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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
22 Jun 2004: Maharaj, Mac
POM Mac, before I get down to going through some of the people in Vula again there are a couple of things that cropped up in my mind. One is, after this thing of Pan Africanism and after Mandela came back from his trip through Africa and realised the degree of not antagonism but of suspicion it had to the ANC and this querying of why was the SACP involved, now how did he interpret that? At that point he would still have been a member of the party so he comes back and what's his analysis of it in terms of reaching your own masses of the people and of getting further support outside this country for the movement?
MM Well I think that the only knowledge of that is based on what he said to me in prison and his proposition was a simple one. He was saying that the PAC image created by them was a very fertile one. PAC propaganda against the ANC and their allies that the ANC was working together and led by communists and Indians, that was part of that and causing a problem. This is a reality and he stated in his discussions, he was telling the people, including people like Kenneth Kaunda who was at that time not yet Prime Minister of Zambia, so he was saying this is the reality and he said our position, the ANC position, is that it represents a progressive form of African nationalism. We said yes, the oppressed will be freed by their own efforts, therefore it's primarily an effort of the African people. The idea of the alliance, Congress Alliance, needs to be projected slightly differently, the Alliance led by the ANC. So your leadership of the ANC is unquestionably brought to the front. Part of the concerns that arose after his return before his arrest was that some people misunderstood what he was saying. They thought that he was saying now the Congress Alliance. That's because in their minds the Congress Alliance had become an alliance of equals, the ANC was in a congress with trade unions, SACTU, Congress of Democrats, Coloured People's Congress. And he said, no, if you understand the context of our oppression as being primarily African and the leadership of the ANC …Remember that when that anecdote is told about him, Tambo, Walter, going to break up joint campaign that they were working on with the party -
MM Votes for All campaign. The complaint was that the party had jumped the gun. They had agreed on a joint campaign but instead of waiting for an announcement to be made by the ANC the party made the announcement and they said by doing what you did you started projecting the thing as being led by the party. So there was a consistent strand in that it was not African, it was still in conformity with non-racialism but he was saying that this adjustment, the perception and the image of these events is necessary and we need that in Africa because we need their support. We can't wage a guerrilla campaign without having … to pass through. In Algeria, the Algerians … two countries on either side … guerrillas could withdraw to those bases and could come into Morocco. We don't have that. So those are the issues, compelling factors that necessitate us to be sensitive to those perceptions.
POM Now when he went for trial, he and Walter and party members, for what reasons did that take?
MM I'm not aware where the decision was taken. I have my own conclusions about whether they were or were not party to them, but was a decision taken anywhere tactically not to disclose, or was the decision taken carte blanche? I'm not so sure whether that decision was taken carte blanche. I know that in prison when the liquidator of the Communist Party … (recording is unintelligible)
MM When Mandela got in, he said, "Look, I'm going to challenge it." And he put the proposal that if he was going to respond by saying … So he forced things.
POM Was Raymond Mhlaba after him at the trial? And Walter? What I'm getting at I suppose is that if it had emerged at the time of the trial that all the leading figures charged were communists would it not have changed the perception in people's minds about the struggle itself, i.e. would it not have been seen more as being a communist struggle rather than an ANC struggle? That's what I'm getting at.
MM I think that it would have caused complications, it could have, but nothing that couldn't have been overcome because a struggle tradition was arising. African people were singing songs about Dr Dadoo, the defiance campaign, Dr Dadoo and Moroka during the time of the Dadoo, Xuma, Naicker Pact. Amongst the famous songs of the 1940s ANC leaders, that is Africans, were familiar with these names by even those ANC names included ANC members who were communists, Kotane. There's a song about Xuma, Kotane, Bopape, Kotane was a communist, Bopape was a communist. In the early fifties when Madiba and them wanted to move a resolution at the ANC conference prohibiting communists from holding positions in the ANC, because of Professor Matthews who defeated this move, there was already a track record that communists were members of the ANC and it had led to no serious impediment for the communists, Kotane to become Secretary General of the ANC. So I am saying in the ANC and at the mass level it would not have been a formidable problem because the masses were seeing communists -
POM Well it was an inconsistency with Madiba moving for a motion like that and he himself was a communist?
