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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
05 May 2002: Scott, Mpho
POM Let's start with some background about yourself, your parents, schooling and how you first became involved in the liberation movement, what moved you to say 'I must fight and get involved'. Was it a series of small things, was your family political or was it just an accumulation of events that led you to do so? Let's start there first and then we can move on to what you were doing and how you became involved in Operation Vula and what you did in Vula.
MS I'm Mpho Innocence Scott. I am 37 years old. I was born in Durban in 1965 on 14 October. I grew up in Lamontville but my parents came from Mafikeng so they came here to work in Durban so that's how we landed in Durban. I went to school in Lamontville from the first year Grade 1 up to Grade 12, that was in Lamontville High School. That was in 1983. During the period where I was at Lamontville High School I got involved in the student movement. At that time we had an organisation called Congress of South African Students, which is COSAS. I was the Branch Secretary of COSAS in Lamontville and I also became the Publicity Secretary for the Natal region which today is known as KwaZulu-Natal Province. I was Publicity Secretary then. During that period I was also part of the Lamontville Maliyo(?) which was Masibambale(?) Lamontville Youth Organisation which was operating in Lamontville. The reason to get involved with the youth was that all the problems that we had then, and there were a number of challenges that we were facing in the community which were related to rent, that were related to bus fares and so on, and a number of other issues. So it was important to begin to get involved in the community issues at that time.
POM You knew then Jabu Sithole?
MS That is correct. We were working with Jabu Sithole, working with L… Sinodi (Sinodi is an MEC for Local Government in the Free State today) and Baba Dhlamini and others. There was also Reverend Quntu who was in Lamontville. There was Florence Mkhize who died some few years ago who was a veteran in the struggle and so there was Mzizi Dube then in Lamontville who was the leader in Lamontville then. So the community organisation was important at that level to get involved so I got involved through the Lamontville Youth Organisation that was there. We were involved in a number of issues that related to community issues and it's where we started also to interact with a number of townships where we played a key role in terms of the setting up or establishment of the residents' associations, the youth organisations and we began to interact with a number of youth organisations in Natal in particular across the racial lines, that is the coloured and the Indian youth organisations. I was also part of the setting up of what was called then the Youth Forum, Natal Youth Forum which was an umbrella body bringing in all youth, all those who seemed to be political and those that were social in order to share their experiences of different areas and so on. These things happened in the period of the eighties.
Since then what then happened is that we began to more one way or the other in some of the activities of the ANC underground. That was through distribution of the literature for instance which was coming from outside. We were involved in some of those units that were distributing the material of the ANC around, the propaganda in particular. Then too we were in small cells there that were operating but also seeking to influence the things that were happening in different organisations, whether it's the youth, whether it's the residents, and to ensure that there is co-ordination, to ensure that we intensify and strengthen the struggle so the ANC then began to be able to make an input in terms of the events that were happening but through the structures that were happening in the mass mobilisation.
The other thing it was the question of collection of reports from different sectors in terms of ensuring that those reports do go outside and the contacts were through Lesotho. Jabu, I think he might have spoken about it because also he had the contact through Lesotho and, two, there were also contacts through, for instance, Swaziland and later on also through Mozambique. So those were a channel of information in terms of going out.
POM How would you take the information? Would somebody just take the information physically and carry it out?
MS It was the reports so what we had, what we called DLBs, DLBs is where you take that thing and drop it somewhere else, at a particular spot.
POM Dead letter box.
MS A dead box and someone else will pick it up. Who would pick it up it was none of your business as long as it has been sent. We'd get a message that they have received it and that was enough. So it was through those systems. It was not us physically going there. So it was through those systems. It was not us physically going there. That's what happened.
I think in 1983/84 I began also to work with AZASO. AZASO was a student organisation that was operating at a tertiary level and we tried to work towards coming up with an education charter. We were saying that it's important that as a student movement we begin to talk around certain issues or rally around certain issues because from time to time the situation was changing and our demands were ever changing. So we wanted something that would be a guide in terms of what we want. We had a number of meetings nationally and also here I was working with Billy Ramakgopa, he's a doctor now, he's working at Johannesburg Hospital. He was an activist, a well disciplined member of the ANC, he was operating in some structures there. We tried to work towards that but I think things were moving fast then so that structure couldn't hold. We wanted to set up something separate out of the student movement and run it as a campaign and that did not work out. So that idea was dropped after some months.
I became also in 1984 the co-ordinator for the region, it was called Regional Education Crisis Committee. That Regional Education Crisis Committee was affiliated to National Education Crisis Committee which was a body bringing together the parents, the students and everyone who had interests in education because we had a very serious problem from 1976 moving upward in the education sector particularly in the black areas and so on. So there was this body that was there that attempted now and again to engage the government then and I was the regional co-ordinator in Natal and at one point I was also the key organiser for the conference of the NECC which took place here in Durban, it was a national conference to look at how do we take forward the education struggle and deal with the issues that are facing students and the challenges of education then. I can say that it was during that period that we also played a role in terms of ensuring, because at some point there was a gap where what you could see in Natal in the areas it was more of the youth people that were involved in all sorts of struggle. One of the reasons was the harsh conditions in Natal of repression.
In Natal then, for instance, if you look at the townships there are a few townships like Lamontville, Chesterville, there was also Hambanati Township, those were areas that were termed to be in the white area, they were governed by a particular board, Bantu board, at some point and later it was Port Natal something.
POM They weren't part of Buthelezi's - ?
