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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
13 Oct 2004: Maharaj, Mac
POM This guy, how do you spell his first name?
MM His first name is Bartholomew (Hlopane).
POM He's the guy who ?
MM Who went and gave evidence in the Denton Commission.
POM Yes. So why were they, just as a matter of interest, why were they so interested in him?
MM No, I'll come to it, why it sticks out. When I saw the photograph and it showed a picture of electioneering campaign for the opposition party in Botswana, none of the other faces made any sense to me but Bartholomew. The first conclusion was that Bartholomew has got away and he's safely in Botswana. So if that is the position, what's the problem of identifying him? Put all the blame on him. And I do not know what held back that said, hey, this is a trap, be careful. At that stage I did not know that Hlopane was speaking and that he was in detention; so the temptation to give him, as a man, who was the one, but I had worked already on the basis that I had asked in communications sent out through Amien Cajee to Bram that Dan Tloome should leave the country and I wanted confirmation that Dan Tloome had left because I was going to put anything I had to explain on Dan. Now they were throwing me into a path where I would be tempted to put the blame on Hlopane and I at the last minute resisted that. It is what conditioned me for the round of interrogations centred on Piet Beyleveld's statements because when that Constable at Marshall Square told me that Rusty and Hilda had got away, I insisted he bring a newspaper. And even when he brought that newspaper I was torturing myself whether they could have specially printed an edition to fool me. So that's the level at which one was being guarded and somewhere at the back of my mind I resisted divulging.
So when I see the name Mike here, and persistence, I say no, I think there's a problem here. But then we go on now and at the bottom of that page 138 the Swanepoel incident about the sword being held on my throat is extended to over my right eye, my throat and my right eye. I've told you two things about that; I've told you about lighting a match across my right eye and the sword on my throat and I told you how I respect Swanepoel. This adds a sentence, "This treatment lasted till I cracked." Very interesting formulation for me, and again I say this can't be genuine. Now we go.
Eventually I signed statement number two but the dating of that is somewhere around the end of August and then it says and, sure, I believe I made two statements, but statements as not cracking but statements as covering the tracks and explaining things. Here details of what the police alleged had been done to you, one, obviously it means 'by you'. It says, "Details of what the police alleged had been done to you." It seems to me it should have been reading, 'by you': that Wilton Mkwayi stays at my house, that I was in direct contact with Wilton, that I purchased and kept in my possession a set of stops and dyes for cutting and threading pipes.
Now, Padraig, this is supposed to be a statement to my lawyers. Wouldn't I be giving them the most vital information that I think the police know so that comrades who are still surviving can get to know what the police know? Right? And Wilton Mkwayi features here but there's not a word about Beyleveld; there's not a word that's saying, comrades, Beyleveld has cracked, Comrade Hlopane has cracked. Two members of the Central Committee. Now what do I know that you people don't know? Bram would know, Hilda has gone.
POM I thought you knew both of those had
MM By that time I'm now awaiting trial when I'm making this statement. They would tell me. I knew Piet was in detention but now they would confirm, here's Bartholomew in detention. And I would say, "Listen, that man is talking, he's co-operating, he's working with the cops. Piet is working with the cops." But now the problem is I would be preoccupied, who is left who knows the work that they were doing so that you can piece together and take secure counter measures to save others? Bram, one; Hilda has gone; Ivan Shermbrucker arrested; I am in detention; Hlopane is in detention; Mike, I think I've put it that when we were debating should we bring back Hlopane into the Central Committee after his round of detention, or should we put Mike? I had to consult Mike.
POM That's Mike Dingake?
MM Dingake. And the agreement was Mike would go into the Johannesburg District Committee and we would bring back Hlopane into the Central Committee.Now the crucial issue that I would be occupying to tell them about these two guys is so that Bram can arrange for people to take counter measures, to save others who are not yet picked up. Nothing of that features in this statement, nothing. It's a remarkable absence; and nothing here about Tim except the one side, where does it say? No, nothing, absolutely nothing about Tim here.
So I've looked at it from a different angle, Padraig, I've said to myself (a) first it doesn't strike me it doesn't fall within my recollection at all, but then I have now read it and said what is it that I find in its internal contents inconsistent with either the facts or with my recollection? Some are facts that I've drawn attention to, some are memory issues. It doesn't make sense and so it goes on back to Phyllis, to saying Phyllis's visit to me in Robben Island, this visit here is a lawyer's visit. It is only allowed on the basis that I want to see my lawyer to discuss what happens about my life after I leave prison. There's no way, Padraig, that this visit would have been a whole day. No way. She makes it a whole day visit. She makes it spread over lunchtime and resume after lunch. Right? Then she goes on, second paragraph page 1, "It was time to hug and leave Mac and Mac said, 'The guys are green with envy. I'm the first guy to hold a woman'." I don't know whether it says anything about this issue that Phyllis feels she lost me. Then she comes now onto the 17th.
POM These are the same people who wouldn't allow you a contact visit with your wife, but would allow you to hug your lawyer?
MM Yes! It doesn't fit, Padraig. Then we come to this here, the next paragraph, on my release: "Driving him home to live with his brother Kithar in Merebank in my VW." Not true. This whole incident, I've told this story. I am under house arrest, I am served with the order before I leave prison. My brother and his wife are there to pick me up, Kithar and his wife Mayna. She is still alive. They had a Toyota car. They were there at the prison to pick me up. They took me in their car and, remember, I'm under house arrest, I'm not allowed to be at a gathering. So I can be with my brother and his wife but anybody else in the car would have made it a gathering.
POM That's more than two people.
MM Yes. And I ask them that I drive. Now Phyllis has taken the story and made it she was driving me. I asked her. And then she says, it goes on, "After 12 years away from traffic and roads, could I let him drive? It was the only mode of transport that took my children to school, their swimming. Could I do this? He said if he did not drive he would never drive again. Breaking the law, I got out while he jumped into the driver's seat." What law was being broken? What law was being broken? There's no law being broken there.
POM But she is saying that only she met you. She's saying driving home to live with his brother. She's not saying that he met you, she's saying that she met you.
