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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

27 May 2005: Maharaj, Zarina

POM     I just want to get your kind of narrative of the whole brouhaha with Bulelani, from the time the Sunday Times story broke. The first news you have of this is that you pick up the Sunday newspaper and see your name splashed in it, or had journalists, whoever wrote the story, contacted you beforehand?

ZM     Well on the Friday before that happened, Valentine's Day, 14 February, I remember we were planning to do something, then Mac got a phone call in the afternoon of Valentine's Day, 14 February 2003, saying that the Sunday Times would be publishing this stuff about money that had passed between Shaik and him and all that and he said he could explain it and they should hold back. He then phoned Bulelani in my presence.

POM     Sorry, he phoned who?

ZM     He phoned Bulelani Ngcuka in my presence and he was on speaker phone and so I heard the whole conversation and Bulelani said, "Yes my friend, I know that you're clear, I shouldn't actually – but I can't stop the thing now because it's all become wrapped up in the arms deal and when the arms deal investigation is over, only then will I be able to clear you." So Mac said that, "The Sunday Times is threatening to publish all this stuff on Sunday, can't you intervene?" He said something to the effect that he would try and that's what I heard and then on the Sunday it happened anyway. The Sunday Times in their telephone call had said to Mac that they might not publish it, they might actually hold it back and have another meeting the following week, but they actually went ahead and published it.

POM     That must have been pretty devastating.

ZM     It was, it was shocking because we knew that whoever leaked that information knew that there was evidence unearthed over the previous two years indicating that Mac had nothing to do with the awarding of the contracts, it was the State Tender Board that had awarded the contract in the one case and some other organisation or body that had awarded the contract in the other case and that he really had nothing to do with the awarding of contracts and the Scorpions have actually found that out. In fact Bulelani had been playing golf with Yusuf Surtee, I'm telling you all the names now, and Yusuf Surtee told Mac that Bulelani told him that they've investigated Mac so thoroughly and they've come to the conclusion that Mac is clean and innocent. Yusuf told Mac this.

POM     Who is Yusuf Surtee?

ZM     He is the so-called tailor, Madiba's tailor, you know.

POM     OK, OK, yes.

ZM     He's close with that whole bunch. He plays golf with them, close to Thabo and everybody, and he came with this news.

POM     Did he ring you and tell you this?

ZM     Apparently over coffee or something he told Mac. So he said, "Mac, you've got nothing to worry about. Bulelani says you're clear." This is before the Sunday Times thing. That's why Mac picked up the phone that Friday afternoon and said, "What's happening? You've cleared me surely." And he said, "Yes you are clear but now that you've become embroiled in arms deal issues I can't actually, I've got no control till the whole arms deal investigation is over." So he hid behind the arms deal. So that was devastating. Basically people have had it in for Mac for a long time and they were looking for any excuse to really come at him and they had this excuse now.

POM     Why, Zarina, do you say people had it in for Mac for a long time? Who had it in for him?

ZM     Well you know and I know that the powers that be never liked Mac and were almost relieved when Mac resigned as a minister, didn't even try and talk him into staying or anything like that, didn't even say sit down and have a drink. Literally walked Mac to the car in five minutes as Mac tendered his resignation. So there were people who really wanted to see Mac once and for all hurt, once and for all. And these guys are the very people who Mac approached later about Bulelani having been found most probably to have been a spy and this guy knew of this but pretended to make out that he didn't know. That's a separate story. But what I'm saying is that, yes, they were gunning for Mac and this was a perfect excuse.

POM     So did you inform the children beforehand?

ZM     No we didn't inform the children but in a funny way I thought, you know what, for ten years there have been rumours and whispers about Mac being corrupt. Long ago we heard rumours that our accounts were being investigated and there were all kinds of attempts to marginalise Mac, even when he was a minister. So I was almost relieved, I said now people will see that it's not our imagination that we're being treated badly, they can actually see for themselves that we are. The evidence that we are being targeted by certain people was in those Sunday Times reports. So in a funny way I thought at least it's exploded, it's come out and fortunately we are innocent. If we were guilty it would have been a bad thing, but Mac never had anything to do with the award and therefore they haven't been able to charge Mac.