MM We're talking about moving a motion like that in 1951/52. We had nothing to say Madiba was a communist at that point. In fact we're talking about an era when Madiba was opposed to communism, vigorously opposed, even grabbing the microphone from another African, J B Marks. So if we had to look at this matter each time we've got to locate it in its context. All I am saying is that given those experiences, the knowledge that even a few others in leading positions of the ANC were communists, would have created a little bit of problem but would not have been harmful. Because the second factor was this, that this was in the period of the cold war and the cold war on one side led by the US and other side by the Soviet Union, in that cold war the one player, the US, was the one player that refused to support us. The result was it didn't matter who the US was naming as communists. As far as we were concerned they were treating even Luthuli as a communist. To us that label was insignificant, it made no impact. In fact it made us even more support the communists. It made us suspicious if the US praised our position.
So for internal reasons and the cold war reasons knowledge that a specific person was a communist would not have been that harmful but I do believe that it would have made our task more difficult in the African scene because there those people were already leading the governments of those countries. Kaunda by 1964 was head of Zambia. The head of Botswana, the head of Swaziland, the head of Tanganyika was already Julius Nyerere. So these were the support bases and they had great reservations. They didn't express it as a deep strain of anti-communism but Nkrumah, particularly because of his relationship with George Padmore, the West Indian who had settled in the US and had a track record with the Communist Party, broke with the Communist Party in the early forties and wrote a book called Pan Africanism or Communism. Now he became a guest of Ghana when Ghana became independent in 1957. His book advocated Pan Africanism and trying to craft it ideologically and giving Africa two choices in the revolution; either you're Pan African or you're a communist. He was saying that Pan Africanism was progressive but anti-communist. So that was the dominant thinking at that time.
POM Mandela, I want to get some clarity on this, is Mandela- when you said the last time that Mandela and Walter were members and Walter wanted his last statement to say, "Remember, I said I was a communist", why do you say – did Mandela in prison tell you he was or that he had been?
MM Mandela never himself said, "I'm a communist." My statement is based on what I gathered in prison but at that point I was not in the Central Committee or at … conference. The evidence that had been marshalled against Madiba hadbeen one, a statement by Bartholomew Thabane who we saw at the (Denton?) Commission in the US saying Thabane was at the conferenceof the Communist Party, so was Mandela. Now the Denton Commission and Thabane's evidence …Nobody walked into a courtroom and said under oath, "I know Mandela to be a communist." Sisulu is different, he says to me, "If I die in prison, I want you to know and to be responsible for making it known that I am a communist." In Sisulu's case, if you look at Shubin's book, Shubin refers to a leading African who was a member of the party's secretariat, and he doesn't name the party member. He just says a prominent African.
Of course I don't have an incident like that with Madiba. What I have is Madiba saying, "I was attracted to the historical and dialectical …"If somebody asked him, "Are you a communist?" he would say, "What do you mean by that? If you mean by that a card carrying member of the Communist Party, no."You and I could chuckle at that report because -
POM Every underground person carries an ID?
MM What's wonderful about it is before he answered he put an assumption as the basis of the statement. Nobody had said to him, "Are you a card carrying member, are you communist?" The answer was, "If you mean by a communist a card carrying member of the Communist Party then I am not a communist." So I'm being cautious. Why am I being so cautious? I'm being cautious because is it a provable case? And if you stood up and said prove it I couldn't prove it. I couldn't find an incident to say, here in your presence with your agreement it was disclosed. I drew a conclusion that he was a communist. I'm entitled to draw a conclusion, but he's saying don't make your conclusion the proof.
POM Don't make your?