MS No, they were termed to be in the white area and if you go and apply for an ID, for instance, you will be given what is called Section 10A. It means you stay within the borders of the white area for work but then you also have – it's not a big distance from Lamontville to Umlazi for instance and KwaMashu, those areas were under KwaZulu government so they were then categorised differently. They were not under Section 10A because they were taken as people who are coming from some rural place or whatever but below, into a homeland. Some of them had what was called Section 10C, for instance. It means they are out of the white South Africa. They also had their own police force which was KwaZulu Police so there was no political activity that was allowed in those areas. Yes, all over it was not allowed but it was more harsh in those areas than any other area since 1979 moving forward. It was quite bad and as a result you find that a number of the elderly people were not that much involved. People who were prepared to sacrifice, to engage with the system you would find that it was the youth mainly. You find that in Natal, even if you look at the UDF, you look at whatever, particularly in the African areas it was the youth people who were much more in the forefront, much more vocal, much more organised and much more key in terms of even the residents or civic movement and so on. So our role that we were playing together with Jabu and others was more of building and strengthening these civic youth organisations in these areas and some activists from AZASO for instance, like Billy Ramakgopa and others, they were also involved in some of those things. There was that concerted effort to build the organisation under whatever conditions. Some had to operate semi-underground in order to survive, rural areas where it was not possible to penetrate because once it is known that you are part of any organisation it was a difficult one. That meant that nothing else - and your family could also be removed forcefully in those areas under the KwaZulu government.
Those were harsh realities that we were facing and that we had at that time and that's why at some point there was a need to defend our own people and also the organisations and the self defence units were formed then because there was a lot of violence in Natal in particular that was taking place.
POM Was there any interaction with Inkatha at that point?
MS At that time I would say where for instance people organised themselves into an organisation, whether it's youth or civic or students, Inkatha will go and attack those people. If it's students they will go and attack them at school and those were harsh realities that we were facing at that time. What it meant for some students was if you join a student movement it's just like you want to leave school. If you join a youth organisation it means you want to leave your home. So there were a number of displacees, people that were displaced then that you find that that started during that period in Natal where people were running away from violence. At that time violence had not that much intensified but it was all over.
One of the key weapons that people were using to communicate with people was through distribution of pamphlets, make sure that they are there on their doors and so on. I remember that during the UDF days where the campaign, what we called One Million Signature Campaign, and what we used to do because it was a fact of life that some people feared to come out and to be seen, so to strengthen them or whatever we used to organise people from all areas so we would go in big numbers with T-shirts and go to those areas and move around and talk to people, go house to house, make sure that people go in groups so that there is that big presence that it won't be an easy thing or where people can think once or twice to say let us do X. That helped because for the first time we were able to reach some areas. They were able to see this UDF which was always in the propaganda machinery here through TV. It was something that was always pictured or painted as an evil thing so for the first time people were able to interact and talk to people. It was very effective in that sense. Too, during that period we also used to have blitz in town during busy days like Fridays and Saturdays and also engage with people so we used other means to communicate with people, not normal ways, and that was reflected through the rallies that we used to organise then.
POM When you would go into a township to collect signatures going door to door or whatever would you be attacked by the IFP?
MS If it's a small group, you are known, you stay in that area, it was quite a difficult assignment to do, very difficult assignment too do. That's why we decided to go in big numbers where we organised kombis and in some instances buses where people go in big numbers. It was really big numbers where you have 1000, 2000 people at one go. We go to X section, to Z section, we cover it so we are able to do that. And too, some people did not want to be seen to be talking to UDF people because they don't know whether they are going to be attacked so you will find that's the way also, those kinds of situations that we had at that time.
PA The security forces would arrive?
MS The security forces, it was quite a problematic one because looking at, for instance, here, I was saying that we had KwaZulu Police who had their own security structure which was called BOSS at that time, then you had the SA Police and they had their own security branch. Over a period of time they were operating together and, for instance, you had Military Intelligence which had their own units that were operating in different areas and they killed a number of people those units. And, two, they were operating on their own and if you remember at some point Botha set up that structure under National Management Security System so that Joint Management Committees were all over. Natal during that period you will find that there were a number of bombs, more bombs used to explode here than anywhere else, than Jo'burg or Cape Town. It was here where the military action of the MK used to take place and I think, as I said, that the conditions were much harsher. When you push people to a particular corner you tend to create more people who want to do something and that's a fact of life. I think that's the situation that we had.
As a result there was too much focus on Natal from the security branch and from security forces. There were units that they established and some were operating from hospitals, like KwaZulu Police for instance and Inkatha. They set up some operations where they trained people at Ulundi and at Mandileni Camp and some of them were trained in two smaller units which were funded, they were full time funded, by the KwaZulu government and they operated from, for instance, the hospital. There's the Mission Hospital at Umlazi and there are nurses quarters that are there. They used to operate from there, that was used as a base to go and attack and come back to those areas and over time the SA Police and KwaZulu Police formed certain units which were operating openly as a cover-up wherever they have been attacked, where people or houses have been attacked or people killed, those were cover-up units that they will go as if they're investigating and remove whatever that could be used as evidence in court, anything that was touched with them. They were operating, for instance, in the new section at Umlazi and here in town which was covering a number of areas, they were operating at Durban Station. There was a police station that was there. So that unit, their job was just to cover up for whatever was happening.
That's why if you look at Natal there has been this culture of killing with impunity. That's why you've had a number of deaths that were termed black on black which was not black on black. Yes it was black people that were being killed but in some instances you will find that there were Military Intelligence units that were involved in some of that violence and, two, you had people who were in the public or the police which was called Stability Unit at that time, that Stability Unit. So that thing was also used to carry out a number of attacks.
