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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

19 Aug 2004: Maharaj, Mac

MM     I'm reading my first communication. In this batch, I read my first communication when I hear that Zarina has had an accident and it's saying she's got one fracture, she'll be fine, she'll be out of hospital in two days and I am sending a message back, I'm saying, "Are you guys being honest with me?" Only to find out later on there were 19 fractures.

POM     My reading was that Slovo was on his way, Slovo had somebody send a message to you, to Richard, whoever that was, and that he was leaving the country for China and that he –

MM     Or Cuba or somewhere, yes. But my point is that Ivan is there permanently in Lusaka. This is not a question that – it was not like a political response, it's just a factual report which even Ivan and them could have accessed and would have had enough authority to send it on to me, to just tell me accurately what is the position. So I had a lot of difficulty extracting exactly how serious is the accident. I think that's not easy reading. It's not easy reading. But that's a small thing.

POM     There was one part on that, the UN paid for Zarina to go to London, right?

MM     Yes, possible.

POM     They said they would pick up the expenses then. When the accident happened she was employed –

MM     By the British.

POM     But you said there was this argument with Slovo. Was it Slovo?

MM     When she had the accident and when she was in Lusaka hospital at that stage it was not clear what's going to happen.

POM     Just a broken rib.

MM     Yes. She had a broken rib and she was getting paralysed slowly and the doctors are saying send her to Harare, The question then arose, who pays? A trip to Harare, to me that shouldn't have been a debate. It was not clear and Slovo was saying, "No, the UN must pay." Who is going to attend to that while Zarina is in bed? How does she attend to getting the UN to pay the ticket? Why didn't he just say, "Go along and we will sort it out and when the UN refunds you it will be refunded. She won't wait."

POM     Now were you getting this by a different - ?

MM     I don't know, it's not a real – I don't know whether something arose when I met Zarina. What I know is that at some point I learnt that she had been in hospital in Lusaka for seven days before being moved to Harare.

POM     Because it was Momo who told you that he had seen her on the tarmac being moved into the plane.

MM     In a wheelchair. At some point I learnt that part of the problem was that she had been in hospital in Lusaka for seven days with no treatment except as if she has got a muscular pain. In the meantime this arm is completely snapped and the doctors and nurses are saying it's just a muscular tear. This side, if you look at her, she has up to now no shoulder left, and they are saying it's a muscular thing. So here's a woman with 18, 19 fractures, lying there and slowly becoming immobilised, unable to move even her neck, and it goes on like that for seven days until when she is finally moved to Harare she's got to be in a wheelchair and lying down because she can't even move her head. Now that straightaway raises concern. "Chaps, who was attending to this thing? Isn't it something that even a lay person would say that, hey, there's a problem here?"

     So all it brings back is a sense that it was dismissed as, don't worry, and for Mac, don't worry, just tell him not to worry. I am sure I myself if they had said to me, come out, would have raised the same problems as I raised when I saw the communications about Moscow where they are saying, OR is saying, "Come and spend a month's holiday." I'm saying how are we going to do it? How do I get out and how do I return safely? So if they said now this is the real condition, I would have myself felt obliged to say, now I've got to get out but how do we do it so that we don't jeopardise the mission. And I would have been saying is she taken care of? Where will I be meeting here? Would it be Lusaka, would it be Zimbabwe, would it be London, would it be Moscow? And I would myself be saying, if she can get to hospital in Moscow then I can come and see her there. But those things didn't arise because I kept getting reassuring messages.

POM     Doled out in small bits and pieces.

MM     Somewhere you will find, my memory says I ended up so distrustful that I began to say, "Chaps, I want a medical certificate, I want a doctor's report. I no longer know what to believe." And from Zarina's side, while we had not talked about it, obviously when she realises how serious her condition is and she realises that she can't be there to look after the children, then she would begin to wonder – what is Mac's response? In this situation what is Mac saying, what are his suggestions? Is he worried about the kids, is he worried about me? Or is he just work is more important.

POM     That came across in one of her communications to you where your lines got crossed and she learnt apparently from Joe that you were intending to do one thing and she kind of wrote to you and said, "Hey, that's fine. Where do the children and I fit in your scheme of things?" It was just, again, the bad communication system because it wasn't like picking up the phone and saying let's talk.

MM     But there shouldn't have been need for that amount of misunderstanding with the communications system we had, there shouldn't have been need for that. It was fairly instantaneous and it was improving better and better by the day.

POM     The first message that you got, that was sent to you, went to Gebhuza. That was sent two days after the accident, it was sent on the 9th. That was the one to let you know she had an accident, the car was totalled but she was OK. It was sent on 9th and you never got that. The first you learnt about it was on 20th.

MM     Why did they send it to Gebhuza?

POM     Because you were moving around. They said, "Make sure that Mac gets this." Obviously you weren't – I mean you can look at the things yourself.