MM Conclusions that you have drawn now to be proven. He says you can't do that. If you go to the 1962 (or 1952?) Congress of the Communist Party where Kotane says one thing, there is no other person who spoke who said that. There are rumours that one or two other people who may have been detained … The leading evidence, two former Central Committee members, only Thabane said it and he didn't say it here, he said it legally at the Denton Commission in the US.
POM There are a lot of people who say he was, so it's a matter of establishing the bona fides of a person who –
MM Well exactly in terms of - have we got evidence to establish it?We all knew by the time Walter died the issue became irrelevant but I think that to be fair to Madiba a disclosure like that needs to prove that he's lying.
POM With Nzo and Nkobi, you said they were?
MM Nzo and Nkobi, I can say it because I say it from a different point of view. I can say it because I was there.
POM What was the reason for him then being kind of - or keeping them - ?
MM That would have arisen in our relationship anyhow even where some governments close half an eye towards our regime.
POM Of the problems that presented, you addressed this in some way before. Like you had when they went into exile, the SACP went to London. Then you had also in London –
MM There's a correction. Elements of the SACP leadership went to London, the white people, white, Indian and coloured.
POM Yes, went to London.
MM The African leadership of the party went to Tanzania. Moses Kotane, J B Marks.
POM Then you had the situation that if they left they might not be able to return?
MM In the meantime Tanzania was not admitting Slovo and Dadoo.
POM Then you had the comrades in the camps, the MK comrades mostly. They were not organised under, there was no organisation of them as communists?
MM They were saying we should be organised.
POM So they're sitting there and they're MK guys, now they haven't been out for training yet.
MM Some have gone and come back.
POM So they would already have been – let me say if I was a Russian instructor, if I was a Russian I would say we're training all these guys for nothing, the least we want now is that they're going to go back members.
MM No, they were far more skilful than that. Hardly a single trainee went to the Soviet Union or the GDR or anywhere to say that they were told you'd better become communists. No, none of that pressure. All that they were told, the Soviets went on to say two experiences they hammered it home and the contrast to it, very sharply, genuine support. China was different. China instead of saying, "Support the socialist cause", China said "Support China but not the Soviet Union." So that one necessarily said become a communist but become a communist for the China side. And that's where very quickly the ANC and the party decided not to send anybody for training to China. A group had gone, the first group had gone in September 1962.
POM That was Mhlaba and Wilton.
MM After that I believe another group, one or two groups went, but there was a stop to it. In fact the Communist Party Politburo, the CPP, wrote to us after Rivonia to those of us who were in the leadership of the SACP, informing us of the decision of the Communist Party and said that they've discussed it with ANC that there will be no more training squads going to China. That was on the eve of our arrest. We were arrested on the 5 or 6 July. Elements that we wanted to stay away from, the final Soviet … was now coming in, into our camps as a bigger issue.
POM So these guys are sitting in the camps, they come back, probably communists because if they did three courses on politics while they were there and –
MM Some of them had left SA as members of the Communist Party.
POM Some of them would have gone into an ideological void and here they found a set of beliefs that fed right into this thing of human beings are human beings, but they're there and they can't organise and they can't discuss; does this become a problem?
MM Yes it's quite a problem in these camps in Tanzania. Others had been members of the Communist Party here, they'd go to J P Marks, they'd go to Moses Kotane and say, "I'm a communist but here we are, unorganised. We've got to be organised. How else do we operate?"Those pressures and the pressures from London eventually led somewhere in 1971 to the first re-grouping of the Central Committee in one of the socialist countries. I don't know which one.
POM So Marks came out and Moses came out and Kotane came out.
MM Two things happened, the Morogoro conference had taken place in Tanzania. Under those conditions it would be impossible to happen. I think the meeting took place in one of the socialist countries, probably Prague, and that is where the Central Committee reorganised themselves.
POM OK. Now, I'm keeping that to one side, you've London, you've got to Tanzania and this inability to organise or even to meet, difficulty of communication. On the other side you have the SACP underground in SA.
