knew that I was in touch with many at the level of the Communist Party and Comrade Tambo knew that he was in touch with me at the level of ANC work.
Now in the course of their discussions, of course OR and JS asked about how I was keeping because they were concerned that I was working very, very hard and they were concerned about my security. In this context they expressed concerns to Sydney about my security and felt that I was interacting with too many people and would very soon be in danger of arrest. These comments were brought to me by Sydney when he returned home and I listened him out, questioned him a bit and then I sent a communication to the President and to Slovo saying, "Look, guys, I understand where you're coming from but now try and understand where I am. Your concerns about my security are very legitimate and you can see from the reports I'm interacting with a large number of leading individuals who are under the security branch focus. That's the type of concern you should raise directly with me, not with any intermediary, because you would make the intermediaries know this about interacting with me and at this stage we need maximum co-operation."
So I said, "When you raise it with somebody from home you are raising it at an operational level but if you raise it directly with me I would welcome it and we can exchange views and I can then explain what measures I am taking, but I cannot explain to Comrade Sydney how I am conducting my work because if I explain that to him I have lost control of whether anybody else will know. For example, should I explain to him that I have very, very safe fall-back accommodation which is not known to anybody in the struggle, not even known to my deputy commander, that my deputy commander has a safe place which I don't even know but I helped him to find it, so that if the security forces got wind of our presence we could still successfully survive? And that's not the sort of an explanation that I would give and I would not subject it to that scrutiny."
So I was raising it to say of course all sorts of problems like this one arose and this one illustrated the inevitable desire for people in leadership in exile to get involved in micro-managing a process of an operation that's taking place on the ground in the country. And this is why I brought it into so I was saying that I put this under the mindset change, there was a mindset change required by all of us to understand that the environment we had come into, although we had operated from exile for more than two decades, needed an understanding of the conditions.
I remain of the view that we may have also made mistakes in Vula but the mistakes were always noted by us quickly and the fact that we operated for two years in such an extensive way does indicate the fact that we were successfully going around the problems of the security forces. Of course one of the things that gave us that enormous advantage was the intelligence information that we were receiving from within the enemy. But be that as it may, I brought it in to show that there was a mindset change needed even between OR, Slovo and myself and this particular instance says where I criticised them and there were instances where they would criticise me we had to move forward but unless you were conscious that you were changing your mindset you would be in difficulty in adjusting to the realities of a clandestine struggle with an omnipotent and all powerful apartheid state and security forces.
POM Now was there a mindset required between yourself and Joe Slovo?
MM Oh yes.
POM Was that never really - ?
MM No there were mindset changes with Comrade Slovo also but sometimes the mindset changes with Slovo went over into some larger strategic questions because from my perspective I think Comrade Slovo was often an innovative thinker but whether he stuck to that line of thinking for sufficient experience to build up before he switched to some other thought or concept was something that I differed with him. I came in with Operation Vula with a written down strategy and that strategy was medium to long term and sometimes the pressure would be the immediate term.
For example, I wanted at times to immediately intervene on problems arising around Comrade Winnie Mandela and the Mandela Football Club because I could see no progress being registered. At times I said, no, it's not in the interests of this mission, I feel it's too dangerous to touch her. In that particular instance Comrade Slovo and OR were very clear, they said, "Don't touch her, don't jeopardise your mission." And I then challenged them and I said, "That's fine to say but you have to do something about it." And that is when OR came back and he said to me in one message, I don't remember where he was at that stage in his travels, he said, "But I'm in a venue where I am going to phone for the next 24 hours until I get Comrade Winnie on the phone. So leave it to me, I'm pursuing it." And that was welcome for me, don't interfere.
But when it came to the other side of it, that I detected a possibility of reaching Comrade Mandela and I sent a message to say, "I think the conditions have arisen, I can open communications with him in Victor Verster", they didn't respond because they could not understand how it's going to be done. They were somewhat silent. Maybe they were travelling. But I wrote back a week or two later and said, "Sorry chaps, I've already taken the initiative, I have reached Comrade Mandela. I could not wait for your guidance but I am doing it in a way where I believe it won't jeopardise the security of the mission and yet I think the need to open this line of communication direct between OR and Mandela is so important that it is commensurate with the risks that I'm taking." Of course as soon as they received a message from Mandela the issue disappeared. They never said to me, you made a wrong move, they never said it was a reckless move. They said, "Fantastic! Now, can you get this report to him?"
POM But the kind of third party there was Ismail
MM Ismail Ayob.
POM Ayob. So he was really passing on to you what Mandela was telling to him.
MM Yes. And instead of the messages now being just a verbal interpretation of what he has said it could be a far more accurate report and rapidly reaching OR and not passing through too many intermediaries and not necessitating Mr Ayob to travel to Lusaka. And it put Lusaka in a position of directly communicating in writing with Comrade Mandela so that the views did not get distorted in the transmission of a verbal message.