     This is the Madiba Release chapter on page one, insert one. I have a question there Mac that says could you elaborate on this a little? You say, "I came to the conclusion that in the environment that had arisen they would have to be the innovators and they would have to carry the burden of that innovation." This is Walter and Madiba. I say, "Could you elaborate, what was the environment that had arisen, why would they have had to be the innovators?"

MM     If you just look at the next, don't you think I'm actually dealing with that? I'm saying the environment was that you had the potential for negotiations but you had to drive it hard.

POM     There's no reason why Thabo or the NEC – why couldn't the NEC have driven it? You've got to put it in a comparative basis.

MM     No, if you look at the issue of how – the fact that OR is now with a stroke, the need to carry the South African public as well as the ANC constituency, who would have to take that load? It needed Mandela and Sisulu to take that load. Is there somebody else who would take that load with the popular support? Govan, because of the Rivonia trial, but Govan was already in a posture of anti-negotiation. So I am saying that's one thing, so the negotiations process had to be driven and had to be sold down to the public as well as the ANC constituencies. And yet, I'm saying, in that environment you had now the tripartite alliance that you had to carry with you because you could not ignore that the alliance was in the old form of the SACP/SACTU. COSATU had emerged, the UDF had emerged. You could not just treat these as replicas of SACTU to move there.

     The next point I'm making as I go on is the legalisation of the ANC and you saw how many problems have arisen because it would just open up the ANC for anybody to jump into it and say, I'm ANC. Then you had all these competing parties created under the Bantustans and under apartheid and yet you had to present a negotiating process with a win/win thing and many in the ANC –

POM     So you would have had Govan opposing –

MM     As victor and vanquished.

POM     Anything to do with the homeland parties as well, the Bantustans.

MM     And Govan would have projected the image of what we want is a victor/vanquished solution.

POM     So you also had in there, you still have to manage this so that all the Rivonia trialists appeared as one.

MM     As one. And you had to make that 'as one' of the Rivonia trialists, the ANC in exile and still at one with COSATU and the MDM and the others, so you had to make all formations and there you needed people of stature who could command that, who could have the benefit of the doubt. That is why you see even Mandela, Mandela in those years right up to OR's death, no matter how ill OR was, he produced OR in public, he produced Walter in public, he produced Slovo in public, he produced Jay Naidoo in public, because he needed to portray that broad – even Govan, he drew in Govan, he drew in Harry Gwala even though he knew where they stood because the purpose was to present an acceptable united front to the constituency. You could not afford the ANC constituency nor the broad public to become at loggerheads with each other. So to innovate in that space –

POM     The media at that time were trying to play up this thing of there are people within the ANC who are against negotiations and trying to play off one side against the other. So you had to manage that as well and the people who would play into it for their own purposes.

MM     And you have that first statement of Madiba's, hard-line, pro-nationalisation. We know that some of those things were inserted by the MDM, people that he consulted from Victor Verster. They said, "You must say it." He said it because he wasn't going to argue, the issue was – I have to pull everybody together so that when we move off in any new direction, we move off together. But by the time he stamps his authority he's no longer afraid. When he became President he didn't hesitate, he would just take a position because by then he knew that he could get everybody. He made Govan the Speaker of the Senate. He gave everybody positions, but he made it difficult, people could talk in whispers about him but they couldn't in public.

POM     He did the old thing, is promote those who disagree with you.

MM     Yes.

POM     Don't fire them, promote them.

MM     This is my point when I say to you later on when it came to the emergence of the party, I said the ANC is moving in an environment where compromises, all sorts of deals have to be made. Party, you are part of the alliance. Somebody needs to keep on raising the moral voice and the ANC under Madiba and Walter would appreciate that coming from an alliance, not coming in the form that it's attacking the ANC but coming in the form that it discusses the way forward and says, yes, there will have to be all sorts of deals cut but at the core of the revolution there has to be a force which keeps on counteracting that tendency to compromising with corruption and to compromising our sense of morality. I couldn't get it through, I couldn't.

POM     You couldn't get?

MM     I couldn't get that view understood, appreciated in the party, because I think all of us were into the same game now.

POM     The rush for power.

MM     All of us were just into emulating rather than sitting back and saying what's our different roles?

POM     OK.

MM     So I thought that that one is dealt with but something else is not dealt with which comes later.

POM     We've got the spiral of time, page two. You expand some of this.

MM     Now that one I think you are right. Again I think that while I've dealt with it as I go on, even though these were off the cuff interviews, I do get myself taken aback how I start giving you responses where I start claiming that there are four factors right at the beginning. I didn't even know there were four factors or three factors.But be that as it may, this question of the social fabric unravelling, obviously at the time that I am speaking to you one of the things that's uppermost in my mind is the degree of violence in our society and I think I have referred to the enormous upsurge of so-called black on black violence in August 1990 which I personally believe had the regime behind it. But I have gone further in my consideration on this social fabric: apartheid itself was characterised by us as an illegitimate, immoral and discredited system. That characterisation in the minds of our own followers had the implication that therefore all apartheid's action and all its laws were carte blanche bad and rejected. So from our side the public being mobilised with us were moving to the point where no law made by apartheid deserved any respect.

