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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

06 Sep 2004: Maharaj, Joey

POM     Let me just start with your own memories of growing up. What are your first memories and where were you and what was happening and who's around you?

JM     OK, my first memories would start off in Zambia in our first house.

POM     Was that when your Mom was working for the British High Commission?

JM     Yes. And then, I mean throughout that period in Zambia the only people that I actually remember are my Mom and my Dad and my brother, because we moved around a lot so I suppose I don't remember my friends. Then we moved, I remember my dog got run over and we moved to a new house. That was the house when my Mom had her car accident, we were living in that house.

POM     Do you remember other people being around the house at that time?

JM     I only remember just my Mom and my brother and I. My Dad used to cut our nails on the bay window.

POM     He used to what?

JM     He used to cut our fingernails and our toenails on a Sunday and he used to cut them too short and I remember I used to fight with him about that. Then the only other people that I can remember being around is one night, I think we got robbed, well that's what my Mom told me that there were robbers that were breaking in. Oh and then after my mother had the car accident my aunt and uncle from my father's side, my Dad's sister –

POM     Shanthee, right.

JM     Yes, moved into that house and it was me and my brother, Uncle Lucky and Aunty Shantheei.

POM     They were looking after you, were they, at that point?

JM     Yes but they didn't move into Mom's bedroom, they moved all the way down the corridor, there was another bedroom there. Like I'm very grateful that she came to look after us at that stage but maybe - I don't know if it was the best thing for my brother and I because I had juvenile arthritis when I was younger and before I could go to my Mom's room in the night but because she was so far down the corridor - She wouldn't let my brother and I bath together because he was a boy and I was a girl. She didn't really like – we were friends with the gardener's kids and she didn't let them come into the house so that wasn't –

POM     Too good.

JM     Yes. I'm very glad that they were there but it was just a bit of a shock because she had a completely different way of raising kids and we hadn't been brought up like that at all.

POM     Do you remember when your Dad took off, when he was supposedly sick and was going for treatment?

JM     Yes, I remember my Mom saying she's going to phone the hospital and things like that and tell South Africa. The only memories I have of my Dad is that he used to cut my toenails on the windowsill and one day he cut them too short and I packed my tog bag and told him I'm never, ever coming back, but then I couldn't reach the door handle to get out of the house. So that's the one memory I have. Then we were playing Row, Row, Row Your Boat and he was wearing a red jacket and I have a memory of him coming home while we were living in Zambia in the house when my Mom had her accident and he gave me a present and I hadn't seen him long and I said to him he must go away and bring me more. That is it.

POM     So you don't remember that he left in 1988 and didn't turn up again until London?

JM     That's what I mean. In that period in Zambia those are the only things fixed in my mind. In fact his face is only in one of them and the other two memories I just remember his hands. Then in the UK I remember him more clearly.

POM     Do you remember your Mom's accident?

JM     Yes vividly.

POM     Could you tell me about that?

JM     Well she used to come home for lunch, she was working and during her lunch hour she would come back home and see us. So the one day she came back and my brother and I always used to cry and hug onto the tyres of the car and stuff to try and make her stop going back because we missed her and I just remember she was wearing very high heels and it had like these snakes that went between your toes and I was discussing with my brother and I was saying that I had a nightmare that the snakes climbed up my Mom, around her torso, and bit her in the neck. But I was very young so I couldn't express myself clearly to my mother and I also had this fear – as soon as I saw those shoes I knew something bad was going to happen but I was three or four and the only thing I could do was cry, which I did on a daily basis. The alarm bells weren't really ringing for my Mom so when she left I said to her, because I couldn't tell the time yet, and there was a clock – my brother and my bedroom, we shared a bedroom which was right next door to my Mom's so in the passage there was a clock on the wall and I said to her, "When will you be back?" And she said, "When the big hand is here and the little hand is here", and she pointed on the clock, "Then I should be back home", because I couldn't tell the time. She went away and I just remember … we weren't allowed to watch McGyver because McGyver was past our bedtime and I think McGyver came on and my Mom still wasn't home and I sat on that parquet wooden floor looking at the time, looking at the time, watching this thing tick but I couldn't understand.

POM     So were you there on your own, just the two of you with nobody looking after you?