MM That she met me and she took me. But then she goes on to say that in the car I wanted to drive and she says she relented but when she relented she was breaking the law. What law was she breaking? By allowing me to drive her car what's the offence?
POM Why would you not be able to go see her at her offices?
MM No, no, let's stick to this paragraph. I'm saying breaking the law, what is it that she's putting in there? Now we then go to her offices. I think I've explained to you, here is, let me show you, let me do a diagram. I don't even know where her offices were because I never went into her offices because they were on the wrong side of the street. This is Durban's West Street going towards the beach front. This is Grey Street. This is Pine Street. There's a small side road here where the Chambers known as Lakani Chambers were, Mr Kissoon Singh used to have his legal office where I used to work in the fifties, despite what she says about my working. She says I was a full time student. Now to be on this side of Grey Street and this side of West Street was to be in the Indian area, Indian business area.
POM That's one side of the street?
MM Yes. So if you were there I was precluded from being there.
POM You couldn't be in an Indian area?
MM No I couldn't. No, and specifically all these parts of Durban, central Durban, that's white area, this is the business area, I could go. But this where the Indian businesses are and the Indian offices are I couldn't. Now Zak Yacoob, I was introduced by Phyllis, Zak had an office in this block where mostly white offices were, because Zak was an advocate and so was Louis Skweyiya. They two had offices in this building in Fenton Street, it was called Fenton House. Now that is where I would have the meetings. So not at Phyllis's office because I would be breaking the law. But when I escaped I went and parked my car in a parking lot here, I walked along here, I came in and because I had the keys to these offices of Kissoon Singh I broke the law and went into here at five o'clock in the morning with these keys that I had made, got into Kissoon Singh's offices and that is where I changed my appearance. And having changed my appearance and my clothes I went down the fire escape, came out of the side street and came here and it is here that the late Shadrack Maphamulu met me and we walked across deeper into the Indian area to pick up transport.
Now this is how I went out but Phyllis, here, is saying I went to Lakani Chambers, I could go to Lakani Chambers. Not true. This was in the prohibited area. What she knows later on from my escape is that I left my clothes in the Lakani Chambers but I could not go there normally. It was in the Indian area, excluding me. So no question that I could go into Lakani. Then she says Yacoob was counsel but his Chambers were in C & I House. Not true Yacoob's offices were here in Fenton House. "We saw him at Meerbank or in my or Kissoon Singh's office in Lakani Chambers." Not true. You saw me at Meerbank at my brother's house or you saw me at Zak Yacoob's offices in Fenton House. So that's that part.
Next. I told you about this VW. It's not true that the United States chap was working for US Security. I told you it was USAid. And it's not true that he told me that my car had been bugged. I think I told you how I used Raj's to drive to the beach along a route where I could see for miles and they turned up and I realised that it's bugged and I deliberately used that car right up to the time of my escape, because I said, "Now lull them." I wouldn't tell Phyllis those things.
So, "He was able to confront me with all the details of Mac's life." Not true. Then look at this end, Padraig, look at the sting. The second last paragraph, "Mac, he has contributed so much of his energies to the struggle for freedom. His youth was given entirely to the struggle." Just my youth?
POM Let me ask you. A couple of things struck me, did they take you back to your house?
MM It's a rule. In police work if they search your place and they find something, unless you are present during the search they cannot use the exhibits that they have found to attribute it to you.
POM This is crazy. I mean this is an apartheid state. I mean today they would just go in and you're in detention and they'd say, "We searched your house and we found - "
MM Yes, Schabir Shaik, they took all the documents. Schabir Shaik, he was out of the country when they took all those documents.
POM So the new laws they can take what they like. But in the apartheid state you had to be there. So did they take you back on those three searches?
MM They took me at least the one search, the day of the arrest. I certainly recall another time and then I recall one more time, because this is the time the third time, and you know this is how I'm piecing together; the third time is when they start taking samples from the kitchen floor in the wood board. That's because by now they've heard the story that there was an explosion at my house. Now that's what they wanted Amien Cajee for. Nothing to do with Lionel Gay. And the problem is that they did not know whether it was Amien. They released Amien. Why? Because Lionel Gay had heard the version that a banned person, an Indian who is banned, was involved with Mac in making the gunpowder and the explosion took place at his house. Now, who is this Indian who is banned? They went for Amien and they went for Babla Salojee. Both fitted the description. Babla gets killed, I think 5 September, but by that time they've narrowed down and they have said the person was injured in the explosion. But I've told you who treated Amien, Essop Jassat. So he did such a wonderful job, he lanced all the blisters, hands, face, everything, treated him and said I had done a magnificent job because before I called him, I told you I used to carry Acriflavin, it's an ointment used in burns. And this I learnt of from a chemist when I had that lead problem so I carried always Acriflavin. So as soon as this thing took place the first thing was to put Amien, lay him down, and smear him with Acriflavin, then call Essop, and Essop came, and again he did something that my layman's knowledge of burns was such that I thought it was wrong, he lanced the blisters, cut them with a scissors, took out all the things inside the blister, put medicines on it and bandaged him, hands and everything, and I had to take him to his house. Now it left Amien with no scars. This is supposed to have happened in June 1964 and we are arrested in July. I'm arrested 5 July, Amien shortly thereafter; no evidence of any burns. Nothing. Now this is what would have nailed Amien. Nothing happened because they had nothing on him to catch him. So that's Amien.
So when you ask were there searches? Yes, and it brings back the issue of the samples that they took from the floorboards because they were hoping that they would find gunpowder, the residue of gunpowder.
POM Where do you think this statement emanated from?
MM I just don't know. Where it emanates from and how it gets to Phyllis absolutely makes no sense. And for Phyllis to say that she carried it all over but never came and gave it to me, it just doesn't make sense. Then when I read the rest of the thing, for her to publish it with all those nuances and hints without even telling me, says this woman is very, very bitter about something. And she's gone that far and it didn't make sense to me. When did she publish this book?
POM It was some years ago I think.
