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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

27 Aug 2004: Maharaj, Mac

POM     On Mandela selling out, I was asking you the question that you have this duality: on the one hand you had Mandela as the personification of the struggle, whom the masses identified with, who was known internationally, and then yet even from the time when you came out of prison you had this undercurrent of Mandela selling out that seemed to have existed from even the sixties. And that stayed there right through until he was released from jail. So what was the basis of this undercurrent and how could people like Jay Naidoo and even Dullah Omar, who was his friend and lawyer, how could they so easily slip over, read something quickly and saying, "Yes, it's Mandela selling out." It kind of feeds into something that already is there in their subconscious. Could you just trace - where did it come from?

MM     I won't make it too long because Dullah Omar he came from the Trotskyist wing.

POM     Dullah did?

MM     Yes, he used to be a member of the Non-European Unity Movement.

POM     OK, let's not deal with Dullah, let's just deal with the issue.

MM     Let's deal with the issue. The Communist Party is banned in 1950 and now it's passed to illegalising the Communist Party in 1960. Before that the relations between the ANC and the Communist Party, the idea that the two share a common perspective in the short term is fraught with problems in the building of that relationship. When Josiah Gumede went to the Soviet Union as President of the ANC in 1927 on his return he was kicked out. The party in the meantime had its own problems in evolving a healthy working relationship which was not based on a sort of takeover from within attitude. Now comes the late forties, joint campaigns are working through the Dadoo/Xuma/Naicker Pact, the passive resistance campaign of the Indians, the Votes for All assembly, the party is banned, and you still have tension – Madiba and them, Madiba is part of the group that tries to get the communists expelled from the ANC. So there is mutual suspicion, (a) from the nationalist perspective that the party wants to take over, (b) from the party side that this is a petty bourgeois lot, a bourgeois inclined organisation. The idea that nationalism is a healthy phenomenon was not there in the other colonies from the point of view of the relationship between the Communist Party and the liberation movements. In SA that healthy relationship evolved over time but at a mass level, in the broad membership level, the issue got to be seen as Madiba, even Walter, being anti party or African nationalists.

     When the party is banned of course the relationship is not visible at the surface level. So on the party side what was the weakness? It was a sectarian approach to the liberation struggle, their desire to impose a working class leadership over the national liberation movement and to move it into a socialist commitment to the point where at times they would despise people with professional backgrounds and accuse the nationalist movement of being too broad and bourgeois oriented. Now that sectarianism, even when the change in the relationship takes place, nobody knows this because it's happening in a clandestine way. And by the time MK comes nobody is told that MK has been formed by Madiba discussing the matter with Slovo. Right? And yet there is a residue of people in the party side with this sectarian approach. That is happening on the ANC side. There are people who are orientated by a nationalist outlook, a healthy nationalist outlook, but deeply suspicious of the left, still carrying over that suspicion from believing – each side believing what they want to believe about Madiba.

     Into this environment you have a personality like Harry Gwala who even in prison in the first trial in the sixties in the communal cells is telling the story that Walter and Madiba are petty bourgeois leaders not to be trusted. It falls on fertile soil when a person of Harry's stature with his demagogic skills puts it across. And then simultaneously in the single cells Govan Mbeki leads the challenge to Madiba's leadership but the challenge is not just that Madiba is not the leader of us in prison, it is that what do we replace it with? And the idea is not to put up a challenger but to say we are a collective, there is a collective leadership. Now that sounds very nice in this jargon but then when somebody comes to prison and says, "I want to meet your spokesman", you keep trotting out a committee of four, five, ten people.

     The same thing happens with the understanding of propaganda and the role of individuals in history. I am saying the divergence of viewpoints is from the fifties because before the banning of the party Madiba was seen and known to be part of a group questioning the presence of communists in the ANC, challenging the relationship with the Communist Party, even at public meetings taking the microphone away from Yusuf Cachalia and when he stood for the presidency of the Transvaal ANC in 1953 he was challenged by a chap who had been known to be in the party.

POM     Known to be?

