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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

11 Mar 2002: Davidson, Christo

POM     What I recollect you saying is that first of all you had a relationship with the Nyanda family going back quite a number of years to the time when Mr Nyanda senior when you were working for the –

CD     KwaZulu Finance & Investment Corporation.

POM     And he applied for a loan.

CD     Yes, he had two business loans with the Corporation and a housing loan. OK, I started to know the Nyanda family in about 1977/78. Yes it was 1977. I was with the KwaZulu Finance & Investment Corporation at that stage. Mr Nyanda senior had a bottle store in Maradeni, the black township outside Newcastle, for which he had a business loan with the Investment Corporation and he also had a housing loan with the Corporation. He built himself a very nice house and his bottle store also was very well managed. His wife also, they were people that were respected in their community but not only in the black community, even in town. I think Mr Nyanda he was a client of Standard Bank and even the Manager at Standard Bank said, "This Mr Nyanda is an example of a businessman." OK, I knew at that stage of his children, where they were involved, Siphiwe Nyanda as well as his other brother, the one that was killed in Swaziland. I didn't bother them with that because I wasn't in the police at that stage but they knew about that.

     At a later stage Mr Nyanda applied for a business loan for a shop at a place called Nqutu. He bought that from Mr Wilmot in Nqutu. I was responsible for the Nqutu area and it so happened that the whole loan application and a processing and everything that went with it was handled by myself. Mr Nyanda ran that business also very well.

     Then I returned to the police, I went back to the police in 1982 and I still kept contact with the Nyanda family but because of my previous association with them I didn't bother them much with the whereabouts of their sons, although we were working on them, we had files on them and that. After the death of the one brother in Swaziland I know that Mrs Nyanda went to the funeral if I'm not mistaken. I can't remember whether any of the children went. The father didn't go. But they had passports, they went over and that's that.

     In the middle eighties the younger Nyanda brother became involved in some terrorist activities in Newcastle. We had a few terrorist attacks there. We also arrested quite a number of people there but the younger brother became involved and we were looking for him at that stage. We didn't succeed in arresting him. He slipped us on a few occasions but OK, that is how I know the Nyanda family. Then when I went to Durban –

POM     You were called down from Newcastle to go to Durban?

CD     Yes in 1990. I had been working in Durban for – I think from February more or less until May/June, I'd been working in the Durban area with a number of other people, I was in charge of a number of other people. It was a time of violent unrest especially between the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party there. I worked in the KwaMashu and Umlazi areas, I myself mainly in the KwaMashu area.

     Then we went back and one afternoon I went hunting some guinea fowl with my son because I had promised him for about two years that we will go hunting and because of my work I couldn't go. Then that one afternoon we had postponed, postponed, postponed, and one afternoon after he came from school he phoned me and he said, "Are we still going?" I said, "Well the wind is blowing like hell but I'll phone the farmer and find out if it's quieter", because if the wind is blowing too much it's useless to go. Then I phoned and this chap said it's not too bad on the farm and we went there and we did some guinea fowl hunting, so it was quite nice. But the evening, I came home about eight o'clock in the evening, then the chap who was in charge at Newcastle told me that Brigadier Steyn at that stage in Durban phoned and said I must come down to Durban very early the next morning and bring clothes for about a week. I asked him what the hell, I'm coming from Durban now what the hell must I go and do there again? He said he doesn't know, I also didn't know.

     Anyway I packed my car and the next morning I drove down to Durban. Then I came there, there were quite a number of us present from the Security Branch in Natal, from outside Durban, and also from the Eastern Free State there were some guys present. We were briefed and we were told that a number of people have been arrested, computers were found with them, firearms found with them, some vehicles have been confiscated. The information is that it's ANC people who came in illegally, they are here to create underground structures to stimulate or to create a revolution, to train people, mobilise people for a revolution for eventual takeover of government. That's why they said it was a matter of treason.

     So we sat there, there were a lot of names on the board of people that were arrested. I think it was ten or eleven at that stage, I'm not sure. They told us that we will have to interrogate these people, we'll have to find out from them exactly what they were doing, where they were coming from who gave them instructions, who are their collaborators. It was also said to us that they have a number of safe houses, we had to determine where the safe houses were, what armaments have been brought into the country, everything. We must find out from them what they were doing there, why they were doing it, on whose instructions, everything.

     I saw the names there and I was a junior officer, I was a Captain at that stage, I was just looking, OK, right, we've got a job to do and I realised it was something very serious and then the people were dished out to different people like you go there – I think some of them were detained at Harrismith and Greytown and so on, I can't remember, it's twelve years ago. But anyway a few policemen were allocated to each detainee so that you go there and you question that person, you go there you question him. In the end Siphiwe Nyanda's name was still on the board and I haven't been allocated somebody and then they said to me, "OK, you take Nyanda."