So in that case my initiative was endorsed ex post the event. But with Comrade Slovo that sort of problem would arise more sharply and we would differ and we would agree at times too. I certainly had major differences with him, not major, sharp differences.
So the example I was going to give of sort of operational problems, when Comrade Slovo on behalf of the party informed me that the Central Committee had decided that I should take the initiative to bring together an interim leadership group of the Communist Party which would take the space of the legalisation of the party, I wrote back and said, look, I had a different view. I thought we should do it in a different way rather than just boom, doing it and announcing it publicly. I thought we should organise a clandestine conference.
POM This is Tongaat?
POM We'll deal with Tongaat separately. It comes under a separate heading. Two things, one is, you came in with a plan, the medium term and the long term. Let's go back a bit. You have done your training, your refresher courses, you're out of sight, you're creating your legend about nine months before the event. Gebhuza is brought in as your deputy, you're working together, you're preparing to go in. Now what groundwork have you laid at that point within South Africa for you going there?
MM The only groundwork I laid was first of all to have meetings with certain people from the underground in South Africa. I held a meeting in Mauritius with one of the unit people.
POM That would be?
MM That would be Pravin Gordhan's unit.
POM Did he take out people?
MM He sent out one of his unit members to meet me for a week in Mauritius where I did not divulge that I was coming into the country, but we engaged in a week's discussion in Mauritius in order for me to look at (a) were they the right people who would pick me and possibly Gebhuza across the border from Swaziland. So I met the representative of the unit headed by Pravin in Mauritius. Having sounded them out I told them that it was to brief them about a highly secret tight security proposal and there I raised with him and gauged their capability to receive a person who has crossed the border from Swaziland on foot and to transport the person safely within the country. I didn't tell them that it was myself or Gebhuza.
Secondly, I raised with them their capacity and the need for them to get clandestine accommodation in Durban and that place was not to be tainted in any way or brought into the observation of the security branch and it should be rented in a very secure way so that it cannot leak to them and that whoever they are picking up would move into that accommodation for as long as was required. Then I set up the mechanics for that process. So that was one thing put in place for home.
I knew that if I got to Durban, even with their assistance, I would be able independently to reach some very staunch cadres such as Comrade Billy Nair. I knew in my mind that through Billy Nair I would get access to the intelligence unit and I would get a clear reading of the security situation. At that time in terms of Operation Vula's plans it was that I was heading for Johannesburg but my problem was that in Johannesburg I had the Canadian couple, I had another Canadian lady and I had a German lady, all of them had come in a year before to settle down and to create accommodation. But I did not want to tell Durban that I am heading for Jo'burg. I would have left Durban in the original plan with the comrades there thinking that I've gone off to Swaziland, back, and then I would have come away here.
As it happened some casualties occurred, some accidents occurred in the unfolding of the plan and I had to settle first in Durban.
POM OK, sorry, you just said that your plan was to go to Jo'burg first?
MM That was my destination.
POM But you were going to go to - ?
MM Via Durban.
POM Via Durban. OK, that's the part I didn't get. So did you and Gebhuza come in together?
MM Gebhuza and I came in together. We crossed the Swazi border together.
POM How was that arranged? Who took care of that?
MM The arrangement for that was in the hands of Comrade Ivan Pillay who was the administrator of the Vula project. He had been living in Swaziland for years in the underground, from 1977/78, and he had only retreated from Swaziland round about 1984/85. He knew and he had an infrastructure not only of ANC comrades but Swazi citizens and expatriates to help him. He isolated the possible crossing point.
POM OK. Now where do you start when you set out on your journey? You leave - ?
MM I leave Lusaka.
POM You leave Lusaka.
MM I head for Moscow.
POM Go to Moscow. In Moscow you get a final briefing from - ?
MM In Moscow we go through our disguises, our documentation, our baggage.
POM Who has prepared, let's deal with the disguises, who this is Conny Braam is it? Who has prepared, who is in charge of the disguise department and for whom?
MM There was no disguise department. At that stage on an ad hoc basis the basic disguises, the bulk of the disguises for Gebhuza and myself, were done by colleagues in Holland through Conny Braam, wigs, dentures, clothing with padding, colouring your hair, etc. So that was done in Holland. But in Moscow they also did some work independently and Moscow prepared some of the travel documents, the passports.
POM Now did you have a passport to go with each disguise?
