About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

01 Apr 2004: Maharaj, Mac

POM     This is an insertion on page 24, insertion 1, Lusaka Days, at the end of the paragraph beginning, "What I'm trying to say, Padraig, is that you don't just establish."

MM     The issue is not simply a question of military structure versus political structure. The reality is that every one of us were political animals. Our membership of the ANC, our serving in uMkhonto was based on our politics. So the issue in this debate was really a mindset issue because if you took a militaristic position, then the question of resources, attention, etc., is given more to the military side of activities. Yet the situation in the country and the strategy of people's war required that the masses should be galvanised into action.

POM     But that also required more resources.

MM     Yes, and that required a lot of resources and it needed a vibrant ANC political presence in the country. So, the issue was if you approached it politically rather than from where you are serving, you would inevitably have to say, let's give more attention, let's give more resources to the question of mobilising the masses and creating the political presence of the ANC. In fact what was happening was the opposite. So that's the issue and for a person to think militaristically is quite understandable because the reign of terror inside the country, the massacres by the apartheid regime in the neighbouring countries, created a situation where instinctively people felt the need to strike back. That's what I wanted to say.

POM     In a sense the hit and run response, the easiest response that satisfied the anger of what the regime was doing or mollified the anger of what the regime was doing, gave the people some sense that the ANC could retaliate whereas establishing a presence in the country was a long term thing whose benefits weren't seen by the people when it would be taking place.

MM     I think the formulation that I'm trying to get at is saying you did the hit and run, you did the armed propaganda: nothing wrong with that because the effect of it was to inspire people, to galvanise people, to make people constantly aware that the armed struggle was a necessary form of struggle that you had to engage in. But for people's war to succeed the reality was you needed to give a lot of attention to the mobilisation of the masses and the political presence of the political organisations in the underground within the country.

POM     This is an insert of the people whom Mac dealt with in the forward areas. These would be the people in charge of the senior organs?

MM     The senior organs would be in the political committees and the military structures in the neighbouring territories.

POM     That would be Lesotho, Mozambique.

MM     Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana and later on Zimbabwe.

POM     Let's talk about who was where in each one and who you dealt with.

MM     I think first of all if you took the senior organ that was created in Maputo and it supervised Swaziland, it was the rear for Swaziland, it had comrades like Jacob Zuma, Sue Rabkin, Indres Naidoo and a number of others. These were people who were living and operating from Swaziland together with other comrades based in Swaziland, people such as Archie (I don't know his real name – I cannot recall at the moment), John Nkadimeng was there, Moses Mabida was present there and there were comrades like Ivan, people like Gebhuza, people like Paul Dikeledi who was killed. These were comrades operating from within Swaziland.

     It was the same position in Botswana and in Lesotho. The environment never allowed them to forget that they were in a life and death struggle and that the only way to survive for them was to advance with the struggle within the country. So their mindset was shaped by that environment. If they relaxed then the enemy would come for them and they would either have to retreat or they would be called as happened with Shadrack Mapumulu who was killed and his corpse brought into South Africa and then there was a protest and the body was released, but he was shot in a flat in Swaziland. So that was the reality.

POM     How do you spell his second name?

MM     MAPUMULU. He was a Robben Islander. In fact he was the person that was part of the structures that arranged for my escape from South Africa.

POM     OK, got it.

MM     So I'm simply saying that in the frontline areas there were a large number of comrades who were performing exceptionally well because their environment compelled them to think only of one thing; how to advance the fight at home. And I believe that others taken from the rear and put into that environment would also have responded largely in the same way.

POM     So in a sense you had maybe that the more proximate you were to the real dangers of the situation in South Africa and to the possible attempts on your life, your own situation, the more you saw the need to drive the process at home, but the more removed you were.

MM     The more removed you were the more preoccupied you became with all sorts of minutiae and bureaucratic decisions.

POM     Minutiae of bureaucracy.

MM     You were very busy too but you were busy with your mind not addressing –

POM     You were going to meetings.

MM     Yes, you were going to meetings but you're not addressing the problem: hey, what's happened to the people that I was in touch with, I have lost them. I have a unit in Durban, it's now gone, it's been arrested, some have been killed. How do I now build and not make the same mistake with another group? So you are compelled to think that way whereas the further you are from the front, and the problems of the front and inside the country, the more you become preoccupied with the questions of how to organise the travel from the house where you are living to the centre of the city, how do you go to the clinic, what facilities do you get? So that's the sort of thing that preoccupies you and the cadre sitting in the camp is living for one thing, that he has trained to go home. So he wants news from home and what you could bring him was news from the newspapers. So it became a problem in the way the mindset got changed.