POM     So what's the sequence of events? Mac says to First Rand, "I'll step down while you conduct your investigation", and the bank spent six months doing two reports.

ZM     And cleared us.

POM     Now was there any approach before the bank was to release its report, was there any approach from Bulelani to - ?

ZM     No, Mac phoned Bulelani to say, "Bulelani, the bank is completing its report but they are afraid to come out with the conclusion in case you come out and contradict them. So why don't you just make the statement that I'm cleared so that the bank can say I'm cleared without feeling there's going to be some sort of comeback on them." And Bulelani said, "I can't clear you unless you do me a certain favour." And it turned out that he wanted Mac to mediate with Ismail Ayob and Cyril, get Shaik to agree to a plea bargain and Zuma to answer his questions, which Mac refused to do. So he said, "Well in that case I'm not going to clear you."

     In the interim Mac couldn't account for R100,000 in our old account somewhere and because of that R100,000 people considered that he had committed a crime. To this day we don't know where that R100,000 came from because we cannot find deposit slips or anything.

POM     Well, Zarina, if its any consolation to you, the Treasury can't account for one quarter of the capital inflow that comes into the country every year. OK?

ZM     Interesting.

POM     One quarter! They don't know where it comes from.

ZM     Jesus Christ!

POM     That's billions and billions and billions.

ZM     And for R100,000 Mac was kind of – he couldn't account basically, and straight to this day we don't know where it came from. Let me just tell you that neither Mac nor I, especially during those years, were capable of handling our finances. We're terrible about paying taxes, about basically managing our finances. We've never been good, and the very fact that Mac was, I think, newly in government, living in Cape Town, I was with these two kids alone working at the University of the Witwatersrand, I had a full time job. The fact of the matter is we really don't know, we don't know, I can't account for my finances even now, I'm much better now than I used to be. So I couldn't even explain that money myself and I don't think any deposit slips were found, we don't know who the depositor was or anything, but Mac, over R100,000, had to go and appear on television in front of so many journalists and things and try and explain this R100,000. These other guys, they were working for the government and they're big Telkom shareholders now, if you want to talk about corruption, now there's corruption.

POM     So, Zarina, when this whole thing is going on, this first part of it up to the time the bank released its report – were you in the house the day that Mac rang Bulelani, when he came back and told you what Bulelani wanted from him?

ZM     No. Actually Mac was dropping Joey at school one morning, it was a Thursday morning, and on his cell phone he got a call from Bulelani. It was actually registered on the cell phone as being a call from Bulelani and Joey was the witness to that conversation where Mac said, "I just can't, I can't do this." Bulelani said to Mac, "I will clear you if you do X, Y and Z", and Mac said, "I can't do that." This was when he was dropping Joey. Later at the Hefer Commission Bulelani said it was Mac who called him to try and get him to drop all this against Mac and Mac said, "But I've got proof, I can show you the telephone – you're the one who called me."

POM     So Mac resigns.

ZM     It was a terrible blow. I think Mac had been feeling the pressure all along, even right from the beginning, although Laurie Dippenaar and them were fairly accommodating about carrying out this investigation. Mac had had to ask them to do the investigation. Laurie was quite happy for Mac to leave because he was really very worried about the bank falling out with government over this whole thing and Mac felt the pressure then already, that he was regarded as a bit of a hot potato and a bit of an embarrassment to the bank while all this was happening. Regardless of whether he was innocent or guilty the bank just found the attention too much and Mac had in any case always felt that he really didn't fit in very well as a banker. He always felt somehow that they were keeping him for reasons other than his professional competence.

POM     Sure, for who he was.

ZM     So he was always very, very sensitive about anything that would embarrass the bank and the pressure got so much for him when Bulelani wouldn't say he's innocent that he decided that it would be better if he just resigns.

POM     Then we move to stage two. There's the surfacing of these allegations. Now did Mac feel bitter about this? Did he express anger about it?

ZM     Of course he was angry. Bloody hell. He just felt that people were out to deprive us of a livelihood. We'd been saying this for a long time. He was saying – somebody at the bank told us that they'd overheard Thabo at a party saying he was going to bring RMB down, long before this happened. I can't confirm if that was just gossip, a rumour, if it was actually said, but somebody who worked at the bank was at a cocktail party and overheard this being said by Number One himself, that he was going to bring RMB down. So RMB was actually afraid.