MM By now it hardly exists.
POM We're talking earlier, we're talking about when you came back the structures that were there for you to fit into were SACP structures, the Central Committee was doing publications, it ran things. Then after Rivonia you stepped into the breach and with the remainder of the party structure just kept things going until you guys were picked up and then there was this void from 1965 and there was nothing until really Soweto. But when you came out in 1976 there were still SACP structures re-established.
MM Structures in the country in 1976 but individual organs.
POM And those cells were always there so it was there when you came back.
MM For example Raymond Suttner had come into SA, got a job as a lecturer at Natal University. Then there was the Tim Jenkin's outfit. These were units popping up in that period and getting chopped within a short period.
POM Sorry, they?
MM New people coming in.
POM So when you come out and you go to be head of the Internal, of the IPRD and Joe is still in London, that's 1977.
MM When I come out Joe is in Angola and is moving to Mozambique because Ruth First has got a job there. In a very short time, in 1977 I get out, by 1978 I'm back into Zambia, Joe has more or less settled into Mozambique.
POM He does not go to Lusaka?
MM I think the question was while the ANC had been located there for some time not only did it share no borders with SA but you have to traverse very big distances to get close to SA. In the case of Zambia you couldn't cross Zimbabwe. The next country was Botswana. From Kazungula in the north to Gaborone was 1000 kms. Namibia. The next country that enjoyed a border was Mozambique. Now in the wake of Soweto the need for huge training facilities to be training people in batches or even go to Moscow to train them and then come back and go back in. When the Angolan situation changed the Angolan government agreed to allow us to (set up camps there). So that was the first post-Soweto where comrades like JS got involved.
POM MK structures and the command.
MM MK, right. By that time also Mozambique is getting sympathetic and Mozambique shares a border and people like Ruth First get a job through Frelimo at the university.Joe could travel to Mozambique so they say, "Why don't you settle there, work from there?" And in discussions with the ANC and the party machinery they say, "Let's settle in Mozambique."
POM Where is the SACP headquarters now being located?
MM At the moment the SACP headquarters is still London. Kotane has died, J B Marks has passed away, so of that generation Dr Dadoo is left.
POM Who is working with him in London?
MM He's working there with Joe, Joe is travelling up and down and Joe is assisting him and there are younger ones helping but Dr Dadoo and Joe are effectively, and Moses Mabida who was at that time in Swaziland but it became easy for Moses to travel to Mozambique. So Moses becomes the General Secretary. Now meetings of the Politburo begin to be held in Maputo.
POM What position is Joe in the party?
MM Joe is a member of the PB, Dr Dadoo is the chairman.
POM And the General Secretary is Moses Mabida. And this goes back to London. Aziz at that point he's not the Chief Rep. in London at that time, is he?
MM He is introduced to me as the secretary of the political structure of the sub-committee of the Revolutionary Council.
POM So the RC had sub-committees just in London.
MM That's because by the time the RC was formed in 1969 already London had structures doing work at home, London had been sending in - had sent in Tony Holliday, had sent in -
POM So the SACP is sending people into the country?
MM No, no, no. Those comrades were doing that, yes, SACP was sending people into the country but it was by agreement of the RC of which Dr Dadoo was the Vice Chairman.
POM Who was the chairman of that in London?
MM No, the chairman of the RC was O R Tambo.
POM For a period of time the stream of people coming into the country was really coming in the London direction.
MM Trained in London.
POM Because it was difficult, these guys were sitting in the camps in Tanzania and then in Angola but really the route for that period of time was coming through London.
MM Have you got anything that we could use for a flash chart?
POM No. Drawing a chart and hearing it on a recording are two different things, you have to put the names down.
MM I just want to explain, this is London and at the moment we're just saying Africa. First in Africa is Tanzania, after Tanzania comes Lusaka. In the meantime the RC in 1969, the RC is set up at Morogoro. In the meantime it has been sending in comrades individually or in a unit.
