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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

24 Apr 2005: Maharaj, Mac

POM     Speaking with Mac on Chapter 17 on 24 April.

MM     OK, this chapter I think it has got quite a bit of problems. I don't know if you've got your tape recorder.I'm not clear whether we are not confusing a number of issues that we want to simultaneously try to tackle in this chapter.

     The first of it is that it is simply a story being told about what had happened from my side. That story is straight. You see it very graphically when I refer to the NEC meeting that I attended where I named Aziz and Joe Modise. I named them as two examples for different perspectives which drew them to make the wrong things: Aziz being loose tongued in the Village Walk with journalists, etc., and Joe Modise confronted in the camps, stand by the comrades and he being the commander of MK became defensive and he simply lashed out. Both of them conforming to the error of a breach of the ethics of our struggle. Now you then ask in that context, give the other names of the PB.

     What I was saying at the NEC after my release on bail from Vula was, using this example, I was saying, "Chaps, we are going into negotiations, it's going to be a very difficult process. If the way some of you have conducted", I was deliberately saying 'some', "have conducted yourselves over Vula's arrests, then we would be in a bad state in the negotiations. We had better tighten up and gird our loins and not make this type of mistake of undermining each other if we are to succeed in negotiations." So in that context, no, the exposure of the Politburo.

POM     Sure, got you.

MM     No naming. It's a different concept to start now analysing the problem beyond what I had said. You see the problem?

POM     I've got it.

MM     Rather I'm putting in my response to you the names of the PB members that I seem to recall who were present at that meeting. OK?

POM     OK.

MM     Now from there it goes on and a number of paragraphs in red where you are now trying to make sense and trying to come to a situation where you even say in one paragraph you don't see any sense of embedding of that struggle ethic that I was talking about and then you go on to say, "Are you being paranoid?"

POM     Where is this now?

MM     Second last paragraph in red.

POM     The point you're making is, "Was there hardly any sense of moral obligation as a way to the struggle?"

MM     That's right. That's fine. Now my response to you on that is again a very complex one and I haven't finished. That's why I said let's talk about it on the phone. But I agree to the point where I was writing - let me make a comment on that entire set of paragraphs that you put in red with questions. Yes I think you are being a bit paranoid. Yes I think you are being too much focused on the personal. Consider the following: and I started putting some facts together. First, even though the NEC mandated OR assisted by JS to proceed with that project of the type that became Vula, whenever OR put progress reports that he received from us on developments at home, he did not disclose that it was a result of that resolution. And most of those in the NEC receiving his reports were simply happy, thrilled with the progress at home, and assumed that people at home were doing wonders. After all, if they looked around themselves, if they dared to think that maybe somebody from outside was also involved, they'd look and say, "But Mac, he's clearly ill. He's in the Soviet Union." So they never connected OR's reports with the 1986 NEC resolutions.

POM     Sure, I agree, yes. OK, we're on the same track.

MM     That's fact one.Fact two: people like Modise and what he said in Angola, understanding Modise. Remember I said to you that OR said let's not tell Modise?

POM     No, I don't remember that.

MM     Remember we had a technical problem. How were we going to get cadres from the camps disappearing? How were we going to get arms from the armoury disappearing?

POM     Yes, yes. OK, yes.

MM     I at one time suggested to him, let's bring JM into the know. He said no. Now whatever reasons he had the fact is that JM saw himself as the commander of MK and he was extremely defensive of that position. So when he was confronted with this question by the cadres who were concerned about me, and thrilled that we were home, he read that as a criticism of him and he simply lashed out to sort of assert his headship of MK and of the camps to defend his status.

POM     Makes sense. Yes.

MM     That's the second fact. The third: there were comrades abroad who had long bought the story of a question mark against Madiba, so much so that when Govan was released and he reported to them that Madiba had advised and seen him before his release and suggested to him that he should take it easy in the way he conducts himself, he should not do anything that would jeopardise the release of the rest, that is he should not take too high a profile position attacking the regime.

POM     He should work to facilitate the release of the rest.

MM     That the NEC rejected that advice of Madiba, you have dug up information that says the NEC said, "Let's have high profile, get into high profile activity." So they were consciously rejecting that advice of Madiba and this is at a time when Mells Park is taking place. Right? And whoever is involved in Mells Park is not saying don't take it high profile.

POM     The only ones involved are Aziz and Thabo.

MM     Aziz, Thabo.