MM 2002. Interesting. Oh, by the way, she says Padraig, have I boasted to you that I finished my degree in spite of my eye injuries and everything? She's implying that here, she's implying that I didn't qualify. She's implying that Mac would play cards or whatever and usually shared his winnings with us. She was not at Natal University in 1953 when I lived by gambling, as I told you people, and I began to work for Kissoon Singh. Oh, this business about going to the weddings and eating. Shit! What started as a thing for Hassim Seedat, the lawyer, Ebrahim Seedat, the doctor, myself, and the Hampson Grove clique, has now become something that Phyllis says was being done by everybody and she was part of a group of fourteen. Now I remember this very clearly that we used to do this, to go to weddings to go and eat one meal a day. She's now made herself part of that group. She would have been the only woman in that group which would have stood out at an Indian wedding and you don't go to an Indian wedding in those years, men and women, and sit together. You'd be turfed out.
Again, she writes in a very funny way. "There were great debates. I'm not so sure that Mac featured in the SRC but M J Naidoo, who objected to Mac's relationship with his sister Tim, was a perennial." Oh, she says, "Mac completed his degree by 1956." Yet earlier she had said we hadn't graduated. Anyway.
POM OK, we can't go any further with it.
MM So I don't know how you're going to deal with this thing. It really glorifies her and the statement. I don't believe that there is anything in that statement that suggests that it is an accurate statement that was made and that it was what I gave my lawyers.
POM What I find interesting is that who would your lawyers have been? Your only lawyer at that point was?
MM It would have been Joel Joffe. The other lawyer would have been George Bizos. Dave Kitson had his own senior counsel oh! And there was a chap called Philip Hare. Philip Hare settled down in the United States. I've spoken to somebody who knew of him in the States, but Philip Hare was counsel also, junior counsel at that time. The instructing attorney was Joel Joffe.
POM OK, we can't go any further with it.
MM I mean it's a shock for me because whether you ask my co-accused, whether you ask my co-detainees of the period, whether you ask my colleagues, it's never cropped up that I had cracked up and this comes up now saying I cracked. I find that shocking.
POM Well it implies that you would have been the agent of Steve Naidoo's and Doha's arrest.
MM Not only of theirs but more. I mean after that it goes on to more because it says I cracked again, I cracked.
POM I left my notebook behind after making a whole list of things
MM In fact it reminds me of an incident I don't think I've told you, that when I discovered that Nandha was next door to me in Marshall Square, when Amien Cajee communicated to me that there's a strange Indian who had been seen going through the corridor and he's in the cell next door to me on the other side and I tried to communicate, I think I told somebody the incident that this person was rattling off with a comb in Morse code with such rapidity that I realised after a while that, hey, that's Nandha. So I got up on the window and shouted at him because that day or the day before they had, for the first time, confronted me with my real name and I asked Nandha, "Did you give my real name?" He said, "Yes." And I said, one of the reasons why I respect him is that I said, "Now will you shut your mouth. Don't talk." And from that moment (break in recording)
MM This survives. If it was past this to England, what Bram and them the head office is Jo'burg, Bram and them would be able to get the things abroad, so that he has information from Mac and them's trial that's vital for people abroad who are now the organisation, because Bram is even arrested. Why did it go to Phyllis? Why would they go to Phyllis?
POM Why would they give her?
POM She doesn't even know how it came into her possession. She doesn't know who
MM So leave aside the ethics of the publication, just in it's own intrinsic value and for her to now assert that this has been part of her property from those days - because there again she's made a categoric statement. It's not saying it has entered into my documentations, I suddenly find this, I've never known about it. She doesn't say that. She implies that she's known about it from 1964 because she says in her introduction that she doesn't know how but it has survived Maseru, etc.
POM Let's talk about Joe Slovo, your relationship with Joe. This is enormous, to me you in an interview you did with Howard Barrell you said the trouble with Joe is Joe always thought that the centre of the revolution was where he was. Now I would see your relationship as being both competitive on the one hand and on the other hand being co-operative; is that in a way the two of you drew synergy from each other, that the combination of the two of you was better than when you were working together it was better than either one of you, but at the same time there were enormous strains in this relationship which emerged, in a way, post Zarina's accident and you learning of his withholding information from you about her condition, how he treated her and that in the end this soured the personal part of it. Then you had your break-up with him over Groote Schuur. It began as one of - when you were brought in he already was the co-founder of MK, a very senior person but he was in London, and he kind of vetted you for the job in a way that you were being brought in for but then you quickly rose to be his equal and in some ways, because you were in the country and he was out of the country, you were in a far better position to talk about strategy than he was sitting on the outside because the thing about Joe, the thing that strikes me about Joe is that he drew up plans in all of these things but he never set foot in the country that in a way he knew very little of. It's like how could the chief theorist for a revolution be a white man who spent from 1963 either living in London or Maputo and then eventually in Lusaka but never set foot in South Africa?
MM I'm not so sure that that's encapsulating the issues the way I would. I don't think, Padraig, even now that you've got the Vula communications, I don't think you will find anything that could substantiate a view other than the statement that I'm going to make that I have at all times conducted myself that Joe is my senior. When I had the fight with him over Groote Schuur I criticised him as my senior. I had never, I believe, had aspirations to take his positions. But, yes, there have been in my mind a series of very serious criticisms that I hold against Joe and they go right as far back as Operation Mayibuye because he together with Govan and Arthur Goldreich were the architects of that operation.
POM Who was the third guy?
MM Arthur Goldreich. I have never seen a criticism made by Joe because he wrote prolifically. Rusty has put his criticism of Operation Mayibuye, as he may have held it at the time, in his book, in his memoirs.
POM That's Rusty Bernstein?
MM Yes. Joe, who has been writing and putting forward plans and strategies, has never anywhere sat down and written about Operation Mayibuye to examine it as a warning to comrades how not to do things. I think deep down I have a great respect for Joe's writings and when I came out of prison
POM When you talk about his writing, you're talking about?
MM Published writing, articles, things.
POM Articles that he wrote for ?
MM Yes, whether he wrote for publication or for discussion within the movement, the African Communist and other publications, great respect because I think that he really grappled with theoretical problems and he had the courage to write his views, put it down on paper. And I remember reading when I came out of prison, I'd heard that he'd written a critique of the Latin American struggle, the Frenchman Reggie Debray, he wrote a criticism of it, the foco theory. So he critiqued that and then that 'no middle road'.
