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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
04 May 2002: Sithole, Jabu
POM Jabu, I just want you to start with your family, where you came from, where you went to school, what your parents did, the atmosphere when you were growing up, what drew you into the liberation movement. Question two would be what you did in the movement, what your involvement was. Three would be on to Operation Vula, the role you played in Operation Vula and where you ended up. Were you arrested or did you manage to avoid being arrested?
JS I was arrested here, I didn't avoid it. Whether I was arrested I don't remember.
POM You don't remember whether you were arrested or not?
JS No, I was arrested.
POM Was that because you were arrested so many times?
POM Just your background, where you came from, growing up, what influenced you, when you became aware of - ?
JS Can we redo a section if - ?
POM Yes, we'll start with your background.
JS My name is Jabu Sithole. I'm 53 years old in October and I was born in Lamontville which is a township just across here, basically a working class area. I am third in the family. Our father died pretty early. I was very young, about five years old when he died so most of the time we struggled. We were a family of six and my mother was just an assistant nurse and housing was quite a problem during those times so we were under the care of my grandfather. We grew up under our grandfather's family but later on we were able to get a house in the township. I'm still in the township because I haven't made enough money to move to a better place so I'm still there.
When I grew up my grandmother used to brew Zulu beer, home-made beer, and that used to contribute to our subsistence. Then there was this time when the government, provincial government, declared Zulu traditional brew illegal because they were forcing us to buy the one that was machine made and if I recall very well it was actually a strategy by local government to get the money from us in order to, sort of like a local government tax because we were paid very little, the workers, and they were unable to pay for rates and things like that so I think they then created this ploy that because we are social and drinking a lot therefore because it was owned by the municipality, those Ijuba, a particular brand which was called Ijuba. There are many types and the popular brand is called Ijuba, it means 'the dove'. So they had to enforce this, they had to go from house to house and all those houses they knew they brew the Zulu beer and try and stop it. It has to be stopped by force because this was a traditional food and the people were selling it at a very low cost but for most of the time, even with the traditional function like remembering our ancestors and so on, there must be Zulu beer or Xhosa beer or whatever. It is very much part of our culture, very much part of tradition. But they had to stop that because they wanted to create some kind of rates, money for the local government.
So I was affected and my grandmother was in the forefront in the resistance because it's mainly the ladies who do the brew and its management whether it's a cultural function as it was sold at home. The resistance, there was a women's resistance movement and I think this is where some of the time when the Women's Movement in the ANC in Natal in particular was born and became strong. It was because of this is one of the issues.
POM What age were you at this point when they declared the beer illegal?
JS I don't know, I must have been maybe 14, 14 to 16. It was in the fifties, late fifties.
POM Were you drinking beer?
JS No, no. I was just a young boy. Also in the schools they used to discuss the system is not good for us, in the regime. So I am just highlighting points and circumstances that contributed to my awareness about the unpleasantness of the system.
So going back to the Zulu brew thing, it happened that it also created a social disturbance because they then created beer halls which were away from the community residential areas. In particular this one was where Toyota is now, Lister Road, so you go out of the township and there's a big Toyota factory there. Part of it was a beer hall. Therefore it meant men would leave their homes and go there to the beer halls to drink so some social disturbance within the families was created and therefore women united and took up the issue that this thing was not good, taking away their livelihood, their husbands and creating social problems so it became a big issue, a big movement.
There was engagement around those times because the police and the soldiers came into the township and searched house to house and there was organised mass action and then at those times they will bring the navy section of the army.
POM The navy?
JS Yes, they had a base, I think the base is still there. What is that base called? But the base was not so far away from our township so they used to use them to compliment the police force and they would come into the township.
POM What year would this be about?
JS I don't remember the year but it must be the late fifties, early sixties. My grandmother and the lady across, another grand lady across, they were the street leadership, street activists, and ourselves being youth I was I got polio when I was young when I was about three years old, between three to four years old that's when I got polio. We used to participate as well because my friend would carry me and when it was time to run away they would carry me on their backs and we would run away but we would help our parents, our grandmothers by spying about the whereabouts of the police, the soldiers at that time, base ourselves at strategic points and then just blow the whistle. When they come sometimes in the evening we have to switch off the lights and my grandmother would say, "Let's hide underneath the bed", and so on.
So I think that thing had an impact on me and so when I grew up, when I was at school for instance during standard nine I remember I hated very much Afrikaans, the language Afrikaans because I associated it with the bad regime, the Nationalist Party regime. That's where really my background is, my consciousness comes from. Because of that I hated the system very much so, for instance, my mind blocked learning Afrikaans. I just resisted and many other kids from the same background because at that time the Afrikaner was seen as the main oppressor. We grew up with it, we were discussing that at school and so on.
POM The teachers in school were all black?
JS Yes, the schools were separated. The township school
POM Were they packed up in telling - ?
JS Yes some of the teachers were active, in general. In fact Lamontville where I come from was a strong ANC base even before it was banned because Johnny Makhathini, that's where they come from, and Dluli, the late of the MK, that's where they come from and many, many prominent people because the townships were one of those few almost urban areas for blacks. We didn't have many at that time, in the fifties they didn't have many townships so if they came to Durban they would do Lamontville, Chesterville. We didn't have Umlazi at that time, it was a small section. So there was this awareness of the ANC and its effort to try and end the regime so we had people who spread the gospel in their own ways but there was no organised action at that time because it was almost immediately after the banning of the ANC.
By the time I went to the high school, matric, standard nine and ten, we came up and we went to St Francis College, Mariannhill, but we came upon the Steve Bikos and Steve Biko that's where they also started their matric and then they moved to a medical school in Natal University medical section of it which is also in Durban, around Durban, next to Wentworth where the engine firm is now. It's also quite in the neighbourhood of my residential area and besides they used to visit us as well at school because these were their previous schools, Steve Biko and the like. And so around Durban there was also a strong Black Consciousness Movement due to people like Steve Biko. We had a lot of interaction with some of the then leaders.
I then went to University of Zululand, that is 1969/70 and, as I said, the BCM was mainly rooted amongst the students, the black students, non-white students, African, coloured and Indian and particularly university students and so on. So at the University of Zululand we also had a strong leader and we took up the issue of Mr Tiro because he was standing at the north end. He was killed by the system. We took up the issue protesting and we boycotted classes in 1970. Some people went back to classes but we and the leader then, I think even this lady now, what's her name now? She's in parliament now, we worked together there, I'll remember the name, she's one of the communist leaders I've just forgotten the name. Then we were the last group we didn't actually go back until our demands were met so that's how we left the University of Zululand because we got expelled because in the end we were a group of about forty, we were marginalised, most of the students went back. It happened that the leader was actually killed on his way back somewhere in the then Orange Free State, he was travelling by train and one Afrikaner person chased him and he got in between the platform and the train and he got killed.
I then went to Fort Hare the following year. This must have been 1971 to 1972 because I went to Fort Hare 1973 and still going for my first year. I also must mention that during that time they were consolidating the separate development in education so that's when they created this institution which I'm working in, for the Zulus, for the Xhosas. Fort Hare changed into Xhosas only and the University of the North. So the lecturing staff, the professors, were toeing the political line. They were very much harsh to us because the agenda at that time was to show that Africans in particular should not and cannot make it particularly in the areas of science, economics and the law. Those were very, very tough, they made it to be very tough and one day there will be no-one graduating, maybe the next year only one person. They told our class that we are not free to but nevertheless they edit the options and so on but merely to frustrate us because the line at that time was that the education for the Africans must be such that it makes the Africans know where they belong and not to compete with the white people and so on.
All of that, but also my condition as a disabled person, I found that people were generally helpful because moving about, carrying books and so on, all of this I was doing all myself and being in SA at that time the infrastructure was not permitting and so many things. It was mainly also because people would be helpful, help me do this, do that and so on.
Then I went to Fort Hare. At Fort Hare it was the same thing, same issues more or less. We would be complaining about the conditions at school, at university, other general issues and pick them up and so on. There was a strike or a boycott and we were sent back home. This time I managed to get back the following year. It is a university that decided that we must be expelled, unlike at University of Zululand we were a minority and everyone has gone to school and there was more of an element of resist until you die but in the end we lost out, there were so few of us and we have lost so much but we were also expelled. But at Fort Hare it was en masse so we were expelled en masse, almost after three days, but a lot of us were able to go back the following year.
The other thing I wanted to mention, around Fort Hare there was a strong Theological School, they were also Black Consciousness Movement. Their buildings were next to Fort Hare, the university. So that also had a lot of impact because at this time they were talking about the black man working on the mines and they have an appeal to us because I actually remember when I finished at Fort Hare how I lost my first opportunity for a job because one was filled with so much of defiance and defying the system. I went for an interview with my hair uncombed, (but today I forgot to comb!) All those crazy looks, I am going to be what I am, I am not going to change. When I look back now I see, oh I messed up because it was an opportunity. That was 1975, it was Unilever. The point I'm making is that the influence of the politics at that time, BC in particular and the spirit of defiance.
Then I finished the first degree in 1975 but I was still owing the Afrikaans because I decided so my matric was not full so I had to do something to get it so I graduated the next year, 1976, after sitting separately for the Afrikaans oral. I was not going to get the degree without a proper matric.