POM     You had a licence to do what you wanted to do.

MM     Yes. So we were no longer looking at any particular law as to whether it was fair. We simply were moving into a carte blanche complete rejection of anything that apartheid was doing. On the other side, from the apartheid side, the apartheid powers that be, they too were moving to a position that they were being two-faced because they did not see themselves as being bound by those laws. For example the Immorality Act, more Afrikaner priests, namely dominees, were found contravening that law than any other religious order. They themselves in their cabinet were made up of people who had black blood in their veins. And by saying that apartheid was immoral we were saying that the law that it made had no foundation in morality or fairness. So from two sides, from the apartheid side by being two-faced with tongue in the cheek, they themselves not respecting their own laws as they were making them, and from us, the oppressed, rejecting the whole system, the idea that that law is governed by a sense of fairness or morality was eroded. This to me, this consciousness that law while as a whole is generally necessary and good, there may be some bad laws, but it is based on a sense of fairness and morality, is a glue that holds the social fabric together. It prevents anarchy and therefore there was a danger that was arising that we were beginning to live in an environment that rejected all religious or moral principles as governing the relationships.

POM     As areas became ungovernable, there you had the removal of even - the restrictions of an unfair state were even being removed.

MM     And nothing was being put in its place which was arguing in terms of fairness and morality. What was being put in its place, it was hoped, would be community leaders, but what was happening is younger and younger groups were taking over and apartheid was keeping on infiltrating them to subvert them and they were just simply saying, "We are the people." So what you are having then is the danger of really nihilism arising and it's this thing that colours my view about what lay behind the black on black violence as well. And that view then comes to the view that we were caught now in a spiral that the reassertion of law, the morality underlying law, the fairness underlying law, the need to respect law, was urgent and the delay in coming to a new order was making that nihilism deeper and deeper entrenched in the consciousness of people.

     I've also had the additional view, the companion view, that post-1990 we should have been more conscious in how we explain the laws we were making. Every law we were making, I believe, needed to be explained in the media, in parliament in terms of its fairness, it's reasonableness and it's moral account.

POM     You mean every law being made by the new government? That's post-1990?

MM     1994.

POM     1994?

MM     We needed to do that because even now when you look around, you talk about corruption, when I joined the bank, within two months of being in the bank I came to realise that 25% of South Africa's entire public service has a take home pay at the end of the month of almost zero cents because it is so indebted to the micro-lenders. I said to myself, we can do anything we want to eradicate corruption but until we address this problem that the person working at the counter of a government desk, when you come in with an ordinary application, be it a driver's licence, an ID book, a marriage certificate, a birth certificate, he's going to be looking at you and whether you're going to slip him a ten rand or a twenty note under the counter, because at the top of his mind is the awareness of the end of the month that he's got no salary to take home. Now until you do something about that your public service is in its very existence in danger of being swamped by corruption. Now we know the government has tried a few years ago to put a cap on micro-lenders' interest and it's had to retreat. It set up a micro-lending council but it has not resolved the indebtedness of the public service. I actually phoned Thabo on this matter and Trevor Manuel to say I got a shock at what I thought was a problem when I was in government, now being with the bank and getting access to the figures, I got a shock about the depth of the problem.

     So these are some of the inheritances that we have and it was therefore imperative to be explaining every law we made post-1994 by saying it's legitimate law, it's grounded on fairness and it needs to be obeyed. So that's the spiral.

POM     OK. Now, then we come to the next one. This is on the elections. There are many people I've talked to, many across the board who said that a speedy election would have suited De Klerk. He had goodwill going before Boipatong, he was organised, the ANC was disorganised, it didn't have the capacity to organise at that point, time was on your side not on his in terms of organisation. He was facing a deadline in 1994 with regard to an election which he couldn't have. You said the ANC wanted to avoid being pushed into an election in 1992 so that would leave 1993.

MM     That's in my view.

POM     When was the earliest you could have had an election?

MM     My view is that realistically we could have had everything sorted out and an election in 1993. I think it was held back by all sorts of things. But while everything that you are saying here is right and is a factor, I must make the point that history has shown that in the anti-colonial situation the organisations perceived by the masses as the forefront of the liberation movement in any country –

POM     You get the vote anyway.

MM     Have got the vote. Kwame Nkrumah got the vote from prison, he was still sitting in prison when he was put up as candidate. Nehru got the vote, he had hardly come out of prison. So the sentiment would have carried us through but would it have carried us through in a better organised state? I'm not sure. However, when I look at this situation as it was developing and the negotiating process, it is my view that had De Klerk's side risen to the challenge and had the ANC driven it, we could have had the elections in 1993 and it would have been better for the country.

POM     OK, we're done with that. That was Madiba's Release chapter, that was insert three. Pallo's memory.