POM     I'll get back to Thabo in a bit because his name came up in a conversation I had a couple of days ago with some people. But now shortly after this the allegations surfaced that Bulelani was investigated as a spy. Now is that the first that you ever hear this or had Mac ever at some time told you this?

ZM     Yes, I'd heard about it way before when Mac was in Operation Vula. I believe that there had been an investigation and OR had warned Mac about this. I suspect it's only when Bulelani felt that that rumour was circulating again and he felt it was Zuma circulating the rumour and Mo Shaik and Mac, that he came at them with a vengeance. He felt that they were circulating a rumour that he had been a spy or had been investigated and his way of dealing with them was to accuse Mac of corruption, knowing that Mac was not – not to accuse him, to leak the information to the Sunday Times. We believe he leaked it.

POM     So the stories about him possibly being a spy were circulating before?

ZM     Oh yes, before this thing happened.

POM     I'll have to go back and trace that down.

ZM     Yes, it was circulating before. In fact it would have been at least two years before.

POM     How many?

ZM     Two years before.

POM     Two years before?

ZM     Yes. Before this whole thing with Mac broke.

POM     Were either you or Mac surprised when he was appointed head of the National Prosecuting Authority?

ZM     I must be very honest, I wasn't keeping up with the news and I didn't know he had been made head of the NPA. I only found this out after the whole saga with Mac. I didn't even know that the NPA existed prior to that. At that point I just lost track of everything.

POM     So how are the children coping during this period?

ZM     Milou just didn't want to hear or see his Dad on TV or read the newspapers or anything, he just couldn't handle it. Joey took it very, very badly. Joey just felt this was like the icing on the cake. These kids have – the one thing they had was their pride in their Dad for what he had done and then suddenly he was being accused of all these things and it just was too much for them. Milou wouldn't even hear of it, when I tried to raise it or talk he just said, "I don't want to know. I don't want to hear, I don't want to know." So I never managed to even discuss this with Milou. He kept shutting me out. If he saw Mac on TV on this matter he just switched off the TV. If he saw a newspaper headline he just didn't look at the newspaper. Joey was in the middle of it all because of us and she just was amazing. She was very solidly behind Mac but taking it very badly in the public arena. Of course she went to Wits University one day and they don't know she's Mac's daughter and a whole lot of black students were talking about it and one of them said, "People can say what they like about Mac Maharaj, he will always be my hero, blah, blah, blah. I don't believe this, etc., etc." That made Joey feel a lot better.

POM     So now this story of Bulelani breaks in the newspaper. Do you recall was it City Press who broke the story, or the journalist kind of ringing Mac and asking him to confirm that Bulelani had been investigated?

ZM     Somebody asked Mac that question and Mac said, "Yes he had been investigated." I think somebody invited Mac to a TV show and Mac said it on TV as well.

POM     That's right, yes, on ETV.

ZM     Yes. By now Mac was determined to exposed Bulelani.

POM     So then one thing moves and Mac goes to see the President, right?

ZM     Yes. Mac goes to see – the investigation has been carried out, blah, blah, blah, and the President absolutely doesn't know a thing. He says to Mac, "If you find out anything more give me a call." Meanwhile on that very day, an hour later, Bulelani appears with Penuell Maduna on television saying that they have a prima facie case against Zuma but it's not winnable, and they said this literally an hour after Mac saw Thabo.

POM     So what did Thabo say? Did Mac say, "Listen, in Project Bible Bulelani was investigated and he was found probably to have been a spy and I think we should - "

ZM     Mac gave him the file of documents and he took it and he skimmed through it and gave it back to Mac.

POM     And said to him, "If you get any more information give me - "?

ZM     He acted as if he had no idea and he was very interested in this whole revelation. He had long ago done his homework once the first rumours broke that Bulelani had been investigated and he was convinced that there was an insufficient case against Bulelani, that the information was not enough and that the rumour would just remain a rumour. But when he met Mac he didn't indicate that he knew any of this. So by the time he called the Hefer Commission he already knew that there was no evidence, or insufficient evidence, to prove that Bulelani – there was evidence to prove that he had been investigated but not to prove conclusively that he was a spy.