So 1976 I was at home not doing anything then. We had the Soweto school riots so myself and my friend, Dumisane, now working for the Department of Labour in Pretoria and my brother, who is late, who subsequently went out to be MK, two of them, one is still in the army based, but this one we said that's it, how can we connect because we were always talking politics. When 1976 erupted we were just on our own trying to look for opportunities to connect, do something at this school, do something at that one.
There is nothing spectacular that we did but out of that year then my brother left the country. He was known as Belgium, I think like the country Belgium, that was his code name.
POM Did he leave to join the MK?
JS Yes he did. Then I moved to Johannesburg, Wits, and did my honours and operation research and then at the end
POM At Wits you studied? What did you study?
JS Mathematics, Applied Mathematics but more on operation research but it was called Applied Mathematics. Operation research techniques. So in my stay there in Soweto I stayed with my friends. One particular friend was a guy we were with, he also comes from Natal, he's still there in Johannesburg. I don't know what he does but those guys made it financially. He was banned because he was BC. Together with Jackie, you know Jackie, he's in the police.
POM Jackie Selebi?
JS Yes. We stayed together and we used to argue all the time because I think Jackie, at that time they were already in the movement and this BC, there was this time of trying to win all of those guys over and BC I think was seen as not fully matured politically.
POM By the ANC?
JS Yes. OK, mainly believing that, no, this was a phenomenon on its own and so on. The ANC think it's old fashioned, the debates were like that. I got caught. When I finished in 1978, early 1979, this guy was under the banning, house arrest. He was also a BC leader so he was under house arrest so we got caught with him. He was supposed to be all by himself all the time and I was caught there with others with him. They told me, he was telling me that they are going to make me the state witness and that I could not talk because that was seen at that time as selling out. Even then you could stand and creatively use that platform against the stage but at that time we were not sophisticated. I just saw myself as collaborating with the state against my friend and so on. So that's how I left Johannesburg. At that time there were better chances for me to look for jobs than here. Early 1979 I left Johannesburg and I was running away from that case of being a state witness and came back home and stayed with my brother alone.
POM When you went to Wits as a graduate person you didn't have any - ?
POM You had no problem getting in? It wasn't like this is a whites only university?
JS No, no, there were those problems but I think at that time, because they saw themselves and were seen as a liberal university as compared to the Afrikaner universities so they would take a few blacks so I was one of those lucky few because our record was very good at Fort Hare.
In fact before I even left, and then I left through Durban, early 1979, then I was recruited formally to the ANC by Zakhe Shibe, she's now working for the TPSA. She was married to a Sotho person I've forgotten the Sotho surname. Her original name is Shibe, she also came from Lamontville. Now this is because when I came back I then became active in the youth. It was just an ordinary youth movement and she was coming from Lesotho, visiting home, but I think part of her mission was to look for recruitable ones. Before I left Wits, before I left Johannesburg, I had gotten myself a scholarship to America but then I met Zakhe she told me, no, I can get a better scholarship from the United Nations. So I created all excuses not to get into the (American university) they were very angry and fed up with me because I was seeing Zakhe's option as better.
We went to Lesotho, it was around December time, only to find we went to University of (Lesotho) only to find straight away the thing was not smooth. I met this guy, Mr Ludidi(?) I understand he died recently, he just took me straight into the politics. I could not believe myself, I was so shocked because I came here understanding I'm going to meet a person who's going to talk about bursaries and was in a joyous mood and with friends, we were drinking and so on, so I just these things, two things were not compatible. I was not ready for it because I had not thought for it. So after we had a discussion the whole night I was thinking, so I said, "Oh my God! What is this? Am I going to say this because I'm really not ready for this and what about my opportunities? I'm going to lose all that."
Then because I understood and sympathised with the things he was saying, I also looked at myself and I also looked that I had been helped by people, just my condition in order to get this far and I thought maybe it's also time to plough back and I decided I will work formally for the ANC. That's 1979 round about December, to be formally recruited as an ANC person working underground, Mr Ludidi.
POM Were you ever put through a vetting process? Were you checked out? Did they do any background check on you?
JS Well they must have done that maybe, I don't know, but with me it was one day a few hours meeting at a certain place. Then I came back three times but already at that time I was coming back to report some of the initiatives. We never got any formal training and at that time it was very difficult to carry the material around because it was banned. That means five years straight to Robben Island if you are found with a banned movement. So one had to rely a lot on listening, listen and listen good, make sense of it. What I was saying, when I said I understood and sympathised and if you look at the background I've just sketched it wasn't something and I was fresh from being a student, so it wasn't something new to me - and I reasoned logically that I am going to participate and make a contribution and it's a kind of ploughing back to the community.
Our mission was to go and create ANC cells in Lamontville where I stayed and from there we will communicate further. Then an arrangement was made how to collect material which was going to be our distance, sort of, university because I had to come back clean. The first cell was made up of myself, he is now MEC Housing & Local Government Free State, then Angel Mnyandu is my friend up till today, I always hang around with him. He's just an ordinary guy, he's just a worker.
POM How do you spell his name?
JS Angel, like an angel from heaven, then last name MNYANDU, but his English name is Philip. He doesn't have a Zulu name. I think originally they came from Mozambique but his father never wanted them to connect, from Mozambique, so he doesn't have a Zulu name and Zulu by all means. The other guy was Majozi, which is the nickname, he's also around, just an ordinary person. We created this cell and our area of operation was the mass work because the ANC strategy had four wings, the MK and mass mobilisation and the political and the international so we were political and mass mobilisation. We were able to send Angel to Matatiele, which is the border of Lesotho and SA, brought the material, came back, some of it, not all of it. I certainly didn't like reading too many words because my background was maths, I just want something that goes straight to the point.
Our cell was very strong and eventually we were a factor in creating the Lamontville Resident's Association at that time. But before that at the same time there was the creation of a separate local government system. The African one was already there and then later on, early eighties, they created the Tricameral Act, that is for Indians and coloureds. So we were attacking, our brief for instance was to attack the black local authorities, we were painting them as stooges, sell-outs and so on. It so happened that one of the local councillors, Mr Msizi Dube, he was a former member of the ANC and he was taking up the service issue which was at that time rent and the bus services, the cost of the municipality buses, and he was taking those issues very, very strongly and involving the community. Initially when they were canvassing for elections to the council we were opposing him and he noted that because my residential area is very small so people know each other so he would know who I was: "You are the son of Mr Clement, you are very stubborn." But quickly when he popularised his stand, when he involved the people and was arguing things for the people, because the other councillors were arguing for the rent to go up and he was saying, no, people do not have enough money and they have not been consulted and so on, and he was actually inviting the community to come to the Council chambers to see how his representatives are messing up. So at that time we backed him, we worked hand in hand with him. Then this movement against the rent was becoming very, very popular. The whole township was unified but of course we were the strategising guys behind it, that I must say.
We brought in Dr Diliza Mji, he is now in this empowerment thing, I think he's making a lot of money but he's been working as a doctor and so on and he was in the medical school, he was with the BC, with Steve Biko, and he has been in politics, he was doing that but also working with the ANC. So during those SASO times we were already in contact but at that time we were working just because we were taking issues and are students. Now this time we knew that because the movement would direct touch so-and-so, by movement I mean ANC, so we knew that these were members of the ANC. When they say 'touch so-and-so' then you know this must be a good person. Then the lawyer, Mr Archie Gumede, who is late now, because the mission now was to win Msizi Dube fully into the fold of the ANC. Secondly, it was to generalise the issue because it affected not only Lamontville, it affected the hostels. You know when you come from the airport you've got those big hostels, it affected them. As I say, the hostels in Clermont, Tebisa and Archie Gumede used to stay there and they also have big hostels, Kwathebega and some of the hostels in town and Klaarwater. So it was quite strategic because it could do all these things, bring people together and we saw that it has that potential of consolidating the mass action in a bigger
POM Worth the trip. During all this time you were never arrested or detained?
JS As soon as we started the cell, I'm obviously skipping a lot of things, we were very, very energetic so they spotted us. It then became a number of short arrests, interrogations, they would take us in for two days, maybe a few hours but not anything major. I think the focus was also around Msizi Dube, I think they were very, very mad against him and sad because he was a councillor paid by the government but he was standing up against the government and saying, "This is not right, this is wrong." Then this thing was a slogan was started we don't have money, which became very popular and it spread right across Natal.
I think concurrently there were other types of community based mass actions taking place in the country especially in the Eastern Cape, the Goniwes, the late Goniwe, there's another guy who's still in the Eastern Cape, MEC for Local Government. Max was there as well but there's another guy from Duncan Village. It's difficult with the names.
JS Yes, yes! Qinti(?), Trevor Manuel in the Western Cape, Pravin Gordhan and the Mayor of Soweto in Transvaal, what's his name? The Mayor of Soweto Metro is not Masibugo, I've forgotten but he's currently the Mayor of whatever it's called, Johannesburg Metro. Masondo, yes. I am saying there was this coming up of a strong community based movement and then they schemed here at local level, the councillors, at least at the end the court case it comes out that one of the councillors was sentenced to long term jail for killing Msizi Dube because he was killed eventually. So they schemed that they must get rid of him physically and so he was killed.
POM How do you spell his name again?
JS MSIZI DUBE. In fact I remember very clearly that we had formal discussions that involved Archie Gumede and Diliza (Mji) and some other people. They were telling us that Msizi Dube was an ANC member and he was suspended for whatever he did, I don't remember, but it looks like he is coming, he is a good person maybe, we must reconcile and get him back into the fold. So there was a full force effort. But I don't know whether he was called and given acceptance message, I don't know, but when he died that was the situation that he seems to have repented and let's work with him full force.