JM     As far as I remember there wasn't. That night when my Mom left it was just my brother and I in the house and I fell asleep on the floor and when I woke up the big hand and the little hand had moved but they weren't where they were supposed to be and because I didn't understand that a clock moves in a clockwise direction I didn't realise that the time has passed for my Mom to come home. So all I knew was that it was really, really late. I'm not sure if I should be panicking or not because I can't tell the bloody time but it was dark outside. When I woke up the lights were all off and everything and I went to my Mom's bedroom, we used to have mosquito nets because it was Zambia, and her nets were still wrapped up and tucked behind the headboard so she obviously hadn't been home. Then I don't remember what happened until Shanthee came and picked us up and took us to the hospital.

POM     Now the hospital must have been something awful, was it?

JM     On the way to the hospital we actually saw my Mom's car and I had some sort of freak-out because it looked like the car was wrapped around a tree, just like the snake in my dreams so it gave me the shudders. I had a daisy for my Mom, it sounds so sick but it wasn't like that, it was so severe at the time. You know how you play 'she loves me, she loves me not', so when my brother and I saw the car we were sitting in the boot and we were driving past the car and I remember the car, it was a white one with a stripe along the side, and I was holding this daisy for my Mom and I started playing with the daisy going, "She's dead, she's alive", because the car looked so badly damaged, especially the driver's seat, that I couldn't imagine anybody could be sitting there and still be living. When we got to the hospital, and I wasn't in a panic, I really wasn't, I was fine in the back of the car, I was playing games with my brother, and then we walked into the hospital and I don't know, I just panicked because I could see that it was my Mom, I could recognise her, but I couldn't see her face besides what was actually there. I knew that I was visiting my Mom but the way that she looked, for a young child to try and recognise your mother in that situation it was very difficult because there was this pipe in her nose, in her throat, everywhere, and she was so badly cut and so bruised and swollen and bleeding – then I just climbed under the bed next door to my Mom and they couldn't get me out. I was there for hours.

POM     You were saying?

JM     Because it had wheels every time they came close I'd just edge the bed away, they were chasing this bed round the hospital because I just didn't want to come out.

POM     So you guys must have been pretty devastated after that. Did you think she was going to die?

JM     Yes.     At that time you're not one bit panicked. When I was playing that game with the daisy I wasn't scared. Only once I actually arrived at the hospital. I think because you're young so you're not actually registering what's happening at the speed that it's happening to you and then I got to the hospital and it just hit me what had happened. I don't actually know, I don't remember leaving the hospital, I don't know how I got home.

POM     Then she was taken to Harare, she had to go to Harare to have some operations.

JM     Yes, then I was separated from her during that period of her illness for a while. I don't know the exact sequence but I know she went to Harare and then she went to the UK for treatment.

POM     She went to Moscow in between as well.

JM     Yes, because in Zambia they didn't have an X-ray machine, they didn't even have Panado. They told her she must go to the bathroom alone so she would crawl to the toilet by herself without assistance and stuff. I don't know, I saw my Mom at the hospital and then kind of like I don't know where she went but I just remember my brother at that stage, he used to make me bread and butter sandwiches and he used to dry me after my bath and he used to read books to me, even when the writing was too difficult for him he used to make up stories and he'd tuck me in and he used to help me get onto the toilet because my feet didn't touch the ground yet. He did everything.

POM     He was a loving brother.

JM     Yes. No he really is. I remember when Mommy had the accident he came into the room and he said to me with this little brave face on, "Joey", because I was petrified, I didn't know what the time was, I didn't know. Then we got to the hospital, we got back home, I didn't remember getting home, I was just sitting on my bed and I didn't know what to do and we had just arrived back home from the hospital, he came into the room with this little brave face on which I could see through from a mile away, he said to me, "Now Joey you don't have to be scared because I'm going to be your Mommy and your Daddy and your brother and your sister and your auntie and your uncle and your nephew and your niece and your best friend for as long as you need me."

     I remind him about it all the time. Really that period, I don't remember any of my friends until South Africa but I remember so many things with my brother. As many memories as other kids have of playing in the garden and doing this and doing that with different friends, I have those memories but it's only him. We did everything together, everything. Also because we moved around so much none of us ever got to really settle in so we just had each other. We got on really, really well.

