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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
15 & 22 Aug 2004: Maharaj, Zarina
POM On time, it's Padraig.
ZM Oh my God! Hi man, how are you?
POM Didn't you SMS me back saying four o'clock would be fine?
ZM Yes, absolutely. No we've been at this do for this guy who's just been appointed to be the new head of the army and so he had a luncheon, we're on our way back to Jo'burg now.
POM So you're not there yet? OK
ZM It's a perfect time, I'm in the car, Mac's driving, it's OK.
POM Are you sure?
ZM Absolutely OK.
POM Well then let's pick it up from you and Mac got married when and where?
ZM Mac and I got married we first met in Mozambique.
POM I thought he met you when you were at Mayibuye?
ZM Oh yes, he came to London when I was still in Mayibuye, the cultural unit. He arrived there in London and then he called me on the night of Friday 8 August, I remember it because 9 August was International Women's Day which was a Saturday and he said he had a message for me from Laloo Chiba who he was on Robben Island with, and we met at the place, the venue, the SA Women's Day venue. Mac was the guest of honour with Indres Naidoo and the function was hosted by Hilda Bernstein and other South African women of the struggle and I was part of the cultural entertainment for that day, namely singing in Mayibuye and reciting poetry. Yes, that was the meeting.
Can you hear me?
POM I can hear you perfectly, yes.
ZM Then Mac and I said hello to each other; it's the first time I ever saw him. I'd actually heard of him before and I thought, oh, he's rather gorgeous. He was wearing a khaki shirt and khaki pants and he looked almost as if he was wearing a military uniform but it wasn't actually a uniform, it was just casual clothes. Then he was hounded that day so badly by the press, radio, TV and all that, I didn't get a chance actually to speak with him any more so I left and we went home. I was married to Laloo's Chiba's brother, Chips, younger brother, at that point and then Chips and I went home that evening and we met up with Mac the next day at the lunch hosted by the Naidoos, Indres Naidoo's family, in Finchley. Again there were a lot of people and a lot of media and, again, we didn't actually get a chance to talk. It was not until two weeks after that that we actually met at a party and he learnt that I was going to Mozambique to lecture in mathematics at Maputo University and I learnt that he was actually only going to be in London for six months or so transcribing
POM Madiba's autobiography, yes.
ZM Which he had smuggled out from Madiba, which has become Long Walk to Freedom. So we didn't know when we would see each again but I then went on to Mozambique. I left for Mozambique in December of that year which was December 1977. I had first met Mac at Women's Day, 9 August 1977, I went to Mozambique in December 1977 and Mac pitched up in Mozambique in April 1978. That's when we got to know each other.
POM OK, and then you got married when?
ZM We got married only in is it 1980 or 1981? 1981, during 1981 in Zambia.
POM Now when did you move did you move to Zambia before you were married?
ZM Yes. What happened is, yes, before we were married. When my contract expired in Mozambique at the end of 1979 I decided not to renew it and to join Mac instead in Zambia but I first went back to England to sort out a few things and it turns out that because I was a British citizen there was a certain job in Zambia for which I qualified very well as a British citizen and would be paid by the British High Commission and I would be paid in pounds rather than in Zambian kwacha.
POM That's helpful.
ZM So I sorted all that out in England in 1980 before I returned and joined Mac in Zambia in 1980.
POM Then you were going to work for at that point?
ZM I went to work for the University of Zambia but in the capacity of a British Technical Co-operation Officer and my job was to the Zambian government could no longer afford to pay Cambridge University for administering and processing what was then called the General Certificate of Education, the British General Certificate of Education, the GCE O-level exams which were being taken in Zambia as well by Zambian people. So I was made head of the project to so-called localise the Cambridge Certificate exams in Zambia as a British citizen doing it for the Zambian government on behalf of the British government.
POM What was it like in 1980? Can you give me a picture of what life was like in Lusaka?
ZM In Zambia, in Lusaka it was extremely difficult for me and I think for most people in the ANC then but I didn't actually I was not part of the ANC structures, I was just a wife of somebody who was involved and I was treated as such.
POM Now what does that mean? Translate that for me. I mean I can guess.
ZM I was never seen in my own right. I was seen as the appendage of this hero of the struggle, almost as an unsavoury appendage.
POM Why unsavoury?
ZM Well I didn't have a history and a pedigree of struggle. I was always very conscious of the fact that I was being judged by certain people in that way and it was very difficult for me to make the decision to nevertheless stay in that relationship because it was a choice of staying in the relationship or being seen as nothing more than somebody's appendage whereas I knew that in my own right I had hell of a lot to offer.
POM What I want to get at is, it would strike me as an outside with just having read different accounts of people in the ANC in Lusaka, that it must have been a very tight, incestuous kind of living.
ZM Oh yes. Well listen, Padraig, the thing is that we lived in a house in a township called Roma Township and at that point Mac was the head of the Revolutionary Council, I think he was a member of the RC.
POM Is he sitting beside you?
ZM Yes, he's driving.
POM Shit man! I can't talk to you with him beside you! That's the end of this interview. OK? I'll wait till you get home. I can't talk to you with him sitting beside you correcting you.
ZM I'll call you when I get home because I'm stopping off for coffee at another friend. I'll call you when I get home.
ZM Well I think in order to answer that question, it's a very subjective thing when you ask what was life like. Different people would experience the same events differently. What had attracted me to Mac in the first place is here was a totally committed political person who had put his money where his mouth was and it is what had made me give my job up at Xerox International. I had been earmarked to go to Palo Alto, California to head the research laboratory. We were researching you know I'm a Master in Mathematics.
POM Yes, I have that from the first interview.
ZM And I had been offered a job in Palo Alto which is the hub of electronic research and development because we had been doing some research in the early seventies at the Xerox research laboratories where we connected up two photocopiers. Xerox is famous for its photocopying.
POM It's always called a Xerox machine. Up to today it's never called a photocopier, we call it a Xerox machine: can you Xerox this or Xerox that?