At the same time PG was running a centre for CRU, Community Resource Unit and in our strategising we didn't have enough skills like doing surveys and things like that and working with Vish ... and the lady who is now his wife, Vido Teloro(?), (Indian names, I just remembered the short part, Vido). She is also very good and she used to work for the Local Government Housing Department but she's out of the government now. She is out, both of them. We made contact then because they were running also a community based organisation called Durban Housing Action Committee. Trevor was running CAHAC, Cape Housing Action Committee, something like that. We used to do a lot of planning, strategising together.
POM Were you now part of - ?
JS This was informal initially. No, no, we hadn't come there. They were taking too long to come to the UDF. This is like still the background but we are now being felt because all of a sudden there is political activity in Natal and in the African areas. It's been dead but it was like the voice of the people and we were challenging. Also the same issues affected other townships elsewhere in Natal because they will get the local government was under provincial government so if the word goes through you now must increase rates, if a decision was taken it will affect all of them so they heard and they wanted to connect. It was quite effective. In fact we could claim that we re-kindle the Natal revolution.
POM Were you running into opposition from Inkatha?
JS Yes. What happened, when they saw that they cannot win us over, they cannot control us, when Msizi was there but then he died quickly, then they bring in Inkatha factor and how do they do that? They tried to declare Lamontville as part of a Bantustan and therefore it just started. I think what happened, it started by Gatsha Buthelezi, he's now the Minister of Home Affairs, saying, "These are my people. I am the Zulu leader so I want my people back." You see! But obviously all along he was not interested because at that time we had this area, Umlazi, which was all part of that Bantustan and you remember his stand was resisting, just to take the separate government policy as it is because the land of the Zulus as defined by the regime then was little bits and pieces all over the show. This was one big piece, Umlazi and the south and then the small townships like ours, Lamontville, we were right in the infrastructure of the white man's land, Durban, so we were not part of it. All of a sudden he became interested and said, "No, I want this." So they made it appear as if it is him who wants the people but I think all they were doing was to try and find a factor that could neutralise us because we were becoming too much unhandleable and then that sort of standing as we came together and said we will resist, we will resist what was happening but we will resist to be put under the KwaZulu government.
But before that scenario I just want to sketch a few things which I think are important and that is we were then able to connect and work as a collective around Durban, formalising these contacts between the Indian areas and African areas and the coloured areas. Trevor I think he's now a councillor, he's a coloured person, are you familiar with South Africans? Trevor Manuel is a coloured, that's what I mean. So we began to come together because they also took up the rates issue. At that time we were not paying rates because we were anyway getting so low a pay it was not rateable. The water was almost free of charge and many other things whereas the coloured areas, Indian areas, they were paying rates and their angle, their approach was that, no, they are not getting equal amenities, services, so they challenged the rates issue.
Then the hostels, and this is important because the hostels are the ones which we asked to also defeat Buthelezi because we then dropped the hostels in. That is, we were now strategising across Lamontville with some of these people, coming together and looking at the issue and saying how can we broaden. But without each one saying we are working for ANC, we just understood that we are just working for a community issue and in fact a formal structure was formed which was called Joint Rent Action Committee (JORAC). On the other side the Indians had already Indians and coloureds which was including many Indian and coloured areas. Then we worked together and created a civic body.
With hostels it's important to note that we actually went to each hostel and we created structures there, we warned them. In particular me and Vish we used to go to these hostels. Now Vish is a vegetarian, now these guys are Zulus, when you come to the meetings there they these are ordinary guys they will eat meat and they want to treat us for sitting here, address a meeting, someone is preparing the meat outside. They are going to come and put it here and they want us to feast while the meeting is going on, just doing things in the way they know and Vish had to say all the time (that he can't eat). But it was very powerful because he was able to go in there and we got accepted and we worked together. I am saying that we actually created the basis of strong ANC structures in the Natal hostels which Inkatha was not able to win over and out of it came very strong elements of the MK. Almost all the hostels were under our influence. We worked with them, we went there, we addressed meetings and they are the ones who -
POM Unlike the hostels in the Transvaal.
JS Unlike in Soweto or in Johannesburg. This side hostels were on our side. In fact one of the guys who's now working for Ithaba Finance Institution, it was then KFC, was Zulu Finance Institution and it used to support the KwaZulu government to finance certain projects, he came from Klip Hostel and he is now, he is working there, he is a councillor too but I am saying that that is our product. He was quite an ordered person and through these capacity building projects, working with there's another professor, University of Natal, who was in the planning, I've forgotten, Smith, yes, these guys got trained and they were able to move to better positions.
So we won the hostels and then we took up the issue of no rent increase and the rent was not increased. But before that there was also a bus boycott. That is the one that was most enabling because it brought together Lamontville, Clermont and another area, Hambanati and we would go there and have meetings. One of the leaders was I N Mkhize from Hambanati. He was a leader from the Hambanati Residents' area. They had a small hostel there but it was not completely won over.
When we took up the issue against being put under KwaZulu and in a meeting we had with Buthelezi at one point, I'm jumping too much let me say, after the bus boycott and the rent boycott we then created this Joint Residents' Association, JORAC, we changed it from Joint Rent Action to Joint Residents' Committee, and then at the same time Buthelezi was wanting to put us under the KwaZulu government. As part of his efforts at one time we had a meeting with him when he was trying to say that maybe this thing should happen more peacefully, we are his people after all and we should agree. We rejected that strongly, especially the youth element of the delegation. Now I N Mkhize was one of those strong, vocal people in that meeting with Buthelezi and he told him, for instance, that first and foremost he is a South African and not just a Zulu person only and he has a right to his views.
So subsequently after that meeting, of course it did not resolve anything, but Hambanati was attacked very, very brutally by Inkatha and they were driven out of the township. That's why I wanted to mention his name. Eventually they lost their houses there and moved elsewhere.
Then there was the Tricameral Act and we then had a meeting in Johannesburg which was a national meeting to see how we can oppose the Tricameral Act. Boesak was in that meeting, Reverend Allan Boesak. Then the Anti-Tricameral Campaign was formed and that's when the UDF was created. Boesak was very much instrumental in articulating the position. Then formally we had the United Democratic Front opposing the Tricameral Bill and we then have the Durban wing, not the Natal wing, of the UDF where Archie Gumede was in, a lot of other comrades from all the racial groups so it was quite united, including people like Paul David from Stanger, people like the descendant of Mahatma Gandhi (I've forgotten the names).
POM A couple of things so far, (i) the huge influence that Black Consciousness had on you and it seems that most of the people that I talked to who were involved ultimately in Vula were all very much influenced in the beginning not by the ANC but by BC.
JS Because the BCM was not banned so it was audible, you could hear it and also we were more or less in the same age group so we inter-acted and we were all sort of intellectuals whereas ANC you had to go underground before you get it. But once you came across the ANC positions they were quite persuasive and made logic, so for most of the people they were able to easily transcend from BC up to that. I remember that the community based resistance here in Natal they also enabled the students' movement because in my area a lot of students moved from Lamontville and went to different schools and rekindled something there. So we had started earlier on but by the time the student movement had become strong in the country as far as Natal is concerned Lamontville was seen as the base because we would get reports that whenever there is a student from Lamontville in some kind of trouble and what it means is that, for instance, for the ANC then there was a broad base to recruit from for other things.
POM Were you having clashes at that time with Inkatha?
JS Yes we had a lot of clashes, physical fights, because initially Buthelezi's stance was that he will come and intimidate us physically so we will bring Amabatho(?), the sort of militia wing, and it also cost him because we were threatening at that time because we were the alternative. Obviously they could see the connection that is the United Democratic Front which was across colour, across townships, across residential areas, and with him based mainly in the rural areas and amongst the Zulus so you could see that this is an ANC thing and we are going to be a threat. There were a lot of attacks that were initiated by Inkatha as far as I am concerned, they will also say we were troubleshooting. Almost all townships, because he was wanting to intimidate the township by force, and the design of the township if you look carefully you will see that it's a township and then a hostel, a township and then a hostel. So these hostel people have got a strong rural connection and they are migrant workers. At the end of the month or end of the year they go home and reconnect, so when they get home the leadership there, the Chiefs and so on are Inkatha, strong Inkatha, they have to toe the line but when they come here they are workers.
COSATU was also becoming vibrant and COSATU made a lot of good sense and a lot of gains, physical gains. Their money, wages, increased. So they were also members of COSATU. In fact COSATU was one of the organisations that was able to address all the people because they are workers and the workers even though the workers who were supporting that knew that COSATU seems to be more on the left but because it was meaningful to them, beneficial and so on, they supported COSATU and all the calls for strikes by COSATU were very much successful. Only in those factories that already were locked, Inkatha influenced, would not come out because they would be physically attacked but in areas like Durban and other industrial areas the workers would come out.