     I thought now, because I know Nyanda, I knew about him from our intelligence reports so I knew he wasn't small fry, he was a person with standing in the ANC, especially in MK. I had two or three people under my command and we then started the process of questioning. As I said, we were briefed shortly. We were given a number of documents that were extracted from computers from where the people were arrested. Now the documents contained a lot of messages, reports, strategies, especially the sort of day to day reports were all coded or encrypted and just by reading the document you couldn't really make out what was going on there because they used such a lot of code names that I realised that the only way to really get behind the essence of each document was to discuss it with the man who originally compiled it or sent it or whatever. In the process also our computer people decoded, they succeeded in decoding.

POM     So they cracked the code?

CD     Yes they cracked the coding system which helped a lot and through that they could extract more documents from the computer and could assist us.

     Incidentally, about a week before I went down to Durban I saw, I can't remember whether I was at Nyanda's house or at the bottle store or where, but I saw Mr and Mrs Nyanda and I also saw the General's wife and his daughter so when I went into the office to meet him, it was the first time for me to see him, I could clearly see that he was a Nyanda because if you look at his face and you knew his father you could see that they were related. I greeted him and I said to him that I know your father, I know your mother, I have seen your daughter, I have seen your child recently. He said, "Do you know them?" I said, "Yes." And I think after some time it sort of gave me perhaps, I don't know, I may be wrong, but it gave me perhaps a bit of advantage over some other people questioning him because sometimes I would just deviate from what we were doing and talk about his father and mother, more sort of some family things. So that is how I became involved in this but as I say I knew when I saw Siphiwe Nyanda, I knew, hell, this is big stuff.

POM     You were saying before that a theme running through all of the documents was the seizure of power.

CD     Yes, after we got the documents, it was not spelt out all that clearly at that first briefing that first morning. I think it was the 12th or 13th July, it was a Friday morning and it was said to us, "Look, these people have been busy with acts that amount to treason." It was only after we read through the documents as time passed where we read about seizure of power and the overt and covert operations should be run simultaneously, it was clear to me that these people, although it was past the 2 February speech of de Klerk, the ANC was unbanned, MK was unbanned, SACP, everything, they came into the country – some of the people who were illegal in the country at that stage went out and they came back legal sort of whilst the others stayed behind. We read that also in the documents of how they manoeuvred all these tricks but they didn't trust the government at that stage. I think it was clear, especially in the beginning stages, that they thought well this was just a trick to get them into the country and to have them all arrested.

     That is more or less where we started off. But they were dedicated to proceed with their idea of seizure of power and it is not let's form a new government or something like that, they used strong words like 'seizure of power' and 'force' and things like that, that was evident throughout all the documents, seizure of power, seizure of power, we must build the underground so that if something goes wrong with the negotiations, with the overt process, that we can go back to the covert which must be mobilised by then, trained, armed, everything, and get them to continue with the seizure of power. The whole theme throughout all the Vula documents, the whole theme of seizure of power, is very clear.

     Our own people succeeded in decoding it. As I say it's a long time ago but something rings a bell now. As I said to you that I know there was a problem between Maharaj and Nyanda about money spending and what they've been doing during his absence because he was out of the country a few times before he came back legally. I know there were some words between them regarding money spent and what they've been doing when he was away and at one stage he even said that he wants to quit politics, says that very clearly. The thing of the documents, it's possible, I can't recall it, it's possible but I can't really comment on that. I think if you go through the Vula documents it should be there, it should be in the documents that are dated after February. If you go through the Vula documents between February and July you should be able to pick that up because if there was something like that definitely Maharaj would have put that on paper.

POM     So when you had made your introductions to Nyanda, you say we have your computers, we have your disks, we have your plans, so co-operate as we know for the most part what you are up to? Or did he volunteer to you and say, well I'm in this situation and I may as well help you?

CD     OK firstly it took a few days for us to get used to each other and then, as I say, I think there was a fairly good relationship between the two of us, if one can call a relationship between a policeman and a person in custody a relationship. At one stage I said to him, "You are giving us all this. Why?" Then he said to me, "You know you've got," and as far as I can remember those were more or less his words, more or less in the same line what you said now, he said, "You've got our computers, you've got the arms, you've arrested a number of people, you've arrested me and I'm Vula, so you've got everything so I can just as well assist you." And I think he assisted us quite well to the extent that he wanted to assist us or to let's say not assist perhaps but explain the documents and answer the questions. I think there were still some things that he withheld from us, things that he knew that we couldn't confront him with. I think there are still some things, a few things perhaps or a number of things that he withheld from us that we couldn't confront him directly with to which he couldn't object.

POM     Did he, before saying, you'd go to him and say, 'Boris, what's Boris?' and he'd say, 'Oh that's - '?

CD     Yes. That's why I say as time progressed the method I used later which I saw that worked, every document that I went through I made sure that I had two copies. I would give him one and I will take the one. For example, I will say to him, "OK, I see here you talk about it is your report to so-and-so, to Cleo or whoever, (which was a code name also), then there's a pick-up at Boris. OK, can you explain to me what is a pick-up? As far as I know a pick-up is a small van." He would say, "No, no, no, I must see the thing in context", and I'll give the paper to him, give him a copy and he'll say, "OK, this pick-up at Boris is to go and get arms from Botswana." I'd say, "But Boris, what's Boris?" He said, "Boris is a code name for Botswana. Pick-up is a code name to go and get arms there." So they had code names for various things and it is from that that I started to give him a set of documents and I have the document in most of the cases and we read through it together and I would make notes on my paper and say, OK that is that, that is that.