     I am making this point, Padraig, because I am saying there is no such thing as a bad person and a good person. I think the key condition in the environment in which we lived was where are you deployed. The more you came homewards, the more you grappled with the problems of inside the country, the more you became able to use your training.

POM     This is a recording at the end of Lusaka Days dealing with Aziz Pahad and the questions of territory. I don't know yet quite where it will fit but Mac is addressing one dimension, or the dimensions of his differences between himself and Aziz and what they meant in terms of organisational dysfunctionality.

MM     You see, Padraig, I don't move from the position that an individual is necessarily bad. I move from the position that wrong styles of work arise in particular circumstances and if you allow those bad habits to take root they get carried over into other phases of the struggle. So this question of Aziz, did I establish that he was an intelligence agent? No, I never established it definitively that he was, but my suspicion arose because in the first place I was aware, and it was part of the intelligence work, that a handler did not disclose his informant's identity to just anybody and everybody in the hierarchy. Yes, he will disclose it to one individual at some stage but not just as a run of the mill next level of structure.

     The time for intelligence, it's a situation where intelligence if it acts, the action is in counter-intelligence, but for a political formation, for a revolution, the key thing in the ingredients of a successful struggle type of structure is you cannot have a situation where the intelligence method of operation is translated into the political side simply because both are operating in an underground.

POM     Simply because the - ?

MM     Both the intelligence and the political structure are operating in an underground situation. Intelligence would operate like that even in a normal situation where one state is spying on another state without being at war with each other. Politically, in the political terrain, unless an organisation is prohibited it would act on the view of the law it would not do anything outside the law. So here we were in an underground situation, declared illegal by the state, using tactics that were also declared illegal by the state, and the intelligence style of working was being brought into the political side and that led me to feel, and I said, why, what's causing this? Is Aziz a bad guy or is he like everybody else, a good comrade but in a bad habit, in the wrong habit? And my view was I think he's in their intelligence section, a style on the intelligence side into the political side.

     So in spite of all these clashes I never had to come to a view or pose the question: is he a good guy or a bad guy? I simply came from the position that it's bad style or wrong style.

     

POM     Mac is talking about the ANC signing of the Geneva Protocol in December 1980.

MM     November 1980.

POM     You were saying, Mac?

MM     It was the first time that a liberation movement had formally associated itself with the Geneva Convention.

POM     A good tactical move on the part of the ANC.

MM     It was a tactical move because it again emphasised that the rules by which we were fighting were guided –

POM     You were talking about the tactical importance of –

MM     I was saying it was very important, and I've just been helped in my memory because we signed it and we said we will treat the soldiers of the SA regime as combatants when we capture them, that the SA regime commit itself to treat MK combatants in the same way. We did that for two reasons, [one was in the political terrain to show and to put the SA government … and to take its supporters in some of the western countries … the Geneva Convention] but there was an underlying thing that I have always argued, that our morality, that we were driven by a sense of morality and yet we were in a situation where the rules of the game were constantly being upped and changed by the apartheid regime and we had to manage this process of adhering to a morality in our struggle and be ready to confront the enemy in rules that are changed and dictated by them.

     This is the framework under which I have spoken so fudgily about Green Vegetables, because it is part of a debate that started amongst us in RC in a simmering way I think from the time of the Gaborone raid. I think Gaborone was the first one, I'm not sure, that's why I want the dates. But certainly the Matolo raid, the assassination of Gqabi. Gqabi is assassinated 1981 so Matolo raid is – is it March 1981?

POM     You are saying that the rules of the game – on the one hand the ANC was committed to?

MM     Committed to a set of values, humanitarian values. The apartheid state and its security forces was acting outside of any moral rules.

POM     Sorry, was acting outside?

MM     Outside of any moral rules. Its only rule was preservation of white power. Anything else was fair game in pursuit of that. Now we signed that protocol and emphasised that it was being signed by the ANC and MK, or we were signing in both capacities, and we emphasised this question of humanitarian values in defending our actions and the way we acted. Against that background we could already see that the rules were being changed by the apartheid state. The Solomon Mahlangu group had been hanged. The school in Morogoro is named after him, Solomon Mahlangu.

POM     Yes, OK.

MM     And one of his members of that unit was so badly beaten up that he went off his head, he no longer could function as a normal human being. There was the Silverton siege by our cadres when they were trapped, they occupied I think a bank and took hostages. All these things we're now saying what are the rules by which we are going to engage and how do we constrain and ensure that apartheid is not just left to act without any constraint that the international community is going to impose on it.