So in the township there were a lot of clashes. My house, for instance, was attacked three times but our youth was very vigilant. We had a thing there, I don't know where they took it but if one person shouts from this side of the township the thing will relay until, it was like magic, until the other end of the township and the whole youth, no matter what hour almost would stand up and be on guard and we were able to deal with them. There were sad incidents where, for instance, they were led into a trap. One of the instances when they were attacking and we pretended as if they are running away. Some of them they were taken from Richards Bay, that's quite as you go towards Swaziland there's a township there called Nseleni it was under strong Inkatha leadership. So they would force them into buses and come and attack and these were family men, most of their side was not the youth, and then they would maybe take some people from the hostels, KwaMashu, didn't quite win it and so on. So they came to attack and they were led into a trap, they walked right into the centre of the township and we encircled them and some people lost lives. One of them was burned, at that time there was a lot of tyre burning. This guy was bleeding and said he was forced, what about my kids and so, but if we didn't stop him he was going to kill us. So there were such instances.
I remember one time coming from a commemoration. We got a message that they are attacking the commemoration meeting and so we had to drive, myself and NJ had to drive to Umlazi. I was very brave at that time so we just got into the car, we didn't have guns, we went there to check out what is happening. Now only when we were coming out right at the centre when you enter Umlazi there, the road was not like that, there is only one way, then there was this crowd wearing green overalls and we realised, "Ah, this is Inkatha!" And they realised the car, my car, and said, "Ah! This is the men." So they tried to cut my head off but this guy was fast enough and we just went down this way but we had this big gash on the side of the door, passenger seat, because I was not driving at that time and they had clearly recognised that now here is this man because I was most notorious.
There were a lot of such instances but they did not intimidate us and we just said, oh well, we survived. There were also a lot of playing games with the police. For instance when you support at Curries Fountain is a football stadium, sports stadium in town, so this is where we used to have political rallies because it was mainly Indian owned, I don't know whether completely, so it was sympathetic to the struggle so we would have things central there. We had to transport material, Communist Party material, ANC material and then the police will be guarding the township that we can't go through here but we always would find a way just to fool them around. Next thing they'd get a report we are in town and we are distributing something but each time they were so unlucky because they just focused on me and my car, so each time they come around the car and search it, no things have gone the other way. We were central in organising everything but they thought we are carrying everything. We also had created other routes outside the township, not the formal routes and they did not know so we could get out of Lamontville, get into Chatsworth even if they have road blocks and so on.
POM Did you see this as a kind of a war between the ANC and Inkatha for the control of KwaZulu-Natal?
JS Well we saw it as the government using Inkatha for the ANC not to win KZN. We have always seen Inkatha more as a puppet structure. SASO used to articulate, SASO which is BC, a student movement, used to articulate that position very, very strongly so at least for some of us in the leadership we never regarded Inkatha as a genuine force. We always rejected it as a puppet force. Yes maybe for other ordinary people they saw it as a fight between the ANC and Inkatha but we all understood that Inkatha is on the side of the regime. I think the UDF leadership, ANC leadership were very clear that the struggle is against the regime and Inkatha is diverting us.
After the tricameral and the UDF was launched nationally and then at that time, because I've been giving a background where we were working more as residential areas, and then later on different residential areas right across the cover but more of different entities but co-operating. Later on we consolidated into a cohesive Natal mass based residential structure and then when the UDF
POM This was the Natal Residential - ?
JS Civic structure. Then when the UDF was formed then a political wing, a political motherboard to which we all related because remember that concurrently there was also the student movement, struggle against the education system which was engaging the education authorities sometimes, even disturbing the schools, getting destroyed sometimes but anyway because it was also not from nowhere. The directive I remember very clearly, I can't remember the year, but I remember the directive from January when Oliver Tambo was still there, it was to make the country ungovernable. So it's not like we were ad hoc mad and so on, were just being loyal to that directive. For instance, I also participated around my local schools because certain kids, the matric kids were not allowed to repeat but there was all this problem that the conditions are very tough, it's very hard to make it up to matric so they must be given a second chance to try again. So we intervened because we were now strong as residential areas to say you can't do that. They bring in the authorities, the inspectors and so on, we engaged them head on that you can't do that but in our background we understood that we just are making things ungovernable because that's what the movement has called for. It was never really wild destructive and so on, of course it was destructive but we thought we were politically correct, doing the right thing because that is what was required. They also managed to infiltrate us, particularly our area.
POM That's Lamontville?
JS Yes, because it was seen as the cradle of the Natal revolution. Suddenly we had a lot of infiltration. People were accusing us of this. I remember our first attack they were saying, when we had defeated one of the Inkatha attacks and some people had died, then people would say, no we must cleanse the participants. This is a Zulu tradition that you appeal to spirits, clean yourself. I think religiously some people go to God and ask for forgiveness or ask to be clean, something like that, so they said we must slaughter a cow and clean because people have got the blood of dead people and so on. Now we said no, we don't understand because we were very much on the left. The influence was very strong and remember at that time the Communist Party was saying God does not exist. All these unexplainable things, unmeasurable. So we said, no we can't do that because this thing was done by so and so, what do you mean it does exist? And this was one of the beginning entry point to say, ah! These people, they don't want to do the tradition, this and that you know, and some group of old ladies there they actually effectively right up till 1994 worked against us as from those days because we think we are too clever, always creating opposition. In the meantime we knew that the system had gotten a hand in there. There was a lot of infiltration.
After the UDF was launched then we had Natal white co-ordinated work. Strong guys were PG, Billy Nair - Billy Nair was this time outside, they were out of jail. I don't remember all of them, but those that had an impact, I'm saying Diliza Mji and so on and some of the trade unionists we are working together now and planning things. One million signatures and it must happen simultaneously, Natal whites, every township some activists, and we were able also to work as mixed, racially mixed. We will go to KwaMashu, we will go to Clermont and visit house to house. We would plan with the trade union movement this May 1st, it must have an impact. The support was on both sides. Sometimes we disrupted transport so that those who wanted to go to work can't go to work. The trade union will do their thing to make sure that they have worked on the workers.
It also used to happen countrywide because we had these underground meetings. I remember one meeting where we went to Cape Town and we were strategising how to create a national civic organisation. Remember Trevor Manuel was there and other guys but it never got off, was never able to take decisions, but we were able at that time to plan at a national level and execute things at a national level. Sometimes they would be delayed because always there was this strong thing of coming together, at least the leadership, core leadership, physically and we didn't have all the sophisticated things.
POM Were the Security Police breathing down your neck all the time?
JS Yes. No, the police were there. You want me to give details of that?
POM Yes please. So far you're leading this charmed life.
JS So they declared the State of Emergency.
POM Was that in 1986? Across the country.
JS So we were taken in. I sat in jail for the rest of that State of Emergency.
POM How long were you in jail for?
JS Two years. Myself, Mpho Scott and who is secretary of the teachers' organisation, SADTU, in Natal. We were taken in for a full two years.
POM Were you kept in separate cells or were you able to mix?
JS Yes separate cells but it was not maximum security because during the break you would mix, lunch time and so on. Also they didn't know how to handle us because we were OK political, State of Emergency, but we were not accused of any wrongdoings specifically.
POM You were just being detained.
JS We were detained. The police did not know, the prison people did not know how to really handle us.
POM Did they interrogate you?
JS Oh yes, we had a lot of interrogations, in between the Security Branch would come and interrogate us.
POM Would they torture you? Did they abuse you?
JS No, myself I was not physically abused like maybe standing for a long time, but staying in, that was quite a torture and also I'm asthmatic so I used to suffer from asthma every day until they took me to most of the time I went to the hospital of the prison because the blankets, the fluffy things, I inhaled every morning so my chest was like and hissing most of the time I was staying in the prison.
POM There were no beatings you were saying? Where were you being detained, in what prison?
JS Westville Prison, the new prison.
POM So you spent two years there.
JS I spent two years there but also what was interesting is we did not want to rot in there so we started classes, we could still continue the political work and basically all what we went through, the Freedom Charter, we organised we had formal, because we saw that if we don't get ourselves organised and do something we will rot, people will be destructive. We also had a lot of young guys who just wanted to fight because at that time, this is the time we are talking about where there were lots of fights between Inkatha, between some unknown people, because they also used some recruits from the neighbouring countries, people who did not speak the state languages we know, they are looking to get them into the army and they would attack the townships, a lot of fights also with the police because part of the call from the underground was to disarm the police. That way we get the weapons to fight because Inkatha also had good weapons sometimes so ours was to disarm the police and get the weapons.
POM How were you supposed to disarm them?
JS The police? If your neighbour is a policeman you work out your strategy, when he tries to go to work and he's facing that direction you hit him with half a brick and take the gun. That used to happen a lot to some of the police, you get a chance.
POM Were the policemen not afraid to stay - ?
JS They were afraid, yes, because some of them died but what could be done because the regime did not have a special place for them. They were still black and afraid so it was quite tough for them. Even some of the good policemen because they also must go and be seen to be fighting against their people so it was not nice and they had this image, they had been defined as an enemy, a policeman is an enemy so it was very tough. I know just one guy in my neighbourhood, he was very unkind, he was 17 when he was sentenced to 20 years because they killed a policeman and their aim was to take the gun but also they got to the struggle just by the mere killing of the policeman because this was part of the control infrastructure of the regime. His name is Xolani Mthembu, the young man's name, a young bright man. He wrote some letter to Mandela. When Mandela was visiting jails he spoke to him. But that's it, he killed a policeman. So it was very tough for the policemen but that was the call that they are enemies and we must disarm them so that's one of the ways.