MM     Pallo was the scribe for the meetings of the Working Committee and the NEC in Lusaka in the period of 1985/86 and his memory of the Vula resolution is not of the resolution itself, he bypasses it. His memory is of OR reporting back to the NEC and saying in the special project he is running, he is proceeding to arrange for people to go home. The next time he reports back he reports, "I have now decided to incorporate Slovo as my assistant." So I didn't want to argue with him but that's how he as the scribe remembers it. Whereas the truth is that the resolution, as I recall it with JZ and Chris sponsoring it and having lobbied during that tea break, the resolution mandated OR assisted by JS. Anyway, that was his memory.

     He was very, very interesting in his recollection about the time of my arrest. He started telling me, I don't know if he will do it to others, but he started telling me which NEC members were attacking me for Vula and what they were saying, how they were saying, "What business does this chap have to go and hide arms? We are in negotiations now, why should he be doing that?" It took Pallo to stand up and say, "But what should he be doing? Should he now stop everything?" Then people sitting back and saying, "You've got a point." But he confirms that in those discussions in the NEC – Madiba had just been released, we get arrested and the view of a number of them was, "Let Mac and them stew, disown them."

POM     Who were they Mac? Who did he mention?

MM     He says that even Zuma questioned us.

POM     Who are your friends again?

MM     I don't know, I don't know who are my friends.

POM     Who else?

MM     He says under that sort of barrage people like Slovo were lost, didn't know how to fight back, because it was an avalanche of emotion.

POM     So you had Zuma. Who else did he mention?

MM     Aziz.

POM     Aziz, always Aziz.

MM     Always. But, as I told you, Jakes tells me even Thabo. Oh yes, he confirmed also Thabo, but more sophisticated in his reasoning and usually put as a question: "Shouldn't we leave that? We'll attend to it later. We'll attend to their release and things like that. Let's get on with the business of the moment."

     How far the outside was from the real conditions of moving the struggle here because if we waited for the information to go to Lusaka and to filter back to us, we would have been arrested, gone. They never saw it as serving the inside, this mindset problem, not because they were evil, it was just because sitting there things were not operational in their minds. You will see in the communication, I think one time I get so angry with Rocky. I'm saying to them, "Hey guys, you've got resources there, you can send somebody to sit in fucking Botswana for a week but you can't tell us we're taking a chap who's got to leave his work and drive over and come back and not appear to have disappeared, to say no he must sit in Botswana for a week." The mindset is wrong, the intelligence, the threat is here, operational. There is strategic information that you go on later but when the threat is here what do we do? Here we were talking to the unions, we could have very easily started talking to Maxwell Xulu. Here he was treasurer of a union in COSATU. What would have stopped me except this report that says he is the enemy agent.

POM     Now you got information too on Francis Meli before it got to Zuma?

MM     To Zuma, and that prevented them from allowing Meli to go to the conference in Havana to which we sent Billy Nair and people from home. Now imagine if Meli was in Havana he would have been able to tell his person in South Africa who was at Havana from home. So Billy and them would have been locked up in two ticks here. And remember too, Havana when Joe asked can we have delegates from home? I was saying, "Hey, it's a problem chaps, what about the security?" He said, "But the historic fact that after 30 years in exile we will have a conference at which there will be delegates directly from home, it will make a huge impact on their thinking." I said, "OK, guys, you're right."

POM     This chapter is – we're dealing with Harry first or are we dealing with Govan? Govan?

MM     Harry.

POM     Harry, OK, Harry Gwala, we're dealing with Harry. Page 3, insert one after, "Harry was a seasoned fighter."

MM     With regard to background facts about Harry. He was sentenced in 1963.

POM     I've got the background on him. I've picked up his background. I've done that.

MM     Ten years. You've done that. And then he was re-arrested.

POM     Yes, I've done all that.

MM     Now the one thing you must notice, the time when he's re-arrested, you may not even use this, it's 1975, that is the time when – that's the group of arrests in Natal, that is when Zuma escapes arrest and gets to Swaziland. Secondly, that is the time when Joe Mati in Port Elizabeth is arrested and a chap, I think called, Milner Ntsangane. And that is the time when Elijah Loza in Cape Town is arrested and he dies in detention, which is reported as suicide, and that is the time when Joe Gqabi, Martin Ramogadi and Tokyo Sexwale and others are arrested in Johannesburg. Now here are four centres where arrests have taken place and the key people arrested are former Robben Islanders, e.g. Harry Gwala, Steven Dhlamini in Pietermaritzburg; Zuma evades arrest; Joe Mati, Milner Ntsangane ex Robben Island; Loza trade unionist; Joe Gqabi, Martin Ramogadi ex Robben Island; the one who gets away is John Nkadimeng from Jo'burg. He gets away to Swaziland. Now all this happens at a time when the movement has sent a group of comrades to Swaziland to organise, comrades Thabo Mbeki, Albert Dhlomo and others, and they have had to retreat partly as a result of these arrests and partly as a result of themselves being detected by the Swazi authorities.

POM     Where did they retreat to?

MM     Back to Lusaka.

POM     So that's the end of the structures in Swaziland too.