     Then sometimes, I can remember the one example, it was over the Christmas period that they had to get some documents or reports into the country by way of disk, computer disk, and the people in London arranged with some contacts they had in The Netherlands –

POM     Conny Braam?

CD     I can't remember, but later on I learnt that this Hollander that was here in the Embassy, in Pretoria, Klaas de Jonge, he was instrumental in that because the ANC office had the Canadian connection and they had the Holland connection.

POM     Explain those to me. The Holland connection was through the Embassy?

CD     It wasn't through the Embassy actually but through the ANC supporters' contacts in The Netherlands, in Amsterdam, and they wanted to get some computer disks here so the people on the other side arranged through a contact working at KLM.

POM     Antoinette.

CD     The aviation company. So they arranged with the hostess there that she would carry it here and then she would meet somebody on this side to whom she will give the document, he will give her something in exchange and then she will go back. So when we got to those documents he explained it and her name was Cora Rijfkogel, that was the name of the hostess. We read through the document and he explained to me, "OK it was this Cora Rijfkogel" but she had a code name, I think they were talking about 'our Jane', sometimes they were referring to females as Janes. Our Jane will come down with flight, and I think they made a mistake. They were good in their communications but they made a few mistakes also, they gave the flight number, KLM and they gave the flight number. So OK, and they said she will be dressed like this and she will have a parcel. It was over Christmas time, a parcel made up like a box of chocolates. That message came through here from London to this side, I think it was from London. Then I said to him, "OK then what happened?" He said, "No, you must just check two or three days after that, or a day after that. We returned the message and we said OK we'll meet her and our guy will be dressed as follows." They gave a description of how he will be dressed and he will have also a parcel and they would meet in one of the little shops at the Johannesburg International Airport, Jan Smuts Airport as it was at that stage. They had a code name for the airport also, I can't remember it now. He said, "You must just follow up a few days later. You will see that she came and it was delivered and she went back and everything." So in that way going through the documents he assisted us quite a lot in putting the different pieces, episodes together. Also with the pick-ups from Botswana, the getting of arms from there. If we get to a document, somebody says get a driver to go there, he will say, "OK follow up", then we'll get to the document where people have been recruited to take a car over there, exact instructions, how they must be dressed, the message from the other side how their guy will be dressed and where they must meet, the whole process, the whole chain. He assisted quite a lot in getting that.

POM     He was telling you how in fact they were getting arms into the country?

CD     Yes, yes. They would go to a place like Avis and they would rent a Toyota Cressida there but one with a carburettor engine, not fuel injection engine because on a fuel injection engine if you tamper with the petrol pump and the pressure and so on you have a problem on the fuel injection system which you don't have with the carburettor. So then the chap that they recruit to go across the border, he doesn't know what he's going to do there except that he's going to get something there. He must take the car and give it to somebody and then he must come back again. They would supply him with money, he would go and get a car from Avis or one of these rental companies, then he will bring the car - OK let's say, for example, let's say Nyanda gives instructions to a second person to recruit somebody to go over, so that number two person will either give that instruction to number three who will get a number four person who will go and rent the car, he'll give it to number three, number three gives it to number two, number two brings it to Nyanda and they have a chat there in Durban which they code name 'The Mechanic' and we also got hold of The Mechanic and questioned him. Then they would take a petrol tank of a similar motor car and that's why they mostly used Cressida's because they could use only one or two tanks, that they could make. Then the original petrol tank will be removed from the car, the modified tank will be fitted to the car. The guy who goes over to Botswana is given instructions that every petrol station you come to put in, say for argument's sake, ten rand because if you travel especially along these long highways, long distances between towns and you get to a place and you say fill it up and it only takes ten rand because for ten rand you could put in quite a lot of petrol at that stage, then the attendant may think but it takes only ten rand and it's full. He couldn't have travelled with ten rand from the previous town. So they instructed these people, and it was different people that went out every time, if you get to a fuel station only ask for ten rand, pay ten rand cash and go. Next place ten rand and go. Then they would cross the border, get to the arranged meeting place. You know a guy coming from this side and sometimes they took some girls or something with, they get to the other side, Gaborone or Francistown, I can't remember, I think it was mostly Gaborone if I'm not mistaken but I'm not sure. They will stop at the pre-arranged place, pre-arranged time, somebody will come there with a code name of – I think your tyres are flat or something like that and he will know that's the man. The man will be dressed as he was told, give the keys to him. He will go to a hotel, spend a day or two there and he will come back, meet the guy at the pre-arranged place and time, get into the car and come back. So that guy on the other side he knows what the car is there for, he removes the tank, sorry puts the armaments in the tank, puts it back and the guy comes back. So he returns now to Durban or to Jo'burg, he gives the car again to number three or number two who gives it to Nyanda or whoever gave the instruction. In the majority of the cases it was Nyanda as far as I can remember. They will remove the modified tank, take the arms out, put the original tank back and the car then goes back to the chap who went over the border and he takes it back to Avis or whoever. That's how they work. And it worked. They brought in quite a number of arms and ammunition that way.