Around Inanda, for instance, it's one of the biggest areas here in Natal, around Inanda they were operating there and some of the people who were heading those units are known and they were known, that was raised but nothing was done. I used to work in negotiations now and again in the nineties when I was then in the leadership of the ANC in Southern Natal region. Do you know that the people who are involved are the same people that would be sent to talk to you or to engage with you? Those are some of things that were happening in the eighties.
Then in 1986 I was arrested with Jabu. We were detained on the same day. At that time we were detained under Section 50. Then the following day a state of emergency was declared. I think we made a terrible mistake because we had had information a week before that there is going to be a major clampdown so we should not sleep at our homes or we should be away from our homes. But because we were working till late, most of the time we used to produce our own pamphlets, it was not like what is happening today where you just go to a company to do it. If there is something to be done we were the ones that were doing it. Two, you had areas where the security forces had set up gangsters like there was a team, for instance, operating in Chesterville so they formed some gangsters to destabilise townships that were organised which were funded by the state. That caused us to move from time to time and interact. We were playing more a role in terms of strategising, in terms of how to deal with those situations. So on that day I think I was coming from Chesterville, on that night, so Jabu was coming from somewhere else, he was working at Umlazi. The houses that we usually used in terms of where we used to sleep I think it was in winter, late at night, dark, sometimes you come home, you come to those houses, you go there late at night, you feel that you are giving trouble to those people there and so we decided that, no, let us take a chance. We spoke about it, we knew that let us take a chance today. He went to his house, I went to my house but it was clear that our movements were monitored. So then the army came, they parked their cars at the office, I think they did take a walk of about one kilometre from the office, it was the army security branch. They left their cars so they did take a walk. They came to my house and his house and we were picked up then. That's how we were detained.
We were taken to Westville Prison and then the following day we were transferred to the state of emergency so we were staying in E6 in the single cells because we were told that we are dangerous. We were just in solitary confinement. We were told that we are A group, it's the most dangerous detainees that should not interact with anyone. We were locked up 22 or 23 hours a day. They used to open those big doors so they can bring in food inside your cell, you can eat, after finishing then they close that big door again. The used to do it during breakfast in the morning, which was seven o'clock, lunchtime was eleven o'clock and supper was two o'clock.
POM Two o'clock?
MS Yes! Supper was two o'clock.
POM Were you interrogated?
MS Definitely, yes. We were interrogated by different units and I was accused of a number of things, of being involved with the ANC, being involved in starting, they used to say, problems because if you were involved in the struggle then for them it was a 'problem'. So involved in the education area in particular they were worried about the education area and also in committees because I used to move around a lot. What came from the minister in terms of the reason for my detention was something else, it was that I am detained because I was training youths using petrol bombs, I think there were three or four clauses that were talking about the education area and then also UDF and also being suspected to be involved in ANC activities or something like that. So it was a number of reasons but it was just cooked up. They used to just say whatever which can stand legally if anyone wants to challenge it and so on. That's what we were told.
POM How were the interrogations conducted?
MS My interrogation, I would say that it took between 30 and 45 days. The first week it was interrogation and then I was beaten up in between. I used to be beaten up in between.
POM Would they come into your cell and just beat you up?
MS No, I was just physically beaten up most of the time. It was not electrically – they used to have these electronic things that they put in the penis. With some people they used to do that also but with me, no, I won't lie, it was never used. So people then bleed, what will come it's the blood out of the penis when they want to piss or whatever. So that small thing that they were using it was in prison, the security branch there. But I was beaten up and there was also the unit under L H P Botha, it was called the Terrorism Unit or whatever. So they came to us about certain people who were outside who were suspected that they used to come inside to carry certain operations out.
PAT Is this Louis Botha's unit?
MS Louis Botha yes, with Robert Shaw. So both of them they came, I was interviewed by them also and they made all sorts of allegations which were bullshit but at the end of the day they went. They were just starting to take me under Section 29, to transfer me to Section 29, so they never came back, they just picked me up which was fine.
PAT Did they beat you up themselves or were they having others do it?
MS No they beat me up. It was Robert Shaw and him, both of them they came. I was woken up at twelve o'clock and that went through the early hours of the morning.
PAT They would come into your cell?
MS No, I was taken to an office. There were offices that were used, they had taken a floor in Westville Prison that was also used as interrogation rooms and sometimes I used to be taken to the Point. There was a Point Police Station that was here that was also used by them so you would be taken there by day and interrogated there and the other interrogation place that we also used to be taken to was the Durban Station. There was a police station underground there and the other one was C R Swart. So those were the centres that they were using for interrogation.
POM Would Louis Botha - ?
MS They came to the prison.
POM Would he beat you up physically?
MS Yes, yes, he did. It started over a stupid thing like the information that I am someone who likes laughing inside, which is true, it's my nature. So the first questions that they asked I think that I like laughing at whatever they were saying, so I said, "No, I was born better than other people who had to be pinched so that they cry." So I came out laughing. That's how it started, so it became a negative interview. I think I was interrogated between 30 and 45 days and that was it. Then I was just sitting there. The only thing that they will call me for was to accuse me that I was influencing the detainees not to co-operate in the interrogations.