POM     That's good, it would be awful if you didn't. Do you remember going to school in the UK?

JM     I briefly do. I remember the kids were so horrible to me. My brother couldn't get into school. I think they put me in the wrong standard because all the other kids could read but I couldn't but on Fridays we had to go to the bookcase and pick up a book and read to the class, so I had this book that I had taken home secretly, stolen, and I had got my Mom to read it to me without telling her what it was about and I had memorised word for word the story so that as you turned the page – you know kid's books have only got about five words on each page. So I memorised word for word each page and then every Friday I'd get up and pick the same book and go to a different page, recognise the picture and read from there. Then the one Friday I got there and to my horror they had rotated the classroom books between the different classrooms and I had been knowing this lie and I had to stand up in front of the class and I couldn't read. That's when I went through my whole complex of being stupid. When I registered for university last year my Mom came with me, you know how – it's university now, you don't want to be seen by your peers, OK I'm not embarrassed at all, but you don't want your mother to get all emotional in front of your classmates and she starts saying, "Oh my ninny." "Mom, please be quiet, there are people coming." "Do you remember when you couldn't read?" And she cried and cried. I didn't care who heard because I was speechless because at the time that was the most difficult thing for me to have to say. Now when I look back it sounds so silly. Even by the age of 13 when we had to read in front of the class I still had apprehensions about reading out loud and I would try and practice in the car on the way to school because it never left me. Even when I have to read a magazine to a friend, say read my horoscope, I get this knot in my stomach because I remember how I stood there and I couldn't read a word and they just laughed at me. It was horrible.

     I think I had one friend, I don't remember her name but I remember I went to her house once and her Mom told me it was OK for me to eat with my hands, which was a relief because I couldn't use a knife and fork. I'd always eaten with my hands. I mean they had little spears that they put their mealies on, they didn't touch their food with their fingers. Coming from Zambia, seeing those kids, I was petrified, I thought they were ghosts. Because I had seen white people but you could see their veins under their skin.

     My brother had one friend and we went there for dinner and they gave us peanuts and raisins and they ate in front of us and I couldn't understand how – our friends in Zambia, they were kids of the gardener, there were about 12 kids, there would be a pot of pap and they would cut it in half and half was for my brother and me and the other half was for the rest of the family because if we came to dinner it was just something you did. And here we are sitting there eating peanuts and raisins, we haven't eaten because we've been invited to stay over for the night and we didn't even get a cup of tea. They were just so rude and I had never encountered any racism up until that stage as well and the whole concept of a bully, it's a very British thing to have the bully, and my brother got picked on so badly, so badly. He didn't ever tell my Mom because he didn't want to worry her.

     You know as kids you don't have coping mechanisms for any form of abuse, whether it's sexual harassment all the way down to just being bullied like that, you feel actually it's your fault. We don't realise that the perpetrator is the one who should be embarrassed. I remember when I was being bullied, it's so embarrassing that you don't want to tell anyone. Eventually my Mom came to pick us up from school one day, she saw these boys pushing him around and hitting him and she gave that boy such a hiding that they never came back to him. She suddenly realised why he had been so miserable all this time because every day after school they'd bully him and hit him and whatever. He hadn't been saying anything about it. He had been a most gentle, gentle boy up until that stage.

     My parents would send me to psychologists and whatever because they didn't know what was wrong with me but I just felt it would be such a betrayal to speak badly about my family to anyone that I just refused to talk about it to anyone. For years people tried to speak to me about my Dad and I refused to because I just didn't want them to think that he was a bad person.

POM     This is your Dad?

JM     Yes. My brother as well, I didn't speak about the things that really hurt me because I didn't want them to have a biased opinion. I didn't know that as a professional you shouldn't pass judgement and I had a very strong loyalty to my brother. But that's all just started only recently coming out because of his illness and everything. In a way it's better because it's forced us all – I think we were all borderline crazy. You know what I mean? The worst place in the world to live is on the borderline because you just never get treated but once you cross that line somebody actually steps in. I think it's something that this whole family has, is that we don't have the ability to ask for help. I don't know where it comes from, there's this thing that you have a silent … my Mom and my Dad and now we have it too. I actually think it's a big problem that we have because being silent is not the strongest option.