     There's the protocol signed at the end of 1980. Thereafter it's January 1981, Matolo, almost like apartheid responding, saying to hell with the rules. Then comes Maseru in December 1982, 42 people. The following takes place: Gqabi is assassinated in Harare, that's July 1981; our response, Voortrekkerhoogte. So in the middle of this period a debate starts amongst us, members of the Revolutionary Council, not at a formal meeting, in the informal discussions, units are raising this question, they are raising the question of how the commandos are acting on the borders, how the South Africans have mobilised the farmers and how difficult it becomes then to penetrate the country illegally and on foot. The trigger in this was the execution of Mahlangu.

POM     The execution of?

MM     Solomon Mahlangu, where we began to question whether just operating in the normal way, as we had done for years and years, hitting targets, carrying out sabotage, etc., was good enough.

POM     What were the particular circumstances of his death that revved up this debate as distinct from Joe Gqabi's assassination?

MM     There were other comrades executed in 1964.

POM     When you say executed, you mean?

MM     Sent to the gallows.

POM     OK. He was hanged by the courts.

MM     Hanged. Vuyesile Mini and his group, Washington Nkhonto.

POM     OK.

MM     Nothing else, no other …Then comes this unit, Soweto generation, gets into the country, gets trapped in Koch Street. There's a shootout, they're captured, they're tortured, one of them is very badly beaten up and then the court sentences Mahlangu to death and the death sentence is carried out. Now cadres are saying, and leading people asking, is it enough that we are just going on hitting these targets, buildings, installations? And the second question they're putting is, how do we take reprisal when the enemy does those things, when it executes our cadres? We have no regard to the fact that they are taken through a legal process under apartheid because we do not regard that legal process as a valid legal process, not just because apartheid is illegitimate but because the law had already said you have to prove your innocence.

     So that's the environment in which a debate starts and 1981 with Maseru, with Matola, with Gqabi's assassination, this debate goes into another level because we are talking and saying we've got to take reprisal. That debate begins to converge on two issues: it's one thing to take reprisal but it's a second thing that says if you are talking about guerrilla warfare there must be a point at which you escalate and begin to confront enemy forces. All you have to do is you have to make sure that you tackle the enemy forces in ambushes and by surprise. The debate gets the next issue into it, the farmers and the commanders. Are they a target or are they not a target? And we say, most of us in the RC are of the view they are a legitimate target. It doesn't matter that they are farmers, it doesn't matter they are civilians, they're linked up by radio systems, they are armed, they've been trained, etc., etc.

     In the course of that debate we first raised the question of the conscriptees to the SA army because there was compulsory conscription. But at home what had developed quite strongly was the End Conscription Campaign amongst the white people where increasingly –

POM     Was this in 1981 there was an End Conscription Campaign?

MM     1981, 1982. They began to resist going into the compulsory call-up. In fact I think when Gerald Kraak and them get abroad by 1982/83, we started there, when the regime began to ban the ECC inside the country they located themselves in Holland.

POM     I just want to test your voice. You were saying that?

MM     The chap who's running the Atlantic Foundation.

POM     Oh Gerald Kraak?

MM     He was in the ECC. So now ECC is saying we're mobilising those whites who are being conscripted and saying to them, don't go into the army. And a number of people are resisting going into the army. Others are leaving the country, getting out and drifting towards us. So the question comes up, once they have been in their training, they are now either in the permanent army otherwise they are in the reservists, as long as you've trained, at which point does such a person become a legitimate target? Are we saying that we can attack enemy personnel only when they are wearing a uniform? Because, some of us say, wait a minute, even when Padraig is not wearing his uniform he is on stand-by call-up. Even when Padraig is in the permanent forces and he's not in his uniform when he's away on leave, he's an SADF soldier and he has access to his arms and if anything happened in the country he would assert his power as a reservist.

     So this is the debate that was taking place at that period and between the farmers, the regular forces, you had the conscripts and the resistance to conscription. So the argument went - are the conscriptees legitimate targets? If we hit them would that lead just to a guerrilla war or would that also have a spin-off that one side, the apartheid side, the whites, solidify but on the other side some of the whites also move the other way and say no, no, no, this is not for us. We don't agree with this war. Our children are compelled to go into the army and we are saying no to the conscription. But in that debate it says 'legitimate target'.