POM     Are there two issues here? Bulelani was investigated, Bulelani in that investigation in 1988 was found probably to have been a spy and then in 2001 with the information available it shows that in fact he was not a spy?

ZM     Yes.

POM     When everyone withdrew, when Mbeki kept narrowing the frame of reference to the point of where he said, "Prove Bulelani is a spy", prove it, Mac must have known that was an impossible task.

ZM     Yes. But now Hefer had already been appointed and when the terms of reference changed twice, I think the first terms of reference were –

POM     They were broader, like prove he was investigated or something.

ZM     Yes, prove that he was investigated, and it ended up saying, "Prove Mo and Mac's allegations." They must prove their own allegations.

POM     That's right.

ZM     That's how it tightened. And also that there was an abuse of power because of those allegations.

POM     So he wouldn't investigate the abuse of power unless he found that he had been, so it wasn't show that he abused his power, it was find that he was a spy and that as a result of that he abused his power.

ZM     Yes.

POM     Did Mac not say, hey, this is impossible, to hell with it? He pressed ahead.

ZM     Mac being the sort of guy he is just felt he was in a situation where he would just have to forge ahead as best as he could. I think, all things considered, his final submission virtually – almost exonerated him. He proved an abuse of power, which Hefer himself agreed to, although that's never been taken further.

POM     Even though there are now four cases pending against the Scorpions for abuse of power.

ZM     Yes, it's all just being … now that's a further abuse of power just leaving all these four abuses to hang in the air is yet another abuse.

POM     When you were there and the children watching Hefer day after day, did you watch it?

ZM     I watched it almost every day, yes. It was riveting stuff. It was very nerve-wracking.

POM     When you read the stories about the Mac and Mo show and the jokes, for Joey and for everybody, was this just a hellish period?

ZM     It was a very terrible time. Basically so much was going on in my life, first of all Milou had just become ill again. Number two we were renovating and fixing up the house. Number three Mac was living on his wits and he was so preoccupied. It was a very bad period but somehow, I don't know, I've lived through worse periods than that. That's all I can say. It was very bad but it wasn't as bad as a lot of other periods in my life. So it's almost as if, I don't know, I've just become inured to this type of crap and we just have to carry on.

POM     Mac had, I think, ten people – did you ever tell him to get rid of that guy who was the Attorney?

ZM     Oh my God! That guy did us down, hey.

POM     Oh my God, is right.

ZM     Things could have turned out differently if Mac had … but they were trying to save money and he was cheap. I can see now why he's cheap. Nobody would throw on his mercy.

POM     Did you ever consider attending the thing?

ZM     Yes, I thought I should I go and give Mac some moral support and so I went to the last one, just so that people could see I was there because I think everybody else's wife had gone and I was the only one who hadn't gone, so I thought I must go in solidarity and so I went.

POM     There was a journalist involved too. Oh yes, this is the meeting of the black editors.

ZM     Oh yes.

POM     Did one of them, Jovial Rantau?

ZM     I was in the room when he called Mac again. He called Mac and he said, "I believe your wife is going to be arrested for tax evasion." I was sitting there and Mac put on the speaker phone so I could hear and then he said to him, "Call me back, I can't talk now", and Mac switched off the phone and Joey went to fetch a tape recorder and when Jovial called back we had the recorder on and Mac said, "What was it you were saying?" He said, "I think your wife is going to be arrested for tax evasion." And Mac said, "Where did you get that information from, and he said, "From the Scorpions." And Mac said, "Who?" He said, "I can't reveal who but let's just say a very senior, reliable source in the Scorpions." Mac ended the conversation at that point I think and then sent a message to SAPA to the effect that Jovial had contacted him and revealed the Scorpions had told Jovial about this. But we'd heard a few days earlier about this meeting with the editors, so we assumed that Jovial had heard it at the meeting with the editors. In fact he confirmed that it was in the last seven days that he'd heard it and the meeting with the editors had taken place in those last seven days, but he didn't say who had said it but he did say somebody from within the Scorpions. Luckily we had that on tape because there was proof that the Scorpions were leaking. Joey was very, very on the ball and she ran for the tape recorder.