One thing that we mustered was how these interrogations used to take place, their tactics, their strategies and how to counter it so we developed ways of how to counter those things. Whilst we were even in single cells, for instance, we had our own communication network. Within the white warders they were divided, those who came from Cape Town for instance they used to have a tough time from the English speaking whites here so some of them were used for communication to get things outside, even to buy some books outside or to send letters outside, and some of the African warders. So we had those good warders that we used to use for communication but when you are in prison you also develop your own system. We used to use a cage, we used to use different things to send around. We used to write on the tissues so we began to organise ourselves without interacting but organise ourselves. We had people who were heading welfare. The Welfare Committee, it was not about the actual welfare but it was about teaching, noticing who is coming in inside the prison. That person is debriefed in terms of what he's going to expect, what is this thing of interrogation, how they carry it, what to do, what are their rights, all those things. We used to then debrief people and we had that thing, so there was a comrade, who is now I think playing a role in SATU here also in Natal, he was also playing a role in that committee.
I was the chief representative of all detainees for this judge who used to come to visit detainees every three or six months, he used to come to visit, to take complaints and so detainees won't talk whether they are in a section that we have never been but they will say that, no, our complaints you must talk to Mpho, you will get our complaints from there. We forced them to deal with us as a body which was a major victory in prison. Even the authorities, the head of the prison they used to take these rounds in the morning. You had to wake up at five o'clock, half past five, make our beds and wait until this man comes in to hear our complaints early in the morning and not to sit on the bed. It was cold and it was winter. So they then used to take those things, they used to say that there is nothing that we are going to tell you, go and talk to our representative. But how we communicated they never knew, they never got it until we were released. Those things did work because we were able to make certain concessions like in the morning not to wake up at – to agree that we can wake up before we eat in the morning but not to wake up at five o'clock, at least at half past six or quarter to seven before you eat. So it was those things too.
POM Now were you being held in solitary all this time?
MS Yes. I was inside for 25 months. I came out in July 1988.
POM How did you pass your time? What did you do to keep your sanity?
MS One, I think it was the mental preparedness in terms of saying we are in the struggle, we expected anything to happen whether bad or whatever. It was that mental state of preparedness. Two, that what was happening is what you expected will happen at some point. It was that mental preparedness. The second one, when I entered the prison I think I read the Bible three times from first page to the last page, I read the Koran, so it was just reading those things. You request this one, you request that version, the Old Testament, New Testament. Thirdly, it was the question of exercises in the morning then also at night. I used to do a lot of exercises also during the day. The fourth part, the activities within the detainees kept us going. We were in charge in terms of the political education so we will smuggle newspapers, read newspapers, out of the current news come up with some problem in terms of taking issues for people to communicate about and just to have something going at that level to give us peace.
I remember at one point there was Perestroika, the Gorbachev book that came up, we were inside at that time. So we used to smuggle some of the books. We sent a warder to buy it and he brought it in but you have to be sick for at least two days when you are reading it. So we used to take turns of sickness because you have to read and finish a book sometimes within a day or two and that book should be removed from you because cells used to be searched now and again. You will have to read it fast, two, you have to consume what is there, three, you have to begin to write some of the things that are coming out of that book and circulate it around for mass distribution. The book used to be circulated within particular detainees and then out so that they never catch us in terms of that. Then we used to write it on tissues and then circulate it around for others and so on.
It was political education, it was a question of the welfare of detainees and those are things that kept us going but the hard times as a detainee were the weekends. When you are in prison you will expect that - there are people who used to come in and go but that can only happen between Monday and Friday so you will always have this hope that is always there that I might be called, I might be called, I might be called and then it goes and when it's the afternoon of the Friday until Monday it was a difficult one. That was the most difficult time in terms of prison.
At the same time it was good because there were few warders, it's where most of the political education used to happen because there were few. They could not be everywhere. During the week they were everywhere, they could do searches, but over the weekend though searches, there are very few. They used to have a skeleton staff so we used to use that as an opportunity more than any other thing, on a Saturday and Sunday, but they were difficult ones at the same time, the holidays.
Then at some point I was called because what they did not understand is most people they will take a statement from them before they bring them to prison when they have to sign and do other things people go and tell and say, "No, I'm not signing anything and I did not say this, you said this." So that began to give them a serious problem. I was called, it was after nine months or eleven months, I was called and told that I've been involved in telling people to resist the interrogation so I'm going to rot in prison. My point was that they must bring those people who are saying that.
We then did our own investigation, we identified two people, one of them is Katiza. Katiza is the one that emerged in Britain that he was abused by Winnie's club. We intercepted that person, he is from Mpumalanga. After these allegations that we are being monitored, our activities inside in terms of what we are doing, they wanted to break that thing, we then found out that one of them was him who had infiltrated us. There were two, there was also one chap – I can't remember his name, he was from KwaMashu. So immediately we demanded that he should be removed amongst us because if we get a chance he is going to have a problem. So for his safety we appealed that he must be removed. He was removed amongst detainees, he was put in E5. E5 there were also single cells. He stayed there for one night, the following day he was released. The next thing where he emerged from there, he emerged in the Winnie Mandela Football Club. So he was taken straight as a project and put there. That's what happened, then he became a big star for whatever reasons but that thing was a designed thing right through. When we checked his history, where he was staying, he had begun to work with cops for some time, when we checked outside who was this person and so on.
So to us to be in prison it was not an end all. We were able to communicate using also documents but the warders played a very key role, whether they were white or African they played a very key role. We were able to exploit those divisions amongst them.
POM So some warders were actually pretty decent, would tell you beforehand of danger.