     That is how Green Vegetables grows up. Again, Padraig, it was not a debate that was sent everywhere because that debate was taking place in corridors amongst comrades involved directly in the battle, but when it was RC members you couldn't afford to just talk loosely about that. And when Green Vegetables was conceptualised and I was asked to go ahead with Green Vegetables –

POM     Who said, who was involved in it?

MM     The Revolutionary Council.

POM     Well, at a meeting of the RC, at a formal meeting what specifically were you authorised to do?

MM     Authorised to take action against conscriptees and I'm released from duty to focus on that for a limited period.

POM     What the nature of that action would be and how many conscriptees would be involved, that was debated?

MM     That was not debated. No, no. We were not describing what type of operation. We merely said they're legitimate targets, you can hit them, but hit them.

POM     So the argument made was that these are 17-year old kids, greenhorns, whatever, they're called Green Vegetables, they may not want to go to the army but they have to. Most American kids would say they had to go to the army in Vietnam, the proportion ultimately that were in Vietnam, dissenters would be a very, very small proportion and the same would be even smaller here among those resisting conscription. I mean it was something the kids did, the government was telling them to do and they had to do it. There was communism out there and they had to fight it like everybody else in the world.

MM     Yes and that debate is saying do you wait until Padraig is trained? Once Padraig has gone for training, signed off, in nine months time he's a soldier. In the meantime what is apartheid doing? Apartheid is saying to our kids, you are a legitimate target. Even if a kid said I would like to join MK, you're dead. But on our side the debate is – is that the boundary? Is your boundary the man has finished training, or is the boundary he's started training? Politically you don't want them to go in but militarily you've got a job to hit. So it's in that framework which I'm told, OK, Mac, take charge of this quietly. Just go ahead quietly on this thing and find a way. Have a discussion with OR. I said to him, "Chief, if we're going to carry out this operation it cannot be in a fire fight situation. For me, I have to hit them by surprise and I have to avoid a stand-up fight."

POM     Now is the NEC informed of this?

MM     No.

POM     But OR is?

MM     OR is there. OR is part of the decision. And the decision of Morogoro had already been to go to guerrilla warfare. OR says to me, "Phew! The way you are thinking", he says, "You've got to think about its repercussions. We could have reprisals taken against us that would be just a blind fury from Pretoria. Toss it." And he says, "But we will have to prepare for that sort of reprisal." And he says to me, "How are you conceiving of this thing?" I've already been working on the thing. I said to him, "One of the things that the research is showing is the fixed periods, two inputs of the trainees per year. There are fixed gathering points in each province and there are fixed bases where they go for training. It's over a limited period."

POM     Now where were you getting this information from?

MM     ECC, reading the newspapers, reading the protests, everybody, political people. In a subsequent discussion I said to him, "I think the easiest way would be to derail the train at a very suitable site where the derailment will not just be a train falling over, but it would be that the train goes down the ravine." He said, "Well, you look at that problem. You look at what to do about it. Jesus, Mac, you're thinking in a totally different way."

POM     Now who else are you discussing this with? Just OR?

MM     Nobody, nobody. My task is to report to OR. Of course I've had discussions with Joe Slovo, Special Operations there, and the idea was don't do it as part of the regular machinery but also don't do it by creating another structure like Special Operations. Somewhere in between you've got to find your way to go through this thing. And we've got to handle that matter in such a way that the repercussions of it are being looked at.By the time I'm settled in Swaziland and I send messages to OR to say, "Getting ready" -

POM     Now why do you go to Swaziland?

MM     Because I felt that I would be better in a position first of all to get comrades from the machineries. Secondly, it would be a better area than Botswana from which I could operate. I had a rear base nearby which is Mozambique. I could check equipment, I could test my equipment and I could train the unit in that environment. I didn't have to go to Angola. So for all those reasons – and that my presence in Swaziland need not be detected that easily by Pretoria, whereas Botswana was too small. Swaziland I can just slip out over the border back into Mozambique, backwards and forwards. Plus, a plus in that situation was Special Operations was operating from Maputo so I could tap into their knowledge, their skills, their information base.

     So, Padraig, what I'm saying is it was born in the context where RC said conscriptees are part of the targets but we don't want to do it all the time. It's something that we need to do politically to send a message down the line and graduate us to get to the regular forces, the already trained forces while the rest debate whether a reservist is a target.

     [MM     When did they start?

LS     April 13 to December 1985.

POM     And it ended in June 1986.

MM     Right, thanks very much.

LS     No problem. And Botswana, the two raids, April 1987 was the last one. The first one 14 June 1985.