ZM Exactly. And I had been recruited into the new forward looking team, so-called, young dynamic people, looking into the possibility of linking up two photocopiers so that if you put the original on one photocopier it would come out on the other. That means that if you had a photocopier in position A in one part of the city and it was linked to another photocopier in position B in a different part of the city, could the original on the first copier, would it come out on position B. We researched and worked on that and we actually got it going and that was the birth of the concept of the fax machine. I was the mathematician looking into the so-called indexing methods to make that work. We were engineers, mathematicians, you name it. I became the blue-eyed baby, so to speak, of the Vice President, I wouldn't say the President of Xerox, but the Vice President of Xerox when he came to Welling Garden City in Hertfordshire in England where our research laboratories were located and he asked for a presentation of what we'd done and what we'd achieved and I was slotted in to give one of those presentations. I said I had been working on the indexing method which is an integral little part, it's not a big part but it was this important part of making the whole concept work. They offered me a job in Palo Alto, California to head up the research laboratory on the fax machine. I've even got the reference from Eric Kirk when I decided to leave Xerox on what my contribution was.
Now it was at that this was in 1974 when I was offered this job, the Palo Alto job, and I sort of dilly-dallied on the grounds that my mother had just died of cancer and I had been nursing her and I was still recovering from the trauma, etc., and I said I needed time and please don't push me, I'm not sure I want to go to Palo Alto. It was very attractive, it was the pinnacle almost and I just thought I needed time. What happened is Mac was released in 1976 from prison and had come with this message and I had been putting off the whole Palo Alto thing and I had actually come to a decision before I met Mac. In 1975 I had actually turned down the Palo Alto job and, "You know I've got to get to my roots, I'm basically an African." Although South Africa had refused me permission to come back to SA to see my ex-brother in law, my first husband's brother was on Robben Island and I had tried to visit him several times and because I held a British passport my visa was refused. I had said to these guys at Palo Alto, "I think my roots are in SA."
At that point, 1975, Mozambique got its independence and I thought, you know what, I may not be able to go to South Africa but I will go to Mozambique as a barefoot teacher. I didn't even want to get involved in anything high flying, I just needed time to reflect on where I wanted to be and what my beliefs were and where I wanted to put where you put your money where your mouth is, so to speak. I was a very integral part of the ANC's cultural unit. I think I told you. I was a singer and I recited poetry and we toured Europe and we were so successful that the ANC Chief Rep there wanted to turn us professional so that we all left our jobs and became professional performers.
POM Did the ANC at that point never see that you had a mind?
ZM Had a mind?
POM I mean, here you were an extraordinarily talented person with all kinds of extraordinary skills and they go and they put you in a cultural unit.
ZM As I think I may have told you before, whenever I said (break in recording)
POM We're picking up on 22 August. We had been talking about you got a job with the High Commissioner, the British High Commissioner.
ZM British High Commission.
POM What year would this have been?
ZM 1982. Milo was already just born.
POM So Milo was born in?
ZM I had been with the Zambian University just as an ordinary expatriate but when they discovered my roots, that I'd come from Britain, that I was a South African exile who had been living in Britain and that I had a British passport, they said, well you could come in with a better job employed by the British High Commission as a Technical Co-operation Officer, and that's what I did. That would have been in 1982.
POM And Milo was born?
MM In July 1982.
POM And he was born in?
MM I had to go to Guys Hospital because I was very old, much older as a woman when I had him than most ladies are when they have babies and the complications of his birth they wouldn't have been able to handle in Zambia so they suggested I come and have him in a clinic that was competent to deal with any complications that may arise from my age. I was already 38 years old when I had Milo. Indeed there were lots of complications so I was very glad I went there.
POM Then you remained in the UK?
MM Mac was underground.
POM He was in the IRDP at that time.
ZM He was in the Revolutionary Council but he had been assigned a project in Swaziland called Green Vegetables. He'd been assigned a very dangerous project in Swaziland called Green Vegetables by Dr Dadoo and others and there was no way he could be with me during my entire pregnancy and during the birth so I was alone in London at Guys Hospital when I gave birth to Milo.
POM Did you know what Operation Green Vegetables was about?
POM He told you at the time?
POM Just to check, what was your understanding of what the operation was about?
ZM With cadres like Siphiwe Nyanda, Gebhuza, and Gebhuza's brother and others, they were planning to blow up a train full of South African military personnel who would be travelling through Swaziland at that time and they were going to blow them up, kill them all, but the operation didn't work. It aborted. They tried but it didn't work.
POM Did you see Mac much during that period?
ZM No, not at all. I virtually lived as what they call 'a political widow' even before people are called political widows even if their husbands are not dead. I lived as a political widow before and after the birth of the children.
POM Joey was born in?
ZM She was born in 1984.
POM In London too?
ZM No, she was born in Harare but this time Mac accompanied me. We went to Harare in Zimbabwe in a car, we travelled by car, and I had Joey there and then we brought her back in the car. So the second time he was with me because he knew how traumatic the first birth had been. I almost lost Milo the first time. Things like they put the drip in incorrectly, my blood was going into the drip instead of the glucose coming into me.
POM This was in London?
ZM In Guys which was meant to have been the place to prevent this type of accident from happening. In fact, I never forget the name of the guy who delivered Milo, he was an Indian gynaecologist, very top man, I remember his name because it sounded like the name of a disease, Dr Ruperela, who had seen me. He thought everything was going smoothly, had changed into his suit and tie and was leaving with his briefcase and happened to pop in and look at me and said, "Oh my God!" He went back, took all his clothes off, put on his white stuff, his mask, his gloves and came and delivered Milo. He felt that either Milo or I was going to die. He came in and he said, "One more push, just push, one more." And I pushed and I passed out, I don't know why. It really was my last push because I'd been in labour since the previous day five o'clock, this is five o'clock the next day. Twenty four hours later. And these midwives had no idea, they just thought it's going to be OK. Ruperela tells me afterwards that the reason they carry on like that is they want to prove to him how competent they are, that they can deliver even difficult births. Had he not had the instinct to look in at that moment on his way out of the hospital into my room something could have happened.