POM     You Dad doesn't talk about anything that touches his heart.

JM     The thing is for him to acknowledge certain things. Before you say something you have to acknowledge it, you have to digest it, you have to register it, you have to – you know. Being silent means you can actually just ignore it. That's why I think in a way it's a bit of cowardly thing to do but I don't blame my Dad, that's in his personality and for him to change now maybe it's too late.

POM     At least he can understand them and you can understand them.

JM     And there are times when he speaks, I don't know, I suppose I understand his way of communicating. The fact that he's so unemotive makes his communication skills towards people that are very close to him even better because when he shows something small to an outsider person you don't take it as much, but to somebody who knows how deadpan he can be, it's all relative. That's my Dad.

POM     What's your first memory, first clear memory of him?

JM     He came to Brighton to take my brother and I to school. He woke us up and it was so dark outside. I didn't like him, I thought, "Oh God what is this arsehole doing here", I couldn't stand my Dad for a very long time because I didn't understand where he had gone and why he had gone, I just felt pretty abandoned by him. He was like this new broom trying to sweep clean and take us to school for my brother and my first day, because eventually my brother got in as well. It was pitch dark and I said to him, "Dad it's too dark", and he said to me, "It's very black here." And I'd lived there for a while and I know that we used to walk to school in the dark and walk home from school in the dark. But something in my biological clock was saying, hold on, this is way too early to be getting up. And we got there, ate breakfast, walked to school in the freezing cold, stood outside the school gates and he said, "Oh shit! I haven't set my clock to European time." That's my first clear memory.

POM     Did you go to Lusaka him? Your Mom tells me that you and Milou went with him to Lusaka when he was packing up?

JM     I remember living in a house alone with him and my brother for a while. I didn't speak to him at all. I was really horrible to him.

POM     And Milou, was Milou - ?

JM     My brother tried to be nice to him. That's the thing about my brother, he's so civil and he doesn't show his pain and he doesn't want to create more of a stir. But he's just as pissed as me, even more so because he knew that both my parents were lying to him. I didn't even know I was being lied to. I was angry that my Dad was sick. You know what I mean? That's all it was in my head, he went away for so long and I couldn't forgive him for leaving me like that even though it wasn't his fault. But for my brother it was so much worse because he knew that it was all a lie, that essentially it came down to my father's choice to go and my mother's choice to let him go. I couldn't bear to put on a show but my brother didn't give my Dad one bit of hassle. I wouldn't speak to him. He'd tell me to brush my teeth and I'd say, "You're not my father, don't tell me what to do." Or when we first went to Sacred Heart we used to have injections at school for measles and stuff, and I used to write with an art liner, "I hate my Dad, I wish he would die", on my arm so that when they rolled up my school shirt people would see. I just wanted everyone to know that biologically he's my father but otherwise he's not.

POM     When he got arrested, when you were getting ready to come back to SA and then he got arrested. Do you remember that?

JM     Yes. We were let down again. That was like the last let down because we had nothing, we had sold the car, everything. My brother and I lay awake drawing pictures of how he looked because I couldn't really remember. We heard he smoked cigarettes and he had a beard and we were trying to like – and the time was flying, because no matter how angry I was with my Dad I was so excited to see him. That's something you can't get rid of. Do you know what I mean? I was so excited but before I knew it the phone was ringing, it was about four o'clock in the morning, and I just heard my mother swear and my brother and I both knew. In that way it's strange because we didn't know, well I didn't know that my father had been arrested or whatever but just by the tone in my mother's voice I knew that we weren't going to SA and for my brother it was even worse because she came upstairs, she was trying to make an excuse. How do you tell kids we're not going any more. My brother was staring at her, I didn't understand why he was looking at her like that. Now when I look back the reason that he was looking at her like that, he was just in so much shock because he knew that my Dad had been arrested and she wasn't telling us. He knew that we might never see – I mean there was an article and a quote underneath that said not when we see Daddy but if. In my brother's mind, yes it's hard for us to deal with, but he felt like he should have known. The only time he ever forgave my Dad for that was when they were having a chat and he said, "How could you not tell me?" He said to my Mom the one night, my mother realised in the end, "Mommy, you treat me like the enemy." He said, "You don't tell me the truth." And I think she realised he knew everything and he was very hurt about that and one day my Dad and him were chatting, about a year ago maybe, and my brother said, "But it's not right, I had a right to know. I deserved to know and do you know how betrayed I felt for years?" And my Dad said, "OK I understand, I understand, but then why didn't you tell Joey?"