POM     And Zuma. At Fort Hare I found the notes of the NEC meetings in 1989 where members of the NEC first said, "Hey! What's this about Mells Park? Do we have to read about it in the newspapers? What's going on here?" And it was at that time that Jacob Zuma was given the task of briefing them on what was going on at Mells Park. Now I will dig that up tomorrow but I remember I got the minutes. I said this is one find because it establishes a point in time when the NEC were first informed of what was going on at Mells Park and they were informed in a very low key way – and maybe the whole thing was low key for all we know. It's just been built up by people like Patti Waldmeir and others who kind of give you the impression that the whole thing has been solved. But I remember that the way it was presented to the NEC was not that these kind of high power talks were taking place, but it was that Thabo and JZ had been meeting with a group of Afrikaners, I'll get the name, and gave what was going on. Now I will dig those up tomorrow and get them. OK?

MM     Yes, but the point is that we now move from hindsight that JZ was involved and when the NEC would have asked him to give a report they would have asked him not knowing that he was in the Mells Park talks itself.

POM     That's right, OK.

MM     But be that as it may, the point I'm making is that there was this – with Vula they said, the attitude was it's an impediment to negotiations. But with Govan saying, "Madiba says stay fairly low profile, facilitate the release", they said, "No, no, no, be high profile, demand release."

POM     Yes, got you.

MM     They don't see that as contradicting and jeopardising negotiations and nobody, without disclosing Mells Park, stood up to say, "Wait a minute, let's be careful, let's nurse this thing." They just came out and supported the idea – Madiba is wrong. Parallel with that in the MDM you had that Harry Gwala, Govan, Dullah and company, Madiba is selling out. And MDM leaders get caught up in that and they all, when called to go to Victor Verster, when they are going they are saying, "We're going to go and tell him to stop this." Right? So they are looking like 'no to negotiations'. They are a very mixed bunch also because that 'no to negotiations' does not become no when the Harare Declaration is adopted. They are the ones that post the Convention for a Future South Africa in principle in 1989 endorse the Harare Declaration without naming it.

POM     Who hosted it?

MM     The Mass Democratic Movement.

POM     Yes, OK, that's the one in Paris, right?

MM     No, no, I'm talking about the one in Jo'burg.

POM     OK.

MM     We had to find a way to mobilise at home too, so we had to take the Harare Declaration which was done secretly in consultations at home but later on bring it back and try to get the MDM in Walter's time to bring up a broad front supporting the idea of the parameters within which conditions would be created conducive to negotiations.

POM     OK.

MM     So that's happening but these two strands outside and inside are from anti-negotiations, no trust in negotiations, linking with the Chris Hani deep suspicion of negotiations, even JS deep suspicion about negotiations.

POM     In fact that's one of the things I picked out in the communications. One of his comments on the Harare Declaration, this is after you got it out, it had come in and gone back out, it's not yet adopted, this is June/July before you left the country, or May, he said, "It will have to do until the real thing."

MM     Yes.

POM     And he was clearly still saying, "Hey, we have to go along with putting this thing together because there's a lot of pressure on it, we have to put a document on the table, but we're still with the real thing." So there was no negotiation framework in the NEC anywhere.

MM     Anywhere.

POM     Everything happened like a blimp.

MM     And so you have what looks like the hardliners, the Chris Hanis and the JSs sitting in with the hardliners at home, the Harry Gwalas and the Govan Mbekis, and then you have people who were supportive of negotiations but taking positions against Madiba and what Madiba was doing, and yet unaware what was happening at Mells Park. But come the Harare Declaration, come 1990 and Madiba is released, all of them are now saying, don't rock the boat. Negotiations, negotiations. Madiba you're spending too much time on Mac's release. That will attend to itself, let's just surge ahead with negotiations and then these people will be free. Don't be distracted by this.

     Right, now, what's the big fact that's coming out here? What should have been a strength, converted to a strength, that is the arrests of Vula, it's acknowledged as a weakness by them. To the enemy they should have been saying, "Our presence at home, our capacity in the underground was increasing. So we are convinced that we'd better push with negotiations but you too better not think you are holding all the trump cards." Instead they began to behave as if to say it was improper to put out feelers for negotiations while you had been pursuing a strategy for people's war.

POM     OK. Another possible take is, and I will tease this out more to you, is that you have negotiations kind of now suddenly crashing along, running along on the rails, picking up speed.

MM     No it isn't. The truth of the matter is they have only been released, even the prisoners are still, the bulk of them are sitting in prison.

POM     Sorry, you're right, in fact the bulk of indemnities haven't been given.

MM     Haven't been given.