POM     So how did the whole thing – the report comes out, Mac's out of a job, the Scorpions still wouldn't close the case on him.

ZM     Yes. (Sigh)

POM     How has this left you all?

ZM     In limbo. It's absolutely shocking because – you know I think it has to do with the fact of Mac's relationship with the Shaiks as well. I think it goes back to the eighties when they all worked together underground and they did each other lots of favours in those days and it just became payback time and, I don't know, I think these people feel they can just dig up more stuff.

POM     Anyone I've talked to and I say this began with the relationship between Mac and Thabo and everyone always says, oh there was always bad blood between them, they hated each other.

ZM     Mac never hated Thabo ever. He always wondered why, what he'd done to deserve Thabo's –

POM     Where did this first begin to surface? When did this kind of treatment by him – were you treated this way when he was Deputy President?

ZM     Yes then already.

POM     Then? Yes?

ZM     He was very, very cross about the fact that Cyril and Mac were the ones who were seen to be handling the negotiations at CODESA where he had been the heir apparent. I think suddenly it all went – I think he was already very angry. I believe that he did say at an NEC meeting, and we've heard it from some NEC sources, that when Mac was in prison with Operation Vula, he said, "Let them swing." He told other NEC people whose names I can't mention because they told me in confidence. He said, "Let them swing." Already by 1990 he had it in for Mac.

POM     And where would that have come from?

ZM     And he also told Jakes Gerwel that Vula was a maverick operation, it was never sanctioned by the ANC.

POM     When you were living in Lusaka was there much interaction between the Mbekis and the Maharajs?

ZM     No hardly. I remember once going with Mac and Milou who was about seven months old, when he was a baby, to Zanela and Thabo's place for Mac to deliver something to Thabo and I noticed then that the reception was extremely cold and that the wife was very, very warm as usual, very nice. But already then I noticed.

POM     Did Mac notice this?

ZM     No he didn't. And I didn't even raise it with him but I noticed then already that Thabo didn't say stay and have a cup of tea or anything like that, he was very brusque, very businesslike and we left.

POM     Now some people say it's because Mac supported Cyril for president over Thabo.

ZM     I wasn't aware of that. Maybe Mac supported Cyril as Secretary General over Nzo, that I was aware of, but I wasn't aware that Mac supported – I don't think Mac ever discussed that with me.

POM     It's just conventional talk out there, it's one of these things people just say.

ZM     Look Mac really didn't have anything against Thabo as such, that's as far as I know. Mac would have been equally with Thabo and Cyril as president. I must say there was a point at which Mac and I were not talking about politics at all, he was too early in the morning and disappearing and coming home at one at night or something and I hardly saw him during that period.

POM     This period was when? During the?

ZM     CODESA and all that. So I don't really know what he was thinking in those days. This is all like reconstructed on hindsight. But he's always had an enormous respect for Thabo as a thinker, as a strategist. It's just in the recent period when he realises that Thabo is really – that he began to think, "Shit! What have I done?"

POM     Anyway, Zarina, that's the end of the story.

ZM     It's not much tonight. You know these phone calls are all taped?

POM     Pardon?

ZM     You know that the Security tape all our cell phone calls.

POM     They do?

ZM     Yes. I thought I should let you know that everything I've said tonight will be on tape with the Scorpions.

POM     Oh good!

ZM     Seriously.

POM     Yes?

ZM     When Mac was discussing with Jakes Gerwel and a whole lot of other people, a whole lot of things at the time of Hefer, it all got thrown back at him in the Hefer Commission and it could only have come from taping his cell phone. We were then told that our phones are tapped, especially our cell phones, more than the landline. So what we've talked about tonight is all with the Scorpions, so beware.

POM     Well I just hope they will do a transcription and give it back to me so I won't have to pay Judy to do a transcription. I'll save some money.

ZM     I'm going to say to you, then guys you've got more information now. Well.

POM     OK dear, have a good night. Bye bye.

ZM     Bye.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.