MS Definitely. That's why we never got – I must also say that there were a number of struggles that took place in terms of fighting for certain things that we demanded like hot tea. We wanted hot tea, we wanted the menu to be changed, the lunch, and for all those days when it comes to lunch it was five slices of bread with cold, grey tea, whatever it was. And there was also something else which they also used to give us so we wanted that thing to be stopped, it was terrible, so we demanded certain changes but it was not easy. We had to fight for those things and we were beaten up. Twice they threw teargas inside in our cells, used their riot squad to beat us up in our rooms. I remember in one instance about five of the detainees had to be taken to hospital outside after being beaten up.
We had those instances but those things they happened but also we were able to have concessions on certain things inside. They allowed us, for instance, to get their own newspaper, it was a new National Party, government newspaper, The Citizen. At least we were able to get something to read. It was their paper but it was very informative in terms of their thinking. We were able to get something like that. It helped also to contribute to some discussions and also to begin to get some form of newspaper. Those things they used to be closed now and again.
POM Were you able to shout from cell to cell?
MS We would be punished. You can do that at night if you have a warder that you know, or who is softer. Those hard warders you are not allowed to talk so we used to take out of our blanket, take out a cotton, that white cotton, and you connect it and then you can write on a tissue and then you roll it in this thing. You have to face back your door so that you can pull this thing, you look at the angles in terms of if it's someone across from you then you can push this thing just to go straight under the door. It was a skill but we mastered that skill. So you will send sometimes those messages through that cage, it was a cage in itself. If it's people that are on your own line you will take a sheet, you will do whatever, you put it in so those windows are so small you can only take your hand out so you just then fly it up so that person next door will have to take the hand up as he feels that there is something touching then he holds it and then you will pass it through. Some of the messages you will pass it through that way or if you take water out of the basin, the toilet seat, you can communicate through that thing to someone next door. That's how they build their own system. Those are some of the things that we were using in terms of communication.
POM They used to use almost the very, very same techniques in the prisons in Northern Ireland where they had IRA prisoners, they would use the very same thing of thread and the angle. Practically what you are saying. Universal skills!
MS That's the thing. Those were some of things that were used but after the release, I was released because conditional release, I was put under house arrest and I was not allowed to sit with more than five or six people at any point in time, not allowed to live in the Durban magisterial district, not allowed to enter any education institution. Had to be at home between six pm and six am. If I want to leave the magisterial district I will have to make an application to the head of the security branch. So there were those conditions that were put in when I was released, after 25 months.
POM This would be in nineteen - ?
MS 1988 July. I was detained in June, I think it was 14 June 1986 and then released in 1988 July. When I was released what then happened is that I went home every afternoon at about twenty past six, between twenty past six and half past six. The security branch, about five, six cars will come together with the SAP to check whether I am at home or I'm not sitting with more than six people. It means when these cars come if they are sitting in the sitting room, because at home we were more than seven, then I will have to go and sit in the bedroom so that I can be seen not to be sitting with six people.
MS They used to come all the time, then I will be given something to sign that they came, they checked me at this time and then I sign that thing.
POM So if you were in your own home with your family and you were in one room where there were six of you, you were in violation.
MS It was in violation.
POM But if you were in a separate room?
MS It was not in violation.
POM And there five in that room of your family and you were in another room on your own you weren't in violation?
MS No, not in violation.
PAT They would come round and check and you'd have to sign for them to show that they'd been there.
MS Yes! In fact that thing happened every day. It happened from Monday to Monday whether Saturday or Sunday. They were very strict about it but at times it became very difficult and a sore point. Yes, the family was supportive and so on, it's when they'd just come and they'd throw things up and search the house, lift things up and down. It then became like my being at home. It becomes a torture for everyone. If they were torturing me it's fine, I knew what I was doing, but to torture everyone it was then becoming a problem. I remember at some point there were some problems in the township and they were throwing teargas and so on and the police just threw teargas right in my house, inside. It was becoming a problem on its own and after about 12 months, every 12 months they used to come at night to renew this thing. So when they came to renew this thing I decided to run away. I said, no, I won't subject myself to this thing. So I ran away. They were at home, they did not find me, they opened a case. Then I was no longer staying at home. Then the lawyers wanted to use it as a test case to challenge the whole question of these house arrests that were taking place. The case went in but during that time, it was in the nineties, a number of things were then happening.
POM So you were now under house arrest from - ?
MS 1988 to 1989. When they had to come after 1989 to renew then I ran away. One thing that also happened was that after just a week of my coming out, I think a week, I met with a number of people from the ANC. I think I got a message to be somewhere in town and then I was taken by Pravin and then dropped in one house. That's where I met with Mac and Siphiwe Nyanda and where I was recruited then to Operation Vula.
POM This was within a week of your release?
MS My release.
POM Sorry, what part are we talking about? Are we talking about after you ran away?
MS No, no, after my release. I am just going backwards.
PAT You're back in 1988?
MS Yes 1988.
POM When you were released. During that first week you had -
MS After a week.
POM You were taken to meet with –
MS Mac and Siphiwe Nyanda. In fact Pravin picked me up and dropped me in this house and then he left and it's then I met with Mac and Siphiwe Nyanda. Then I was recruited then to – they spoke about a number of things, they asked what was happening in prison and they asked about a number of things that were happening.
POM What did you understand Operation Vula to be about?
MS Operation Vula, one of the things in terms of Operation Vula was to begin to set up what you would call political military structures so that there can be co-ordination between these two things.
POM Military structures and mass mobilisation.
MS Political, yes, that's correct. To work both hand in hand. The second part was to begin then to encourage people to go out, to train people inside the country, to have them continue to do things but in a different way where people can do things and continue to stay in their homes.
POM You would train them in the country and they would stay in the country.