MM A passport to go with each disguise and sometimes an ID book, forged, of South Africa, to go with a particular disguise when I am operating within the country. I didn't attach every disguise to a passport, some were attached to an ID so that I would change appearances within the country. Now Moscow helped in that. Moscow helped in determining the route that we would take from Moscow to get into the country. We did our own reconnaissance and came to the conclusion that the switching of passports and identities and the travel ticket, the breaking of a journey such that it does not look like you were a passenger coming from Moscow, that breaking of the journey was done in Amsterdam through our own reconnaissance using comrades like Tim and other information that we had gathered in our travels of the type of controls that existed at certain airports. So we had come to the conclusion that we could arrive from Moscow via different routes, one for me and one for Gebhuza, travelling separately, but we got London to arrange under a separate name a ticket reading London Amsterdam Nairobi Mbabane, Swaziland, via different airlines. So when we jumped off in Amsterdam separately at Schipol Airport, we dumped the passports we used to enter, we collected tickets at the travel counter, passenger counter, without exiting, and we then used those passports to travel by separate flights to Nairobi.
POM So you used different passports?
MM Different passports. When we got to Nairobi I stayed in the Nairobi transit lounge overnight to take the Royal Swazi flight from Nairobi to Mbabane. Gebhuza exited in Nairobi because his passport allowed him to enter Nairobi without a visa. So he slept the night in a hotel and gloried in it while I was suffering on the benches as this businessman unable to get out of the airport because my passport needs a visa. The next day I checked into the Royal Swazi flight and there was only one flight that day and Gebhuza came from his hotel and checked onto the same flight. We then took the Royal Swazi flight via Dar Es Salaam to Mbabane. We disembarked as passengers who don't know each other. I then had prepared where we should go from the airport, each of us, and he had prepared a safe house in Mbabane where we then took refuge and hid there while finalising the preparations for crossing.
In the meantime I had linked Ivan to Pravin's unit saying Ivan will arrange which day people will cross, how many people there will be, where you must collect them, etc., on the South African side of the border. As it happened the group who were supposed to pick us up by miscommunication through telephone systems and codes headed off for the Zimbabwe border and we had no way of knowing it. We kept getting reports through Ivan that they have left Durban to pick us up but they never turned up at the spot, they never sent a signal that they had arrived.
POM Was there a point where you lost something?
MM Mm. About two, three days before entry, crossing the border, my blazer was stolen from the bedroom by somebody who had just stolen through the window, the window was open and we were sitting in the kitchen chatting and drinking. And there somebody stuck his arm in, stole my blazer and in the blazer was R4000, the blazer was part of my disguise. Secondly, in the blazer was a pocket diary and concealed in the inside cover of the diary was information about certain key numbers that I could reach to contact, for example, Pravin and if he was not around the alternate in his unit. Thirdly, I could contact certain people, comrades in Johannesburg and my contact numbers to phone to Ivan to say we had arrived safely. I was supposed to give confirmation of safe arrival to Ivan in Harare. All this got lost and we had to make ad hoc arrangements, buy another blazer, find money and find other contact numbers. Now I said, "Forget the contact numbers in the country, who is going to transport us now once we cross the border?" because the unit, people sent by Pravin, while Durban is saying they have left Durban it has not arrived.
POM So do you drive to the border?
MM We drove to the border.
POM And there was a young woman who worked in the Standard Bank who took you across?
MM Yes, Tootsie Memela, she was the guide and escort but there was a Swazi family in the village, because we didn't go to the border control post, we went to the remote post, and there we jumped the fence with the help of the Swazi family and with Tootsie. But because Pravin's people had not arrived, as it turned out later they had gone to the Zimbabwe border, Ivan had to find an expatriate living in Swaziland on an ad hoc basis to drive through the Swazi border post at Pongola, come along the route where we had crossed, pick us up and the idea was that he would drop us 100 kms deep into the country and return and we would find our own way. But in the light of these changes and no knowledge of what has happened to the group who has come to pick us up, what do they know? Suppose they have been captured, they are being tortured, what are they going to say? So we switched our plans and travelled to Jo'burg.
POM You just hitch-hiked?
MM We persuaded the man to drop us first he said 100 kms, he became a little more comfortable, he felt he will drive us another 100/200 kms, and in the end he drove us through to bring us on Sunday night to Johannesburg. By that time he was so comfortable with us
POM He didn't want to leave!
MM He didn't want to leave. He was prepared to drop us wherever we were going and we said drop us at the Carlton. That's fine. "But where's the house you're going to?" "Don't worry comrade, thank you very much, just drop us at the Carlton Centre." Because we did not want that in case something happens to him because he's going to stay overnight, and I don't know his background, suppose he is known to the security branch and they arrest him. So we jumped off at the Carlton for the simple reason that I knew that it was possible to get a taxi there. It was already at night, about eight o'clock or so at night. So as soon as he left we strolled over to a taxi and took a taxi cab to break that link between the man who drove us through and where we disappeared in case the enemy got knowledge that some people had entered the country. From there we went to the Kairos Hotel, that was not part of our plan, and it is from the Kairos Hotel that I did reconnaissance on Mr Ismail Ayob.
POM Now did you check in?