POM     Did he identify safe houses?

CD     Yes. He identified a safe house in Jo'burg, it was in Parkhurst, Parktown, it's such a long time ago. He identified a safe house for us. He described it, when we were still in Durban he described it to us. He described the house and he said he could show it to us. He described the room where it was, that there was a carpet on the floor, it was a wooden floor and he drew a sketch plan for us where the corniching on the carpet wasn't fixed to the wall, it was just put there. You take that away, you remove the carpet, you remove the under-felt, then there was a latch where you go through, an opening, a door that goes into the cellar below the floor. We came from Durban to Jo'burg and we arranged with some of the people here in Jo'burg because we didn't want him to go and show the place to us, if the case had to go to court then we couldn't give evidence on it because we knew the address so we arranged with people here that he would do, as we call it, a pointing out, he must go and point the place out to somebody who is unfamiliar with the version he gave us.

     So we arranged that we came here, it was late at night, I think it was about one or two o'clock the evening that we came in Jo'burg and the officers that we arranged with were here and they took him out. OK we followed them, went to the house. It was the house where Susan Grabek stayed. She was also one of the Vula operatives. She was a Canadian. When we were in Durban he also told us that he parked the car in the garage after it came from Botswana where he removed the tank. There he took the arms out and then he placed it in the cellar below the floor. When we came there that evening, in Jo'burg, it was Parktown or Parkhurst, one of these formerly rich, the richer areas. I mean Parkhurst, Parktown is still a wealthy area in Jo'burg. Anyway it was all high walls and a closed garage door. We couldn't get into the property by normal ways, knocking and ringing. I can't remember whether there was a bell or anything. In the end we went over the wall. We realised that there was nobody at home and eventually, even the next day, we took him there again and we saw the floor, everything exactly as he has described it to us. There was the carpet, the under-felt, the opening in the floor, we could climb down. You could clearly see the marks on the soil below the floor because it was quite a big cellar below the floor as these old houses with the wooden floors have. You could clearly see the marks where boxes and things have been stacked and then we got our forensic people in and they did some forensic tests and they found traces of chemical substances identical to what you normally find with arms and ammunition, especially with ammunition, explosives, type of things. It was clear that he wasn't telling stories. It's a fact they did store the stuff there. In the garage also they did some forensic tests in the garage and that also proved positive for the presence of chemical substance similar to that found in ammunition.

     It later emerged that that Susan Grabek left about a day or two before we came there and I think it was Mac Maharaj who removed that stuff from there after they became aware of the arrests, that they removed the stuff from there.

     He also pointed out another flat to us where I think Janet Love stayed. We also went to that but she wasn't there. Yes, he assisted us. He showed us some safe houses and things like that.

POM     What do you think was his motivation? On the one hand he was a top level commander in the MK and on the other hand, I won't say he's an informant, but he's more or less telling you where – you could have gone to that flat and found Janet Love there.

CD     Yes, yes, it's quite possible, yes. You know I think that, especially that first swoop when everybody was arrested, the computers were taken, the whole Vula operation was stalled there, I asked him at one stage, "It's very nice you're doing all this and so on but why?" Then he sort of said to me, "But you've got our computers, you've got the cars, you've got the ammunition, you've arrested a lot of people, you've arrested me, I'm Vula, so you've got everything." I think that was his whole thing, you've got everything, I can just as well tell you what's going on. I think he told us a lot but I don't think he told us everything he knew. Where we confronted him with documents, other versions, I think that he knew we were 100% sure if he admitted to that. I think there may be still a few things that they were involved with or up to that he didn't tell us. He co-operated fairly well.

POM     He was first, when he was arrested, going to be charged with the illegal possession of firearms. Now when you went to court you talked the evening before – "Then when Nyanda appeared in court after we charged him I served the indictment on him the night before he went to court and he was quite emotional about it. We had words amongst each other as humans which I will remember to the day of my death."

CD     Yes. At that stage there was a lot of political pressure for us to finalise the investigation and to charge the people. I personally think that the politicians, our politicians, the government at that stage, Mr Coetsee perhaps if I can name him, but it's my own opinion, didn't believe what the police were really telling them what these people were up to and they said you must get them in court, get them in court. OK I suppose there was pressure on them, there was definitely pressure from the ANC side, so OK you have these people, if you have anything against them charge them. But you can't finalise such a type of investigation in a short period of time. It's a timeous exercise to get all the evidence together so we told them that it's impossible to finalise this in a matter of a week or two. We need at least six months to complete our investigation and to formulate the proper charge of treason and get some other people, get Mac Maharaj, get Ronnie Kasrils, get everybody in. But they were pressurised and said the people, at least Siphiwe Nyanda, must go to court now.