Of course we also played, you know for an MK cadre to do an activity, to plant a bomb somewhere, he needs a lot of supportive environment. Some of them we knew they are MKs, some of them we didn't know. For instance, I had a car, at that time I was single so I could afford to get a car, I was a teacher. People thought it was an ANC car but it was just my car that we were using. So sometimes they would take it only to find that it's facilitating to take material A from point A to point B and so on and then I find that the police, security cops, actually and I didn't know myself, but we were playing such roles. I remember for instance when the hostel across from us called S J Smith, they were threatening an attack, so some guys from the MK, one guy visited us and they showed us a limpet mine, a bomb that you plant I think it was just a way of encouragement because they were saying, but that guy was close to us, but looking back I could see they come from MK because he had got this, how can you stop these people? They were just encouraging to say, look you are not alone.
POM At that time, you said earlier that you had won over the hostels. Was there a period when the hostels began to swing in the other direction?
JS In fact, no, what happened is they were trying to take the hostels away from us and they actually learned that they must work on the hostels in Johannesburg because the same thing will happen. As I told you during the Msizi Dube much earlier on, the issue of the black local authorities, the definition of the area of their authority included the hostels because all the hostels were next to the townships so it affected the hostels the issue of rent hikes, rent rise. In our strategising we quickly won them over so we took up the issue with them so they were more on our side. That's when I think they realised that they must work on the hostels quickly, get Inkatha and so on, but with us a lot of the hostels like Kliplands the big ones, across the airport
POM All these big buildings.
JS Yes, we were already with them, working with them, they were on our side just on this issue of rent. The same thing at Kwadabeka, Clermont, same thing in town. The ones that were difficult were S J Smith, the one across Lamontville, because half of it was Inkatha, the one in town and the Hambanati one.
POM Just to get things straight, was Lamontville part of white SA or was it part of KwaZulu-Natal?
JS It was white SA. Lamontville, Chesterville, Hambanati, they were in the white area but they had a different political entity to run the administration, Black Local Authority. That is before the Indians and coloureds are separated from the whites, they were part of the white but they didn't have a vote but later on they were separated. That's when the tricameral they were perfecting the thing.
POM But you weren't under Gatsha Buthelezi? You weren't part of KZN?
JS No we were not part of Gatsha Buthelezi. So we worked on the hostels, we worked on the issue of the Black Local Authorities and we warned a lot of hostels. The one that we engaged with physical fights was the one across, S J Smith, because one of the councillors was also a strong Inkatha person and so he used to orchestrate physical attacks into the township. So when he died, he had a mark here, he got it from the township, we hit him with a brick. What I am saying is that with us it started with the hostels more on our side. I think when they started as Inkatha and the government got clever and said it must not be like that elsewhere, that's when they worked on the Johannesburg hostels and made them very much anti the township and made them attack the township. So when they tried to generalise the strategy it didn't work in Natal because we had already seen it coming and the ANC itself was fast enough, it had a strong base in there so there was actually physical resistance in some hostels for Inkatha to come in. The point is we went there first.
POM So you're in detention from 1986 until 1988. This is just about the time when Operation Vula is being conceived?
JS It starts off then, it was being conceived, because when I came out and then after I continued to work when I came out because, for instance, one of the areas we worked very, very strongly was KwaMashu, it was a difficult area, it had a lot of but me and Mpho Scott we used to work as UDF at that time.
POM I'm seeing him tomorrow morning, Mpho Scott. At a ridiculously early time like 7.30 in the morning.
JS UDF had got him there, he was a very responsible man. And we were under house arrest, after the detention we were under house arrest both of us.
POM Which meant that?
JS We stay at home, we can't
POM You can't work?
JS At least between certain times you would be at home.
POM You'd be at home at six o'clock in the evening.
JS Yes, and so on. So they used to come and check us but immediately they leave we say, "Thank God", we get into the car, we go to our march. Now when they come there, especially maybe we finish at two o'clock in the evening, we are coming back into the township, there are soldiers, road blocks, but the soldiers don't know us. Sophistication was not there, put the picture in the computer and every unit has it, so we just passed through it.
POM Soldiers or policemen?
JS No, soldiers, not policemen, white soldiers and so on, because at that time things were burning, it was quite volatile in many townships. The other thing is that's when there were also a lot of fights between the hostel in KwaMashu which we never really won over although we went there two or three times but we never really got them on our side but we did make some inroads. So they will be attacking the township and then they bring in these soldiers as an excuse to separate us, to maintain peace but the soldiers were actually the enemy element for Inkatha to be able to do this, do that, because without the soldiers Inkatha was quite beatable. They don't know the township and most of them were much older people than the youth. They were working people. People from the hostels are actually working people and they've been forced there against their will some of them, or even if they like you can't go to fight at night because they used to do all of these things at night and go to work during the day. You see the whole section was not right so they were quite beatable, the youth being youth were creative but they will always bring in the soldiers to protect them, do this, do that.
Of course in between, because there was a training camp somewhere in Natal, they had some specialised element. They could train on military it was called the Inkatha Youth Amandla Training Camp. They took youth from all over and said they would give them skills and education and so on but the real thing that was going on there was military training. I've forgotten the name of the area. That's where they trained all the military, fighting skills, let me put it like that. As you would know some of the companies were manufacturing spears, iron spears, very sharp spears so that they can stab properly, not the home-made one. So the Inkatha attacking wing you had two or three or four elements of those trained people but the rest of the people were taken by force because there will be a leader of the hostel and he would say, "This is what is going to happen", then these ten people will go to the next door and say, "Hey, we are going to fight." You can't say no, you'll get killed, you will become an example to get killed there. So most of them, a lot of them were taken by force to go into this activity.
So the psychology was not right, hence a lot of road blocks also. The Security Branch now, the Intelligence people would be part of that because they were looking for the MK people, those that they know because as we know later on a lot of times the Maharajs, etc. used to come in and out so that was an opportunity for them to look for such, or maybe even without the soldiers on guard knowing. That's why we had soldiers at some road blocks but most of the time we would pass free.
POM How were you approached to join the Vula operation?
JS I think we were working together for a long time by that time and so firstly we used to do some individual, as how we were recruited and we used to do the visits to the bases like Lesotho base, Swaziland base because these are seen as different countries so the ANC had some infrastructure there. I used to go a lot to Lesotho. Remember the old sad sack of the soldiers? I had one like that when I was a child, put my few things there, I get into a train.
POM Did you meet and know Chris Hani?
JS Yes I met with Chris Hani. I met with, who is this guy now Minister of Works, Jeff Radebe. There is one incident because I got a message my understanding was that we had got ANC infrastructure, I didn't know how exactly it was defined so sometimes I get called to Lesotho, I go there. Sometimes I get called to Swaziland, I go there, because both sides I had people who know me and we worked together or we grew up together. The one I was saying they left in 1976 with my brother, they were based in Swaziland. So when I got to Lesotho I am looking for this place only to find out, there is another Loyiso who used to be my schoolmate and is now a professor at the University of Roma at that time, so eventually Loyiso then they collect me with him so it means the logistics were not properly worked. So I thought that because he's outside maybe it's him only, to find no it's not him and he was not connected in the movement maybe about that issue. I'm not saying he's not completely connected but he didn't know anything about it so he took me to other guys who we were with at Fort Hare but those guys were PAC. I said I want to go to ANC. Now I explain to them, the PAC guys, now fortunately those were nice people because they were my friends since when we were at Fort Hare and we used to like jazz together, they liked me because I used to be a jazz singer. They understood and they explained that no, this is the wrong mission, but they were not hostile. In fact when I was a student that guy he had invited me to go to his home, New Brighton township in Port Elizabeth, just a friendly visit. This was long before the involvement. I ended up with him but only to find that no, he is PAC and so on so I had to come back after and then they had to rework the mission properly and so on.
One time I came from Lesotho then the next day they said I must go to Swaziland and I met someone. Looking back I think that was Mac, this guy was wearing glasses and a big hat. He's Indian you know. So when I think back I say, "Oh this guy must have been Mac in disguise", but I didn't know him then.
POM Mac was always in disguise.
JS Yes Mac was always in disguise. But I met, who's this other guy who died in a bomb? There are many people who died but we were together at University of Zululand, they also called me in. So we reported to the ANC underground structures in the neighbouring countries and came back to do the work. So I am saying I don't remember exactly who approached me about Vula but it was not difficult because those people I ended up with we were all of high discipline, though I don't remember exactly who it is but whoever it was maybe I don't know whether they used Mpho. I think, yes, I think Mpho Scott took me to a meeting I think.
POM Pravin Gordhan?
JS Yes Pravin Gordhan I know was then at the initial meeting and Mpho Scott. I don't remember who exactly but what I am saying is that if it was Pravin Gordhan for instance then our relationship was too strong in discipline to have a difficulty so he would have put the matter up straight. This is the mission, am I in or not. I know that Pravin spoke to me as well and I said this is a good idea and then we had the first meeting then shortly after that in some house where Siphiwe Nyanda was there and Mac.
POM Mac was there?
JS I think so, yes Mac was there. Ronnie Kasrils came much later. He visited much later.
POM They all seem to be ministers except for yourself.