POM     That's the one during the …

LS     And the Matola, the big one was 30 January 1981 and there's a second in November 1982 and a third in May 1983.]

MM     So there was a huge lid on this thing because people were very nervous. There was a lot of debate going on. People were saying, hey, wait a minute, this type of target, hmm, not sure it's right. And when the thing began to translate that a possibility was that a sizeable number could be tackled in one shot, concerns became even bigger.

POM     But the only person who knew were you - ?

MM     No, OR would be discussing with JS. OR would discuss with JS surely and he may or may not discuss with JM because JM is the overall commander. If I bumped into JS in Maputo he'd be asking me how's progress going and I'd be telling him because he's in the know. I'm not telling the others because I'm not au fait with them but JM, JS, OR, outside of OR I'm not reporting to the others, I'm talking, I'm picking their brains what type of equipment, what's there in the armoury? Because I've not been deployed in the army all this time. I don't know what's in the armoury.

     Now that is how I get to Rashid and Rashid comes up in a very by-the-way and tells me of certain equipment that has been in the army but never been used. I'll try to think of the technical name but it's a cone-shaped bottle so that the force of the explosion is channelled to the apex of the cone but downwards and the attribute of that was that by confining the force to that circle at the bottom of the cone and sent it downwards and if you kept the thing a metre distant from a wall it would penetrate a metre thick wall. It was a standard weapon conceived of for demolition. But the question arose, what happens if you put that outside a wall, it penetrates the wall, what happens inside?

     Now Rashid starts working on this question and he says, "Jesus! What happens inside that room separated by this metre thick wall is a vortex of forces. It's not a question of fire, it's not a question of gas but it's a question of the velocity, people would be just smashed to smithereens." I said to him, "Can I use that to hit a bridge?" Because to hit a bridge is a very complicated job. A hell of a lot of explosives. I think we'd already tried Upington, the bridge on the railway to Upington.

POM     The bridge where?

MM     The railway line to Namibia. A group of comrades from MK were sent into the country to blow up that railway line which is the key artery between Namibia (that was then South West Africa) and South Africa. They had to train in abseiling, all sorts of things. They went in there, they collected the weapons, they had to plant the bomb, the explosives, at numerous points of the bridge so that that explosion could bring the bridge down. And they did all that and after doing that work when they went off to say now we have set it, it's going to go off, let's put the timing device, it didn't go off. They decided to go back to check, some of the unit members, what happened and when they reported that there's no sign that the enemy has found out, it's a defect in the detonation system, they decided to retrieve all the explosives and bury it to carry out the job some other time. They got captured. They were chased, they had a shootout. I don't remember where but I think that they were intercepted somewhere in the East Rand.

     But what it told me is that to hit a bridge in a standard way is too complicated, too complicated for this mission. I would have to train like the Sasol group had to train. The Sasol group had to train to the point where they would put up trampolines and practise how if they put a trampoline outside the fence, they could spring over a very high fence. The question was what happens when you land on the other side? You need to practise. So that's a whole routine of training you've got to do. Too much for me. But with Rashid this conical bomb as it's called began to become feasible because you could hit the pillars on which the bridge is suspended.

POM     You're using two bombs?

MM     Not necessarily two, you might even use four. The pillars are positioned in a certain way and you would have to hit two or three sets of pillars simultaneously so that its weakness manifests itself and the whole thing goes.

     So that was one line of thinking in which the idea, the knowledge of that explosive arose because I was discussing with Rashid the properties of what are the explosives that we've got in the armoury.

     But at the end of the day, and that's another thing, it's a tragedy, I cannot remember the comrade's name, he was known as Castro. This was a comrade from Mpumulanga area. He'd been operating from Swaziland, had worked on the political side, had worked on the military side and I knew of him as a person who knew the terrain and a very skilful operator. So Castro I took over as a key guy. That is why I had to have Archie, Archie who was in the political structures of Swaziland whom I knew. I knew Archie could reach Castro. So I get Castro and I get Castro to select two other guys and the first thing I do is that I send them on a reconnaissance mission and the reconnaissance was they have to cover the track, the railway track, on foot.

POM     The railway track from where to where?

MM     There was a training camp, Phalaborwa, Hoedspruit.

POM     Where is that located?

MM     That's in Mpumalanga. But the information showed that the train would pick up the last recruits at two spots, I think in Jo'burg and Pretoria.

POM     So where would the train be coming from?

MM     It would start at this gathering point at Jo'burg and it would proceed until somewhere past Middelburg, past Waterval-Boven.