The shock for me, and yes you are right, I think we did, we worked well together, I think we stimulated each other, but as time went on I came to the view that there was a very big gap between what Joe would write at the level of theory and what would be happening at the level of practice with him.
POM At the level of practice with him?
MM With him, in his own practice.
POM His practice would refer to?
MM For example, in the armed struggle he'd write about the theory, he would criticise Reggie Debray, he would criticise the idea that you could have armed activity in isolation as the focus which would generate a mass struggle. And then he would be himself engaged in actions and putting up actions, like Special Ops which did a magnificent job, but were armed propaganda, which he says. But the fundamental problem of the struggle, which his own writings considered, was the political base of the action was not there and yet he himself wouldn't give his energies to that work. He would constantly give his energies to the military side of it.
POM So he would write one thing
MM And practice another thing.
POM And act another. So he would write that there was a need for a political base and then he would go ahead and just concentrate
MM And make sure the resources went more to the military side. Yet if he came over and took over, when he became part of the Political Committee, even to head it, it would have meant a different thing because the political section needed people of clout and stature to head it. I would have said that that's where he should have been, given his writings.
POM Who was heading that?
MM John Motsabi. Who was it? John Motsabi, Henry Makgothi, John Nkadimeng, Indres Naidoo, Ray Simons, myself. Is that saying this is the key area of work that has got to be attended to? So that gap was a problem for me.
POM What was your personal chemistry? You met him first in nineteen - ?
MM 1962 when he and Rusty met me in the car when I had arrived in the country when they interviewed me in Johannesburg after Kathy had asked me to report for duties in Jo'burg. I was interviewed by them in a car where it subsequently became clear that here were the two guys saying here's the returned person who's done training, let's interview him and let's see now where are we going to deploy him. Rusty was interviewing me clearly and that's where I initially went straight into the political propaganda side of the party and Joe was interviewing of the need from MK side and it was Joe who asked for my written notes on explosives, which I wrote up and gave to him. Now the two interviewed me and that's the first meeting. They didn't introduce themselves and say, I'm Rusty Bernstein and I'm Joe Slovo, no, and I'm this and that, no, but it became clear and I knew who they were. The outcome of that was that I was deployed first to attend to the propaganda side of the work for the underground. So that's my first meeting. But, of course, he asked for my notes and he did send messages because I was now working with Ruth in the propaganda, that he wanted those notes. I got it to him. And I think that Ruth told me when the Rivonia arrests took place and when she was leaving the country that that notebook was found also at Rivonia. It never featured anywhere but I seem to have that recollection.
Now my next meeting with Joe, I've then seen him, like I've even seen him the day he left the country. I was with Ruth in her car and we were entering Rivonia, we were already inside the premises but on the drive, the house was fairly deep down, and Joe was coming out in his car. So the two cars drew up against each other and Ruth and Joe exchanged a few words and he drove on and we drove on. That, it turned out, he was on his way out of the country.
I met him then in London. Yes. I met him in London.When I was in Lusaka that short trip when I got out of the country, the NEC meeting he wasn't there, then I flew off to London. He used to be in Angola at that stage and he came over to London and that's where I met him. I met him with Dr Dadoo and, again, while the chemistry was good I don't think on hindsight he forgave me for some of my criticisms.
MM I'll give you an example. I asked him and Dr Dadoo, the two of them were seeing me in the party office, I said, "Comrades, I'm ignorant of what's happened in the last twelve years. Can you give me a batch of the crucial party documents? Not everything. I'm here on a mission. But can you give me just a pile of the crucial documents so that I can familiarise myself with what has happened inside the party?" I did the same thing with the British Communist Party. I went and saw the General Secretary of the British Party, what was his name? Scottish man. I said to him, "Comrade I've been in prison for many years, what has been happening in the international arena? Can you get somebody to select a pile of reading material that will give me a synoptic but reasonably deep view of what's been happening?"
Now they gave me a batch of documents and after I read them I met the two of them and I said, "I have a problem with one of the key documents." It was the guidelines for people in the party and those guidelines were adopted post-1964 and it said that each and every comrade in the party committed himself and herself on the dotted line to be available to go home on 24 hours notice and that no personal nor material issues could be raised as excuses not to obey the order. I said to them, "Guys, this is unrealistic. Don't make rules that are unrealistic." I said, "The last rule that I lived under was the one that robbed us as a collective of ability to handle detention, was the guidelines in the party in 1963: how to handle detention, and it said when you are detained you don't talk, full stop." I said, "It's unreal, it demobilised. Now you've got this rule. How many of our members are going to obey this rule? You've made a rule which everybody will boast about but nobody intends to carry it out." I said, "That's wrong." So we had a bit of a discussion, they conceded.
But you see when I gave the example of home I was committing what became a running mistake in my articulation of my views because it was by comparing it 'if you are at home'. It said that rule made at home in 1963 that if you are detained, 90 day law isn't passed yet, don't talk, full stop. I said it's unreal. Who were the people that told me about this rule? Piet Beyleveld. Who spoke within five hours? Piet Beyleveld. So I am saying you've made the rule but, again, it will not be obeyed for home.
It reached a culmination with Joe when we had that little exchange at the ANC head office after I had retired the first time, when he said, "Why did you do that?" And then he said, "Do you mean me?" It tells me that in the chemistry he took, after a while, much of my criticisms as criticisms being made of him personally and I am ready to acknowledge that when I review the relationship it is possible that in the way I present my own views on this issue and by constantly harping on 'put yourself at home', it could be read personally by people as saying that they were not ready to come home, or that they would not do it, that they were making rules
POM That they themselves wouldn't
MM Wouldn't follow. It was not intended that way but only on reflection that that seemed to be a problem. And yet the facts are very clear and nobody can gainsay it, Joe Slovo gave his entire life to the struggle. He gave it in such a way that the price of his family was enormous. So there was an unreserved commitment and contribution by him and I think he became, in his practice remarkably while he'd violated his theory, in his practice he became one of the greatest inspirations for the ordinary people in our country. There's no gainsaying that precisely because of Special Operations, because of those things that were doing things which Reggie Debray would have advocated, which he opposed but which he did, made him the legend in the minds of the masses. And there's no gainsaying that he could not have done it without a total commitment. The problem that I have is that he shifted and when he shifted you wouldn't think that there was anything that linked his earlier position to the current position. And yet I have felt that it is part of a pre-condition of anything that you write that you have to show the continuity and discontinuity in your positions because to me that's where the learning comes in. To me when you show the discontinuities and why and you show the continuities and why, you do more for helping people to understand. So that's the problem.