JS Yes, in fact most of the guys I was saying one day, there are a lot of things I'm speaking about, I don't have my newspaper here, I would show you Murphy Morobe, he's in the finance thing. I said if it was not for this man I would be dead by now. I can't forget that, because I can't thank him because there was it was an education meeting. At that time we were UDF, we were having a meeting, it was at a trade union office just when COSATU was about to be formed, there's a big hospital called King Edward, it's in that neighbourhood they had the meeting and it's in a white residential area. We had a national meeting on education because at that time there is a crisis looking for the way forward and then Inkatha attacked, right there at the Putco buses. That's the other thing, the Putco buses they are also seen as enemy because they used to get tenders from the government and they are an Afrikaner family. Inkatha never had a problem with transportation. With us it was the help of, especially around in Natal, Indian comrades, sympathetic families, friends, they contributed a lot but it was quite a struggle. Inkatha so all of these things could point actually that no, these people are part of the system. Putco was a bad company and we also saw it as enemy.
POM What did you understand the purpose of Vula to be?
JS OK, before that I just want to say this incident. So then they came and we were out there in the yard eating, because there were too many of us and during those times it was just makeshift, some Kentucky, some bread, we were struggling. Then they came so everybody ran and they had to run over the fence. I could not run so they were attacking now, the militia, physically we were maybe some four meters apart and then Murphy Morobe came back and took me, carried me on his shoulder and ran and threw me on the other side and then the other comrades relayed me and so otherwise I would be dead meat by now. I can't forget him you see.
POM I'll tell him that.
JS But for him maybe it was just an incident. So that one was the closest. I also get some other response, I get some reports some time later on, somewhere in the township I met some people and they say, "Hey, we were planning to kill you." They said they didn't even know who this Jabu Sithole is but they were busy planning that, no, we must eliminate this person.
My understanding of the mission Operation Vula is that we needed to consolidate our efforts, our gains and the strategy of the ANC as a whole, sharpen it, because these wings, the four pillars of the strategy used to work separately, the mass mobilisation, the political, the military and the international. At least these three we needed for maximum impact to put them together. My role was to strengthen the mass mobilisation. By strengthen I mean for it to be in line with whatever would have been decided politically, important strategic planning, and we would synchronise. The military aspect, the guerrilla aspect would also be synchronised so that it can compliment maybe timeously for maximal impact and also the political propaganda. At that time the machine was very in fact the leadership from inside was very good and we had many, many good people countrywide but also in Natal because, as I told you, some of us we didn't get formal training as such. It was our own creativity and work things out that this means in practical terms do this, do that and that, and very successful. We were quite strong.
There is no township in Natal I've never been and it was not a problem for me because I just saw it as work, I was just dedicated. So we would go the north of Natal, the west, everywhere, we would go there physically and do whatever it is necessary to do. Sometimes when I learnt to drive I would drive myself and I used to like taking risks like driving alone at night. I don't know what will befall me. But what I am saying is the example that Lamontville for instance when we were ripe politically, community-wise, ANC could distribute pamphlets, it was known we are now beginning to chant ANC openly even though we were civic structures. We also had a good youth structure and we had problematics as well but the assessment, I think, of the ANC, this is good. So they blow up the electrical power station there. It's the last street in the township and we didn't know what is happening all of us so we ran all directions, Chatsworth, what have you, and we were not expecting it because of course if we had known then the risk of it being sabotaged would increase and so on. But, bang, there it went and I tell you it was the whole house that blazed, the lights are off, it was a hell of an experience. The point I'm trying to make is not well synchronised but because we were in that township at that time we understood but after running away then we came back and celebrated, OK, uMkhonto is around. To us it used to be a sign to say, ah yes, because in our songs we always said uMkhonto is there, it will come and defend us and so on so that gives people hope, it gives them a drug because they can do something knowing that they will be defended. That is a type of an example.
The other one was engine, part of it was engine, then there was the medical school where Steve Biko went and so on and then it's the coloured area traditionally and so on. So they blew that thing up, the engine plant, it didn't all get destroyed but nevertheless it was a bending down and shoot and there was such a fear and havoc because also people were thinking the petrol will spill out and burn the whole township and so on. That committee was not so strong as ours, we were quite diverse in terms of the views, political support and so on, but significantly a lot supported. That's where the McBrides come from, remember McBride, yes, yes, that's where they come from. I'm not saying that's his work but I'm saying that's where they come from. Anyway Cliffie is also part of that. You can see it was very difficult because these were working independently. MK was working to maximise its safety and its impact so they cannot take a risk of involving others and so on.
In the meantime here on the mass mobilisation the issues are burning. Sometimes we don't want to pay rent because there was no money. We are not waiting for some political right opportunity, it was just because there is not enough money so we want something to happen now and stop it now. There was that lack of synchronisation. To me it made logical sense that we co-ordinate things so that we can have effective blows when needed.
POM Your function in Vula was to create a nation - ?
JS Right, specialise in the mass mobilisation area and create ideal conditions for whatever particular actions to do that because we had the infrastructure in term of community presence and support and a pool of activists, Natal whites we could summon together and marshal aid, plan A, B has to happen. We had been tested through many, many times, things like distributing pamphlets and let it come by such and such a date, it must come on all townships.
POM After Mandela is released Vula continued.
JS And then we worked on that for a while. For three months then we were caught because some two new cadres came in and something went wrong with them so they got caught and then the others. But I think they had information, there were some sympathetic security guys. I think they had worked their way inside the system because we were able to get sometimes that, hey, we've got to run away, something is going to happen.
POM Why did the operation continue after Mandela had been released and he had declared a suspension of the armed struggle, yet you guys are still working away?
JS As far as I'm concerned I don't know that part because we actually formally went to Mandela's house. Of course it didn't happen immediately but after our release and after this deal there was need for negotiations to get started. I remember we had a chance to discuss that but when we were released we went to Mandela's house, we sat on this side of the table, Mandela was that side and reported back, machine, Operation Vula, this and that, and that's it, the end. So I'm not aware of this continuation afterwards.
POM Weren't you arrested? First of all Siphiwe was arrested, Gebhuza.
JS What I am saying is, I thought you were talking after yes we were arrested. That's what I'm saying after some time we were caught because of those two comrades, maybe it's that name you mentioned. The other one who was very good Mbuso Tshabalala, he got eliminated, he was also a teacher and he used to work in the South Coast, come back every weekend. I must tell you this interesting story, now that you are asking questions I can remember some of the things. As you say I must just talk, especially the sad parts I don't keep in my mind.
POM Yes, just talk.
JS OK. So they are the ones who got caught and I know Mbuso was killed, maybe also that guy. There was also another very strong, highly disciplined, Mbuso's brother, he's still around. Talk to him, ask Scott about him.
JS Mbuso's brother.
POM Yes, I've talked to him, I've talked to Vuso.
JS OK, Mbuso's brother was Vuso, OK, the names sound the same, Mbuso, Vuso. We heard something's going on here, we can't account for so-and-so and so-and-so. Then we were arrested. But I am saying, this is what I was explaining, that maybe we had some contacts within the security, some of the security guys were good because there was a warning that we must disappear but unfortunately one did not do that immediately so I got caught. At that time we were still operating under banning order, under home arrest, under the detention, but we were still doing these things.
POM Even after Mandela was released?
JS No, after Mandela was released -
POM I'm going from Mandela is released in February 1990 then Gebhuza is arrested in June or early July of 1990, Mac is arrested and then you guys are all arrested.
JS Arrested. OK.
POM That was June 1990.
JS All right time sequence. When these things started, Operation Vula discussions, we were still under house arrest. That's the point maybe I was making and I don't remember the exact sequence. Then we did some activity, planning reports because we used to get reports in a way that it does not give all details. The role was know as much as you need to know. For instance I wouldn't have details of what the military aspect was doing but we would know that it has this capability and that capability. Then we got arrested for three months. I was in Pretoria maximum prison. The reason why I went there was because they put me in the new Brighton Beach cell and I almost died there because my asthma was like this, it was dirty, dust, I just could not sleep there the whole night. I was standing trying to breathe. I remember I left my pair of shoes there because the following day when they saw my condition then they transferred me. It was winter, they transferred me to Bloemfontein and it was so cold there and there I stayed in the prison hospital again. I don't remember the name of the prison. But again they gave me seven blankets, fluffy blankets, so nothing got better and the doctor said, no, they sent you to the wrong place. My asthma was like so then they took me to Pretoria maximum prison and in that cell I was in they used to move me from cell to cell, I never used to stay, I don't know why but I never used to stay in one cell. For those three months maybe I've shifted three times. But one of the cells was where McBride was in, the father, because McBride the son - there was some documentation. Oh, the second cell, the other one they left (Break in recording)
Our lawyers were very good, Yunus Mohammed and that network, they were serving us.
We used to get some newspapers, we were not denied newspapers, so we looked at how can we synchronise, how can we do something inside to complement what was going on outside. We were also setting dates which were strategic, maybe December (it was not December) but setting women's days, so we organised something inside here. We asked for a service, church service, religious service so that they can call the other detainees who were at different sections of the jail. We all come together. Maybe one of the two warders, prison warders, are friendly and we pass a message and we made a lot of demands, we went to talk ourselves, maybe went to talk. Then we just become ungovernable inside the jail.
So, it's important to say that even when we were inside we never stopped to study and we actually did things so that our presence was felt but more so to enhance the struggle and we had this sort of set of lawyers, a very good network who themselves were activists. They were Yunus Mohammed. I must tell you something about Zoe Mbele who came from local the Mxenge connection. Do you know Griffiths Mxenge? He was a lawyer, but I will come back to that. They would know that we are planning something. The hunger strikes, all of this we also used to orchestrate so that the media will resonate with something real here. All of that I think people were observing, were tests that we have it or not. Even when we were inside we continued with the struggle and we planned and our own creativity.