POM     Now how did you get to know that there will be a train going from this point to - ?

MM     By studying the past patterns of movement, by finding out how are people transported, because once you knew that's a base where training is done –

POM     Yes, I'm just finding out was this information coming from within the country? Who were you in contact with within the country?

MM     One would get it from all over. I would get it from comrades who are in the ECC, I'd get it from comrades who have been in the army already and have trained. I wouldn't be saying why I'm getting the information but I would be extracting this information and collating it and the pattern that emerged was there is one of the movements. There were various routes we looked at, began to collect information on all the routes because the conscription was saying people had to report at a set period each year, twice a year, its intake. They had to report to various centres in each of the provinces. Then they would be moved to train at a limited number of bases which could take in several thousand, each base. Now to move them to that base they would look at it as the most efficient way and the efficient way was trains so they were moving them by train. And the question became, what's the route?

POM     Now did you know where all these camps were around the country?

MM     Yes.

POM     Where all the training camps were?

MM     Yes. Hoedspruit was known to be an Air Force base also and not only an Air Force base, it had underground hangars at Hoedspruit. So from all over you had this information sitting in different places for different reasons but what was important for me was the terrain, Castro had to go and look at the terrain. Castro came back and on the map showed me the terrain that it passes through in the Eastern Transvaal. That included spots where the railway line was in a landscape where the sheer drop was immense, that if you hit that train on a bend, for example if the train was taking this bend, a rightward bend, and this curvature is on the edge of a cliff, almost here, if you could topple this train because of the curvature it's very easy to make it go that way, it would go right down the cliff. So you would not rely –

POM     Where was the point on – what was the name of the place where this was?

MM     This is the whole territory of Waterval-Boven. There's a place called Waterval-onder-Boven and Waterval-Boven, that's past Witbank. But that whole terrain is very mountainous and, by the way, very picturesque. That led us to begin to work on a proposal that says hit a train in the process of carrying people and don't worry about a bridge, you can hit it on the ordinary tracks around the curvature in the right terrain.

POM     Now you would use the same kind of a bomb?

MM     No, now I don't need that kind of bomb because it depends on the territory. If a train is moving like this, what's its force? The physical force is running this way. Take this bend, it's the shape of the tracks that's taking you, but the momentum is in this direction. So if I open this railway line, this outer line at a point at which the curvature is starting, just take that line and open it like that, this train is going to –

POM     It's going to go over the ravine.

MM     Yes, it can't take the bend because the track which is keeping it to the bend is no longer there and you only have to hit the outer track primarily. If you can dislodge that outer track its momentum would carry over that direction. So using that I became very attracted to this way of doing it. I then sent a message to OR, or I think I passed through, I saw him in Maputo. I said to him that this is what's happening and he says to me, "How many people will be on that train?" I said to him it's going to be several thousand, six to eight thousand.

POM     Thousand? On a train?

MM     Thousand, on a train. I can't remember the exact figure but it certainly ran more than a thousand. And OR says to me, "Jesus! Hey Mac, this is going to have terrible repercussions. These guys are going to go berserk if that happens. Let's think about the political implications. Let's think about the reprisals. OK?" and he says, "Carry on." Then he sends me a message when I say, "Chief, I'm reaching D-day", because we are approaching the conscription movement time, we are busy creating people inside the country to monitor the train, identify the train, find a way to get messages to us what time has the train left, confirming it's left, which train, can they identify the number of the engine?

POM     Now would you have to monitor this train on all of its paths?

MM     All the way. We've got to monitor this train all the way.

POM     So where were you putting people in place?

MM     Inside the country. People, ordinary cadres inside the country. For that observation I needed people who are legitimately living in the country and they need not be in the army.

POM     Now these wouldn't be MK people?

MM     No.

POM     These would be just?

MM     Underground people, political side.

POM     Part of the political underground you had already developed.

MM     People I knew. But the key thing was that you could not say the train has left this time, it passes here this time, because you might hit a goods train, you might hit a train that's carrying Mozambican workers returning to Mozambique. You might hit an ordinary passenger train, and who's on the ordinary passenger train? It's not being used by whites; it's mostly our people that are using it, black people. So you had to identify the train and be absolutely sure that you are monitoring the train not just when it leaves Jo'burg. You had to keep monitoring it using different people at different points of the railway line.

POM     Now how were these people communicating with each other?

MM     They don't have to communicate with each other. Each observation post has to telephonically, in a code, communicate with Swaziland.

POM     How would they do that?

MM     Simple. You set up a set of codes.