POM So, OK, back in Harare, you're working.
ZM No, no, so I'm back in
POM Not Harare, in Lusaka.
ZM Lusaka, Zambia.
POM And you're working. Was there any ANC social life at that time? How did people mix?
ZM I must say that people really, really mixed with each other but not with me. You see the thing is that with Mac being in the underground, as he was even then, and we knew that he was destined for underground work at home, we, I guess, brought it upon ourselves not to and people saw me because I lived in a diplomatic house in a diplomatic community with diplomatic number plates, highly educated and stuff, they saw me as
POM A threat?
ZM Maybe that's what it boiled down to but I at that time reasoned it to be somebody who thought I was better than they were and being a bit independent minded myself I wasn't going to go out of my way to prove any different. Maybe I should have reached out but in any case nobody offered me anything meaningful to do workwise, any research. I did attend a couple of meetings but I was always just a member of a meeting. I was never given an assignment where I could prove to them that I could actually deliver something. So I accepted, I just thought the circumstances were such that you just carry on and do what you can in the circumstances and I didn't try very hard. In any case when people walked into the place and they saw this was a 24-hour security guarded place with diplomatic number plates, working for the British High Commission, they viewed me in a certain light and I was not prepared to prove that I was different from the way they saw me. And it turned out that I was being regarded as a MI5 spy anyway, it transpired later that I was not somebody to be trusted and that I had been planted by MI5, working for the British I had been a plant.
Like Kathy said yesterday at Kathy's thing, how hurt he was when he found out he was seen to be an informer, a spy, because sometimes when you're too competent maybe people have got to label you and Kathy was labelled in the same way. Pallo Jordan was locked up for six weeks in Lusaka in a corrugated iron hut and nearly died of dehydration. Pallo Jordan who is now Minister of Arts & Culture, he was called a spy too. So I took heart from the fact that I wasn't the only person labelled in that way when I found out.
POM Was that known in Lusaka that he was locked up?
ZM Oh yes, he was locked up, he was interrogated, he was treated very badly, but being the committed man to the struggle that he was he didn't bear any grudges and when he was released he carried on with his work, as I would happily have done if they had given me any work to do. When I, I don't know when that thing cleared up, I don't know that rumour if it ever, ever disappeared.
POM That was an investigation, commission of enquiry by the SACP?
ZM I know the PMC, the Political Military Council, they believed that I was a spy. People in the PMC had put out word that I was an MI5 spy but I only learnt about this much, much later. I don't think if I had known at the time I would have gone out of my way to try to prove otherwise. So it was neither here nor there.
POM So, say, from 1981 through so how long did you work for the High Commission?
ZM 1982 to 1988. I served two three-year contracts.
POM Now just taking that span of time, whom did you get to know? OR, Joe Slovo? Who did you get to know in any way?
ZM I got to know very well Joe Slovo, Oliver Tambo, Ivan Pillay, Archie I forget his surname.
ZM He worked with Ivan, people who were involved in Vula itself; Gebuza, I trained him. I trained Gebhuza in the use of the communications system. I trained other Vula operatives. Tim Jenkin who invented the communication system and I worked very closely together. I had to come to London and try out the system from public telephones in London. So I got to know the underground people who were specifically involved, who were being prepared for the Vula operation. I got involved with them and I met a few people, I didn't ever get to know at Tim Jenkin's home who were being infiltrated back into SA. So I did get to know the people who were specifically in charge of Vula and who were running Vula, very well, and I was one of the people in Vula.
POM So Mac comes to you in 1986 and he says, "OR has asked me to go home on this operation." And you agreed to it?
ZM Oh absolutely.
POM Did you ask him what was involved?
ZM Yes. In fact OR wanted to know if I knew what I was letting myself in for when I had agreed that Mac should go. This had been on the cards since Joey was two years old, since Joey was born in 1984, that Mac was going to go home, it was on the cards but it was actually only raised with me by OR only in about 1986 when Joey was about two years old. OR said, "Do you realise he may not come out alive again? Do you know what's involved?" And I said, "I think I do." And he said, "You know, you have two very small children, Mac could actually be killed in this operation. Do you realise that?" And I said I do. And he said, "What makes you agree?" I said, "For so long we sit in exile and we tut-tut when we watch TV programmes about people dying of kwashiorkor and malnutrition in the Bantustans and we say, isn't it terrible, isn't it terrible? But when it comes to actually changing that and doing something about it you feel you're not doing enough." I certainly didn't. I said, "If this is going to make a difference I go along, I go along because it's my way of contributing to the struggle, given my constraints, given the fact that I have two small children now. If I didn't have kids I would have gone but because I've got two kids and I can't go, OK, somebody's got to go and because this is what Mac would do well I know, so be it." That's what I told OR and he was very shocked.
POM So then you began a period where Mac starts planning his illness. How did that work?
ZM Yes. Well I had to support the legend that he was going to go to Moscow and what had happened is that a lot of postcards were written by Mac in his handwriting to me saying, actually telling me about his condition, his kidney condition, he was dying of a kidney disease and sometimes saying how bad he feels and at other times saying he feels so much better. And like 20 or 30 cards were written by him in his handwriting which were taken to Moscow which at periodic intervals were posted to me via the ANC office in Lusaka. So the lady in charge of administration there would receive these postcards.
POM That's Ruth Mompeti I think?
ZM No, she was one of them. There was Masondo's wife, Andrew Masondo's wife, and she would phone me up and say, "Hey, there's a postcard from your husband", and I would go to the office and they would all see it and either he's getting worse or he's getting better but the legend is that he's actually in Moscow. Then I, of course, meet with this awful car accident.
POM We're jumping now. There's a stage where when you are involved with Tim Jenkin, Tim develops the system and you assist him in refining it and honing it.