MM Checked in as two separate people. That is where I learnt that the ID book was unnecessary because the theory told us that you could not stay in a hotel without producing your ID card and so there were we, each of us independently, ready, pulling out our ID cards before we were asked.
POM Now was it your ID card or your passport?
MM No, no, ID, we were not using passports now. Now we are citizens of South Africa, we are people living in South Africa, we've got our identity documents. We don't say we have come from outside. Gebhuza could have said he's come from Cape Town and I say I've come from Durban. So we look separate but we were so nervous that we had the ID card book in our hands but the receptionist never asked for that. Here on the form we were assiduously filling in the ID number from our books because we were not familiar with the number. He didn't even glance at it. And it is from here in Johannesburg then that I make contact with Mr Ayob on an ad hoc unarranged basis and through him we get into contact with Ismail Momoniat.
And through Momo we move accommodation to Hyde Park area and from there while we are living in Hyde Park we get Momo to find a person to drive me down to Durban and make arrangements for me to meet Billy. But by that time we've got a report from Durban and from Ivan what mishap happened and we found that the comrades had gone to Zimbabwe border, that they had not been arrested, that they had returned unsuccessfully collecting the two people and there were now no security problems. That is when I went down to Durban to link up there.
POM Now who drives you down?
MM I was driven down, that first trip Momo found a young Indian lady from Lenasia. Was her name Fazila? She is now married to one of the chaps called Seedat, I think he's in the Gauteng Legislature, not so sure. But they were going out together, they got married later and Momo arranged for her to drive me and I remember she drove me in a City Golf to Durban but Momo had made pre-arrangements where we should go in Durban and where she should drop me. I was dropped then into contact with Billy Nair and Pravin Gordhan. Then I went to the safe house.
POM Now Billy Nair at that point was occupying what position?
MM Billy Nair had served 20 years in prison, had come out from prison, became involved in the formation of the UDF, was arrested again for the Pietermaritzburg treason trial, the UDF trial where Albertina and them featured, had at one stage together with a number of others taken refuge in the British Consulate to evade arrest and eventually forced the apartheid government not to arrest him and detain him. So he was very active in the UDF nationally and in Natal and had become very active in the union movements because he had been a trade unionist from the beginning.
POM He did that essay for you.
MM Yes. So he was living under the public glare of the security branch but I knew one thing, that from 1962 and from his detention, from his treatment in detention, from his time on Robben Island, I knew that there was a stalwart that there was no question that he would relate to us and that he could give me a reasonable reading of the political situation and that one way or the other he would enable me to get access to the intelligence units' reports.
MM Within Durban.
POM In the security department?
MM Yes, that is the Mo Shaik unit. And indeed
POM Well how did you know he would be able to do that?
MM Because I knew that Mo Shaik, I had met Mo Shaik round about 1985 in London and I had debriefed him on behalf of Slovo and others.
POM Was Mo in London - ?
MM He had gone out to London with the first batch of security reports.
POM OK. So where was he just background him a bit for me.
MM Background for Mo he had been a student at the University of Durban Westville, studied optometry, got involved in the student struggles, got involved in certain groupings, quite a dynamic person. In 1985 before Kabwe was in the unit working with Swaziland, underground unit, and his unit brought in Ebrahim who came into the country and then Helena Pastoors got arrested and Ebrahim Ebrahim was hunted by the security police because they realised he had come in from Swaziland and Mo's unit successfully evaded the security branch, got Ebrahim out back safely to Swaziland but after Ebrahim got back Mo and his brothers were arrested again and tortured. That would be 1985. They came out of detention, I think it was about 11 months detention, 1984 1985, and then they developed these contacts inside the security branch.
POM Now were all the brothers in the same unit?
MM No. The brothers got involved in different ways. I think the start of this intelligence unit was Mo and the brother Yunus but as the work expanded, as the flow began to increase and as Lusaka and London linked up with them on intelligence work, Mo went off and was trained in the GDR clandestinely. He went out on a false passport, did training in the GDR in intelligence work, came back into the country unnoticed, settled down to his work, built up the structure with his brother Yunus, recruited a number of people for analysis work, for recording, for photographing the reports, sending it out, couriering it. One of his unit members who had been associated with him politically had settled in London and was doing a course there, so that person linked up with others in London and became the outpost in London.
I come in knowing vaguely of the work that they are doing but believing that I could pick up something, but when Billy brings me in touch with Mo I find he has a goldmine of operational information and I switch tactics. Instead of making Jo'burg my primary area where I am going to start, I decide it's better to start in Durban because of the advantage that that intelligence was giving us.
POM Now this intelligence would relate to?
MM The security branch reports of their monitoring of all activity within Natal and other parts of the country relating to the UDF, to COSATU, to the ANC, to MK activities, to other organisations, youth organisations, the whole plethora of organisations that were gathered together under the UDF.