     The evening when – OK let's just go a bit back. For a few days I knew what was coming. I knew that there was pressure that he must go to court and amongst us, the policemen, we discussed the whole thing and so on and we had an advocate from the office - (break in recording)

CD     As I say, we as policemen we knew what was coming, that they wanted to get him in court. So, OK, the sort of charge sheet, the indictment was drawn up and we decided that we will serve it on him late in the evening, after hours. So we went through our questioning. I sat with him every day, day by day by day by day, from morning till evening. I took him back, he was in – I think he was in, no not Greenwood Park, I can't remember the police station where he was detained. Anyway we took him back as normal and at about eight o'clock in the evening myself and the chap who was in charge of the investigation actually, we went to serve this on him.

POM     You were going to serve a notice of?

CD     Of a court appearance the next day.

POM     Yes but for illegal possession of firearms only?

CD     Yes. So when we came to him, opened the door, the guards opened the door and he was sitting there, he had his shower and everything and it's Durban you know, it's not very cold, it was winter but it's not very cold. He greeted me friendly and he said, "Are you visiting me tonight?" I said, "No I'm just checking whether you are doing your homework", because what I used to do, I used to give him a piece of paper if there is some specific topic during the course of the day that we discuss and I would give him a few pages of paper and a pen and say go and write me the whole story about that incident and then he would go and he would write it and the next morning he will give it to me, write the whole story, very nice. In that way he also assisted me. I said, "No, I've got something for you to read." He said, "Yes?" And I gave it to him. I think I read it out first or I gave it to him, I can't remember. But anyway I think I read it out to him and then I gave it to him and he read it and he looked at me and kept quiet and then said, "Is this true or is this a joke?" I said, "No, it's true, you're going to court tomorrow and we're charging you with possession of illegal firearms, illegal possession of firearms." He said, "Are you sure?" I said, "Yes, I'm sure." The other officer with me also said, "Yes, that's what the position is." Then we said we would arrange for an attorney for him tomorrow and he said something to the effect that, "I'll have to think about this."

     The next morning we went there early to get him. Oh yes, he said to me, "What about this that I must do for you tonight?" I said, "You must complete it." Then he said to me, "But you must come early because we've still got a lot to talk about." I said, "OK", and I was there early the next morning and we went to the office as usual and we sat and we went through the documents. Then at about twelve o'clock we informed - during the course of the morning his attorney was informed, I didn't do it, somebody else did it, and then at about twelve/one o'clock I took him over to court. Now at CR Swart Square you go down the building, the court building is next to the police station, you go down and then there's a sort of a tunnel/passageway underground and then you get into the court building. I was there and some of the other policemen also and as we walked I saw that he was very emotional and I said to him, "Listen Siphiwe what's wrong?" And he said, "I can't understand this, I can't understand this." I said, "What can't you understand?" He said, "You know I've been out of the country, I know that's an offence. I underwent military training, I know it's an offence. I've masterminded some sabotage and landmine attacks, I've been involved with Vula which is treason and I'm Vula, I did all this and this is what you charge me with."

POM     He felt insulted?

CD     Yes definitely, he felt insulted. He said, "You know I've sacrificed my whole life, I've sacrificed my family, my wife, my child, my family, I've sacrificed a career for a cause and this is what you charge me with." The tears, there were tears in his eyes. I think I patted him the shoulder, I said, "Oh well, OK, this is how things go", and so on. We went into court and sort of on the one side I felt sorry for the man because he had this feeling he was – as he said, he'd sacrificed everything and now we are charging him with some minor offence. But when he got into court, we arranged in the court there that he will appear and then he will be remanded for a further trial date, so the advocates from the Attorney General's office acted as prosecutor because that is why we get them in on the investigation that they can see the whole case through court. So he acted as prosecutor and when his advocate, I think it was Mr Sony was the advocate if I'm not mistaken, then Peter Blomkamp (he was the advocate with the A-G's office), he stood up and he read the charge sheet against him, that he was found in possession of firearms without licence and so and so and so and so and he asked that the case be remanded for further investigation. Then his legal representative got up and said he's representing him and he will ask that his client be released on bail and then from the side of the state our advocate says he refuses bail. Then they had to get him into the dock to testify why he should get bail. What happened then was Blomkamp put it to him and said – no, OK he went into the box and said right he'll testify and he said to him, "OK", he gave his name and everything and he said, "Are you a member of any political organisation?" He said, "Yes." He said, "What?" He said, "I'm a member of the African National Congress." "Now within the ANC is there some structure or something that you specifically belong to?" He said, "Yes, I'm a member of uMkhonto weSizwe." He was very calm but you could see there was a lot of tension on him and then the advocate said to him, "In MK do you hold a specific position or something like that?" And then I saw the Commander in him coming out, he looked at the Magistrate, put his hands on the dock in front of him and stood back and said, "Yes, I'm a Commander of MK." And the people in the court, there were a few people in the court, they shouted, "Commander, Commander, Commander!" Then he was in his element, then he was this strong man. Then Mr Blomkamp asked him, "We have these documents … when you were arrested were there some computers found at your place?" He said, "Yes." He said, "OK, do you know that the police extracted some documents from the computer?" He said, "Yes." "If I show you a specific document will you identify it or recognise it as one of the documents from there?" He said, "Yes." It was something in this line. Gave the document to him and he said, "Yes, that's our document." Then he would read especially that one or one of the Boris pick-up documents, the getting of arms in Botswana. He said, "Yes, document – something is written about the pick-up here. Pick-up in Boris, can you explain it?" He said, "Yes, it's when we're going to get arms caches from Botswana." So he went through a few of these documents and he explained, he gave the code names, explained everything, explained that they were bringing in arms and everything like that. I can't remember all the documents that they went through but it took quite some time. And that made headlines in the news.