MM     Virtually, got to start again. Now in this framework, given this background, Harry has had a very long history of playing a divisive role in the movement, in the national liberation movement. Coming from the party in the forties he has often been part of a sectarian approach. On Robben Island during his first stay with his charisma, with his left background, he in the communal cells was part of a group - In Robben Island in the communal cells where Harry was kept they did some fantastic things as the ANC in challenging the PAC but at the same time Harry was the leading person in the group that almost split the ANC in prison into two warring factions.

POM     In the communal cells?

MM     In the communal cells. What they did was they selected from the membership of the ANC in prison, and MK, who they thought was leftwing and at the quarry at work in the shed they would assemble as a group to have political classes but exclusively for the people that they had selected and excluding the rest of the ANC membership. We in the single cells received reports of this and of the controversy that arose because the other members found out when somebody tried to walk into the shed at lunch time and was prevented from entering. It turned out that they had constituted a group, they were discussing fairly innocuous things, political theory, Harry was running a course on what he called the labour theory of value. But they had selected who can attend and who can't and they were presenting an approach that it is they who are the real leaders.

POM     OK, this is insert two on page two.

MM     At this point, Padraig, you need to do a little work at looking at that correspondence between OR, JS and myself over the Harry thing and rather than it coming from me or coming in this form of questions from you, it should come from you in the form that says that that correspondence shows –

POM     It does.

MM     That Harry perceived himself as the unique leader by virtue of his leftism and that his alliances with Govan shared that view.

POM     Now where did his alliance with Govan come from?

MM     Because both were supporters of this party understanding. Both were communists, both shared a view that the Communist Party does not work with the national liberation movement, it takes it over and controls it, whereas the mainstream of the SACP was not to take control. Even Walter, who is now known to have been communist, Secretariat of the Communist Party, Shubin says so without naming him, you will see that Walter never came to a meeting of the ANC to impose a decision. Moses Kotane, even the armed struggle, even when the party had decided and Madiba is pushing for it, Moses Kotane would put questions in the ANC which made people say, are we right? Madiba had to go and talk to Moses and say, "Moses, you opposed me in the ANC." Then Walter says, "Madiba, I'll arrange a meeting with you and Moses. Sit down with him, spend a day, argue the matter." When they argued the matter Moses said, "Madiba, at the next Working Committee re-raise the matter. I don't promise you anything but you re-raise it." This time when Madiba raises it Moses doesn't say a word in the debate and Madiba wins out. That's allowing the organisation to thoroughly debate and appreciate why it's taking that decision. It's not saying we took this decision in the party, therefore you must take the decision. Whereas the underlying approach of the Harrys that emerges from that correspondence is that their conception of the left and of the Communist Party was you are the elite, your understanding is superior and what you understand others must follow. And taking a national liberation movement, putting the rumours out, oh Walter Sisulu, he's a petty bourgeois, Mandela is petty bourgeois. What was it doing? It was taking a national struggle and making it into just a pure workers' struggle and even there it's questionable whether they understood the concept of the workers' struggle correctly.

     So I think this is where you have to get to grips. This was the real issue of how the ANC continued throughout its history to accommodate communists even where some of those communists were extremely divisive.

POM     So in a sense, the other side of that is that you had what you would call – these who were, what you say, who had grown up in the thirties and forties and were -

MM     Sectarian. I call it sectarian. Narrow minded. Even in Europe in the face of nazism the idea of a popular front was a highly debated thing and even that popular front, often many countries of party people saw the popular front as something that they took over. That's not the intention, a united front is not like that. You can't seriously talk of a united front unless all the constituents of it are granted equal respect. So here these guys would always undermine the others to try and establish their own superiority and so rather than –

POM     I've got it, yes. I think I in fact did that because I went through Harry's –

MM     And I think that you will be understood better, and people will hear you better, than if you just call him a party warlord. I know he's causing problems and I know we've got to handle this matter and you are right but at the same time –

POM     He was a security threat.

MM     He was an enormous security threat. In fact we were not detected and look at the number of times through comrades in the struggle –

POM     That's amazing.

MM     - that the danger arose that we could be detected.

POM     It's amazing.

MM     And it raises the question of why in the pursuit of one's certitudes one can easily end up destroying one's own organisation.

POM     I get distinct, if I were reading those, sorry, when I read those, limited as they are, the impression they convey is that Harry would have been as well pleased if all you guys had been discovered.

MM     Yes. He would have said, there you are!

POM     They're gone, now I've got the whole territory.

MM     Got the whole territory. Not only that, you know, he would then deny that he's told people so that you could not get a measure of the danger you are facing because, I don't know, I'm saying this about myself, I don't know how many other people would have reacted the way I did because OR's advice was, "Run, get out." Gebhuza's advice was, "Don't go." And I was saying, no, this is a political problem, we've got to deal with it politically and we've got to face it but we've got to face it in such a way that we don't make the rift bigger and bigger.

     So there it is but I think that I was in tune and I had the full support of OR in the approach that I was taking. I think he appreciated the approach I was taking, supported it and yet kept on having butterflies in his stomach saying, "But, man, Mac can be any day dead."

POM     It comes across.