Then I'm going back to the inside maximum prison, Pretoria, Operation Vula this time. So in that cell I realised it was McBride because there was some documentation and some newspapers and that's for the first time I got to know they are looking for the Minister of Water.
POM Ronnie Kasrils.
JS Right, Kasrils, because in that newspaper I saw and it was in Afrikaans and I did understand, I can read two, three lines. I've told my mind not to know Afrikaans, I regret it now because it's one of the languages but I don't know, I just understood what was needed to pass that exam but I don't know it now. I saw his picture and I thought, oh something is going on, but of course I was alone. there was nothing.
The other good thing, the moment I arrived in Pretoria maximum prison I never got sick one day until I left. I used to be happy, sing, I liked whistling and singing jazz. The Africans used to say, "What is he singing for?" It was just like my nature, partly I was supposed to be a musician I think so when I'm not really feeling depressed I just sing about - I saw McBride was here but by the Then they shifted me to another cell and I found communist literature, what was the name of the book? I can't remember the name, but they were talking about the guy who was one time a street person in Russia before the takeover of Lenin, I don't know whether he's Gorky or what.
POM I know the guy. Not Kerensky? No.
JS He was a street person, he stayed with a prostitute, like the street children, but he came back in the new government and became an important person or a minister. He re-engineered, he worked, turned around some of the youth, had become engineers, scientists from being the street children and those are the things the communist system would boast about. Everyone has a potential they can achieve. I read that book in jail, maximum prison, a communist book. I remember, is it a proverb? Yes it is a proverb, something with a meaning, which says, 'A crack in time becomes a hole'. A little crevice. There was leadership and I felt that they were doing some of the things we were also doing, resisting the then regime and visiting people, organising. I found also that some of the things were what Gatsha Buthelezi was doing. Human beings are alike. For instance some of the times he would call the people into some kind of stadium and give them glasses, cups and glasses and brandy. I said just like Chief Buthelezi, slaughter a cow, a lot of Zulu beer. This was most amazing to me because we didn't have exposure from outside really. A lot of our politics base from inside.
POM You got all your banned literature in the prison?
JS Yes! The other thing that made Mandela's story easy for me to understand and for many other people, because you are in the jail, you are sitting with your guard inside there and this guard is an Afrikaner guy, some of them were young, some of them were old, very, very co-operative and sometimes some of them voluntarily AWB, they go out and mess up, because even at that time there was still a lot of engagement. But you can't just sit like this no matter how you hate a black person the whole day, day after day after day. Humanity forces you to interact. So this guard he started playing, he didn't know English, he's an Afrikaner, these are ultra-conservative guys. I don't know Afrikaans. Maybe he'd start asking a question about disability, I'm used to that, I'm always asked, but then he started playing the word games.
PAT Like crosswords?
JS Yes, and there's also the other one where you put
JS Yes, the Scrabble, with the dictionary. These were the games with McBride and whoever they played because some of the things were in the cell and for me I'm struggling not to be defeated by this Afrikaner, for him to say 'not a kaffir'. So by the time he comes back it's now like a football game, it's now between me and him and Real Madrid because I don't want to lose my dignity. I do engage, if he wins today But if I try to find out what's happening there are the cautions and he would just give me some news but they said very, very little. Maybe once if there is something negative in the Afrikaans paper, the Citizen, they bring it in. But the interesting one was also the younger guys. They used to play chess on a small electronic board. He's on duty, so that he's not bored. I say, "Hey, I can play that." "Oh, you can't!" Incidentally I started learning chess in jail, in my detention, and I became very fond of it afterwards but now it takes too much time so I don't do it. All the other guys we would do the exercise, I didn't do that so I began to learn so I became very good at it. It's not a long time before the detention and this Operation Vula detention so the moment I saw it I went crazy, I said, "Chess!" So eventually he let me play, so we played. I defeated the electronic machine and he could not take that. The prison guys are also like ordinary guys. I think they went to tell each other. They were now competing to come and guard me so that they can play with me, play the chess, the younger ones even. But, what do you call that game? Scrabble, that was between me and this Afrikaner. He used to tell me stories about Chinese women and all those crazy things about them. I said, "OK, Chinese women are very nice but oh, when they get old!"
The one hard time I had there was when they forced me to clean the cell because it was quite strenuous and so on. That had an effect and I realised that I'm in that situation and I cried and cried. There was one interrogation only in my stay there, one interrogation. Maybe, I don't know whether the people who were doing the main interrogation were in Durban, maybe one or two, I didn't have many. The other one I always used an excuse, tried to go and look for medical appliances. They just peeped through the window - oh, look at the outside. But when we were in Durban for detention they took us to King Edward. Then we had a network there, people who come from the township, comrades, so we would scribble things and pass messages. So that one was nicer. Yes, that's it.
POM After you spent three months in Pretoria, and then you went to trial?
JS No we didn't go to trial.
POM The whole thing was forgotten?
JS We were released because this is the same time when they are negotiating the nature of settlement. I was praying, hoping that this thing better work. I was thinking, oh my God, it's going in there for life or something like that if it doesn't. That's what I used to ask the people, "Hey, what about this communist ." That's what they told me. In the meantime I wanted to know how are these negotiations because even when Operation Vula was on and before we were caught the talks were beginning and then when we came up, no I was not in the big negotiations, just in the peripheral, but I participated in the Transitional Local Government in Natal because the local government was given to us community based strugglers because we were in the country and therefore we had worked out how the local government must be, we had worked out some elementary option there because we had our intellectual machines. This side in Durban there were some or other NGOs who had some specialist intellectuals in those fields. The other was some strong guys, some guys from Wits and so on, so there was a lot of thinking.
In the settlement, as well as the housing, in the settlement it was established that there must be a Local Transition Act first while it's being ironed out into a more formal act. Then there was also, because in the end when the negotiations about this political violence it resolved and it was seen as a housing problem and hence the National Housing Forum was created which included the hostels. In the townships we were saying get rid of these hostels, it's not proper and so on, but some of the guys from the COSATU far left they were saying, "Hey, man, you've got hostels all over the world. Anyway what are you going to do? You can't throw them away and so on." So in the end it gave us space to say, no, this is a housing problem and hence the Housing Forum. So when Slovo came out he worked in housing and the policy, the guideline, that he was using then came from that Housing Forum which was from the disadvantaged people, mainly the people who had been community based as well as the local government which was transitional. It was also mainly people who had been community based.
POM What did you do when you came out for work?
JS That one is very interesting because I never got fired here. This is the University of Zululand. First when I started at a girls school, Inanda Seminary, but I was recruited, I was always active in Lamontville, and then we got a message that one teacher is actually a government spy. He ran away from Swaziland, he gave out information against some of the cadres and the bomb death of one of them was Mdu from KwaMashu, there were about three people dead when they are asleep, they were bomb killed. Later on a message came I don't know whether I can say these things now. You know Phumzile Ngcuka, she's in Trade and Industry? You know Ngcuka? He's ombudsman and then his wife comes from Natal. I know at one time he was with Alec Erwin in the Department of Trade. I think now he's rescheduled for other, I've forgotten, but Phumzile
JS Redeployed, yes. He was a teacher and I was a teacher there. We needed to work a way for the MK to come in, get rid of the guy. We mobilised very, very effectively but then the job was not done because it was going to come back to me. They gave me a platform, I used to do news analysis, and being a new recruit so I just took that platform and gave it to the kids so I was too angry. I was not diplomatic, I would say this, this, this, and this is not right and the kids took it up. There was an American teacher, there were volunteers.
POM Why were you angry?
JS Why was I angry? Because I had been angry because I knew the system was not right and also it was part of my mission because now I've joined more formally the ANC to fight it. You can't fight nicely if you're not angry enough.
POM Sorry, is this after your release?
JS No, no, no, I'm going back, I'm going back as a teacher and I'm saying one of the persons who we worked with he's running a department in parliament and one of the missions in that school, there was this guy, Morake, he was eventually gotten rid of elsewhere, but the first attempt, one of the few attempts, was in there but it was going to come back on me because my profile in that space of reading news was openly political and already the students were beginning to be critical about this because this was a religious institution. I was also a communist, you see I was recruited and we were using the church venue, hall, and this American teacher spotted that it was a white lady, she said, "No, how can this man talk like that in the pulpit and so on." Then I had a network already so one of the things we were getting of this teacher now, he was also a maths teacher. One of the students, one of the bright ones, is a doctor now. She had some kind of disease that comes off and on so she would just go numb but she dictated to a volunteer to write the test, could not write the maths test, then she got one of the girls and would tell her what to write. She was very bright, Togo Zondi, and she passed with distinction, beat the whole class. Quickly they connected but also where she comes from the brothers or sisters were activists. So when I spoke these things they connected because the whole environment was as black people we were talking about those things and the need to do - I'll tell you why for instance the Black Consciousness Movement made sense because they showed us, black Americans, they didn't show us blacks from Africa. Africa was like low, low, nothing you can get and maybe it's not accidental, that's why some of us got to know jazz rather than the rest of African music from Africa. So when Malcolm X, because they are also in the thirties, came about and because there was a communication in the SA government beating America and so on and pass that type of media, propaganda, it was a listenable alternative in relation to our situation. When I was in America recently I said, ah OK, I could see that all of these thing come from Malcolm X because he was also quite militant. I think that's one of the values there, the existing guy is, they also say he's too much of a militant, even the blacks are sceptical.