POM Now were you able to identify from those reports enemy agents that might be planted in an affiliate of the ?
MM Yes. Not me, the unit was able through its analysis to identify and sometimes they identified a person who was operating abroad. Sometimes they identified a person operating in the country but meeting people abroad, in Botswana, Swaziland. Sometimes they identified an apartheid agent working within the trade unions, sometimes a person working in the Natal Indian Congress, a person working in youth organisations. But that part of their project of identifying was not my mission. My mission was to know what they know about how I could operationally live. The relationship, of course, became closer and closer. They relied on my guidance how they could improve their work. I relied on their information how I could make our work more secure and we discussed how the intelligence unit could become more pro-active in recruiting sources in the security branch. One assisted them in that. But their line of command was separate. Their line of command and communication ran through London to the intelligence headquarters in Zambia.
POM And at that time Jacob Zuma, was he in - ?
MM Nhlanhla, the intelligence department had been reorganised, Nhlanhla was the head and Comrade Zuma was part of the head team and he was the operational chief. So he was in direct command of Mo's unit which was known as the MJK Unit.
POM And this was an intelligence unit, not an MK unit?
MM No, it was an intelligence unit working under the command of the intelligence department, financed and resourced by the intelligence department.
POM So when people like John Battersby write that Jacob Zuma was part of Vula, they're really talking
MM Through their hat. John Battersby changes his position. Until recently he was writing articles that the doves and the hawks were divided between the Vula people, Slovo and myself, versus Thabo and Zuma but now suddenly John Battersby's paradigm doesn't fit so Zuma has become a Vula man, part of the hawks as against the doves. Convenient. It sounds provocative and deeply analytical.
But this is the reality and that is why because of the advantage that that gave, that Gebhuza and I decided let's use Durban as our first base, let's build structures in Durban. We had this tactical advantage of operational intelligence information and let's probe Johannesburg from Durban.
POM OK. You had talked about Mo's unit and your operation. He was providing you with operational material.
MM And that is how I said we switched our tactics, instead of starting with Jo'burg as a base and building in Johannesburg and expanding to Natal, we switched our tactics to using Durban as our base, building around Durban and then expanding our work to Johannesburg.
POM So your key people in the Durban area at that point would have been Pravin?
MM The people that we put into the first committee that we created, that is the military, the political and the overall, in the military we had Gebhuza, we brought in the late Charles Ndaba, we had Dipak Patel, we had a chap called Kevin who had come in from outside, and we brought in Vuso Tshabalala because although he had been a UDF organiser he kept on expressing a keenness to become involved in military work. In the political side there was Billy Nair, Pravin Gordhan, the joint secretaries were Pravin and Mpho Scott, the chairman was Jabu Sithole (you've met him the mathematics lecturer), we brought in Paul Goitsemang who is Mbuso Tshabalala's brother, Vuso Tshabalala who had come in clandestinely separate from us and we had linked up. We brought in Katherine Mvelase. Gebhuza and I sat in both and then we created an overall military/political committee. We left Mo's intelligence unit outside of those structures, we just used the intelligence information but we did not incorporate it into those structures.
POM He would feed the information to Billy?
MM No, no, no I began to get it directly from him. At the beginning it was through Billy and then I wanted direct access to the reports. I met him, established direct relations and got direct information and put Gebhuza also in direct touch with him. And there was Susan Tshabalala, she came in from abroad.
POM She came in from? When you say she came in from abroad?
MM From exile.
POM From exile. Well did she just return on her own or - ?
MM No, no, no, she was infiltrated by Ivan and them to join us.
POM OK, so Ivan was looking for people outside that he would recommend could be brought in. OK. And then they would be permanently settled in the country. So let's get a structure. Now you've a military committee, you have a political committee and you've a political/military committee overall. Now what is the charge of each of these committees?
MM Our fundamental task was now to take the Durban region, for that committee, that structure had to take the Durban region and set about creating units, some time for propaganda work, units devoted to helping in military work, recruiting people, training, finding places for arms caches, tailoring vehicles for smuggling in weapons, doing on the ground training, creating facilities for people to come in and settle, creating facilities for people to go out and train.
But we started not by putting a person into a military or a political box. We started generally with an immediate thing, let's start printing leaflets, reproducing those from abroad, and let's get units to do the work of distributing clandestinely in their suburbs. The calibre of the people in the way they organised them and worked as a unit, as a cell, in that operation because it was all illegal propaganda, would begin to tell us now, OK, just don't rely on a person saying I want to do sabotage, rely on what is coming out through that work, how successful are they, how undetected are they, how they organise that mission, how widespread they do their work under the noses of the enemy. Then from there select people to hive them off towards military work, keep others, expand that propaganda work.