POM     Where would the phone be?

MM     They would go to, in relation to the reconnaissance have a telephone, have done a reconnaissance, found a public telephone, found a private telephone that they could use, each unit. But the point is they would transmit this message and say at this time confirming this train with engine number so-and-so, because the engine number is written on the side of the engine, has passed through here at this time. That's all that you want because you've got the number from Jo'burg. You're tracking that engine. When I say this to OR I get a message in Swaziland.

POM     Have you now identified the train or you don't know yet?

MM     No, the train hasn't moved yet. We're approaching the period when it's going to happen.

POM     You've got to start putting these pieces in place.

MM     And I'm saying to OR, "You prepare for the reprisals and the consequences." I'm saying we are getting ready and it now looks like in this round of conscription it will be feasible.

POM     Now how were you going to actually derail the train?

MM     With ordinary dynamite. You cut the railway line, you've got a problem.

POM     Just one place on the line, on the curvature?

MM     I would take off a whole segment of the line.

POM     Yes, OK. As the train was?

MM     In motion.

POM     Would you do it before the train went over? Would the track be destroyed before the train or would it happen as the train was going?

MM     The key point was not to try and hit that train itself by the force under it to topple it, but to use also its momentum. So you had to time it and you could not put a timing device. You had to have a comrade –

POM     Somebody there.

MM     Physically on site using a dynamo to be its power source and actually knowing there's the spot, the train is now this yards from it, trigger now.

POM     So the train couldn't stop.

MM     It can't stop, it's going over. When I send this message to OR he comes back and says, "Call it off. Call it off, we're not ready." I got back a message to him, "In what respect are we not ready?" Meaning, are we not ready in terms of the political explanation or are we not ready in terms of the reprisals that will be taken by the SA regime.

POM     Now when you say 'political explanation' that would be a political explanation to the rest of the world?

MM     And to the people in South Africa. You've got to explain to the people in South Africa.

POM     To your own people?

MM     To all, both sides. You've got to explain to the white people, you've got to explain to the black people.

POM     And you've got to explain to the international community.

MM     Yes, and you've got to explain to the international community and certain governments are going to go hell for leather for you. So I am saying, are you not ready from the political side or are you not ready because of the reprisals? He comes back, he says, "Both." But in my first message in response to him with this question, I say to him, "I can't stop. An operation like this reaches a point where it's got a momentum of its own. Can't stop."

POM     What did they call that in WW2 where the bombers on their way to, the bombers on their way to Dresden with their payloads, if they went beyond a certain point they didn't have the petrol, the gas, to turn around with the things on them.

MM     Yes, on an ordinary aircraft when it takes off it's called 'the point of no return'. When an aircraft takes off once it reaches a certain height whatever happens to an aircraft it cannot now cancel it's flight, it's now got to continue. So I am saying I am in that situation, I can't switch off and switch on. But actually I'm saying all that to pressure him. One side I'm saying I'm defying him and the other side I'm wanting him to say go ahead. And he's answering he's not ready, don't do it, stop it.

     That is where the problem started. I myself got nervous and I have never explained to anybody what happened to me, never explained it. I have never put a report anywhere about that operation. I retreated from Swaziland, I went to Mozambique, got there in the evening, I called a meeting of the Political Department, discussing the political work at home, asked Indres to put a call to London, because Zarina was in London due to give birth, to Sue's father to find out, just book a call, he had a telephone at his home. In the middle of the meeting a call comes through and the message is Zarina has given birth. Now I stop the meeting, I say, "Chaps, I'm off. Where is Nkobi?" And they say Nkobi is in Maputo, he's the Treasurer General. So I go to Nkobi and I say I want a ticket to London. He says, "For what?" I say, "I've got a baby born in London." He says, "No, that's not work, you can't just get a ticket like that." So I said to him, "Tom, I'm going. I'm going from here to Lusaka", there's no direct flight to London, "I'm going to Lusaka, I will report to the Revolutionary Council and then I'm proceeding to London." That was a Friday night. So I had to take the Saturday flight, get to Lusaka, get the Sunday evening flight to London.

     But what was happening to me was several things. As we approached the final run my hands just became festering sores, the whole hand. When I got to London I couldn't even touch the baby's napkin. And when I saw a doctor in London he was intrigued, beginning to ask me, "What's this? What happened, what happened?" And finally he came to the conclusion that I was living under such tension that this was triggered off by the tension. Now what was that tension? What was that tension? I did not want to acknowledge that I myself was having some doubts whether it's the correct target to hit, is this correct? And yet I was not going to stop and when I was saying to OR that it's got a momentum of its own, deep down I was like appealing to him to rescue me, to tell me to stop, because if he said it to me then there's no problem, it's solved.