ZM The system is actually located in my study in my home in Lusaka. In a diplomatic home owned by the British government. And because it's regarded as a diplomatic home it's a safe home from our point of view. I am driving around with CD number plates, I'm a diplomat, you know the blue number plates indicating that I'm a diplomat. I've got a 24-hour security guard, etc., and that is the home where all the communications are received. At times I receive them and pass them on to Ivan Pillay.
POM This is when the system is being developed?
ZM Oh no, when it was being developed yes, but at one point it had already been developed and we began receiving it.
POM But Mac goes back in August 1988, he goes into the country and then the system starts transmitting.
ZM And I'm receiving.
POM Now you're still working with the - ?
ZM No. Now by this time I'm with the United Nations. I'm still in diplomatic status, I'm still in a diplomatic house.
POM Do you shift houses?
ZM But I shift, yes.
POM So you now shift from being in one house in a diplomatic compound
ZM To another house regarded as a diplomatic house because I've still got my CD number plates, it's still a very big house in a very posh area. It's like the up and coming diplomatic area the second one, it's not as highly densified in terms of occupation as the other one. For example my neighbour was the Angolan Ambassador. The Mozambican Ambassador lived there. It's the same security, 24 hours, the same la-di-das, the swimming pool, everything.
POM Are you still on a contract that pays you - ?
ZM In US dollars into my British bank account and so on, yes. But it's a different employer now. I've moved from the Brits to the UN.
POM And now the equipment goes with you into the new place?
ZM Into what is called Chudleigh. We moved from Kabalanga to Chudleigh which is also sought after, nice residential, big houses, etc., where the Angolans have their people staying and stuff. So I move from the Brits to the UN but I'm still CD.
POM So you moved there about when?
ZM Well I gave up my job at the British High Commission the year Mac was leaving, 1988.
POM But he's gone, he's left the country, he gets sick and then he goes off to sometime in 1988.
ZM OK, mid 1987 I gave in my notice at the British High Commission I think and I started at Chudleigh and the UN in 1988. Yes, I started in 1988 at the UN with the Preferential Trade Area.
POM So he goes in, the communication system starts working so you start receiving communications at the other end. 7 October 1988 you have your car accident. Now let's run through this, this is where the problems start.
ZM I have a serious, serious car accident. Let me give you the quick background to that accident because I think it's quite important. With Mac being away so much I become a sole parent. Although Mac's sister is there to look after the kids they don't want to know her, they want their mother. I become a lone, single parent but because I'm in a new job I have to show my new bosses that I know the ropes, I know where I'm heading, etc., and so I have to work overtime a lot and so I work late during the week. I don't knock off at five and all that. I come home at eight because I know my sister in law is there and her husband to attend to the children who, by the way, are pining for both their parents. I used to get home at eight at night totally, totally exhausted from a day's work.
One of the reasons I worked so hard is that I discovered that one of the guys in Geneva was pulling a fast one on the PTA, Preferential Trade Area, which is the equivalent of the Southern African Common Market. I discovered this guy is actually pulling a fast one, he's actually bullshitting these African people so much that I put in extra time to try and unearth his crookedness. I actually finally go to Geneva and have chats with him and find out that he's an actual fraud, he's a phoney, he doesn't know as much as he says and he's actually misleading all of us. So I come back and I write a report and I say, "You know guys, this is what he says and this is what it really is and he's hoodwinking all of us because he thinks we're all fools." And the boss of the PTA becomes so taken up with this that he kind of, "Tell me more, tell me more", you know. So I've got to be working to prove my point. It so happens that Lusaka where I am heading this project for computerising the entire Preferential Trade Area system is going to now host all the fourteen member states.
And I say to my boss, I said, "Cut me out of this one, I've worked my butt off, I want to be with my kids on Friday night." And he says, "Zarina, if you don't come it's not going to be good. You've got to come to this party just to say hello, because you are the one now setting up the links between the fourteen member states in terms of the computerisation and they've got to meet you, they've got to know who's in charge of it." And I said, "Bax, you know what, I'm so tired all I want to do is sleep." And he says, "OK why don't you just come for twenty minutes and I'll introduce you and you can go." And I say, "Fine." I go home, I put on a pair of sandals which, Joey was four years old she remembers to this day, they had snakes between the toes, and I said, "Kids, I'm not going to be long." They said, "Mom, where are you going? Where are you going? You haven't been with us the whole week." I said, "I'm coming back in an hour, I promise you I'll be home in an hour." I go to this thing to meet my fourteen colleagues and I leave after half an hour and on the way back I fall asleep at the steering wheel and I wake up 48 hours later in Lusaka hospital having been unconscious for 48 hours. I smashed into a tree and the car apparently wrapped itself round the tree.
So, yes, where were we?
POM So you wake up.
ZM I wake up and I say, "Hey, where's my mother's necklace, where's my mother's earrings? My brain wasn't damaged. They were very worried that I had serious brain damage because my face looked so bad. Apparently the accident was so bad I went through the windscreen and there was a guy following me and he had to come and break the whole windscreen and he had to pull me out and they took me to Lusaka hospital and I was very badly cut up. What they were worried about was brain damage but when I said, "Where's my mother's necklace?" They said, "Oh, she remembers she was wearing a necklace." Then I said, "Can I phone my kids?" And they said, "Do you remember the number?" And I said, "Yes, call them at this number", and it was the number. So they said, "Her brain is intact."