Now, having said that I don't believe that you will find any evidence that I did not see him as my senior and as my mentor in many things, at the same time by the end of Operation Vula I had become disillusioned with him. Yes, I think as we've worked through this issue of this biography, that disillusionment would begin to date from around Zarina's accident. I think deep down it's remained a wound and I think you will see in the communications my saying, "Guys, sorry, you'd better send me the medical certificate. I want to see that medical certificate."
POM Why didn't you hold Tambo as responsible as Slovo?
MM Because you will see Tambo was more often on the road and Slovo was supposed to be holding the thing together at the operational level and, secondly, you will see that even in those documents that you've got where there's a handwritten part, Ivan or Joe would discuss Ivan would discuss with Joe and OR and then drafting would happen, somebody would draft. JS would discuss with OR and then draft a response, show it to OR and OR would put additions. Now when it comes to Zarina the same thing is happening, OR would maybe I discounted because I take it for granted OR would assume that I've been told, it's routine and he wouldn't even ask, but the moment he became aware, for example when Zarina returned from Harare, he was there when he heard that she's coming and she told him that she's gone blind and within days he had made provision for her. When she was leaving for Moscow he was at the airport and he was there with an overcoat. So I am not talking glibly about this, that he assumed. I have reason to believe it. It's like my children, I learnt later on, I mean I laugh at it that he went and he saw my kids on the roof of the garage, my son in torn trousers. This is a six, seven year old kid and he's playing out in the mud and he sees these torn trousers and he tackles Zarina, he says, "He can't be wearing torn trousers. It's not on, man, he's got to wear decent clothes. What's wrong, what's the problem?"
POM Personal concern.
MM Yes, that concern, and you can see underwritten in that concern that if I was there and my son was in torn trousers he wouldn't have said that. To him it was, "Mac is at home, he's in this operation and his child is here in torn trousers, I can't allow that." So that's how far he went the opposite side of the caring. But I don't get that from Joe. And this accident brings it out in its sharpness, the exchanges that go on show it.
POM But used you guys to socialise?
MM It was a one-way sort of street the socialisation when I look at it, because I had a house, Zarina had a house, and because she was earning an income he came home regularly and ate and everything and drank, but I didn't go to his house to drink and eat. I think in Maputo where he had a person to cook and everything, there was only one day I had a meal with him at lunchtime, that meeting that we wanted to have. Other than that I never went to his house for dinner. In Zambia when he and Helena settled down I never went to their house for a meal. But there was a time he was at my home every day that he was in town. If it was not for a meal, to have a drink. But that was Joe. In Mozambique they used to say he used to have what is called Route 66, that he used to set out dropping in on people in the evening so that he would eat at different people's places by just dropping in. So there was a social relationship but, as I say
POM But you weren't friends? Were you friends?
MM No it was not like Padraig, how could it be? We were not living in circumstances where you'd say, hey, let's go to the cinema, let's go to the theatre, and when you happened to be simultaneously in London each had so much on your plate, to be fair, in their own respective circles that there was no chance to say, hey, let's get together, hey this thing is on at the theatre, let's go together. So it was a very stunted socialisation but I don't think the stuntedness was caused by something as a personality flaw, it was caused by the environment, similarly as before 1963 in South Africa. You really had to go out of your way to have the comrades come to each other's homes, but you couldn't go out to the theatre together because there were no places to go together. But then that's a reality also about Indian/African, coloured/African, coloured/Indian relations in South Africa. Unless you passionately shared something that you could find a space within the law to allow you to do it together it didn't happen. So I think that's more accurate about it.
POM How did Joe work? How did he work? What was his modus operandi of working?
MM The funny thing is that Joe and I had periods of intense closeness. That closeness started when he moved to Mozambique and when I passed through Mozambique he would come, we would bump into each other or he would hear I am in town and he would come. From the underground house we would move off together either to go to his flat to be shown a document or to discuss a document that he's drafting, to bounce ideas, or sit down in a pavement café in Maputo late at night discussing very intimately the shaping of the ideas. He would be grappling with some issue or document in the party, thinking of writing a piece for discussion and we would debate it and discuss it. We would be discussing work at home. There was a level of acrimony about that discussion and it became acrimonious from the time when I was able to show that they were falsely reporting the situation in Botswana.
POM Falsely reporting the situation in - ?
MM Botswana, about the co-operation between the military and the political, because I was able to say that the military was trying to just grab everything and they denied it and I confronted them when Keith was there. Then they were embarrassed but they never admitted, but we made it into a joke and a laugh, but we also made it into the joking statement that had a sting. If Modise or Slovo comes to me in the political and says we've got a good comrade for you, I would immediately say to myself, "That chap has given them trouble in the military, they're trying to get rid of him. They're not bringing somebody that they genuinely say this is good for political work, they are getting rid of a problem." So we used to say it as a joke over drinks and everything but it had a barb to it. But none of that that barb was a camaraderie. I suppose it's the way Madiba would say, "Hey Mac, you're a troublemaker." Walter would say, "Hey this boy, a very troublesome boy, but carry on Mac, carry on, give trouble." So there's that level of camaraderie.
If I'm to try and encapsulate things, I've tried to look at myself and say, Padraig, that I came to the view that I am not made to be a politician. In an extreme fashion I say I joined the struggle as a freedom fighter. I think Joe was a freedom fighter and a politician and Joe loved the politics. I hated the politics.
POM He loved the politics of Lusaka.