POM     He said he had a right to know that he was in SA and not in Russia being treated for – pretending to be ill?

JM     But the chances of us meeting our father were slim and we had a right to know that my mother was living with the idea that she may raise two kids alone and never see her husband again. We had a right to know. My Dad said, "I understand but then why didn't you tell Joey?" It was the first time he could ever see it from my parent's perspective. He said, "You didn't tell me a single thing." When the robbers came he played along with my Mom and said, "Yes, they were robbers, they were coming to steal", but they left empty handed. They fired shots but they left empty handed. He played along with all of it because he wanted to protect me because the burden of knowing was too much and he knew that.

     So that really cleared the air and my Dad and I, I don't know, a few things set it off. One, I was a gymnast and my Mom couldn't always make it to my competitions and it was my first Transvaal colours competition and I'd been practising and practising and as I got on to my favourite apparatus, the floor, I looked and I saw my Dad shuffling in to sit down and he didn't see me but I saw him and I was so happy because my Mom and my brother couldn't make it and I just wanted somebody to be there and he came even though I hated him and I didn't invite him. He came. Then another woman, I don't know who she is, but my Dad must thank her, she said to me, "Shame, it must be hard having to share your father?" I didn't really like talking about my Dad. She said, "Because he's not just your father, he's the father of this whole nation. You mustn't be angry, you must be proud."

     Those sorts of things started to connect and as I grew up and I started understanding, I went from one pole to the next. I hated him and then over a while when I started learning what had happened and why he had gone and for what reasons he had gone and looking at – because you know kids have – it's actually in psychology up until the age of eight or so, kids are egocentric in that they cannot see another perspective, literally when they give you psychological tests and they say, "Do you have a sister?" Yes. "What's her name?" Jane. "Oh, does Jane have a sister?" No. Because you can't, there's no reversibility and I think as I started realising and viewing it from my mother's point of view, that's when I had a hell of a lot of pain because it wasn't just my own pain, I started to take on my brother's pain, I started to take on my mother's pain, but at the same time I started to feel so proud of who my father was. I think that never really wore off because I gave him such shit when we first met that he's got this thing that he's a bad Dad and I don't think he'll ever shake it. But I say to him, "What more can you give a child? I can walk with my head held high till the day that I die", because that's what he gave me.

POM     He did more. When the time came he was the only one who stepped forward.

JM     I know. I said to my mother, because she's obviously – I think my Mom's very hurt and in a sense still bitter, and I said to her, "Mummy, who's to blame? You're the one who let Dad go. You were in control of your relationship. You could have said to him, no. You could have packed your bags and taken us. You could have gone to California. What made you - ? Don't be angry with anyone else because you were part of that decision." And she said to me, "You're right." So I said, "So why did you let it happen?" She said, "Because sometimes you've just got to put your money where your mouth us." And that's what happened when OR said to her that Mac may never come back. She just said, "I know."

POM     He was the only one and it came at a great cost.

JM     But I don't know, if you look at it like that it's also – I don't know, how much is the cost? We're here today aren't we? We're living in a house, I go to a multi-racial school. I've met my father. So things could have been worse. So then what's the cost if things could have been worse?

POM     The cost is you live in a free country. For everybody to live in a free country he had to give up part of his life and that meant part of his own family. It's an awful price.

JM     The thing about my Dad, the thing about him is that he would have rather died there than to have lived any other way and that's just the man that he is.

POM     If I asked you who he is, if you had to stand up, let us assume, God forbid, that he had passed away and you had to write – I know you wrote an essay on him once at school, I don't know whether you still have that essay.

JM     I don't think so.

POM     What would you say? Who was he? Who is he? Who is your Dad?