POM They were doing that since?
MM Since 1965, basically doing pamphlet bombs, party propaganda, perhaps ANC propaganda. But post RC London becomes the reconnaissance by Moumbaris and company. At the same time this side through the RC is preparing the Aventura, Somalia, the boat, the ship. Now this reconnaissance was for these comrades.
POM The reconnaissance by?
MM From London side.
POM Is for?
MM For the Aventura mission.
POM The Aventura coming from Swaziland.
MM So it's an RC mission.
POM You were saying, you were in High Point?
MM This is now, it's by the time I'm aware that I'm under 24 hours surveillance, I think it's round about 22 July and Janet and I are busy clearing up places and one of the places we needed to clear up was this trunk which had equipment, it was stored in a flat in High Point building, probably about the 18th floor, somewhere round about there, quite high up. We go up on one lift and I feel that I need to break surveillance so I press the lift to the 20-odd floor, lots of people in the lift and I'm standing with my back to the lift switches, gently looking at people in the lift. When the lift stops at floor 12 or 13 I wait for everybody who's coming off at that floor to get out and I try to slip out as the last one just before the doors start closing. I look whether anybody else has got out after me and then I take the emergency stairs and I start going up. I get up and I go to the requisite floor, get to the requisite flat, get the stuff, arrange for it, Janet meets me there. When I'm exiting now and I'm going down the stairs, and these are emergency stairs, and half way down the emergency stairs there's a white man panting and climbing up and he's shocked to see me but he can't turn back with me because he's on surveillance duty.
I managed it but I'm just now living by the skin of my teeth and the point I'm making about this story was with a bit of luck I could break that surveillance and disappear. I had choices of disappearing within the country or getting the hell out of the country. As I say none of those would have been useful because I'd already said to Madiba that I have a problem about how to now touch other comrades. This risk that I took at High Point was a risk to go and rescue equipment. Anything could have gone wrong but if it was to go and touch other people, suppose they saw me enter that flat, it's another person caught.
POM Was that cop on surveillance duty, was he part of the surveillance team?
POM The policeman you bumped into on the stairs. Was he part of the surveillance?
POM So they were watching what you were doing?
MM They were following me all the time.
POM Then they knew exactly what flats you were going to?
MM This is the point but I evaded him, I had eluded him as to the flat because when I jumped off that lift on the wrong floor and ensured that nobody else had jumped off on that floor, whoever was in that lift now had two choices; jump off at the next floor but where to head? Down or up? Let's say the guy started off by saying, "Shit, this is the 13th floor, I think Mac went down to the 12th floor", so he rushes down those stairs but in the meantime I am gone past him. So he goes right down and he starts coming up again because he just doesn't know where to find me and that's when we criss-crossed. So you could break a surveillance but the point is that you're taking a real, real risk, you're endangering people now. Rather than saving you're becoming a danger to everybody because you can't be sure, maybe there were two in the lift, maybe one shot up the stairs and one shot down the stairs and you think you're still safe but you're not, you're taking them to other people. So I think that those are the dangers.
What I was clear about was if I'm going to be arrested, be arrested in a high profile situation. High profile in the sense that you'll catch the media so that I know one thing, that the moment it is reported that I'm arrested –
POM Everybody can take cover.
MM Certainly Cape Town, Charles Nqakula, Little John, will say, "Shit! We're in trouble." Anybody else in different places would say, "Disappear." And I'm saying, look at the record, once I'm detained nobody else gets detained, there's nobody else got detained after that. And yet if you look at the list here there were lots. If Gebhuza had already spoken this much or half of this, lots of people they needed to arrest.
POM There were lots of people that they got to?
POM Did not get to?
MM Did not get to.
POM Let's go back – how many places in Johannesburg did you and Janet - you had fifty safe houses altogether?
MM I don't know, we had our places. We had the flat in Berea, we didn't have that all the time but certainly by the time –
POM Where were you storing weapons?