MM I think he loved the politics of power, the use of power and the manipulation of that power. I found it distasteful. Maybe deep down, I don't know, I don't know whether I love it too but I find myself always in a discussion as I am exploring ideas and advancing a viewpoint, I find very early I'm already asking the question - but wait a minute, the consequence of what I'm saying is that I would have to be prepared to do that myself. And I say, but the idea is right, therefore the consequence that I must be prepared to do that follows, it's no debate. I just have to bend myself. Now I think that leads me to say that I'm uncomfortable with power and it leads me to say I'm not a politician by nature. I think Joe got a kick out of politics. In fact I'm reminded that when he started writing, after Ruth's death and he began to write those memoirs, it was what he called the fragments, I remember discussing it with him in Lusaka as he used to come in and he would tell me about his writing is progressing, his first choice for a title for that book was going to be, "Politics Man, Politics."
POM Politics Man, Politics.
MM It was published after his death by Helena as but his choice at that time, he never came up with another title. I remember he was so excited and telling me, "The title of my book is going to be Politics Man, Politics." Now, I don't like your title, Mac Maharaj: Legend and Struggle, but I haven't been able to find another title.
POM That's OK, I'm playing around with another one.
MM I haven't been able to find another one.
POM Mine now that I'm moving towards is to have across the front, "The Making of South Africa", so that the reader knows South Africa -I thought of a title like, "Mac Maharaj: Go Slowly Neef". What Mandela used to say to you.
MM Mind your step! How's that one?
POM Go slowly, go slowly, Neef.
MM I was saying politics and power. I am discomfited with it, as I am, Padraig, discomfited by I think you might have noticed in material wealth. I find it, from my upbringing, I can't discuss, if I look for a job I can't discuss how much I should be paid.
POM You told me the whole thing with your man in the bank.
MM I don't know how to handle those things.
POM Just as it crosses my mind now because I had written it down and, as I said, I left my notebook behind, just as it does, there was a piece in Business Day yesterday, a little sidebar on the Schabir trial and it had that one of Schabir's companies had had a contract renewed for drivers' licences and credit cards or something, whatever it is, that it had been first awarded by you to one of his companies prior to Zarina working for him. That's the way it was put, prior to you receiving money from one of his companies.
MM They said this to me before. As we know the facts we never thought of it, sure, we'll send somebody.
POM That's what they're there for. That's job creation. It's like at the airport.
MM But let's get back to Joe. As a human being Joe had immense depth of humanity to it in a very funny way. Maybe in my own interaction I didn't see it. Maybe there's an element that I don't understand in the dynamics between him and myself but I've known how after Ruth's death he put himself through psychological counselling with his children and how he would return to Lusaka from London totally drained and he would go back to these processes in spite of the havoc that was wreaking on him. Similarly there are friends that Joe has had around the world; they have been very enduring friendships.
POM In Lusaka did he have friends?
MM No. Lusaka was
POM Where would Ronnie Kasrils fit?
MM Our work was an around the clock thing. You stayed in the enclave and in the small circle that you were directly working with. Yes, Joe because of his role in the party, even Ronnie and a number of other comrades, African comrades, would go on those embassy rounds, the Soviet Ambassador, this one, the GDR, the Cuban. I was not in that position; I did not see that as my task. The only people that I so Phyllis is completely wrong, I don't even know who was the GDR Ambassador, Soviet Ambassador, don't know them. The only persons that I knew for a short period were the Cubans and that was because the Cubans came out to court me and when I realised that the Cubans were actually getting comrades to become their intelligence agents I just quietly pulled away. They offered me a fridge when I moved to the servant's quarters. I quietly didn't take it, but quietly knew, put a distance. But having told them that, "Look, I don't think it's right that you should go to the ANC headquarters and get people in the clerical staff to confide and give you information. You should know that our relationship with you is such if you want information you ask officially for it and we will officially give it to you, but not this business." Because I said, "While you're doing that you're corrupting that person to become a soft target for the CIA." That's what I said to the chap, and pulled away. So other Cubans then came in, embassy staff would change, I put a distance.
Up to now, Padraig, I don't go to all diplomatic functions. Even when I was a minister I wouldn't go. It's just not me, I just don't enjoy those type of functions. But, yes, Joe would go, Ronnie would go regularly. In Angola I would meet the Soviet Generals only on rare occasions and, of course, Angola, Luanda being Luanda in those days, you would go and meet in their flat, in their homes, and share a meal or drink, sure. That's not a regular thing. And I've told you how when the General offered me communications.
MM So we became stunted people socially. We lived lives in compartments and the compartments to the extent that you socialised were outside of the movement circles. Generally speaking in Africa it would be
POM They are, I know.
MM Joe was also a very fun guy. He was the life and soul of a party and he was uninhibited. He could join in song whereas he couldn't carry a note. He could sit down and play a guitar, which he was teaching himself to play, even when he knew that what he was playing to the listeners was the lousiest playing, but he would have no inhibitions about playing.
POM Did he command attention?
POM If Joe Slovo walked into a room, whatever, say a small social gathering, whatever, would his arrival change the dynamics of the room? Had he got that kind of charisma? Or would he insert himself and make himself a presence?
MM No, what would happen is that by his interaction he would become the centre. He was an adaptable social animal. He could recount jokes but the jokes could be from crude sexist jokes, the larger part, which were passing out of favour in the nineties but at that time were still the pick or the flavour sort of thing. He could say them and become the life of the party I suppose because others would wish they could remember and tell those jokes and others, of course, may envy the central attention that came with it. But to be fair to him, he was a very good conversationalist; he was a great cinema goer so he could talk about cinema like hell. I don't recall him talking about novels, but cinema a lot. Then when he was in his car he liked his music, listening to music from classical music to folk and struggle music; Joan Baez and things like that. So that gave a repertoire for conversation, but, as I say, I don't recall him taking interest in fiction, poetry or the visual arts, painting and things like that, no, but otherwise he would. But then he was very widely I suppose everybody who has taken a long interest in socialism and communism has a much broader repertoire of interests, a greater catholicity about interests and they are easy to appropriate and talk about. But Joe's wasn't Joe could almost be like two people, that there was a part of him that you won't see any politics to it, it's just fun. And even the fun, I think there were circles, different circles that he went into and there was a circle where the fun was just fun.