     Bail was refused to him, let me get to that first, bail was refused. He was referred then to Westville – oh yes, he was detained at the Malvern police station. Bail was refused. We took him back to the police station first before we took him to Westville and when we came into the office he said to me, "Hey, you gave me a lot of problems in court", in a sort of friendly manner. I said, "I didn't give you problems. I didn't ask a single question. It was the advocate." He said, "Yes but he's your friend and you gave him everything. He asked me the same questions you asked me." It was sort of in a friendly manner because Blomkamp asked the questions more or less on the same lines as what I questioned him. Of course every day we gave feedback to the advocate of what the position was. I said to him, "Listen now, can we still discuss some of the outstanding things?" He said, "Yes."

     Then we took him to Westville Prison and I said to him OK and so on. And the next day when I went back there he refused to speak to me. Obvious, he's charged, then you can't actually speak, from the investigator's side you can't speak to the man any more and obviously his advocate instructed him not to speak with us any more.

POM     But the charge still at that point was the charge of the firearms?

CD     The firearms, yes.

POM     That hadn't been changed.

CD     Then his whole story, his whole version that he gave in court hit the headlines of the news and the next day after our cabinet saw what was going on and what he testified under oath what they were busy with, the instructions came: charge them all, treason, go the whole way. That was only the following day and then the charge sheets were reformulated and the other people were added. In the meantime Mac Maharaj had also been arrested and they were all put on the charge sheet and they appeared a few times in court, I think one or two times, then the case was withdrawn.

     It was after that appearance of his where he disclosed bringing in of arms, safe houses, overt and covert things. I can't remember what was all said but he exposed the whole Vula operation in court in testimony there and it was then only that the instructions came that OK, you must go the whole way and charge him with treason, everything. So that is how it went more or less.

POM     So you have this peculiar combination that on the one hand he wanted to explain every document and give you all sorts of information, on the other hand he felt offended by being charged with a minor offence, three he's proud to stand up in the court and say, "I'm somebody really important."

CD     Yes, yes.

POM     How did you draw that psychological profile together?

CD     To be in detention, at that stage he wasn't allowed access to attorneys or things like that. He held this position in MK, he was an important man. He came a long way in MK, he was well trained, he's a clever guy and now he's in custody, he's alone, he doesn't have contact with the other detainees. He didn't know what they told the police and, as I said, he said well the police have got everything, they've got him, they've got the computers, he can just as well explain. For him the role was over, the game was over, but he felt that he, as he said he sacrificed a lot, this was some big cause that he devoted his life to and I think he expected a sort of a climax because to go into a political trial for treason, they were all high profile ANC members and it would have exposed them to the media, it would have received a lot of high profile attention the whole trial so they would get a lot of publicity through it and coming and charging him with some sort of minor offence, the only reason I can say is in the words that he said to me, "I've sacrificed everything and this is what you charge me for. Why? Why? All these years and now you charge me with this, with this lot of nonsense." But when he got in court and he got the chance to be exposed then the commander in him came out and he took the opportunity. I think after the period of detention it was an opportunity for him to express himself, to say I'm here and this is what I've done, I'm not ashamed of it.

POM     How would I put it? This fascinates me, the different levels on which he appears to operate. You are the commander of a unit, a secret unit, it's got all kinds of codes in it for different things. You are picked up, they roll out all this information before you and they say there's Boris, what does Boris stand for? You're the commander, you say I'm not talking. Just see here, you refer to Jessie, what's Jessie? I'm not talking. I knew nothing. You have the documents, you work it out for yourself. This house here, this is a safe house? Yes, I'll go with you and I'll show it to you. Would you not say find it and good luck if you do find it but I'm not telling you. You know what I mean?

CD     Yes. He could have done that very easily and it would have made our task more difficult. We had some information but we didn't have information about the safe houses. There were quite a number of things that we didn't have information about. Now it was from the information that he gave us on the cars that they used and the dates that we followed it back and we traced all those cars, we confirmed it with some other investigations and enquiries we made. We confirmed everything that he told us as far as that is concerned and it was correct. He didn't tell us a word of a lie there. I think the only thing is he thought perhaps the game was over. As you say he was a commander, I don't know.

POM     It's not exactly – it's not something you expect a commander to do, to say I'll tell you everything I know. In fact I'll tell you things you don't even know.