MM     Known to be in the previous party, the legal party. But Madiba's candidacy was supported by J B Marks, known leader of the Communist Party. Some people read into that some message, others didn't, others continued to view that Madiba was still the Madiba of 1949 and that has stayed even in the later years perpetuated by people like Harry.

     Now, nobody knows who's a member of the party but people see Harry because he was in the party in the legal days. They see him as a party man. They look at the Rivonia trial and they say Govan is a party man so what they say is seen by them as the line of the party and therefore they have that thinking deep down, that's OK with them because they say, you are for the working class, these are not working class people. They don't ask what am I, myself? So that's the environment in which this issue kept coming up and, of course, now in that same world let's look at what you would do if you were the apartheid state and the CIA.

POM     The phrase 'selling out' is used to mean selling out – it doesn't mean selling out in terms of his being a collaborator?

MM     He's not sticking to the interests of the working class. But I still say innuendo. But I am saying what would the apartheid state, what would the CIA in the cold war, what would it be doing? It would use this fertile soil to manipulate it. From time to time the regime too would like to put out stories of innuendos that Madiba is not with the ANC completely, he's different from the rest of the ANC. From that difference is translated as not to be trusted. Now what is remarkable about the South African situation is that Madiba, Walter and OR never lost faith in each other. Even though they were separated they had complete confidence in each other and that is why it's an open question in the annals of history if it was not for these three people's stature what would have happened in 1990? It would be easy for the demagogues, for the left inclined, to have tried to stage an internal coup to take power. (Be careful how we formulate it, I'm formulating it loosely.) It never happened but we have had the people of the stature to carry this thing through. Which way it would have gone I don't know but I don't think it would have gone as smoothly as it has gone.

POM     OK. I think we have disposed of that one. Now I will just do one more with you and that is when I talked to Hilda Bernstein, who asked for you and says "I never hear from Mac. I liked Mac and I am with Mac", she said, not like the others.

MM     She likes Mac and she's?

POM     "With you, not like the others." Those were her words. So I'll pass on to you during the week – she's very lonely. She's staying in Cape Town and she's in a very nice home for old people. She's 89. Her mind is fine, her memory is a bit shot. On some things though she's fine, on the question of Ruth First and Joe Slovo, Ruth was brilliant, Joe was clever. She said it would be no contest.

MM     She's given you a beautiful sound bite.

POM     Yes. But I will give you her phone number later on in the week and you might give her a call just to say hello.

MM     I need the address and if I come to Cape Town I will pop in on her.

POM     She'd love it. She misses people. One thing she was very firm on and that was that Mandela was indeed a communist for a period and she perked up, I didn't ask her, she came out in the way I'd formulated something and she kind of perked up and said, "He was, I don't know why he goes around saying he wasn't." So I went around to say, "Well he doesn't say that, he says if you ask me if I'm a card-carrying communist I would say no." So then she laughed and said, "Ha-ha."

MM     He had no card.

POM     Yes. So what I'm getting back to is when you took the manuscript to London, when you got there you said I think at one point that the publication was held up because of objections coming from Joe that Mandela hadn't been truthful about the formation of MK and putting it out there in his autobiography that he was indeed a member of the party.

MM     Let me correct that. What Joe said –

POM     Who had the say over what should be done with the manuscript? Who had the say?

MM     I gave the manuscript, one to OR, one copy to Dr Dadoo. OR gave a copy to Ruth First, he told me so. Dadoo gave a copy to Joe Slovo. Now in London I met Dadoo and Joe Slovo together. At that discussion Joe did the talking and his view was that there was nothing significant in this autobiography. I said, "It is so significant." Now you've seen my views published in The Struggle is My Life by Defence & Aid, that was in that same period while I was in London. I gave that interview to Defence & Aid for that publication after I had come back, round about September/October 1977. It is around that time that I'm discussing with Joe and Doc and when he says that it does not say anything significant, I argue by saying, "Chaps, do you understand the power of this name at the level of the masses inside the country?" They argue against that not by saying he is not powerful but they simply say that, "You see, for us to take the trouble and the effort to go into this thing it's got to have something significant."