JS Farrakhan! Now where I was staying is Pascal Centre, Atlanta, this is where Martin Luther King used during then. It was the first hotel to be owned by blacks during then, now they've changed it into hotel, holiday time and university residence, accommodation residence. So there has been this connection and so eventually I heard that Farrakhan was coming around and so I went when they were organising for one million family march, not men march, and it was very good to hear his motivation, why it's important, because there are a lot of separations, family breakdowns among the blacks and also to be reminded, something that one ought to have understood, that for a long time blacks as slaves were not allowed to have families. They were owned as separate entities, they could not fall in love, be a family and so on. All of a sudden it made sense and I didn't understand why they were scared not to support this guy. So when I told them I'm from the rally, hey there was big talk. They say, "Yes, he's good but I wouldn't join him." Why I'm saying this is because in that rally he mentioned that he is sorry for his part of the act that caused Malcolm X to be killed because they were like one entity and then the internal politics, just like we had ours here, so he said some bad things. They are very religious African Americans, very, I tell you!
OK, so why I was saying this is because I am talking about
POM How you ended up here.
JS Yes, then from there I got expelled because the kids, there was an uprising, we don't want this teacher. The activists among those students and the key one was this lady who is now a doctor, and they knew the politics when they found some other reasons for themselves not to want a teacher. This guy, I remember we were sitting like this at a table and I think, as you like, he wanted to (get rid of me) because he could see that it's all coming from me. At that time too this man is a sell-out, you yourself you want to kill him. So I got expelled and then I got employed here in August and that was main campus. The main campus is in Zululand, Empangeni.
PAT What year is this?
JS This is 1982. Then I work and struggle at the university for five days and then for three days, Friday I come back to Lamontville and struggle. There was no stop for me. So I did all these other things in Lamontville so when they were infiltrating, it's one of the issues they would pick up against me, they say I am employed by Gatsha myself, I am a sell-out and selling the community because Gatsha Buthelezi was the Chancellor to this university. For the ordinary people Chancellor means he owns that thing and also this thing is in there it was Zulu Empangeni which is more like in the old KwaZulu. Can I tell you what now? You know the Chancellor, who is the Chancellor now here? Zuma, Jacob Zuma is now the Chancellor. So at the main campus I was present there and very much active when Inkatha attacked the students and killed the students in there. One guy, Sithole, is in the military, he was a very, very highly motivated guy, so when they tried attacking he was still a student the councillors and so on because I was active. We went to the rural areas around there. Some of them are like semi urban, semi rural and we were able to work with the youth there and they will find me at the university and sometimes I would go with my friend NJ, in the first cell. In fact that's the only cell I made. I never had any revision of the ANC cells, they just disappeared except for the Communist Party together with Noziswe, you know Noziswe? She's also in parliament. She's married to an English person, a person with an English name.
JS Yes. Now he came to my room at one o'clock. He's carrying a gun like that. "I've just shot some Inkatha councillors", and he wanted a place for the night. One of the students, I don't know what happened to that guy because he was a student for all of his life, never finished, he moved from this university, but he was an activist but then there were also lots of stories. So it brought him to me because he knew I'm an activist so he slept for the night. After that hand him over to his and I went outside to the MK. I only saw him after he was he had a temple like this. When they tried to attack him he got the gun and visited them house to house and tried to shoot those Inkatha councillors and then he had to leave the country because he wouldn't have survived the following day. He's also a Sithole, Madla Sithole. I don't know what portfolio he holds now.
But then the building up of those activities, we call it Ingwoyi. Ingwoyi is the name of the mountains so we just call it Ingwoyi. This one is called Opiwing, because opi is a wing, a wing of a bird, a peak in Zulu. They tried to stop me, they couldn't fire me because it's also now the sensitive time. We were calling for economic boycotts, sanctions, we were calling for this and so the ANC is kicking now outside and everyone inside can feel something is going on. Although they know but they're not brave enough to take a stand and say you are fired. So they tried to inconvenience me as much as possible so that I can resign. They took away my house, but I continued lecturing, and it was a school house. First they had a policy that you must get the house yourself. Now you may not think this is odd but this was odd then because there was Group Areas Act and this is just a piece here and people in these rural areas, you can't go and look for a place so it's different from Ireland where you can just go and look for accommodation because there is business accommodation. You know what I'm saying? I stayed in a hotel for two days.
After that they gave me a house inside the campus and then I became hot, active, because I was liasing with the students and they could trace it back. Then there was this man, he's still there, I've forgotten his name, he's chief of security, and he was coming from Rhodesia, it's now Zimbabwe, he was expelled after the settlement, Ian Smith, he's still there, I've forgotten his name. He was sharp, he was a security guy and he had a revenge to fix and get rid of all the nonsense. McKay, his name is McKay.
They take away my house and all of a sudden I don't have housing. Oh my God! Where am I going to sleep? Right, I got my things in my office and I think I'm sleeping in the office. I got one of the friends, Mr Qunu(?) he's up there, teaching computers, a bright man, he got me a foldable bed in my office. I sleep in the office, I go in the bathroom in the laboratory, I wash in the morning, go to teach. My office was inside a block which had chemistry lab, it's still like that now. They just lock the block so that I cannot go in the office. The next challenge was how to beat these people, play games, so that each time they lock I'm already inside but they will not see me going inside. I did that successfully, I just hide somewhere in the lab or in the toilet. I hear them lock and lock and lock. I go to my office and fall asleep. They never managed to force me and then I got, because they just took the house away like that, I got some house at the entrance of the university. I don't remember the details but one of those old houses so I got in there.
Now students were running into my house, coming there to sleep and so on because during the build up and during the attack, oh one of them, I think she must be something, she was very good that lady from Pietermaritzburg, Makosi(?) I can't remember the surname. Strategise, do things and so on. I'm going to Professor Zulu, he's at University of Natal, he will give me I didn't have the car. I had a car but I left it here and that's why people thought it was the ANC's car because I left it for use, so I get a lift. He's now in the Board of Broadcasting. I think they were just looking for black professors. Anyway, he used to give me a lift to Durban and back.
So until 1983 or something, but I got a transfer to Durban. I continued being active. That's when I lost out because for that period of 20 years I never continued my academic endeavour and almost thought maybe I'll end up being a political sometimes I will look at a maths book and I find it bores me. I was completely into the struggle at that time and then came the State of Emergency. They never got to fire me because it was a hot issue to tamper with, its nature, because even the Helen Suzmans (what do you call them not serious opposition, the Black Sash and so on, there's a political word you use), liberal so to speak, who were listened to, they were challenging all this and so the university did not want to embarrass and also the Vice Rector at that time, so he understood politics very well. He was handling this thing. Maybe if it was another person he would say, hey, that bloody inefficient they'd find an excuse and get rid of me, but he understood but he never would raise it. I know that he understood because we know from our political sources who were the members of the Broederbond and what they were up to. I even remember after I came back and there was this new government then, he was asking the same question, "Why are you not in parliament?" and he was telling me I'm afraid to go because maybe he was thinking that maybe I'm just staying because the university didn't expel me.
Even sometimes I met some security guys, they will say, "Why are you not in parliament?" And in fact they put it much stronger, they say the ANC owes you because of the nature of the sacrifices and they were visible. If a task was to be done, I remember one day it was raining and they said, "Guys we must distribute pamphlets." And then guys were getting sissy, "Oh, it's raining", this and this. I got on my raincoat, I took my crutches, I went out and went because I know I will not melt. I've got my raincoat, give out what needs to be given, get a raincoat, I walk slowly. I will not melt, come back. My dedication was both mental and physical material at that time because I believed the problem had to be solved because it was a burden to me as an individual as well but in the country and also because I believe it's good to have a better country.
So those things for instance when I was interacting with the other African people when I was in America, I would tell them, no, but you see with us they used to ask, "What is going to happen when Mandela goes?" And I tell them, "No, things will continue as we want them because you see (i) we have many potential, (ii) we really believe in democracy", because we have been trained like that. Our training schools were all this engagement and they work because for the sense we would make sure that elections are taking place for the branch at the end and we make a big fuss about this if they don't happen, because we say you know how the communists are. Looking back we can say oh these things were really like training so we understood, we want democratic elections, we want democratically elected people and these things became values. It was not because Mandela said in one voice, in one instant, that there must be a democratic SA, but over time the thing was argued for, repeatedly discussed and so on. For those reasons therefore, and there were many people that were trained, therefore for those reasons people are not going to give away -
For instance most of us we know that Oliver Tambo was very strong and maybe if he did not die maybe he would have been - . Most of these key leaders of the ANC understood that but we also knew that it is important to hold high the name of Mandela and so on. We made it so because also the leadership decided so and because we went out strategically that it is good so and we therefore perpetuated that it be so. It's not the other way round, charm. I'm not saying Mandela doesn't have charm, he has his own charm because he has all his stories as a youth and they say, "Wow! this was a man", but we also perpetrated it. We knew that the movement was made by the people who said that.
The question of reproduction was very much strong in the ANC training and propaganda and so on. We must reproduce ourselves because I think the advance elements, the communist element, they are the most advanced and no-one is indispensable.