MM     Does that help you on Harry? Is it a bit better?

POM     Yes. Let me go through just the text here and see what I have.

POM     Mac, you had just begun to talk about Govan. You were saying?

MM     Again, you need to do some research on his background, biography, but in that research you will probably ask questions like, given the image that one has, when did he really become a member of the National Executive of the ANC?

POM     When did he become a member of the?

MM     National Executive of the ANC. When did he become a member of the party? When did he become a member of the Central Committee of the party? When did he get banned? Did he feature in any trials? You'll find some surprising answers.

POM     Mac, I don't have the time now to do all that, so could you give me the lead.

MM     I'll give you the lead. He only gets banned in 1960.

POM     1960? That's for the first time?

MM     He only joins the party after 1955.

POM     That's the - ?

MM     Underground party.

POM     That's the - ?

MM     SACP.

POM     In nineteen?

MM     After 1955, more likely round about 1958.

POM     So what is he before that? He's a member of?

MM     Nothing. Just trotting around as an intellectual.

POM     So he's not a member of the party until 1954, after it was banned?

MM     Yes. He would turn up at a function and disappear. He would be in the ANC, they would invite all black intellectuals, African intellectuals, to help fight African claims and he'd come to it.

POM     So when did he become a member of the Central Committee?

MM     Post-1958.

POM     So he was never a member of the politburo?

MM     He became a member post-1962. Was he a founding member of MK?No. He comes in through Port Elizabeth Regional Command. He's banned only in 1960. He's not in the treason trial, he's not in the defiance trial.

POM     So where does he come out of?

MM     He comes from a generation of the thirties who got a degree, therefore highly respected, became patron – was approached to be a trustee of the Guardian newspaper run by the party. He agreed to be a trustee. He lived in –

POM     He was the editor wasn't he, for that region?

MM     No, no. He only became reporter and editor of New Age in 1955 when he was at that time teaching in Ladysmith in Natal and was kicked out of teaching his name was proposed to take over as manager of New Age in the Eastern Cape. That's when he now gets full blooded into political activity. So he comes without that organised involvement and when he comes he comes into an environment where he rapidly is pushed to the top.

POM     Why?

MM     Because he's the only one not getting arrested. All the others are just – work this way, that way, banning orders, etc. The regime made a list of every communist in 1953, of the legal Communist Party, and listed them. He wasn't listed.

POM     Because he wasn't a member.

MM     Because he wasn't a member.

POM     So at the time of his arrest he was a member of?

MM     The Central Committee. He was a member of what now became High Command also.

POM     In the PE - ?

MM     No, starting at the Regional Command.

POM     Oh the Regional Command in –

MM     Then promoted and became a member of the High Command after Madiba's arrest, or before. I think it's when Madiba has just come back from Africa.

POM     But he would have had no military training.

MM     Nothing, nothing. And then in 1955/56/57/58 during the treason trial period, because from the PE side he moves up into the ANC and becomes Speaker of the ANC.

POM     That's Speaker of the ANC is like what?

MM     Is like the person who presides over the national conferences, that's the only function. It was copying the term from the British parliament. Remember we called the ANC 'the parliament'. So we needed a Speaker.

POM     Of course!

MM     Made him Speaker.

POM     So now did being Speaker make him a member of the National Executive?

MM     I'm not so sure but I think that by 1960 he was already in the National Executive of the ANC as well. I don't think by election but by co-option. All I am saying is that the fact that he gets banned, has never been involved in any trial until the MK arrests in PE, he has not been banned till 1962. In fact he's banned in Johannesburg when the police catch him on the pillion seat of a scooter ridden by Joe Gqabi, that's when they serve him with his banning order.

POM     Yet a lot of people took him as their – I mean people like Joe Gqabi, people like Andrew Masondo, saw him as the –

MM     As the core of the struggle because he would talk, and, sure, like in the ANC, when they filed in 1943 they drafted a claim called African Claim. What the ANC did was it didn't matter whether you were an ANC member or not, as long as you were African and you were educated, you had a degree, you were invited to come and take part and draft the African Claim. The attitude was, like the Indian Congress told me in Natal, "You're a member of the Congress." I said, "No, I've not joined." They said, "Listen, you're born an Indian in South Africa?" Yes. "So the constitution of the Natal Indian Congress says – any Indian born in South Africa at the age of 18 becomes a member of the Indian Congress." So I said, "I don't have to do anything?" They said, "You don't have to do anything, you are a member." Right?

     So I don't want to be saying this thing because it looks so funny.

POM     Yes, well it is. I mean emulating the Brits and having a Speaker, it's like the oppressed always imitate their oppressors, they just do it. They do it all the time, do it again, do it all, do it now, did it in the past, do it in the future. But what I'm getting at, he didn't come out of the ANC Youth League that took the organisation by the scruff of its neck and transformed it from what it was in the forties to what it became.