JM     Oh. I just think he's the most human human being. I really do, I mean people think that he's a hero, he's this and he's that, you know that's not what he wants to me and that's not what he is or aims to be. I think he's human and that's how I view him. I view him as a person who feels so strongly about things that he can't let them slide and that basically what happened is that he felt so strongly about something that he couldn't let it go. How more emotional can you get? I mean we say he's this cold, deadpan person, but he was so driven by his feelings. I think he's quite – I would say he's more of an extraordinary father than he was ever a politician.

POM     He'd be pleased with that line. That's great. Now why do you say that?

JM     Because I have the luxury of being able to compare myself to others. A lot of my friends because they've had their Mom and their Dad for a long time and they don't know how it feels to be away from them and stuff, they can't actually see all the good in their parents. It's very difficult from the inside. But when I look at my Dad and I think – you know, we entered into this family where he's completely guilt-ridden, his daughter hated him, his wife and his relationship was – like my Mom hasn't lived with somebody. It's not easy. She was married but she lived alone and living with somebody isn't easy, sharing Dad and stuff. We came into all of that and for somebody who hasn't had 'training' it's not like he was there every step of the way to see the changes. But because of his ability to negotiate and to listen I can actually talk to him. I could say to him, "Dad, you missed out on years of my life but when you come back here don't treat me like I'm six because I'm nine now and you deal with that. It's not my fault that you weren't around." He wanted to baby me and have me as his little girl. He respected the fact that he had missed out on that and he would have to deal with that. For somebody who - his sense of family that he has from when he was a child is so different from what we have now and yet he's managed to come into this family unit and bring so much value to it without even being there for some of the most critical periods in our family. He still manages to have the capacity to understand and to view things from our point of view. Like he packs up the old house and he's been driving back and forth and back and forth moving the house and he'd never done it before. My mother's done it for years and years and years. But he still does it just as well as any of us. Do you know what I mean?

     With my brother, my brother when there problems he said, "Let me take you away", he went away for a weekend with my brother. When him and I weren't getting on he'd say, "Sit down, I need to know how do you feel. Tell me how you feel." I think, you know, he's just a very aware person.

POM     Can he express his own feelings back to you?

JM     No. But I can read him like a book. No really I can. Some days when he's so sick and he has to go to the doctor and I just put a little bit of cream on his back and he's fine, he just needed that. The other thing is, the only difficulty that I have with my Dad is because he's so alienated from his own feelings when he's being impossible and I can see why, he can't see why. You know what I mean? Like when we were going through this whole Hefer Commission and my brother's illness and stuff and he would be ratty and snappy, not on the outside, obviously it only comes out on the inside with the family and stuff. He would refuse to recognise that he was in the wrong because he wasn't nervous, he wasn't miserable, he was fine. And so that's the only problem that him and I have. He's just so responsive. I can say anything to him, I can say, "Dad I think you're depressed, you must go to a psychologist." "For you. I'll go see him." That's how humble he is, that he can just from a teenage girl, he can actually value my opinion so much and accept that he might not always be right.

POM     How did the whole Hefer Commission and all that affect everybody?

JM     I think it killed my mother. She's so strong and she's come through it but I think it was just like after everything –

POM     You were going to say?

JM     After everything I think my Mom felt that enough is enough. When are our comrades going to be our comrades? My mother didn't even talk about it, people didn't even think that my mother was involved. Meanwhile she was and she couldn't even speak about things to our own comrades and then how this sort of thing happened, I think it really killed her. For me, I mean, it was just horrible because I think combined with my brother's illness I was losing too much of what meant everything to me too quickly. The way that I view my brother and my father are very important to me. To have that taken away isn't nice and I remember standing in Woolworths with my Dad and we were paying money, all the attendants in the shop recognised him and they said, "Oh Mr Maharaj, how's it?" And I was standing next to the newspaper rack and it had his face all over it and whatever and it was the first time in my life I ever felt embarrassed to stand next to him. It was horrible because there's been a time in my life when I hated standing next to him and I would choose not to, all different emotions, but I had never been embarrassed. It was very difficult answering questions because it's not – how do I explain to kids of my age who don't know politics at that level? Do you know what I mean? How do I give a good answer that's truthful? But that quickly passed.

POM     How did it affect him? How did it affect your Dad?