Then look at the mass organisations and the mass organisations I said, don't interfere, just be if you're a member of a mass organisation you don't try to make yourself stick out too much. What I didn't tell them but which I shared with Gebhuza, with Billy Nair at the beginning, is that I would need to contact leaders in the mass democratic movement nationally and that is how I began to make contact with Jay Naidoo, with Cyril Ramaphosa and in Jo'burg I made contact with Sydney Mufamadi, the Reverend Frank Chikane, Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa. I even met Kgalema Motlanthe who was deputy organiser at that time of the National Union of Mineworkers. So we began to develop our links that way and in the meantime I got people like Pravin, the joint secretaries, to relate to people in other mass organisations just in the Durban region, saying leave the national issues at the moment but in the meantime I'm busy relating to two leaders in the mass movement.
So, they concentrated on building and I have a distinct memory of a report somewhere in 1989 where, in my accounting before OR's stroke, we said of the 26 magisterial districts of Durban we had viable functioning units of one sort or another in 14 of the magisterial districts who were operational units, who were not just talk shops, who were actually doing one form or other of clandestine work and therefore getting seasoned in the style of undercover. I thought that the progress we made in the space of about a year to have built a viable structure in 14 districts out of 26 was very significant progress and I was now comfortable, while I was relating to the party unit in Johannesburg and to individual mass leaders, to now begin to look at what tactics and strategy we would be using to develop in the Jo'burg region. My problems in the Jo'burg region were different.
POM You said you had drawn up a plan before you came in and discussed it.
MM A strategy.
POM Yes a strategy/plan. What had that strategy/plan laid out as the short, medium and long term goals, particularly since you would have been writing it at a time when there was contact going on between government and the ANC and negotiations were increasingly being talked about or you left that all out of it?
MM No, that is not the time when there's discussions yet going on. That's the time when overtures are being made. We're talking about 1986.
POM This is when you draw up - ?
MM The strategy. And 1987 still the signals from government are very, very tenuous. The discussions, as I recall it from Allister Sparks, between Thabo and them and the South Africans in the UK are 1988 events.
POM 1987 I think.
MM Let's check it. 1987 is Dakar. Dakar was 1987.
POM Dakar was 1987 and in 1987 Willie Esterhuyse gets involved.
MM Yes, Willie Esterhuyse is there, he brings the message to Thabo.
POM December 1987 talks begin in England. In December, OK. So it's 1988.
MM 1988. But I'm drafting these plans in 1986 and the plans say, number one, create the condition for more senior people, more and more, to come and settle in South Africa like we would be doing, create the infrastructure and the conditions, learn from our experience. Get the communications working safe and fast. Come into the country, find ways to build viable underground structures both military and political, begin to pull the four pillars so that they act more in synergy. That meant relate to people in the mass organisations. Give them assistance where they need assistance but don't take over the mass organisations. Start making sure that the propaganda of the ANC and the SACP is now widely distributed, that the masses read it. Ensure that our propaganda is in content and style in tune with what the needs are in the different localities.
I feel then we are writing stuff in Lusaka, looking at the national issues, but is the information having a resonance, is it connecting them to their problems in their localities, in their areas and are we developing cadres with such a powerful mass movement, such a high level of politicisation, surely we can find people at home to write leaflets in the name of the ANC that is attuned to the local conditions guiding ordinary people what to do and creating arms stockpiles safely, hidden away so that if another Vaal Triangle erupts all we need to do is bring in people safely of an officer and leadership capability, they don't have to worry where do they get arms to strengthen the people's resistance, they can find it accessible on the ground and then still build resources for a longer term as that struggle develops further. So your concentration is not on just having an arms cache for use today. Your concentration is suppose an area erupts like the Vaal Triangle erupts, have you got the structure there capable of mobilising and using the arms that we can provide and absorbing people who we could bring in and safely accommodate to join them and guide them in the military tactics and use of weaponry and ammunition and arms.
That, broadly, was the scheme but the pivot of it was to create those conditions for more and more of the senior people to come in here, to be on the spot, to give guidance to the masses by integrating with the mass leadership, to give guidance to the underground both military and political, to be able to do propaganda work and to be able to live securely and safely in communication with Lusaka.
POM Now let's talk about arms stockpiling. Was there within Vula one or more people who were responsible for the importation of arms?
MM Gebhuza was in charge of the military committee. We did not make it a specialist structure solely devoted to that because the first problem was that we decided rather than vehicles being made with hiding compartments in the neighbouring territories, we decided that we had a better capability of doing that panel beating work here.
Secondly, obtaining the car here. I'll give you a classic example. We found that a particular make of car, the Toyota Cressida, had an arrangement for its petrol tank such that the petrol tank could be detached from the body of the car in a very short space of time. Secondly, we bought second-hand Toyota Cressida tanks and created a false compartment in them, because now all it meant was here's your false compartment, tank with a false compartment, load it with the weaponry, have it ready. The vehicle comes in, into a garage, unscrew the existing tank, put in the tank with the weapons and in a space of a few hours you've done a turnaround.