POM     Because I remember at that time interviewing a guy, I think his name was Bester or something who was dealing with indemnities on this side and talking to Penuell Maduna and the problem was that none of the guys would sign the indemnity forms where they had to list all the acts they had been engaged in because they were saying, "What the hell! We're going to list all the acts we were engaged in and then go back and get arrested as soon as we get into the country?"

MM     Yes.

POM     OK, on you go.

MM     So you have a bit of uncertainty, you are still pushing the regime to the table. De Klerk had made some bold moves but he still had this concept of he would be able to control the process, and you needed to push hard and you needed to show your strength. You could not stop and abandon sanctions; you could not be apologetic of what you had done in the underground; you had to find a way to get the masses active still. Now in that context those who saw Vula as an embarrassment were people who could not conceive of negotiations as a real terrain of struggle. They simply saw it as sweet-talking the other side. That's a very dangerous concept of negotiations.

     But be that as it may, I was just dealing with another factor present outside of the personalities. You see this is what in Northern Ireland, just to digress, Sinn Fein has been courting. While it has been doing very well in the public arena it has been very reluctant to let go of the IRA too quickly and the problem that became, that has arisen, is that it hung on so long that it allowed elements in the IRA to do their own thing which was truly embarrassing to the advance. But if they had stuck to keeping their forces intact and ensuring that the decommissioning each time it took place, took place with maximum political advantage to the cause of the Republicans, that would have been a different ball game.

     So this is what the ANC had to do, convert the Vula arrests to leave the view with the masses that we were there and that we are going to let go of things bit by bit as progress is registered on the table. Now those who saw it as an embarrassment were actually left with only one thing, sweet-talk the other side and you know, I know, a hell of a dangerous and false concept of how to wage any struggle. So that's the next element in this equation.

     Then you had Madiba, Walter, faced with the need to hold the movement together. They could not allow their forces now to tear apart. While Madiba was open with me and visiting me, he was also mindful of this strong trust that was often unthinking and he needed to contain it and he had to pull the Chris Hanis into the process. In the meantime Chris Hani began to become even more agitated because he could see how JS became overwhelmed by the release of Mandela and the unbannings. His whole note that you have read out disappeared with the unbanning of all the organisations and the release of Mandela. Nothing was left of him to say we need a certitude. Now the Harare Declaration was enough and in fact at times we deviated from Harare because Harare was too stringent. Harare had said, stage one is to create the climate for talks leading to a cessation of hostilities. Then only talks could start. We never had a cessation of hostilities. And the very person like JS who said it was not the real thing was ready to ignore the requirement of cessation of hostilities. So in a sense the JSs were swimming in a flow that the sense told them that, look, we've got to go with it, Madiba was holding it and the JSs simply had to stick close to Madiba and then look for ways having bought into the negotiations and yet say to us, keep going in the underground, because his instinct told him that if you gave up the underground you could be in serious trouble. And Madiba, interestingly, even before this, after his release but before CODESA, also you have found records threatening to break off negotiations or talks at the bilateral level because of the violence and talks about the possibility in his mind of returning to the armed struggle. He could not entertain that if he did not have a view that we had some capacity to create an underground and an armed capacity better than it was in 1964.

POM     Where would the reference of the threat to return to the armed struggle come from?

MM     I don't know where you got that reference from but in a previous chapter that we have just dealt with in the past few days you had the thing I think in the context of the Sebokeng violence before my arrest.

POM     OK.

MM     So here is a complex set of factors that you are talking about. What you see is that in a fast moving scenario people begin to act on the basis of their own immediate experience. They violated the fundamental knowledge, the fundamental rule of knowledge production. It's not just produced by your personal experience, it's also produced through the experience of others generalised through a process of verification by various other people so that you absorb it as knowledge. Now here each person sitting in his or her own corner saw their experience as a sufficient indicator of the reality.

POM     Good. Now that does two things, Mac, as well as being able to – just what I want, it enables a second thing, it enables you to do, which is missing from the Vula part, to do a look-back at Vula and place it in context which is just what you're doing now. You're placing it in the context of other things going on and that bit was missing.

MM     OK.

POM     OK. I'll talk to you tomorrow.

MM     That's why I thought I'll discuss it with you on the phone with the tape because this thing was just too much, I would need to sit down and think too hard.

POM     Got it.

MM     It's too raw at the moment. I'm trying to shift you from one perspective that's there to one I think that is the one that I'm putting at the moment.

POM     OK, Mac. Thank you.

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.