MS Stay in the country, operate in the country, ensure that the politics of the ANC are maintained and it permeates through the normal organisations. We were doing that before but we had to communicate with outside so the distance was too far and things were moving very fast. If you create the leadership structures of the ANC that are based in the communities that you are able also to train them politically, to train them militarily, they could be able to have a very effective leadership where it becomes so easy in terms of – you shorten the space and the responses in terms of some of the things that are happening and to give that proper political guide in terms of things that were happening.
POM But after that week, you are under house arrest, so how are you supposed to carry out these operations if you were found?
MS There is what is called wigs. I bought some wigs, I used to have some wigs. I started wearing some caps and those are things, I used to wear things that normally I did not. It was that in terms of my movement to ensure that I have no tail so it meant a number of things and whilst I was not allowed to be in any education institution but I began then to work and to be placed within the University of Natal, for instance, as an Assistant Researcher in the Department of Town and Regional Planning. So I began to work there under Dr Sutcliffe.
POM Did you have any access to the communication system?
MS There was a unit that was handling that.
POM A separate unit?
MS Yes, it was a separate unit that was handling that and which was very effective.
POM Janet Love came down.
MS That's the thing. That was a different unit. There were a number of units. For instance the movement of weapons from outside to inside, there was a unit that was specialising in that. The question of communication, there was a unit that was also specialising in that. You also had that leadership structure. I was the co-secretary with Pravin in the Operation Vula here and also part of the Regional Military Committee that had been set up. So in terms of communication to areas, because we had set up Area Political Committees that were set up in different townships, and we also then began to set up through those structures military cells or units and began also to train some of those units so those things were happening under those two structures that were formed.
PAT Were those units as military units distinct from the SDUs?
MS Distinct, distinct. Those were just ANC military structures.
POM The SDUs were?
MS SDUs were separate.
POM Were separate, they were for the protection of the community.
MS Those are the people who will go out, sometimes they do things in an open way. They had different rules altogether in terms of what they can do and the skills that they could provide in terms of those SDUs out there without being seen.
POM Who were the SDUs? Who would be their commander? Who would be in charge?
MS The command of SDUs, no the SDUs were formed, it's true that some of them the training they will get from the ANC structures but some of them were spontaneous in some of the areas. Where people saw a need to form these things they began to form these things because at that time if you hear that something is happening in PE you will find that thing moving like fire all over the country, people copying it. So those things used to happen. SDUs were formed at some point in some areas then there was control in terms of their activities. In some areas it was difficult because there was no-one who had political control so those were some of the problems of the SDUs. It was uneven development. Some of them were spontaneous because of the conditions then in those areas which were different and not similar.
PAT The arms that were coming in weren't coming in to the SDUs, they were coming into these military structures that were being formed?
MS That's correct. But those military structures were being encouraged to be able to turn and change and ensure that you have proper good people within those SDUs who will begin to work in a particular way because we were seeing more roles that they can play in terms of focusing also their energies to the real enemy that was operating in those areas. There is a role that they could play, a very significant one. So in some areas those things did happen. Some developed out of the SDUs to be very good military people and some today are part of the SANDF. For instance, they have some serious ranks and so on but they came through those ranks. Some are in the police, for instance, today.
POM So your report structure would be to Pravin?
MS I was working with him. The structures, we used to co-ordinate the reports from the areas, work out the agenda for the original political and military committee but our operation was more based in the region and people who were sitting in that structure, it was Jabu who was the Chair, myself and Pravin, Mac, Siphiwe, Vuso Tshabalala and Mbuso Tshabalala also.
POM Where did Ivan Pillay come into it? He was in Swaziland right?
MS That's correct. There were different structures in the operation. There was an Operation Vula at the top and you find that in Jo'burg they must have had other people who were operating there, like for instance Comrade Charles Nqakula also came into the picture but he was operating somewhere else. There were also other people that were operating but our structure which we were part of was the one that was KwaZulu-Natal based.
POM Would you see Mac often?
MS In all the meetings that we used to have he was part of those meetings as was Siphiwe Nyanda. Later Ronnie Kasrils came in. He was also part of those meetings.
POM How did you find Mac? If you had to assess him, give a personality assessment.
MS OK. Mac is a very sharp, shrewd politician, a leader, let me put it that way, at that time. He was a politician later. A leader and a real strategist and very focus-minded. He always thinks ten steps forward all the time. I think that's the type of a person that survived– he was that type.
POM I'll tell him that you had good things to say about him.
MS A very effective person, a very action orientated person. Less talk, more work, more strategy. There are a number of things that a person learned from him. I think whoever has worked with him I think there are certain things that they will learn from him in terms of how to look at things, the tools of analysis, how to locate those things within a bigger picture, when there are problems and how to take problems and how to deal with your own – to be always able to be in a position to look at the internal and external environment before you can make a decision so that you can see that if you make this decision how does it fit in and how can it be taken care of within your own internal environment because you are dealing with human beings, they look at things differently and there are certain people who will be strong on certain issues or have emphasis on certain issues. So to be able to move and ensure that you move with everyone at the same time, not to be pushed by emotions and what you would like to see. I think he was a very good person.
POM Was your cell small? There was Pravin, there was you – how many people were in your cell?
MS The original Military Political Committee was a small structure with about seven or eight but this Area Political Committee it was made up of five people at that level. In some areas there were four because we had to –
POM They didn't know about Operation Vula did they?