POM     If he said go ahead?

MM     If he said go ahead the issue sits with me, the issue sits with me. All I can say later on is that, no, OR told me, but what is happening inside me remains inside.So that was the first thing that was happening. There was a second thing that was happening. I'm not telling all the cadres forward what we are heading for but as I begin to ask people, different individuals at home, to monitor the train, issues are arising in their minds, what is this? It can't be that they want to distribute leaflets. It can't be that they want for pamphlets that they need to know exactly which train. That is causing another instability because the guys at home are beginning to show signs of nervousness and are beginning to say, "Why do you want this information so urgently? Why do I have to phone it to you immediately that has happened? Why do I have to find a phone nearby and select a spot for observation that is within reach of a phone, that I can get to it quickly now? Why do they want this thing so urgently." Some of them are not asking me that question but I can see the nervousness.

POM     Now are you still using Castro?

MM     Castro is going to be the leader there. He was going to carry out the operation. In fact he was killed in the police cells in Piet Retief a few years later.

POM     Killed in?

MM     By the police. They arrested him somewhere in Nelspruit, again in a clandestine mission into the country. They kept him at Piet Retief and the next thing he was dead. Who would know about him – that's when Matthews Phosa came out of the country and settled in Mozambique because his legal firm was approached inside the country to represent the family at the inquest.Anyway that's the second issue that's hitting me.

     On the other side it is pre-Nkomati that the comrades in Swaziland are under intense pressure from the Swazi army and police. They are being captured and thrown out and put in jail. I hear, and I'm fairly cut off now, in fact Rashid's team of about twelve chaps were heading for inside the country. They crossed from Mozambique into Swaziland and within a few kilometres inside Swaziland they were captured by the Swazi police. That whole operation was destroyed by the Swazi attack. What I realised later on, ex post facto, is that Swaziland had signed the Nkomati type of accord quietly, before Nkomati was signed with Maputo. Now the comrades were getting really restive in Swaziland. There was a view amongst many of the commanders that we should fight it out with the Swazis and in the middle of this whole thing, because I was in the terrain, I went to a meeting of the key commanders of all the machineries to discuss with them the incorrectness of having a stand-up fight with the Swazi police.

POM     Would these be MK commanders?

MM     Yes, MK commanders.

POM     Now who else would have been there?

MM     Gebhuza and his team, there would have been a Natal machinery, there would have been the Eastern Transvaal machinery, there would have been some of the political guys, but I wanted all the commanders there because when I heard this report I became worried that to stand up and resist in Swaziland was falling into the trap of (a) fighting what were supposed to be your friends, but (b) allowing the South Africans to shift the fight from within South Africa to outside South Africa. So that tension was leading the MK chaps that I'm working with to become more and more enthusiastic than this operation that I've ordered should happen. That enthusiasm from the comrades who were in the know was an additional pressure on me. It could not be reasoned now just on how I feel what's the political imperatives; it was now saying what are the comrades going to feel? How are they going to see this operation? And if I don't carry out the operation how are they going to see it?

     So those were the issues that were sitting in all the complex ways and because I did not have to go and formally report and when my child was born I went off to Lusaka, informed Cassius Make who was the secretary of the Revolutionary Council, informed him that we didn't proceed with the operation, we called it off at the last minute and I'm heading for my child and if we're going to discus the lessons of that we'll discuss it later and the Chief is aware that the calling off is in accordance with his wishes. That's where it stopped.

     Now the interesting thing about that, Padraig, is that that type of operation thereafter was not raised again as a possibility. It was like a relief amongst those in the RC who knew, that hey, we all agreed to this thing but as we were nearing and as they were becoming involved with OR, are you taking measures for when the reprisals come, are the cadres going to be safe, where are they going to retreat, where are they going to hide, what's going to happen, what defensive positions are you going to take in the camps? It was like everybody was like me and also didn't want it. So when it didn't happen nobody came back to a meeting even three months later to say, "By the way, we almost did it, can we now work on it and do it?" Just silence.

     I interpret the silence to be that they were going through the same problems as I was. That it would be nice as a target but I'm not sure politically we're going to defend this target. The repercussions internationally, locally, white, black, different reactions, but what does it do to the struggle? Nobody ever raised it, talked about this thing, didn't want to talk about it.

POM     We'll hold it there.

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