MM     Read Raymond Mhlaba's autobiography, it's useless, but you read it carefully you will find a remarkable thing – Govan hardly features. Because Raymond Mhlaba on the other hand, a member of the Communist Party in PE, defiance campaign, volunteer in chief, secretary of the Communist Party, secretary of the Ratepayers, this of the unions, involved in this arrest, banned, house-arrested, it's all there, all there. And so if you look at Madiba when the split takes place in prison and Govan and Ray are one side, you will see how Madiba worked at detaching Mhlaba. By the time I met Ray in the Eastern Cape after the releases and everything, I want to hear about Govan, I want to hear about him. He says, "This man, he's the one who's divisive." But of course he wouldn't put it in his book. The remarkable thing in the book is Govan doesn't feature and yet the perception is Govan is the leader of the Eastern Cape. Go and look in the forties. Is Govan in the structures? Is he in the Eastern Cape leadership? No. Go and look in the Communist Party. Is he in the leadership there? Is he even in the District Committee? No. Where is he? And then suddenly post mid fifties, open the newspaper, Govan is chairing the Interdenominational Ministers' Conference, Govan is speaker of the ANC. Clue – he's already in the Communist Party and the Communist Party is pushing him.

POM     Just then to refresh me, it was Moses Mabida who was Secretary General of the Communist Party when Govan –

MM     No, Moses Kotane.

POM     Moses Kotane, yes. When it came to, one of the questions in the prison and just as you're refreshing me, about the seniority and the question of Madiba's position in the ANC, Govan was arguing that – was it Walter was - ?

MM     No, that was another interesting argument. The argument was not that somebody else was the leader of the ANC. The argument of Govan and them was that Madiba, you're not the leader. The ANC's leadership is a collective leadership, there is no leader here, it's all equals, it's collective.

POM     Now before Madiba went in he was the?

MM     Deputy President, Commander in Chief of MK and Vice President, Deputy President of the ANC together with many others. But Walter said that Madiba and OR were the senior Vice Presidents because a number of people were Vice Presidents. Govan was saying, "No, this is a collective. There are no individual leaders, therefore Madiba cannot be the leader." Now, do you see where this argument goes? Even the Communist Party had a leader but this argument has a certain sting to it because it's put up by people who want to claim to be the leaders but cannot claim the track record, so they end up by saying there are no leaders, it's a collective, nobody's name appears. That's because they say, "We deny you, Padraig, that you're the leader." They can't say, "I'm the leader", because against your record my record is nothing, so I end up by saying there are no leaders, it's a collective.

POM     There was a time he went to prison, he would have had less than ten years membership of the SACP and less than ten years membership of the ANC but he is very assertive, therefore he's a very confident man, very dominating and the view I get is that he wrote that book on the peasant's uprising in Pondoland and took that as the theory of revolution and the way the revolution should be organised and run and that he never deviated from that really for the rest of his life. This was the theory and this was the practice.

MM     Yes, and he made the Pondo revolt look like it was his work.

POM     Look like it was his revolt?

MM     He says it's a phenomenon that's going happen over and over. You get characters like that who get away, get away with murder.

POM     That's his theory of organising, as I would get it, when he comes out of prison and goes to PE and he starts organising ANC structures, he's stuck in a paradigm of organisation that he was in 27 years before?

MM     Yes.

POM     And now he's living in an urban area and this is where the people are and he's talking about organising the peasants?

MM     No, he's not talking about an autocratic … he's giving the orders and he wanted the UDF closed down even at that time because he saw everything in a very mechanical way. There was no experience base to it.

POM     It was book based. He began to set up his structures, I would understand, with the go ahead from Lusaka? But in the end they confined him because your operation is PE and the Border area and they said stick to doing it there. But he was also organising a national collective where he had Cyril, Dullah –

MM     Kgalema, Harry.

POM     Now why would people like Cyril gravitate to him?

MM     Because they've read in the newspapers this is a Rivonia trialist who's come out. They don't know anything, there's no book telling them the history of these people. All that they know is that this is a man who is sentenced to life in the Rivonia trial for MK and he's a man who's a member of the Communist Party, he admitted so in the treason trial, in the Rivonia trial. He said he was a member of the Central Committee. So that's the record; a member of the High Command, a member of the Central Committee, a member of the National Executive, arrested at Rivonia. Who's going to question that? As soon as the man is released you dovetail to him for his advice and you're eating off his hands and what he says to you it's like law.

POM     And of course none of the people who gravitate to him at that point would be aware of the divisions that were going on within –

MM     And when they become aware of the divisions, he portrays the division as, oh, Madiba is a petty bourgeois leader, he's a sell-out. "The real leadership", he implies, "is me."

POM     Now, of all the people who were in that collective, as far as I can see, they were all in the SACP, like Sydney, I don't know whether Dullah was.

MM     Sydney was not in that collective.

POM     Cyril?

MM     Cyril was not in the SACP, in fact in the communications you will see there was a debate going on where I wanted to recruit Cyril.

POM     I saw that.

MM     And Zuma raised objections on intelligence grounds, security grounds, and you will see the communication says that it will be sorted out in a meeting and I then report back and I say I've had the meeting with Zuma and he has not been able to substantiate his case but he has agreed to bring substantiation to me the next time he comes into the country. It never came.