     Now I followed up that discussion with Joe Slovo in 1978 in Maputo, saying, "Joe, what is it, what harm does it do to publish?" He then said it was not entirely truthful historically. So I said, "Are you meaning the aspect about the formation of MK? It says there very carefully that when he got his mandate from the ANC his first job was to talk to the party because he was aware that the party had set up its own units and for the party to integrate its units into MK. The only thing it doesn't do is to say who he spoke to in the party." Now I say, "Is that the problem? Because if that's the problem, remember, when we dealt with the history of our struggle there was a period in 1960 when we were heading for the armed struggle and Chief Luthuli … and the Bantustans, we did everything to keep out of the public eye the news that the Chief was part of the NEC, President of the ANC, presiding over the meeting which had reached the formation of MK." I said, "We did that because we didn't want to cause a whole confusion. We wanted to say that now that he's getting the Nobel Prize let's exploit that fully to mobilise international support." Are you with me?

POM     Yes.

MM     So I say in that case we have kept quiet. Similarly, during the Rivonia trial we had to take a position about the relationship with the party to ensure that however we explained it, we did not start talking about the alliance. Thirdly, in the treason trial also we took up a line of defence which did not reveal that the party was in existence and in all those three instances you can argue that historically we were not being honest. There's a difference between telling an active lie and not telling something that happened.

POM     What did he say didn't happen? What was his dishonesty?

MM     He did not reflect that his meeting was with Joe Slovo and that Madiba then - in the agreement Madiba became head of MK and Joe Slovo became, out of the High Command, second in command.

POM     So Joe was saying because his name wasn't in there?

MM     By implication. But I don't want to put it that way. I'm saying that's the discussion I had, that's as far as it went. But in the meantime in my travels in Zimbabwe and return to Lusaka I would take up the matter with OR because remember they had said to me, Madiba and Walter, keep pressing with OR, he's very busy. Don't assume that because you've brought it to his attention it will happen. I would raise it from time to time with OR and OR on one of the occasions said to me, "You know I've given the manuscript to Ruth. I'd like to hear what she's got to say." On another trip he says to me, "Ruth also feels that there is nothing special about it." So on one of my trips to Maputo I have a chat with Ruth about it too. We didn't fight again and argue, we just talked about it and I find that she made the same points as Joe, that it's not entirely accurate. So I said, "Is it telling an active lie anywhere?" She says, "No. It just hasn't told the whole story." So I said, "But is that a ground?"

POM     What does she mean by 'hasn't told the whole story'? What was she referring to?

MM     I suppose that he's got to give the version of what happened, the Votes for All assembly, the different trials, and she herself did the speeches of Mandela. She didn't put there that he was a member of the party. She cut out, excised certain portions of his speeches. This is how she was putting it. If you think that … let me say in clear was that OR himself, that if he pursued this project, there was this opposition, the view from others irrespective, both Joe and Dadoo were saying it's no great shakes. The matter got forgotten there plus I was made Secretary in December 1977 and that job was an extremely taxing 20-hour a day seven day a week job. It was not possible for me to sit down anywhere with no resources to on my own do research and on my own start editing the thing. So it fell by the wayside but I preserved the copy and when Madiba was released one of my first acts when I was now legal was to go and give him the copy.

POM     Wonderful. I'll let you off the hook for tonight.

MM     Just look at it, Padraig, I think your remark on Ronnie I appreciate. Yes, we are bumping into this problem. There is a climate and a sensitivity in the culture of SA. We are doing in this book which is opening new ground, changing a culture and we need to do it with a scalpel rather than with a blunt knife. There are many things that we may have to drop as we go along by reformulating it but we want to use this to say history must be accurate.

POM     That is correct. We're on the same beam.

MM     Yes, so we've got to just avoid it appearing that I'm just critical of everybody, it's not only a dismissive view.

POM     We'll deal with that.

MM     OK pal.

POM     Don't worry about it at the moment. I'm as sensitive to that as you are. Have a good night. Bye bye. I'll talk to you tomorrow OK.

MM     Remember Hilda's number.

POM     Hold on, I have it in front of me. OK bye-bye.

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.