CD     I think perhaps he's a very pragmatic type of person. When you put everything in front of him on paper, you take all the computers and we told him, listen, we've broken everything, we got everything out. I think it was clear to him virtually every day we would come forward with some new documents that came from the computer and I said, "Listen we've got this, we've got this." The only thing that I can think of is that he realised the game is over. The bigger part of the Vula operation had been detained and I think he realised or he suspected that somebody informed on them, that somebody gave information on them, so I think he also realised that we had more information on their activities perhaps, that's what he thought we had. I think that was – I mean if I'm in a situation and I know some of my colleagues or comrades, whatever you want to call them, have been arrested, some people in key positions and you are told that that man told us this and that man told us this, then you might realise that OK the game is over, let's put everything on the table or let me put on the table as much as I want to put on the table. Things that I'm not confronted with I won't put on the table but things that I'm confronted with, put it on the table.

POM     A strange story.

CD     Yes it is. But that's how it worked.

POM     After Mac Maharaj was arrested did you ever cross him or have any dealings with him?

CD     Yes. He was arrested in Johannesburg and he was questioned by a group of our people working here. He was brought down to Durban and on one or two occasions I had a few words with him because his family is from Newcastle and I'm also from Newcastle. So I had a few words with him and I asked him a few questions but not the real questioning like sitting down for two or three days but I did ask him a few questions and so on. I didn't question him extensively. It was some other people who questioned him extensively. Afterwards I saw him one day at one of the Goldstone Commission hearings and we greeted each other there.

POM     Did you find his, even to your initial questions, did you find it different in him in the way he responded than the way Nyanda did?

CD     I think, I didn't really ask him that much, but I think the questions that I asked him I knew the answers and I think some of them were also questions that other people have asked him already and I think he realised that I will know the answers he gave them and he gave me more or less the same answers. I didn't question him very extensively. I can't really comment on how the other people found him but I think I'll stick to that.

POM     I'll probably call upon you again but you've given me more than your duty's time this evening going over things twice.

CD     That's OK. It's a period of my life that was very interesting. Having been involved in this investigation really it was very, very interesting and I put everything in it. We hardly slept for weeks. I don't think I ever felt tired during that period, although at one stage he said to me, Siphiwe Nyanda said to me, "Captain, you've asked that question already to me. I think you are tired now." Then I said to him, "No, no I'm not tired, I'm just checking on you", but I was tired.

POM     When he was kept first he was kept at a police station, right?

CD     Yes.

POM     That would have been the police station in?

CD     Look, after he was arrested he was brought to CR Swart Square immediately and he was kept there for two to three days before we arranged – you know we made a space in the office where he could sleep or where he could rest and as far as I can remember he slept a bit because we took turns in questioning him but then after a few days he was officially moved to Malvern police station where he was detained, he had a cell of his own. Then he was there and in the mornings we used to go and pick him up, bring him to CR Swart, work for the whole day, in the evening take him back again. He used to get his food at CR Swart and everything from the ordinary police mess there, the same food as what we ate.

     Something that is perhaps interesting, at one stage when I realised where things were going, just before he was charged, I asked him one day, I said, "Listen, we are sitting now nicely together here and everything. I'm now a police Captain and you are in detention, I know you are in detention so you can't move around freely. I want to ask you a question but first of all you must just listen to what I am going to say to you. You are in detention, you have a bed where you sleep, a mattress, sheets, blankets, you have a shower. It's in a cell but it's sort of a room of your own, you've got electric lights there. We pick you up in the morning, you come here, you get food here the same food as what we get. At lunch time we give you food", (because he received a good two to three plates of food every day). Sometimes in the evening when we worked a bit late we also got him food from the police mess otherwise he would get his food at Malvern but most of the time he got his food from the police mess. I said, "Now a doctor is visiting you once every fortnight, a Magistrate visits you, the Inspector of detainees who was a person going around checking on political detainees, visits you every fortnight. If you take all that into consideration and the fact that you're detained now, if our roles were changed, if I was the detainee and you were the police Captain, how would you have treated me?" Do you understand what I said to him? I said if our roles were changed how would he have treated me. And then he looked at me very angrily and very strict and he said, "Listen, if you would have been lucky enough to be alive you would have been on Robben Island." Then I realised that deep within this man he doesn't really like his situation. Then I said to him, "But we're treating you so nicely." He said, "No, I'm telling you - " Then I changed the subject and we carried on as normal but that's one incident that I will also remember very clearly.

     OK, Robben Island is a museum nowadays and I'm not there so I don't think it was too serious but at that stage he was very serious when he said that to me. There are a few incidents that stand out of our whole relationship, or our dealings that we had.

POM     Well dealing with each other on a day to day basis.

CD     Yes it was a day to day –

POM     You have to develop a relationship with one another.

CD     It was as we are sitting here now. He was sitting on that side, I was sitting here. Sometimes we were sitting across each other, sometimes as we are sitting here now and it was very relaxed. We always kept his leg irons on, I never removed his leg irons but on many occasions I removed his handcuffs. Yes I removed it because CR Swart especially on the floor where we were was very safe in the sense that we were all behind thick bars. There was no window where he could jump out if he perhaps considered committing suicide or something like that and we had strict instructions on handling especially political detainees, on their safe-keeping and their well-being and things like that. To get co-operation from a person, to get him to work with you, you must allow him some kind of freedom and that is why I removed his handcuffs on many occasions but the leg irons I never removed. It was instructions that we have to do it and it was for his own safety's sake also. When we transported him in the car also I stuck to the rules, he was handcuffed, leg irons on, somebody with him in the back of the car, the doors locked from outside so that he couldn't open them from inside. That's the way it went. But it was a very, very interesting time of my career. The whole Vula operation, not only what he did but the whole Vula operation was very, very interesting. They were not low class or everyday type of operators. They operated on a high level. One must give them credit for that really, they operated on a high level.