MM In Jo'burg the only place we had started now as a long term storage place was Parkhurst.
POM That's where you had the basement.
MM The basement.
POM Under the bed.
MM Yes. Eleventh Avenue or Eleventh Street, something like that, in Parkhurst.
POM So that never appeared in the communications?
MM No. It appeared in the following way. We became aware of the availability of the house in Parkhurst because a male member of the Zille family was studying at Cambridge or Oxford, in London Tim Jenkin and them got to know – I think his name is Paul Zille.
POM Helen's brother?
MM Yes. Paul Zille owned a house in Parkhurst. They wanted to let it. London picked this up and passed the information to us that, "In case you're looking for a place there's a place in Parkhurst owned by the Zilles. Advantage – if you guys want to rent it, we can get somebody in the UK to discuss with Paul Zille and rent it under a UK citizen's name and you guys can use it." So that information came through and certainly we replied, "We're interested in the place. We've been outside, we've seen the area, we like the house from what we see from outside. We'd like to rent it. Can you arrange the deal so that no rental is paid here, nobody meets anybody, not the owners of the place." That deal is done by an Englishman abroad, and that's how it was done. But when we got in there and we began to look at the place structurally we realised, hey, with a very little, a minimal amount of work, we can create a damn good storage place in the cellar.
POM Is that why Little John was coming up to work on that?
POM So it's possible that by reading the communications they identified – would they have seen you go there to clear that place out, would they?
MM If they had already intercepted the communications.
POM No, if they had you under surveillance?
POM So then you were identified?
MM Yes. I didn't go there.
POM You didn't go there, OK.
MM I'm saying my information was Gebhuza gets arrested on 11th or 12th. From that moment I regard myself in danger. I use that period to clear up places immediately in Johannesburg. Then I head that weekend to Natal. Then I head back. Now my information tells me by about 22 July you are under 24 hour surveillance. Now I stopped running around, I say, "Phew, cool it." So we've done Parkhurst, we've cleared up the Douglases, we've cleared the place at Berea. You say how many places in Johannesburg? We had at different times but Northcliff we'd given up but we had it at one time. We had this place in Parkhurst, we had the place that I was living in Parkhurst, 11th Street.
POM That's two Parkhursts.
MM We had the place in Craighall which I had given up already.
POM That was the one with the nice window looking out.
MM Yes. Then we had the place in Norwood. Janet had a place in Yeoville. Berea. We had a place in Lyndon. But we did not have all these eight simultaneously. Oh, we lived at The Dons apartment. There's a place called The Dons in Rivonia. A block of apartments called The Dons.
POM Good title there, "Vula Dons."
MM Jabu was staying there at one stage, I stayed there, Janet stayed there and then at times in hotels. It's the same problem staying in a place indefinitely. Indefinitely was out and that was the big problem.
POM Big problem in - ?
MM We occupied as the first house in Durban and it is the place where … gets arrested.
POM You're saying if you are going through the book of photographs what you've got to do is - ?
MM Don't pause at a photograph of a person you know, pause on a page where there's photographs of people you just don't know, that you've never been associated with. So that registers in their mind to say when we've taken him back to his cell, go and turn to that page, who are the guys there, the bastards he knows.
POM Hold on now, if you're really good, you see, you've been taught by good instructors, "Listen, this is what these guys do, they pause." That's right!
MM You come back, you've been through the thing reasonably fast and now you're able to come to a case that looks a bit like the person that you know but is not the person you know. "Guess what, he's a bit like somebody I know. No I don't think so." After you've done three or four such people, come to the one that you really know, he also looks like a person you know but you're not sure. Obviously this chap, we're getting nothing from him. But the real object is to get out of it without pointing to somebody. And what can they do? So I'm saying it's a useless exercise. They know. The person that they are looking for you to identify, they know his identity, they just want you to say so and they want to say, "Well, have we succeeded in this guy, is he now co-operating?"
POM Mac, we've got time yet.