Steve Tshwete who was in the first government here, he was the Minister for Safety & Security, saw the car apparently, realised it was the ANC's car which I had borrowed for the evening. He actually said whoever was in this car is not alive. It was flat like a sardine can. He came to the hospital and found me still breathing. When I woke up 48 hours later there was Zanele Mbeki peering at me and a couple of other women of the ANC peering: is she OK? I wake up out of this daze and there's Zanele Mbeki and a couple of other people. I can't remember the other woman, I wish I could. All the members of the Natal Indian Congress and Transvaal Indian Congress, the NIC, who had come to a meeting to Lusaka and who were now brought to my bedside by one of Mac's
ZM No, no, Abdul who was Mac's personal bodyguard, and he was saying "Zarina - "
ZM That was his pseudonym. His real name is something else. His nom de guerre was Abdul, and he goes, "Hey, Zarina, Zarina, look who I've brought here", and it's Zanele, the TIC, NIC, all. Apparently people now Mac says, "Imagine if you'd spilled the beans that I was at home because you were in such a delirium", but I didn't. I knew they were there and Mac was at home. I never indicated that Mac was at home. As far as they were concerned he was in Moscow and I never led them to believe otherwise. But Jerry Coovadia was one of that group, he's a very big man today in the fight against Aids. He said to me, "You know Zarina when I looked at you I actually thought you're not going to make it because (a) you were in a burns ward, you were not in a bones ward." I had 19 fractures and there was no X-ray machine that was working. I was in a burns ward, my bedding hadn't been changed from the previous person's bedding and it was reeking of urine and blood and stuff. My blood pressure was so low, being a doctor he found a way to measure, and he looked for a nurse and there was nobody around. He said, "They actually had given up on you." And he said, "I actually, every time I see you now, every time I look at you, every time I walk past you I think it's a miracle that you're alive because they didn't even have pain killers." He said, "The stench in that ward of urine and the sense of neglect and looking at your bedding covered in somebody else's urine and blood, I didn't think you'd ever make it. So every time I see you I think miracles do happen."
My kids were brought to that hospital, stupidly, by my sister in law who is deaf, Mac's sister. When I phoned the house I said, "Don't bring the kids", and she understood me to say, "Bring the kids." That actually so traumatised them, it's better if they hadn't seen me like that.
POM Sure, of course.
ZM Apparently they crept under the bed and hid there the rest of the evening. Did you know that? Because I was covered in tubes and plasters and swollen and blood. Joey thought her Mummy was really gone and Milo said, "Don't worry, Joey, I'll look after you if she dies." So that's what the kids remember. So that's the story.
POM So who was the first person? You're there in the hospital in Lusaka, so who's the first person who makes are you able to ask a doctor what's wrong with you and how long will you be there?
ZM Yes. They say the X-ray unit isn't working, we don't actually know exactly what's wrong with you but what we do know is that the collar bone has been completely severed and that this arm is completely it was held together by skin. I was in a very bad condition and I said could they bring a bedpan and they said, "No, you can walk because your spine is intact." They didn't know I had two fractures in my spine. So I crawled on all fours to the loo. I crawled because they wouldn't bring me a bedpan so I crawled on all fours to the loo and the loo had this deep of water and shit. Now if you can stand up and avoid that it's fine but when you're crawling - ! So I just crawled back to my bed.
POM Who makes the first intervention here?
ZM I get a couple of visitors. I ask for my boss, Bax Nomvete, from the PTA who was in terrible shock and Joe Slovo comes around. Joe Slovo had a big issue with me.
POM You were there in hospital.
ZM And lying there half dead, he sent my husband back into the country, he knows my husband could easily be killed, and he says, "Is the UN going to ship you out somewhere because you're employed by the UN?" And I said, "I haven't even thought of it." I'm half conscious when he asks me this question, is the UN taking charge of this case? Are they going to fly you somewhere? And I say I don't know.
Now let me give you some background. I had got such a bloody good job with the Brits and with the UN and I was earning dollars where they weren't ever. He resented that, he resented the fact that you know Mac didn't earn much, he earned 14 kwacha a month which could buy you a toilet roll and a tube of toothpaste and a bar of soap. Mac couldn't afford to eat when I met him. Because I was earning dollars and living in these fancy houses he felt I had no right to accept ANC supplies on Mac's behalf. You know the Soviet Union would send tins of tuna and really nice things which you couldn't get in the shops in Lusaka, even if you had money the shelves were empty. And for the sake of the children I would accept the tuna and stuff and he was saying, "You're taking the food out of the mouths of cadres who can't afford to eat." You see.
POM Now did you mix with him? You knew him beforehand, so up until this point what had your relationship been with him? He was involved since 1986 in the planning of Vula and things like that.
ZM He knew I knew.
POM Would you socialise together, turn up at the same events?
ZM He would always turn up unexpectedly, even at our place, for a meal or whatever. He always came at mealtimes. [He was actually known by all the ANC cadres as the guy who comes in at exactly the time when it's supper and leaves just before it's time to clear the table. He never took a dirty plate to the sink, we all had to do it!
ZM So it's not just me who had this thing that this guy throws his weight around.]
POM Did you like him, did you get on together? Was there that distance between you because of Mozambique?
ZM Once he said Ruth never accepted supplies, which I've subsequently heard is a lie, his wife Ruth, which I've subsequently heard is a total lie. A couple of weeks back I heard from people who were very close to them. "Ruth never accepted supplies, why did you?" I accepted supplies not because I wanted to save money, I accepted because I couldn't get the things
POM That you needed in Lusaka.
ZM I needed for my children. He used that actually as an excuse I think and he began to spread rumours, I think, about me. I think he just basically resented me.
POM So he confronts you in a bed in Lusaka.
ZM I wake up half conscious and he said, "Who's shipping you out of this hospital because clearly you're not going to survive here because there aren't any facilities?" I said, "I don't know who's shipping me out." But I'd heard that two other comrades had just had car accidents and they were going to Moscow and he had made all the arrangements for them, but not for me. So when Bax came to visit me, my boss at the PTA, the UN guy, I said to Bax, "Shit man, if I stay here another week I'll be dead. I've got no pain killers, 19 fractures, there's not a machine." Bax says, "I'm working, working, working to get you out." Bax gets a Chinese UN doctor to accompany me in a wheelchair to Harare. I had the choice of going to South Africa where I would have got much better treatment because apparently in SA they would have put me in plaster of Paris from my waist to my neck so I couldn't move all my broken bones, but I knew if I came to SA Mac would come and visit me and that would be jeopardising his safety so I said, "No, no, not SA."
POM At any point in this had you heard from Oliver Tambo?
ZM Oh yes, he heard and he came to the hospital and when he realised
POM Was that after Slovo had talked, well obviously after Slovo had talked to you.