So there was a I don't know whether the distinction is exile or is it underground conditions? Underground conditions sort of impose an environment where outside of your underground activity you need not to be known, not to be seen. That's inside. Exile activity generally was an environment where you needed to be known.
POM Because you wouldn't be promoting the cause unless you were known, unless you were a presence, unless you could identify that's Joe Slovo, he's ANC/SACP, the struggle man's here or whatever. Was he a leader? Was he decisive?
MM Mm. Yes, I've seen his leadership in strange places. When he was running Special Operations, for security reasons they got their own place, accommodation in Maputo, where his combatants stayed and lived. I went to the place on rare occasions and I was chatting to one of the comrades once and he said, "You know, when Slovo drives in here everybody, everybody is on their toes."
POM Everybody's on their toes?
MM On their toes. So I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Well, there was an occasion where Joe drove in and some of the comrades were still lying in their beds and he did not have to reprimand them long but he just took it up, expressed his displeasure and drove off and said he would be back in an hour's time and when he returned in an hour's time that whole house, every floor, every room, was spic and span and they knew that that had to be the norm with Joe." So he did not have to impose his discipline by making threats, he had to express his displeasure, they could see he was annoyed and that was enough for them to fall in line. On the other hand, and that's not necessarily the best quality of leadership, but on the other hand he did generate immense loyalty around him. Even when particular people may have turned to dislike some of his social habits, they remained deeply loyal to him politically. Even cadres who would speak ill of him behind his back, when they came into the country on missions would give their lives to defend him.
POM Generally, just taking Joe, you have the NEC which to me looking at it and looking at its composition from 1960 through 1990, this is like a club. It's a lifetime appointment. Once on you're on and if you're selected to join it you're selected by the club to become part of the club and that fosters a group sync, that fosters if you want to get onto the NEC make sure that you make friends with the people who can get you onto the NEC. You don't go round saying the NEC is screwing up on this and that. Christ! We should be doing this better, the other, for God's sake the struggle's going no place at home. Just that comment in general on the NEC, I see it as over time becoming weak and almost incestuous. People who were on the NEC were on the RC, or part of the MPC, vice versa all the way up. People were in the same incestuous is probably the word there. You referred before that OR would, if there were matters that were contentious or whatever, matters were deferred to OR and you said, "OK, OR, you take care of it", and he would set up a President's Committee is that what it would be called? And he'd have a kind of a special project. So it took away the need for (i) for confrontation and (ii) for decisiveness, because they kind of said, "You take it, we'll go along with it." These are my comments, OK, which I thought I would extract and I would have them given to you because they're part of some of my conclusions which I have to put you. The ANC became a bureaucracy, it grew. Even down to, as I said, you had Zola Skweyiya do a three page document on what you had to do to get married by the ANC. I mean I'm kind of banging my head and saying something's gone wrong here. You've envoys in 140 countries, you've got reports going; the reports are all written in British civil service language. I love it! Same format. I think, did the Brits put their stamp on everything? Because we used to do the same in the Irish civil service, the very same thing.
MM It happens everywhere, Padraig, not even in the self-appointed. The other day Joey was working on an assignment in her law and she was dealing with the Law Reform Commission's recommendations on domestic partnerships and she had to compare that with an article written by a person who is working in the Project Committee of the Law Reform Commission (LRC) on the same matter. The LRC put a mechanical set of options which were simply taking four variables and putting them in different permutations as options, but at the end of it it was concurrent, it was going to make the law a horrendous maze for anybody involved in a domestic partnership; do I get registered, do we marry, civil marriage, does it become religious marriage, does it become unregistered? And so the layman would need a lawyer to guide them through it. Yet the issue was straightforward. Domestic partnerships exist, are increasing, be it same sex or heterosexual, and you have to ensure that the law acknowledges it and protects the weaker party. Simple. But with the aim that in the end the rights, duties and obligations would be virtually the same between married couples and domestic partnerships, not go on making it more and more complicated. So I am saying it's human nature in structures to look at it that way. It is inevitable in any underground struggle that leadership, when people are appointed, are virtually self-appointed.
POM Are self-appointed?
MM Mm, inevitably. The question has always been how do you create internal democracy in those conditions, in that environment? The stamp of the individual leader is important but so is the stamp of the others who are in the leadership. And you will see it in those communications, you will see a practical example. OR didn't hesitate to state his views to me about Harry, about Govan.
POM That was to you?
MM To me.
POM But you were in a different relationship to him.
MM But he told me how he was going to handle it. So he was saying, "This is my view, this is my understanding, and now I'm going to move in this way to try and resolve the matter." Sure, the examples that we're dealing with in the Vula communications, unfortunately he had his stroke because when Harry was abroad OR had had his stroke. I am sure that the outcomes would have been different if OR had had the discussion, not necessarily a major difference but it would have been different. I think you will see the communication there says, "I'm going to sit now at a phone for the next 24 hours until I get Winnie on the phone." He had no illusions that she was lying. He said, "She answers and she pretends she's the domestic worker", and all that but he says, "I'm going to break through that, determined to break through." And he'd say, "Don't you get in touch with her because I don't want you to run into security problems but I promise you that I realise how urgent it is and I'm going to sit on it." Now, the question of debate and decisiveness. No, even in that environment there were moments where I have seen extreme decisiveness by OR.
POM I'm not talking about OR, I'm talking about really the NEC before it was opened up. My feeling is that it was
MM It was very good. At that level there wasn't a problem. Before 1985. I mean when I arrived in Lusaka, I tell you, I arrived at the airport, Shooter was there to meet me, I came from Dar Es Salaam. I didn't know the NEC is meeting. Shooter picked me up and drove straight there. Shooter didn't know what was happening. Jumped out of the car, took me to a room, put my bag and by the time I put my bag and came out there was a message, "Please come this way." Open the door, NEC meeting. OR is in the chair, interrupts the meeting, "Welcome Comrade Mac. Comrades, this is Comrade Mac", introduces me, calls me, "Take a seat. This is what we're discussing." No problem, participate. So they wanted the input, you were invited.