JM     Oh I think it was shocking because as it is, as you age, most men have some sort of self worth issue but to suddenly be told you weren't a good enough father because look what's happened to your son, your daughter's embarrassed to be where she is and the whole – you've lost your job, you've got no wealth, like financial value to his family. Not only that but you're bringing the rest of us down because people my mother was working with and trying to see things through, all of a sudden when the Hefer Commission happened we don't hear a peep out of them because my mother's associated with the wrong man, once again. He just felt – he won't speak about it but I think it was devastating for him and his sense of worth was really crushed. Luckily enough, even though he couldn't recognise that, my mother and I can. We just tried to let him know. My Mom and him were fighting and when she said, "Don't do this and why are you doing this?" and whatever, he would flip out and I just said to her, "Mummy, don't criticise the guy right now, he can't take it", and we just tried to make him feel like – I told him every single day that I support his decision a hundred percent.

POM     That would have meant a lot.

JM     Yes. Every evening I'd say, "Gosh Mom, what would we have done without Dad today?" Just to let him know that his contribution, even if he doesn't notice it, we do.

POM     Well he's very lucky to have such a loving daughter. You know you bring out very clearly one of those questions that there's never an answer to, but sometimes the people who make the history of their country leave their personal lives and their families in tatters.

JM     This is the thing. Can you be perfect? Can you have it all? And it's just not a possibility and that's just the way that it is. I just don't think you can look at it in too much of a negative light because I strongly believe that a victim mentality is the only thing that can really destroy you, nothing else that happens in this world can break you like having that mentality. I like to look at things as if – look, I've survived all of this, nothing is going to upset me, as opposed to looking at it and saying I've been through all of this, now look what's happened on top of that? I must say for the first time in my life with the Hefer Commission and with the thing with my brother, because when I was being bullied at school, but whenever I had a problem I used to think I lived through that year of how when my mother was in hospital and I didn't know where my Dad was and everything, I survived that, I can survive anything, and that's how I spur myself on. All of a sudden with the Hefer Commission and my brother's illness I suddenly realised that, whoa, this is actually the hardest thing that's ever happened to me because I'm old enough to intellectualise it and it's hurting me on so many other levels, not just on basic needs. But, like I say, it's over, I can choose to live in a mind like 'Oh gosh, there's a trial still hanging over me', but for me I think we survived it, it's not still happening to me. I don't want to live in that place for ever.

POM     You're moving on.

JM     Yes. I have to, I don't really have a choice.

POM     Listen it's been an absolute pleasure talking to you and I hope to do so again. The thing about going out to dinner with people and things like that is that you never get to know somebody because everybody's talking around the table and the opportunity to talk to people one on one is so limited really in life that it's just – you're delightful with your insights. Between the two of you, you and Milou you have a combination of genes on both sides. I don't know where it's going to lead you to.

JM     My brother and I are from the same factory. Him and I are just one of a kind really and there was a stage when we went on completely different paths and it hurt me so much to watch our relationship deteriorate. A little while ago he came to me and he said to me, "You know Mom and Dad, they're panicked, they didn't know what to do. They wanted to send me here and send me there, they reprimanded me, they did this, they did that, but you were the only person who just loved me." He actually said, it killed me, it brought me to tears, he said to me, "Thank you for being my mother and my father and my brother and my sister and my uncle and my aunt and my nephew and my niece and my best friend."

POM     He did?

JM     "As long as I needed you to be."

POM     He said that?

JM     Mm.

POM     So he remembered what he said to you in Harare. That's extraordinary.

JM     It brought me to tears. For so long I had felt like I owed him so much and for the first time in my life I realised how much value I bring to him. It's not just a one way thing.

POM     So you're close again.

JM     Yes and that gives me so much strength. When I lost him – it was really a hell of a loss to me because we spent so much time together. He understands. In fact maybe that's what made the whole Hefer Commission so bad is the blow with my brother probably just made me so vulnerable to everything else. They just happened to coincide. But I'm also grateful about that because if one had happened and I had got through it and then another one happened, I don't think I would have had the stamina. You know what I mean? I'm more of a hundred metre sprinter than a long distance, I suppose. I just give it my all.

POM     With that cold you mightn't even go a hundred metres with that. You've got to get rid of that.

JM     I know, I'm not well. It was lovely talking to 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.