ZM And OR said, "Zarina, what's up?" I said, "OR, do whatever you can." And he said, "I'm going to send you out." But by then Bax Nomvete had arranged the plane to Harare and I was in a wheelchair at the airport in Lusaka when Momo spotted me and sent a message to Mac that Zarina is like paralysed in a wheelchair. I went to Harare, they nicknamed me 'lady of steel'. The amount of fractures, 19, two of them in my spine and no painkillers, they don't see how I could have survived.
POM Were you in an awful lot of pain all the time?
ZM Yes, all the time. Even to be X-rayed by them I was in a terrible amount of pain. I couldn't sleep, well I didn't sleep for seven days with pain. And they called me 'lady of steel' because they said anybody else with 19 fractures and no medication would have died. And I explained to them that I was running ten kms a day and I was super fit and they said, "It's your fitness that saved you."
Anyway by the time OR contacts me I'm already now being shipped to Harare but in Harare I discovered I can't see with one eye and when I come back I tell -
POM OK, you're in Harare. What do they do to you there?
ZM They operated, several operations. They put a steel pin
POM In your first trip, so you're in Harare for how long?
ZM About three, four weeks. No, actually much longer. After four weeks I get so depressed I send for the children. I say I could be here for months and I send for the children and they bring the kids. I'm living in the servant's quarters of a friend and I've got nobody to care for the kids.
POM So when you go to hospital do they do one operation and then send you out?
ZM After the op, after a week they send me out and that's when I send for the kids and the kids come from Harare. Ivan brings the kids and there's nobody to look after the kids. Mac's sister has left, terrified that she's going to catch malaria, and I'm alone on my back. I can't actually get out of bed, with two small children, and I send for my sister's boyfriend. My sister had a lovely boyfriend from Hungary and he was teaching in Zimbabwe, Masvingo, and I phone him and I say, "Paul, I'm so stuck, will you come and look after the kids?" Because Paul was just I wish I could find him today. And he comes and he says, "Yes", and he looks after the children.
POM Now where is he now, he looks after the children in Harare?
ZM In Harare while I'm in bed and he cooks for the family and he shops, cleans the house and looks after meanwhile he's already split with my sister, he just came to do it because I asked him. So that's Paul. He saw me through that period. I don't know where he is today, can't find him, because they never actually got together, they split.
POM Now while you're in Harare that first time are you in contact with anybody or are you just isolated there?
ZM I'm in the back, servants' quarters of a family who knew my sister very well, but occasionally Ivan and them check up on me. They're Vula people. I phone them and I say, "Ivan, guess what? I'm coming back." Oh, now this is very interesting. I keep phoning the house in Chudleigh which is now the so-called Vula house and nobody answers the phone and I phone for a whole week to say I'm coming back, you guys expect me at the airport. Nobody answers the phone. I phone about ten times a day, I've got nothing better to do, and nobody answers the phone for a week. I finally phone my friend in Lusaka, Marjorie Chilowitz and I say, "Marjorie, do me a favour, go round to my house in Chudleigh and check what's happening there. Nobody is answering the phone." Marjorie goes there, she rings the bell, Conny Braam comes to the gate, Conny Braam who was in charge of the Anti-Apartheid Movement of Holland who has written the book Operation Vula. She comes to the gate, she lets Marjorie in. Marjorie says, "Zarina has been calling, calling and calling for seven days, ten times a day, and there's nobody answering. What's up?" This woman, Conny Braam, tells Marjorie that she's been instructed by Joe Slovo not to answer any phones and not to let anybody know that the house has been taken over by the Vula operatives who are being infiltrated back into SA.
POM She doesn't use the word 'Vula' to your friend, Marjorie?
ZM She didn't use the word 'Vula' but she said there are people living here, she didn't use the word 'Vula' to Marjorie, no, you're right, there are people living here and nobody is supposed to know they're here, not even Zarina is supposed to know they're here. And, oh, I go ballistic. Marjorie phones me back and I send Marjorie back. I say to Marjorie, "Go back and tell them to call me. It's my fucking house. How dare they use my house without my permission."
POM But this is a UN house actually, right?
ZM Yes, but
POM It's being paid for by the UN so it's now occupied by - go on!
ZM Anyway they call me back and I say, "How dare you."
POM Who calls you?
ZM Ivan. I say, "That's my house, how come you're not answering the phone?" He says, "No, we're not supposed to let anybody know that we're here." I say, "Who is there?" He says, "I can't tell you but when you come back I'll tell you." I said, "OK, meet me at the airport on such and such a date, I'm flying." He meets me, I go back. The house has been vacated. My mattresses are gone, my Psion electronic diary is gone, a whole lot of glasses and cups and things have been taken to some other place without my permission. Anyway I confront this guy and say, "These are all my possessions. You thought I was going to die in Harare so you thought you could do what you wanted to do."
What I'm trying to say is these guys just became a law unto themselves, they became so obviously it was a major operation, obviously they didn't want Mac to be side-tracked by my illness, by my accident, but they got a bit over the top and little did Ivan know what sort of a person I am. I got the first taxi, I was in a sling because I had a broken collar bone and this was completely severed, I could hardly walk. I got a taxi, I went to Ivan's house, I noted all my possessions. I made the taxi put it back in his boot and I said, "Don't steal from me", and I took all my stuff back home. So it wasn't a good scene.
POM Who was there? Ivan?
ZM Ivan and his girlfriend were there but apparently they had hosted, at my place because she told me exactly what the children's beds were like.
POM Who did?
ZM Conny Braam and people who were being infiltrated back into the country and who were being trained in my house, Vula operatives. So, yes,
POM Now was the communication system what had happened to that?
ZM That was still in the house. But by now I think we'd transferred it, I think laptops had come in, that was a desk top, I think then transportable computers were I think Ivan was carrying his computer around, etc., etc.
POM But how many months have gone by?
ZM If you remember my accident was
POM I can actually trace that. You didn't come back till February the following year.
ZM But then I went to Moscow.