     We came across some documents where it was stated that it should be kept away from Mandela, or certain aspects of it should be kept away, but as we progressed through the documents we came across some documents where it was clear that he was informed of Vula but I don't think he was informed in toto of the whole operation. At some stage he was informed but I don't think he was informed at the initial stage. I think as time progressed he was informed but he wasn't, as far as I can remember from the documents, he wasn't informed of all the operations.

POM     There's a statement in here that I would just like your comment on. Tim Jenkin was their mastermind behind their communication system.

CD     This Tim Jenkin?

POM     Yes.

CD     What was his code name?

POM     That I don't know. I could find that out.

CD     In London –

POM     He worked with a guy called Ronnie Press.

CD     I can't remember. There was a Leeuw, where was Leeuw? At some stage I knew all the code names but it's a long time now.

POM     "The first step was to receive authority from Lusaka for the lawyer. During this period Mandela was meeting with government bigwigs – he was also meeting with leaders of the Mass Democratic Movement and such meetings were closely monitored by the enemy so it was never possible to get to Lusaka the precise details of what was being discussed. Mandela realised the fragility of the situation and was reluctant to engage in any activities that could be interpreted as underhand. Mac, however, was convinced that if Mandela could be shown that a truly safe and absolutely confidential line to Oliver Tambo in Lusaka was available and was operated by Mac he could be persuaded to use it. Such a link could be set up by one of Mandela's lawyers who was allowed to meet him at regular periods to discuss particular issues. Mac had worked in a communications team on Robben Island so he knew how Mandela would respond and what would be required to persuade him to participate.

     The first step was to receive authority from Lusaka for the lawyer to disclose Mac's presence to Mandela. Once this was granted the lawyer would demonstrate to Mandela the method of camouflaging the memos. The method was based on one that was used extensively during the previous months. Books with secret compartments in their covers were brought in. At first the bookbinder made these books for us in Amsterdam but because the demand for them was so great I had a few lessons from her and took back to London the skills and implements needed to create them on our own. Mac realised that if the lawyer could take one of these books to Mandela each time with a note concealed inside a cover, Mandela could read the note and respond by concealing details of his meetings with the government in the same compartment. At first Mandela was reluctant to participate but when he began to grasp how it would work he changed his mind.

     Suddenly one day a message from Mandela appeared on my screen in London. I stared at it for a long time. After that message from Mandela it became a regular feature and in response there were long memos from Oliver Tambo in Lusaka. The two were now talking in confidence for the first time since the early sixties. I couldn't help chuckling to myself each time when these messages went past and I thought how the regime chiefs must be thinking they were entirely in control of the situation. They wanted to create the impression that they were talking to Mandela alone and that his responses were his personal opinions. Little did they know that they were talking to the ANC collective."

     Which gives the impression that he was brought into it at some time and the communication system was working well enough that –

CD     Yes, I can't deny that what you've read now. I know from the documents that there was a lawyer visiting him.

POM     Ismail Ayob

CD     I know in one of the documents mention was made by Mandela about Kobie Coetsee – yes, being a soft negotiator. Yes, I think it's quite possible that but also from the documents it was also clear that not everything, especially the building of the underground structures and the option of reverting to the covert structures if things went wrong with the overt structures, all that was not exposed to Mandela.

POM     Do you think that the government saw Vula as more of an SACP operation than an ANC operation?

CD     Yes, because of the SACP members involved there. They saw it as that but the SACP and the ANC were always mentioned in the same breath but there were strong indications or assumptions drawn that it was more of an SACP operation than an ANC operation. Talking about days and as days passed things changed, he said, "But this was ANC, this is ANC, this is SAPC." Initially it was an SACP operation – if I remember correctly. But what you've read there, I can't deny it, quite possible it went that way.

POM     I will leave you there. I think you've exhausted me.

CD     OK, yes, because I'm still OK.

POM     Just one other thing. Again Nyanda, did you get a comprehensive kind of inventory of the arms caches they had in the country, where they were located?

CD     From the documents we got lists, we got inventories of arms caches and we went through it with him and he sort of confirmed it.

POM     Did he say where they were or did he just - ?

CD     Yes I can't remember now. In some cases the documents that we got from the computer would say in the Jo'burg area the following, or especially when an arms cache was received from Botswana, when a pick-up was received, there was an inventory of what was received. OK, then it was clear that that went to the Jo'burg area. OK, it was removed, so after it was removed he wasn't in a position to say where it was and he didn't tell us where it was.

POM     Now Vula continued on after?

CD     Yes, yes it still continued for some time.

POM     Till the end of the year.

CD     Yes.

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.