So we began to arrange that Botswana should have such tanks available, ready, packed. We would send a vehicle, now we would hire, it didn't matter if we hired a Toyota Cressida because hire a Toyota Cressida, get a legitimate person to drive and a partner to go with him for security, have a legitimate excuse for this person who's a working citizen to go over to Botswana. They move in this hired car, they get to Botswana, they park the car at a certain place. Somebody comes and collects the keys from under the mat, takes it away. In an hour's time returns the car, you know that it's loaded now, and sometimes they wouldn't even know where it's loaded, but it's loaded with weaponry, it has got a tank now whose capacity for taking fuel is one third or half of its normal capacity so you had to keep it topped up and we had found a way that if you dropped in a stick to measure the depth of the petrol, around the petrol hole it would go the full depth and it would show full petrol. When you pull the stick out, there it's showing you so much petrol. In the meantime that was just in a little cavity the petrol. Then there was a false bottom and the rest was petrol on top of it.
So they would come over with the car, go over for the weekend, go over a person as a travelling sales person, go in the weekday, depending on their work convenience, get to Botswana at the pre-arranged venue, have it loaded in two ticks, bring it back, offload it.
POM Would the driver of that car know that in fact he or she would be picking up weapons?
MM More often than not I believe that we fully briefed the driver or the one other person that went. I believe we briefed them of the risks they were running. But the important thing about this technique was it was not the same car going backwards and forwards and it was not the same people travelling backwards and forwards. You went to a car hire company and you hired a Cressida and each time a car went out it was not the same number plate, it wasn't the same hiring company and it was not the same driver and partner. So at the border post there was no profile developing that, hey, what's Padraig travelling every two weekends to Botswana? It doesn't fit. He's a clerk in a shop, or Joe he's a university student, or Johnny he's a university lecturer, or so-and-so he's a doctor, why is he going every weekend or every two weekends to Botswana?
POM But this meant that you had to have a large number of people, if it was every weekend it would be 52 people.
MM We had access. Yes. But each person did a one-off mission.
POM Yes, once used that was it.
MM And when he came, he brought the car, put it in a garage at some place, it's stripped of its tank, the original tank is put back, the car is given to him, return it tomorrow morning to the travel agency. He doesn't know now where that tank and weapons are moving to. He knows he collected weapons, he doesn't know what weapons were there and he doesn't know what has happened to the weapons.
POM So how much weaponry could you take in a tank that size?
MM Gebhuza would be more accurate on this matter and so would Jabu, who is now a General also in the army, he came in later. He works very closely with Gebhuza at military head office. Oh by the way another key person was Janet Love in the structures but she was more attached to Gebhuza and me and not part of the Durban committees. I don't think she ever sat in the Durban committees. But you're talking about the weaponry. AK47s, dynamite, plastics, detonators, RPG rocket launchers, landmines both anti-personnel and anti-tank.
POM You take in an RPG? How many?
MM You'd disassemble an RPG and put it in there. You'd use the space around it for other ammunition and for other things like explosives. You would put in the landmines, the anti-tank landmines were about this size, circular. There were two types. One was in a metal casing and one was in a plastic casing. I preferred that they bring in the plastic casing so that it evaded metal detection so easily but because it's buried in the tank that's metal on metal. The metal detector is only reading metal. The sniffer dogs are sniffing more petrol fumes than chemicals if they used them.
So you talk about the quantities, we also began to collect arms within the country because the external ordinance department, which was now run by Rashid of ex-Special Ops, he was the head of military head office logistics department. It is through him that Slovo and Tambo made arrangements that weapons would be taken from the armoury and disappear. Part of their job was also as ordinance to locate weapons caches at home.
POM I was going to ask you, what was your relationship with Special Ops within the country? You just stole from them?
MM We took from Central Ordinance without letting it be obvious to them that we were getting it and that we were at home. I do not know whether Rashid ever really found out that I was at home, that Gebhuza was at home. But I know that the first time Ordinance agreed to deliver the weapons to us the transfer was to take place in Johannesburg and the message we got from abroad, that a sizable amount of weapons would be transferred to us on the basis that we just needed to park a vehicle at a certain spot, leave the keys under the mat, come back a little later and the car would be loaded. I rejected that. I rejected it on the grounds that whoever took that car key would know the make of the car, the registration number, the licence disk even if we changed the registration. And I said not good enough for our security. I'd much rather either offload from their car or rather let them go and put it in a DLB.
POM In a which?
MM A dead letter box.
POM That is put the car key?
MM The weapons.
POM The weapons in a DLB?