POM But that's afterwards.
ZM Yes. I was for October, November, December, January, February in Harare. Moscow I went for another three months.
POM You come back to Lusaka first?
ZM By now the kids are completely traumatised.
POM The kids come back with you.
ZM From Harare.
POM When you came back.
ZM Now today we meet Gertrude Shope and we remind her that Oliver Tambo approached her to find a woman to look after my children and she said, "Yes, that woman will be so happy if you contact her, Doris, she's in Pretoria." So Oliver didn't even ask, he instructed, "Find somebody to look after Mac's kids because Zarina is going to Moscow."
POM Now before that you come back, Conny is in the house.
ZM No, by the time I come back Conny and them have all left. The house is empty now again.
POM To what extent did Conny know about, or do you know, the communication system?
ZM I don't think she knew anything about it. I don't think she even knew I was involved in Vula. Nobody knew, six people knew: Oliver, JS, Archie, Ivan, I knew and Mac, six of us knew. Only six of us knew. And to this day only six of us know. Now you know. I just went silent on that one. You would have seen some of the communications, they were hair-raising: we need 1000 AK47s, 50 RPGs. This is stuff you see in movies. I received these things and I would give it to Ivan or whoever to take on to Oliver. What I am saying is that I had to play this dumb wife, this kind of materialistic, high flying, living wife, which I did because I believed in what we were doing.
Oh I didn't tell you the nicest thing. When I come back from Harare and they discover that I've had a post-traumatic cataract of the eye and there's nothing that can be done except to go to the best ophthalmologist in Moscow; who's the first guy? Oliver. He comes and he says, "Zarina, I've got you fixed up in the best, best place." At midnight he phones the Soviet Ambassador, he says, "I want Zarina on the next flight." Next thing I'm on the next flight, he brings an overcoat to the airport. I'll never forget that. He says, "You know, it's cold in Moscow. Do you have an overcoat?" I said, "No." He said, "OK." He brings an overcoat to me. I was so touched. He brings an overcoat to the airport. It was too big for me but it was an overcoat. He says, "You're going to freeze if you don't wear this. You'd better wear it when you get there." And I get to Moscow and they're waiting for me. I get to this eye place and they sort me out.
But he kept in touch and he cared and that's what actually gave me the resolve to continue. After what he did with that overcoat and the way he pulled out all the stops and the way he genuinely cared, it didn't matter what Joe Slovo had done. They were chalk and cheese basically as human beings. They were chalk and cheese. They were both in the same struggle but one was chalk and one was cheese and the fact that OR brought me an overcoat and said, "I want you to be sorted out as soon as possible", and would come and check the kids and say, "Zarina, I'm disgusted with you, you're letting your children walk around with torn trousers, why don't you get somebody to sew Milo's pants up?" He said, "There's no reason that the children should be seen in torn trousers. Get somebody to sew Milo's pants up." Or, "I think you're very bad to let them walk on that high wall." It wasn't electric fencing, it was glass. "You're not being responsible enough about your kids." So one had a sense of a man who was a revolutionary who cared about what was happening at home but who did everything for us to make it possible for Mac to continue his work and not worry too much. But it wasn't just words, he actually did the stuff.
When somebody brought me the flight was about to take off in 20 minutes and somebody actually came on the flight and said, "Oliver says wear this." Shit! That said, you know what? You can be a revolutionary without being
POM Cold blooded.
ZM I don't like to be cold.
POM So you are now in Moscow and then you come back from Moscow after the eye operation and you come back to
ZM Yes, it was a disaster there. I was in Moscow, it was the most depressed period of my life actually because I knew the children were with relative strangers.
POM Who were they staying with while you were away?
ZM Doris, this woman that we met today told us her name again, we forget her surname. We're going to trace her in Pretoria next week. And Mac's sister and Mac's brother in law. But the children didn't get on with Mac's sister and brother in law.
POM So they came back when you were in Moscow?
ZM When I was in Moscow they were still there. The sister oh yes, yes.
POM I thought they left when you went to Harare.
ZM She said she was leaving, she left Harare but she didn't leave Zambia. When I got back from Moscow she was still there because he'd become very ill and he was sent to Moscow for an operation, so she had to wait for him. But she had left Harare. Shame, I don't want to put them down. So when I got back from Moscow they were still there but the minute I walked in they left and I still couldn't drive a car, I still couldn't change a gear because I was still dislocated very badly. Then what happened? Oh, the UN begged me to come back. I said I wouldn't and they said, "Listen, if we send you to Harley Street and they fix you up will you come back?" To a top orthopaedic surgeon there. And I said I'll consider coming back and they put us on a first class flight, me and the kids, to Mayfair, London. We saw a Harley Street specialist, they booked me one of the top flats in Mayfair, right by Harley Street, me and the kids, while I was being treated for my eye and my orthopaedics. Then it turned out that in Harley Street Mac then pitches up from the Soviet Union.
POM OK, so there are two stages here. You're back in Lusaka after being in Moscow and then you still need more treatment and the UN says
ZM The UN says, "We'll pay."
POM Pay for it if you go to London.
ZM If you go to London, Harley Street, we'll pay for the physio, we'll pay for whatever, you must come back. And I say OK, I'll consider it. So they send me and the kids to London. Tim Jenkin meets us at the airport, he had found us a place in Mayfair, a nice little flat. In the summer it was nice. We were right on the border of Regent's Park, but the kids were very depressed at the time because of their father being away so much and with my arm I couldn't really look after them. Then we hear Mac is arriving on 21 July. I remember 21 July distinctly because it was my niece's birthday, my sister's daughter's birthday on 21 July, and we had got there on 14 July, so we waited seven days in that flat in Harley Street while my treatment started. Then he pitches we hear he's arriving on Saturday 21 July, we find out that he's not being supported in his visa application from Moscow by the SA Embassy, that he may or may not come in. I don't know what happened on that side of the story. By then I've already been on interviews on the BBC and all about Vula and that.
POM Not about Vula, that's later. That's after Vula breaks.