The issue you are raising is the level of debate. Now the key problem there is that a number of issues that were under debate you did not want the enemy to hear about it. That was problematic. The second problem is
POM Which means, what you're saying in a sense is that people even in the NEC sense that other members of the NEC might be enemy agents so - ?
MM No, you didn't think that way, you thought that if you made the debate known there is no way it would not reach the enemy because you have to take it to your membership. It's not a question of the NEC being infiltrated. If you encourage the debate, the debates will not remain within the NEC, it must go down in every structure where the ANC is operating. Wouldn't it?
POM In Lusaka?
MM In Lusaka, in Mozambique, in Swaziland, in Lesotho, in London. How can you say that there is debate and it's confined to just the NEC? There was debate in the NEC. You will see some very vigorous debates taking place. The Commission report after the Vietnam visit, a whole portion of that report, the Green Book, was rejected by the NEC, it was not a rubber stamp. But it said this Green Book stays under lock and key. You people have an obligation to implement what we've agreed on but you don't show the Green Book. That's all. So that it does not reach the enemy for them to see in a recorded form what your strategy is. That's all. So I am saying it varies and it's very easy in that environment for personalities to grow up, were only concerned with moving, playing the political game for their own ascent to power and therefore completely indecisive, or appear to be indecisive, because when you are purely a power player for your own interests you're trying to be all things to all people that doesn't mean you're not decisive.
I don't know of an issue where Joe was indecisive but I know of issues where he dropped on the basis that, hey, the time is not right. I don't know of an issue where Nhlanhla was not decisive and forthright. I don't know of an issue where Modise wasn't decisive and didn't change his views again and was still decisive. In fact everything about Joe was decisive even when he was totally in the wrong, also Cassius Make. We did not have an atmosphere where when you were given a task or you had a position or responsibility that you felt inhibited from taking action. I didn't feel that. I think you know that over the Indian Council elections, 1979, 1978, the NEC meeting in Dar Es Salaam decided to support an approach called 'Rejectionist Participation', that is, people would stand for elections, get elected and paralyse the institution, reject it.
POM This is for?
MM For the Indian Council.
POM The Indian Council, OK.
MM I'm told this decision. By that time to solve the conflict at home I've arranged for several independent groups of people to be in London simultaneously, unknown to each other, and I have parallel discussions with them and eventually with Dr Dadoo and others bring them together into one group. Conclusion: we want the broadest unity, blah, blah, blah. We would prefer a boycott stance given the levels of disunity in the several camps at home. That's contrary to the NEC decision. And I returned to Lusaka, of course I am reinforced by the fact that Dr Dadoo was at the meetings and Dr Dadoo and I wrote the note and signed it to home, and brought it to the NEC. Filed a written report, told OR that in spite of your mandate these were the realities that we confronted and this is the position we've ended up. Nobody came and said, how dare you do that? No question.
That must be separated from the other question you are raising, the growth of a bureaucracy, and the stifling effect of a bureaucracy. Bureaucracies are a necessary evil in any organisation, including your University of Boston.
POM I'm gone.
MM Yes, you know it. You're just a victim of that bureaucracy aren't you? You've just experienced that bureaucracy. Bureaucracies are rule bound and yet it is because you need rules in any collective that the binding power of that rule becomes more and more mechanical the bigger the institution. Every link in that chain is looking at their back rather than take a decision that is different from the rule. And yet the rules were made just to make it function better. That's all they were made for, as a guide. You could break the rule consciously if you know what's the objective of the institution. So I am saying distinguish bureaucracy, distinguish how exile and underground life makes that bureaucracy even more rule bound.
Remember the story I used to tell you about Mozambique, that when I'd arrive at the airport because I'm cleared under one name, I arrive with a passport with a different name, the comrade greets me and says, "Ah Camerada", we hug each other, and he looks at my passport and he says, "I can't let you in." I said, "But Comrade, you know me." He says, "Yes I know you but, sorry, this name in this passport is not the name under which the book says you're cleared. So I have to lock you up. The Chief Representative of the ANC must come and testify that you with this passport are this person, and that will be tomorrow morning. So tonight sleep in this room." I'm locked up. He was too afraid to buck that rule.
So distinguish that, Padraig. I think the ANC was successful. I think what you're grappling with is how the change from exile - (interruption) - is that was when you were struggling to capture state power. The environment changes when you've captured state power. Now you don't need an every day acknowledgement affirming your position. It's there, and see how people change. I remember one minister says to a person interviewing on the radio, John Robbie says, "Manto", she says, "Don't call me Manto, I'm not your friend." Here is an awkward situation and you interpret the informality of using your first name as breaching and you immediately want to erect this power relationship. How many people love the need for formality to cut you off from everybody? Yes, this is genuine security needs why you should be cut off. You shouldn't be walking around here as the President and the Deputy President nobody escorting you, nobody guarding you, because if something happens to you we're going to all say you were stupid. But at the same time part of that power is to isolate you, you get cut off, you no longer know what is happening and you are now receiving your information through a filter, a set of filters. You reach a point where you don't even read the papers whereas before you used to read four papers every morning. Now you have somebody, while you are having breakfast, there's somebody there rattling you off what is in 24 papers around the world. But he or she is picking what they think is important, what is the slant, etc. And of course the theory says you can see the originals if you want to. But you see this is what's happening; the stack of documents, this is modern society, that are landing on your desk, yes the originals are landing there but somebody is telling you in summary form, "This is what this is about. Minister, please sign."
POM Two quick things before I leave you. You're in good form today. Deviate a bit here and there but you're in good form. I thought there for a while you were going downhill! It's good to see you back being yourself. That means I've got to pull out a lot of irrelevancies to get to the grit of the thing. That's what it means! It's called avoidance.
You had set up a board, a tender board, right? The National what was the name of it?
MM I didn't set it up. Government set up a National Tender Board under the Ministry of Finance. All tenders beyond a certain size, all tenders running across various departments, had to go through the process and end up with the Tender Board to decide.
POM OK. What was the name of that tender board?
MM State Tender Board.
POM The State Tender Board. So you had nothing to do with the award of contracts. OK.