POM     You say that he would be able to substantiate his case?

MM     That Cyril was a security risk. In fact I have the other problem, I met the Jo'burg District at the end of one of the meetings of the Jo'burg District people in the District Committee at that time were Sydney Mufamadi, Mick Roussos and Momo. Were there just three of them or was there one more? At the end of the meeting they asked for an off the record meeting, so I agreed and they said to me that they have reason to believe that I am working with Cyril and wanted to discuss it with me; (a) they thought it's wrong that I shouldn't be telling them if I'm working with Cyril, (b) if I am working with Cyril they think it's wrong because Cyril they don't trust. So I listen them out and I said to them first of all my mandate does not say that they are the ones who will know everybody I work with. My accountability in the party work is to the politburo, not to them. So whether I'm working with Cyril or anybody else outside of them and their structures is something that if I'm doing I account to Lusaka. But let's take their criticism seriously and let's not be technical in the response. I said, "I gave you people, and the party gave you, a pamphlet written on the 40th anniversary of the mineworkers' strike." We produced as a party in 1985 tens of thousands of copies, 1985/86, 1986. We asked this group, the District Committee, how many copies do they want and how many can they distribute? And they took some. I said, "Now, let's measure people by their work. You're the District Committee, you have units under you, you're all stalwarts. How many copies have you distributed of that leaflet? More than 500? Nowhere near. Now let me tell you something, Cyril Ramaphosa alone has distributed 10,000 copies and I can verify it. And if you're telling me the test is some theory that you have whether he's a good chap, my test has got to be work, not some airy fairy stories, tell me now what is your criticism?" They say he's arrogant. I said since when is arrogance a quality that stops a person being –

POM     They should have said you are suspicious too!

MM     Then they said, "Do you know at a COSATU meeting when some of us speak", Mike Roussos was the head of these people, "When some of us speak he opens a newspaper and he sits like this reading the newspaper, ignoring what you are saying. How can you have him as a comrade?" So I said, "I don't know what you were saying, I don't know what he was saying, but maybe you were talking shit."

POM     But the fact that, I mean this is post the 1987 strike, he had led the strike that put the fear of God into whites for the first time.

MM     Yes, yes. In fact I had a problem with the party unit from Lusaka because it is the same party unit that wrote back and proposed that at a forthcoming COSATU congress they would stage a coup to take over the head office of COSATU, not by the elected leaders but by the functionaries working at the head office. Now Ray Simons was very happy with that report, meaning we will take over COSATU. I took it up in the PB, I said I disagree, I disagree because you can stage that coup, because you've got at present three good comrades working at head office of COSATU, but it will be a recipe for future takeovers to be done by coups. We have created COSATU as a democratic trade union movement. Let our people win through the democratic vote. Then we know they cannot be supplanted by a coup. But we are bringing our people up the wrong way if we say that the way to control the union movement is to take it over by a coup, by head office staff. I come in the country and I now find the faces to the people who were recommending that approach.

POM     You find the?

MM     The face, people who were names to me now acquired a face. I said, "Go to hell. You go to hell." I reported to Joe, you will see my correspondence; I've had this meeting, I've told them this and I'm continuing to work with Cyril. If you have a problem at the Central Committee and politburo write to me and instruct me not to work with Cyril but here are my grounds for working with him, here are my reasons, here's the progress we are making by working together. They said go ahead, work, and here on the ground I have people, Sydney and Mike in particular, saying no, you shouldn't be working with him at all because he's arrogant.

     Padraig, this life! And I can see how, you will see in this correspondence another one, 1990, Ray Simons gets permission to come to travel into South Africa and the Cape Town structures are reporting when we link up, they report to me, "Is it authorised? Ray Simons has arrived here and she's called all the unionists to a meeting as if they're all members of the party." So I said, "Chaps, I don't know, has Ray got that mandate?" So I write to Slovo, "Slovo, did you authorise her to call such a meeting?" Because now it's contradicting the whole structures. He says, "We haven't authorised it but you know Ray, she will do her own thing but it's not authorised." I said, "Do you see the damage she's doing? She's exposing everybody." And here's the structure protesting. You people, this is a problem for head office to sort out, not for me.

     Like the problem of Cyril, it was not for me to sort it out, it's the people in Lusaka to tell these people to stop this nonsense. But Lusaka's excuse is, no, you're on the ground, you do it.

POM     Heavy stuff, this is the stuff of great revolutions.

MM     I tell you, one can become so cynical about life. It can make one so cynical about life.

POM     Well the question is in the end why should, let's say, people involved in a struggle behave any differently than people involved in any other enterprise.

MM     Exactly. The only thing –

POM     Human nature plays itself out in the very same way.

MM     The only thing is that we were brought up to think that if you became a Marxist something happened.

POM     A spiritual awakening.

MM     Which is like a religious awakening, no different, and yet you find priests also doing the same bloody wrong things. Padraig, shall we stop there for today?

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.