ZM Oh that's much later, that's after it breaks.
POM So he comes to London.
ZM He comes to London, has a hell of a bad time at immigration, finally gets through. We go to this Harley Street, this Mayfair flat and I say, "What's happening? What are your plans?" And he says, "Oliver wants me to go back home." I said, "Well in that case I'm not going back to Lusaka." Because by then the queues for food had got so long you would spend five hours queuing for six eggs and then when you reached the counter they'd say the eggs are all sold out. If you wanted to bake a cake you had to queue for eggs for six hours, for sugar for another three, for milk you know to bake a cake you needed to queue the whole day and there was no guarantee you'd get the ingredients. So I said I'm not bloody well going back there with these conditions and these two kids and you going back to SA. "I'm not going back to Lusaka." So I phoned Bax Nomvete of the UN PTA and I said, "Bax, I'm not coming back to my job." And he says, "Bullshit man, you are, you are." I said, "I'm not, I'm not." He says, "No, no, no, we've kept your job, we haven't re-advertised your job. You're coming back." I said, "I can't, I'm too sick." I just made an excuse. "They want me to stay in hospital for another - " He says he accepts my resignation and then I applied to Sussex University to do a Masters degree.
POM Now where is Mac at this point?
ZM With me in Mayfair. And he's going to go back to SA but he goes via Zambia to sell up the furniture, to dispose of the lease and he takes the kids with him while I go to Sussex to settle in.
POM Oh, he takes the kids back to Zambia?
ZM Then he comes back to London with the kids.
POM So would that not be blowing his cover?
ZM No because he was supposed to have been, I don't know what, he takes the kids back to Zambia, I don't go. I get registered at Sussex University, I get a flat there. He brings the kids back to the flat.
POM So how long does he stay in Lusaka?
ZM I think six weeks, disposes of everything. There's no Zambia left.
POM When does he go back, can you recall when he goes back to SA?
ZM He comes back to Sussex.
POM But when does he go to SA?
ZM By then Madiba and them are released.
POM I'm getting confused here. When does he go back to, if you can recall, to SA?
ZM After Madiba and them are released.
POM He comes to London, he's with you in London.
ZM In July. He stays with me until about September, settle health. No for a much longer time. He stays with me and then I get this house in Gordon Road.
POM When did he take the kids to Zambia?
ZM He takes the kids to Zambia in about November.
POM In November? So he's in the UK from
ZM July till August, September, October. He's in the UK for about three months, takes the kids to Zambia, disposes of the whole Zambian scene, comes back with the kids, drops them with me and goes back to SA. He goes back to SA when
POM Do you remember where he was when Madiba was released?
ZM I know exactly, he was back in SA.
POM I'm just a bit confused on dates. Mac arrives in July, the 21st, he stays with you until?
ZM Easily until Christmas. Till January.
POM Does he say when he's going back when he arrives?
ZM No he's waiting to hear from he's met Oliver in Moscow on his way to London. In fact that was his way of coming out to see me, via Moscow. He comes to London. I decide I'm not going back to Lusaka because he's going back underground to SA and, as I said, conditions in Lusaka were very, very difficult. You had to queue to buy eggs or whatever and I said with my condition and these two young children there's no way I'm going back. If you're not coming back to Lusaka why should I go back? So I decide to terminate my employment in Lusaka and I apply to Sussex University to do a Masters degree and finally I'm accepted there and I go on to Sussex and he comes with me to Sussex and we set up a home there and he leaves after Christmas back for SA. And Madiba is released that February because I know that I watched it on TV alone and Mac was underground in SA in February 1990. Mac was already back underground. So he stayed with me in London and Brighton from about
POM So when he came to visit you he didn't have any idea of when he was supposed to go back to SA?
ZM I never got the impression there was a fixed date. All I knew is they wanted him back. But it was that lapse during which Vula was discovered.
POM No, Vula wasn't discovered until June 1990.
ZM Oh well, people were saying if Mac hadn't left Gebuza wouldn't have been that lax in security which is what exposed Vula. But I don't know it, I don't know about that. All I know is he went back in time for Madiba's release in February 1990 and Madiba said to him, "Act as if you've never been here. Go back out of the country and come back."
POM That's when he got indemnity.
ZM "And come back under an indemnity from prosecution." So having been out with us here he then went back, he went underground, then he surfaced in India, came back to England and appeared in SA under indemnity.
POM When he got to you in London he didn't say, "I've got to be back in SA after a month"?
ZM He never gave me a date. All I told him when he offered me a holiday at the Black Sea I told him to go to hell. I said, "What's a holiday at the Black Sea? I don't know where my future lies. Are you going back to SA or not? That's all I want to know. And if you are, go, and if you're not, tell me, don't bribe me with a holiday at the Black Sea." That's what OR and them offered.
POM He was with you in Brighton then from - ?
ZM He helped me set up house in Brighton. Let's put it this way, he met me in July. This course that I applied for was already over-subscribed but they took me in September and I started in October and he came with me to Brighton. I got a flat on the campus but it was a very racist school that the kids were attending near the university, so I gave up my flat to live near a school which was less racist. So he helped me move from the campus flat to this house in Gordon Road, 38 Gordon Road, which apparently you must go and see the attic. There might be some very valuable I was in such a state I don't know what I left in that attic. Archives, maybe stories, I just left trunks there. Then he helped me settle in at 38 Gordon Road and then we had Christmas in Bournemouth with some friends and then in January he left.
POM OK, that's a good place to stop because we have to get a plane tonight and it's the last one out or we'll have to change our tickets.
ZM Supposing I'd never been a communications activist in Vula, supposing I'd never helped Tim Jenkin develop the communications, supposing I'd never been the go-between between Mac and OR and all of them, would that have diminished my role as the woman keeping the family together? Isn't that also a form of political activism? It really, really irritates me that I kept body and soul together, hearth and home together, and if I'd never been even involved in Vula would that have diminished me as a person? Well it seems to many people that it would have in the ANC.
POM I'll call you tomorrow.