MM Put it in a dead letter box, give us the description where it is. It is put in a drum and left in a yard or in the veldt or it's buried in the veldt. Give us the landmarks, tell us it's there. We will do our reconnaissance at our own consideration of safety. We will collect the weapons but nobody must be able to see and have a clue who inside the country is collecting the weapons. I said the safety of the others is people who are coming in and going out and I don't want to know them but I don't want them to get a clue who we are and I don't want them to get a lead in case they get caught that will lead the enemy to us. And I don't want an arrangement where if the enemy catches us we lead to them. But what we do know is that we have got widespread access to places that we are creating in Natal and Johannesburg where we can hide weapons and we've got the capacity and the manpower to hide them without one person knowing every cache. Not quite. There would be one person who knew it, it would be hidden in our enciphered records kept by Gebhuza until we would reach a point where we would appoint a logistics officer but we had not reached the point of appointing a full time logistics officer. It was sufficient to us that we had records of what was hidden where so that we could access it.
POM Now those records would not have been picked up by the police?
MM I don't believe that they were picked up. I believe that even what they found and deciphered in Gebhuza's possession were more reports that I had sent to Lusaka.
POM So let's say that these guys in military intelligence ultimately were able to break the codes. What would they have found in that house that was encrypted that they could now unencrypt?
MM Let me give you an example, when the arrests took place I went down that weekend with Ronnie to do damage control. Gebhuza was arrested. I knew that there was a house in Reservoir Hills.
POM This is the doctor's house?
MM The doctor's house.
POM Yes, we've got that.
MM I know that with the assistance of Little John we had created, built a concealing section in the ceilings. I didn't know what was there but I had an idea that some weapons would be stored there. I made contact with Yaj, got his house keys and made arrangements for him to be present at his house to help retrieve the weaponry concealed in his ceiling. It was in large suitcases. My memory tells me in these large suitcases - there were at least three suitcases full of weaponry. Now that's a fair amount of weaponry. I didn't stop to look what was in the bags, I knew it was weaponry. I put it into Claudia Manning's car and I told her to take it to certain people in the North Coast of Durban. I don't remember who I told her to take it to but I said, "You get it there, that's your job."
After that what happens between that person and those three bags is a separate matter that I will handle through other people and I would have passed the message then to either Mo or somebody else who was still surviving to say, "Connect with the chap." One of the key people for North Coast would have been a chap called Vish Suparsadh. He never got arrested. But he would have dispersed it again to others. Now I got arrested on the 25th, Ronnie didn't, and in the question of the self-defence requirements Ronnie would have accessed some of those weapons. I don't know what happened.
But the point is what would the police and military have found when they cut the code? They might have found a note saying house number so-and-so, RPGs, AK47s and so much ammunition. Or they might have found a record that said a code name for Yaj, Reservoir Hills, this equipment. Whether that raw note when deciphered gave the exact name of the person and the exact address I would doubt because it was sufficient for us to say house number 1, Reservoir Hills. Because between Gebhuza and I we would know that that is the first house where we built a concealed compartment in the ceiling. Then the next house in Reservoir Hills would become house number 2 and we would know who is the tenant, etc.
Yaj was actually a tenant of that house, he rented it. He needed accommodation but not a house. I think he was just qualified as a doctor and doctor's salaries were pretty low. His parents lived in Pietermaritzburg, he comes from a stalwart family. His father is the generation of Madiba. His father was a boarder at Indres Naidoo's house and was partly financed by Indres's father to study. So with that track record when the structures began to say Yaj is a potential recruit, what's his views, what's his thinking? No, he's in the Ratepayers' Association, he's been in the student he's in the Doctor's Association, I think it was called NAMDA. He holds progressive views. Good, sound him out now guys, draw him closer. Who knows him well? Recruit him. Now recruit him and don't just plunge in, tell him that the job we want him to do is rent a house, stay quiet, don't make it a normal rowdy party place for partying, live quietly. They say, no he's a quiet chap. Fine, he can go to his parties to other people's places, but rent the house, we will subsidise the rent for this purpose. And he agreed.
So you were asking what would those records show? Quite likely because we had shifted them they would have some idea of the quantities sitting in our hands or the quantities that we had brought in but they wouldn't know where to find it. We in the end resolved that problem, that whatever was left in the hands of anybody was only surrendered post-1994 through Gebhuza without them being identified so that they could be recorded in the arsenal of the SANDF and destroyed. We wanted to be sure that the destruction of those weapons would be done before forensic testing because if we allowed forensic testing they may have found which weapons had been used and they may have found where those weapons were used or not used. So we took those precautions and I remember post-1994 being told by Gebhuza that he supervised the surrender of those and their destruction through the SANDF.
So that's where it's at. If you ask me now I would be talking out of the top of my head to say what were the quantities.
POM You mentioned one day on the phone that you had some police contact that had Vula records. Who?
MM At the moment what has happened is in this present problem with the Scorpions -(tape switched off)