MS No. It was not Operation Vula to them, it was an ANC structure. The reason was that if something happened or if there is a leak you should be able to isolate and have the life to go on without anything. So it was just an ANC underground structure but in terms of the objectives, in terms of the vision it was the same vision that was sold to them, that the movement had realised. At that time we should also remember that it was a time around 1987/88/89 it's where we began as ANC to experience difficulties in terms of countries like Mozambique. There was a lot of pressure on Mozambique, a lot of pressure on Zambia, so in terms of movement of weapons, movement of cadres inside it was a bit strained because of a lot of pressure that was being put in. It was just like the ANC is being pushed up and up in Africa which begins to have a very big buffer that was going to develop between wherever people are going to be and the actual interaction with the conditions here inside.
Operation Vula was coming in to prepare itself and to ensure that it plays a role where you could have those political leaders that are well developed, well grounded inside to be able to have capacity to train and have weapons here and brought a lot of weapons inside the country before things could tighten up badly, even outside, so that it becomes a real struggle that is here and at the same time have that dynamic and effective and efficient communication with the outside so that you would make sure that there is that bridge that wherever people are it doesn't matter, technology has developed and to utilise those things.
POM After Mandela is released in February 1990 Operation Vula continues.
MS After he was released I remember we were in a meeting on that day, we had a Regional Political Military Committee and after that I think we assessed the situation. We said, yes he's released but talks are still going to start and violence still continues in the country and the repression was still continuing and we decided that let us – we will be guided by the movement but let us continue to operate so that in case if those negotiations fail we should not have given up early.
POM In other words you were like a back up force that if negotiations broke down you were able to step into the breach.
MS That's correct. There should be some continuation but definitely that thing it also meant a number of things because after that then the organisation had to set up its own structures, now open political leadership structures all over and there was no way that the underground could compromise itself. At the same time the ANC had not taken a decision to say as we have been fighting our struggle on four fronts, which is the underground, the military, the mass mobilisation and the international isolation of the government, those four pillars of our struggle, it had not revised those things. Those things were still intact and we saw ourselves still fitting in into the underground, saw ourselves still fitting in into the military, we saw ourselves still playing a role in the mass mobilisation but the role that we could play, it's when the environment had changed because you now have interim leadership structures that were being set up. That interaction, that information back up was important and we thought that it was also important to play some role because of the information that people have in relation to whether it's the sell-outs then or whatever, there was no way that you could have people that are known very well that they have been selling out and just to go and claim leadership roles of the movement. We saw ourselves playing a role in terms of advising on those issues.
POM Did you have interaction with the now overt leadership structures that were being set up? Like the people who were coming back from exile who were becoming the first part of the negotiation process?
MS I would say there was to some extent, yes there was interaction to some extent. At the same time there was no way that we could be overtaken by events or taken up by events in relation to the other people that have been put in because the process that the ANC went through was just to appoint people to these structures, the interim leadership structures with senior ANC cadres who were leading those structures, that once you begin to do that, which happened in one of the areas where people made contact with someone, and they went and raised that in a meeting, in an open meeting. So we could compromise ourselves at a security level in terms of you say something, someone will talk over the phone but the cops were still listening to everyone and following everyone and the government then was still working as normal. There was nothing that had changed at that time.
POM Vula was still in operation even after he suspended the armed struggle?
MS The suspension of the armed struggle, you will remember that it's something that happened down the line.
PAT 2 August 1990.
MS That's correct.
PAT But Vula was still in operation.
MS It was still in operation. We were not carrying out any operations hardly because suspension it meant suspending military action but it did not mean surrendering the weapons and your personnel, no. Those things were still going to be at our discussions then. So he was aware and supportive.
POM Gebuza is arrested, that would be June 1990. Then Mac is arrested. Were you arrested?
MS No. I managed to run away. Operated with Mo Shaik, it was Mo Shaik and people who had managed not to be arrested then. We started co-ordinating reports from prisons. Pravin was in Bloemfontein. I think someone was at Eshowe Prison, some people were here at C R Swart. So we started to infiltrate those structures using doctors, using some of the police, to get reports and update what is being asked, what are the issues, also to use the same to relate to whoever to say these are the questions, this is how they've handled this thing, so that there can be co-ordination from inside and to ensure that the damage is managed. We were playing that role and we were able to find good people and the cops, also the police who did play that role effectively.
POM Then the case was dropped.
MS The case was dropped. We were still running away, we were not sure about our situation. I think also people took it differently, some took it as if we were just like acting out of the minute because the armed struggle had been stopped which some interpreted differently and there were talks that were happening. If you remember those issues became a serious issue that was raised from the SA government side. I think it contributed in its own way to raise certain issues which were a reality, that, yes, there are weapons that are all over but there are certain things that the Boers were also doing. You remember the massacres that followed which led to the stopping of negotiations.
MS Boipatong. So there were those things and in Natal, KZN for instance, and the East Rand the violence picked up during that period of negotiations. People were killed left and right. That continued as if there is nothing that has happened so those were some of the realities that were there.
POM Were the SDUs then at that point playing a major role?
MS They were playing a major role. In the East Rand they were playing a major role. Some here they were playing a major role. It was the SDUs, those were community based structures who organised themselves at that level. Some had access to weapons, yes they did have weapons, and some of the weapons at some point were released to them and they were able then to defend themselves because they were dealing with people who were carrying G3s, who were carrying R1s, so those were the weapons that were used and some even AKs that they were given by the people within the security establishment who were also part of those things.
PAT What about the military structures that you had set up in 1988/89.
MS Were stopped.
PAT So those guys just really sat there and did nothing?
MS Did nothing. Those were part of the communities they operated with the SDUs because the ANC had taken a particular decision which had to be respected but they did impart their own skills in those SDUs, they began to be more organised and they were able to have a sustainable defence in a way.
POM So what happened to you?
MS After, I was running around, stayed around different areas. I stayed also in Claremont, I stayed somewhere in an Indian township, used an Indian wig from time to time so I changed my name and my surname. I was known as someone else who had come on a contract to work in a construction company somewhere and after a time then disappeared and then I went to Cape Town a bit. Then I was in Jo'burg. We continued to interact and have meetings with Ronnie Kasrils to look at some of the issues and discuss some of the issues but after a year then I received the temporary indemnity. I think people who did work very hard for us to get that thing were Mandela, Sisulu and the top leadership structure of the ANC.
POM So for one year after Mandela had been released and negotiations had begun you were still running around the country in a wig?
MS That's OK.
POM They were still looking for you?
MS Yes. That's why then we had to receive temporary indemnity. In fact even that press conference that happened at his place in Soweto where all of us men received it and so on and after that I continued to work at Natal University a bit, then moved to work with Billy Nair at the Centre for Community & Labour Studies. So I began to construct education material for the organisers of trade unions, particularly COSATU, and other independent trade unions. I trained a number of good organisers there and good leadership structures today of COSATU. We did train a number of them.
After a year then I was approached by a number of comrades in the structures of the ANC in Natal to stand for a position of Deputy Regional Secretary of Southern Natal Region so I was elected and then I became full time, like a full time secretary. My secretary then was Ndebele, he's an MEC for Transport here but he was working, the Chairman was Jeff Radebe the Minister of Public Enterprises. From that time until 1994 I was effectively the full time Secretary of the ANC in KZN region. I was responsible for administration, I was head of administration and also running the office of the ANC.
POM The ANC south?
MS Southern Natal. That is from Transkei, what was called Transkei, from that border moving up until somewhere near Stanger, if you move to Stanger somewhere. It was quite a big region.
POM Did you have any interaction with Harry Gwala?
MS Definitely. We had three regions in Natal. There was Northern Natal Region which operated at Empangeni, there was also Pietermaritzburg Region, and we were Southern Natal Region. So because we were faced with similar problems of violence, that was during the height of serious violence then. It was difficult to sleep, we had to build an organisation and we were under severe attack from the Military Intelligence, from the Stability Unit, from the Inkatha units that were trained and armed. So that violence was continuing, while negotiations were going on those things were also continuing.
POM There was a war going on.
MS Yes it was just going on as if nothing is happening. That was the major of the problems in Natal so these regions then we used to meet, strategise and see what to do. We operated in a very severe region because there was this perception that people wanted to sell that everyone who speaks Zulu, is a Zulu, is Inkatha so it means to retain that picture was just to unleash the violence. Anything that is seen to be in opposition or any other organisation was not accepted.
Prior to my appointment, I was part of the Interim Regional Structure of the SA Communist Party because I was also part of the underground structures of the SACP, also part of the underground conference of the SACP which decided on the launching of the open structures of the SACP with Govan Mbeki who was part of those – and Mac Maharaj and others, I was also part of that conference.
I was also then appointed to be part of the negotiations, that was CODESA. I participated in one of the task teams that was dealing with levelling the playing field. It was focused on the security issues, the military, the police and so on. So it was focused on that. I participated in that process until we finished our task and then I came back. Then I became part of this Southern Natal Region of the ANC until 1994. Then from 1994 I went to parliament.
POM Quite a story.
POM When Vula collapsed, or when it was uncovered, all these unencrypted disks were found, the Vula papers encrypted out giving what the whole thing had been about or was about, you had nothing to do with that side of the operation?
MS No I had nothing to do with that part.
POM You were running.
MS Yes, I was an operative responsible for the region. I was an operative at that level because it was a national structure so we were much more focused in this region of KZN.
POM In that period of intense fighting, this was like from township to township particularly in the rural areas, one day they would be taken over by the ANC and the following week by the IFP, did people declare their allegiance often on the basis of even if I was ANC if I was in an IFP controlled township I didn't go round saying I'm ANC?
MS I think those things did happen where people began then to have two cards, carry two cards. You have most workers, because of the migration system in rural areas, there is under-development in rural areas so most people come to the city to work in the city so they are exposed to trade unions there. They are exposed to new ways of looking at things, to literature, to reading, to all sorts of things. So it's where people used to join the ANC and so on even in those areas so they will still go and stay in those areas but they will carry the IFP card, they will attend the meetings but knowing that, no, they support the ANC. Those things did happen, did happen a lot but we did encourage – you see there was this principle that you must have 100 people then you can launch a branch of the ANC but in those areas we encouraged even small units which can ensure the presence of the ANC and the voice of the ANC in those areas. It has been quite a difficult one. As we talk even today, yes we have liberated a number of areas but there are certain isolated areas where that is still a problem. That is why the IFP is hanging on the Chiefs and it wants to use the Chiefs for their own political end to say close the space, no-one should work in these areas, it's only us and only us. So those problems of no-go areas it is still there to some extent, it is still there but in some areas it's beginning to improve.
From 1994 one of the things that changed was the question that people can no longer go and kill with impunity, some began to be arrested, some were sentenced, some received life sentences and that on its own acted as a deterrent to say you can no longer go on and do your own thing. It has taken time but that's what has helped to have very, very low levels of violence. In fact it's just that it is in isolated rural areas, isolated. It's only when there is an activity, it's no longer an organised, clearly defined thing as it used to be. It's no longer the case.