About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

05 Apr 2003: Joffe, Joel

POM     I'm sorry for all the delays and all the confusions and all the cancellations.

JJ     At last we're talking to each other.

POM     Judy was telling me you've a daughter who's in Ireland.

JJ     That's right. I've got a daughter just outside Dingle.

POM     Yes, that's one of the most beautiful parts of the country.

JJ     It is indeed, it's very lovely over there.

POM     If you speak Gaelic – is she a Gaelic speaker now?

JJ     Well she goes to Gaelic lessons and her children are taught in a school where the language is Gaelic.

POM     Is that right? I would think that if she's in Dingle she probably hears more American accents than Irish accents. Every other American I know has a place in and around Dingle. You can walk up and down the street and you'll see more people from Boston than you would if you were staying in Boston.

JJ     And from Berlin.

POM     And from Berlin?

JJ     There are a lot of Germans there.

POM     They got in there early. I remember when I was a child the Germans started to buy land in and around coastal areas and of course all the good Irish natives used to snigger at the Germans buying this useless land. You're buying land right on the sea, how can you farm that? Haven't they any sense?

JJ     Did you come from that part?

POM     I came from Dublin but all my roots – my parents were from Mayo and I used to spend a good part of my childhood down in Mayo in Galway. In Ireland there was great rivalry between every country. If you were from Dublin you were called a Dublin jackeen and if you were from a rural area you were called a country mug. So we were into intolerance and racist slogans at a very early age. We didn't have to wait for the north to blow up, we were well trained beforehand.

JJ     Well I understand things better now.

POM     At school I would have an awful problem because if Dublin and Mayo ever met in a football match my allegiances were split. My parents would be cheering for Mayo and of course being from Dublin I was supposed to cheer for Dublin, but if I went to school and I cheered for Mayo I got my head beaten in. It's identity, you know. Even when I began talking to you I said I'm from Dublin but my parents are from Mayo. I had to qualify it right away.

JJ     You were taught discretion at an early age.

POM     Anyway, thank you for taking the time to talk with me. I have been doing this book on Mac and, my God, I think we've already recorded about 700,000 words and the problem is to cut that down and down and down and get to the bare bones. But in everything that he says where he mentions other people I try to talk to the other people who were involved in order to corroborate what he has said because people's memories often play tricks on them. What I would like to do as far as you can recall is to go through some aspects of his trial where he made a number of statements that on occasion were not – other people who were on trial with him could either not recall or recalled slightly differently, so I thought that perhaps your recollection might be the best and the most objective.

JJ     I don't know. It will be objective but my memory is pretty dicey these days. Try me.

POM     I understand, yes. You would have first have met Mac and the other accused when they were being taken to Johannesburg Supreme Court to be tried. Now my understanding is that Bram Fischer had approached you, that you were getting ready to emigrate and that he asked you stay on and defend Wilton, Mac and the others.

JJ     That's factually correct. I'm not sure that it was Bram but it could have been.

POM     But you were approached?

JJ     I was definitely approached. We were going to emigrate to Australia and I did agree to do that trial. I think that's a correct statement, yes.

POM     And that the first time you would have met them was on the morning where they were in the holding cells before being taken to the Supreme Court. Mac said, Mac being Mac said you came in and said, "Who's Mac?" He didn't say, "Who's Wilton?" Number one accused.

JJ     Mac sounded a good Scottish name.

POM     And you said off-handedly that you were surprised, that you were expecting an older man and you were surprised how young he was.

JJ     I think that's right.

POM     He asked you what was going to happen that morning and you said he'd just be taken before the judge, there would be no reading of the charges, that he'd just been put on remand and there's no need to plead one way or the other. Mac says, "Well I've been tortured and I want to make a statement about my torture." You warned him that, "Well if you do it's very likely that the judge will cut you off because you're not supposed to say anything in the court that morning", but that you then proceeded to go to court and indeed when the judge was speaking Mac interrupted and said, "My Lord, I have been tortured." All the Security Police were in the court and he began to point them out, not name them but to point at them, and that he went on and on until he got slightly disconnected in his rush to get everything said and the judge then cut him off.

JJ     I am sure that that is what happened except I'm not sure that I warned him not to say it but I might have. He would remember better than me.

POM     You said, "Go ahead and if you get away with it good for you but you'd better get in there quick and you'd better not stop half way through it because the judge will immediately cut you off." That's why he was in a rush to get everything out as quickly as possible without pausing even though the judge was trying to cut him off. He said it in that context.

JJ     That's right. That's what I would have hoped I would have said, "Just say it quick."

POM     That's what he said, yes. So your first meeting with them, the first real meeting, now they had not prepared a case or anything. Did the state give you a copy of all the evidence that they had accumulated against the accused?

JJ     No, there was a procedure in SA which was that they would keep all the evidence very close to their chest so that they could change it if it suited them and they would do everything possible to make it difficult for a proper defence. What they would eventually do, they would produce an indictment which would set out what the case was, that they'd breached the certain provisions of the Sabotage Act by doing the following, sabotaging some pylons and going out of the country for military training, that sort of thing.

POM     They wouldn't supply you with a list of the witnesses they intended to call?

JJ     No, they would keep that a total secret from you. You only know when the witness was going to be called when the prosecutor stood up and said I call X or I call Y. In this case I call Billy Nana or I call Gay, I think his name was.

POM     Yes, Lionel Gay. Before I get to him, Mac said you had a message for him from Bram Fischer which was like what went wrong because he says they had planned an escape with the Benoni robbers while they were in prison and it went wrong.

JJ     While they were in jail? While they were in The Fort?

POM     And it went wrong and Bram was supposed to be the conduit for – had a car waiting or had somebody waiting with a car and they never showed, but he could send a message through you to ask them what went wrong. But did Mac talk about just the Benoni robbers with you? Because I know when I was talking to him about it what amazed me was that while they were in prison these prisoners had almost free access to one another and it just depended how much you bribed the warder.

JJ     That was part of the culture. But he definitely talked to me about this. They had found these robbers from Benoni who were also in jail and they were going to escape and Mac was very glad to accompany them.

POM     I'm sure he had the whole thing planned out before they had.

JJ     He was very efficient.

POM     Now when he talks about the trial he talks about Lionel Gay and he says that Lionel Gay, he was really surprised at the evidence and agility with which he gave evidence. That number one he went out of his way to put the noose around their necks, and number two he was very efficient in cutting off cross examination. He mentions Zwarenstein who was representing Dave Kitson in particular and says that when Zwarenstein would bring up something Gay might say, "No that's not true because I remember that on that occasion we had begun to discuss an execution squad." It was he who brought in to the court proceedings the question of whether those who had been in the ad hoc High Command had set up an execution squad or whether they hadn't.

JJ     I don't remember the execution squad but I remember Gay giving evidence and he was a very – sadly the police had totally broken him and he was so, I think he was so frightened that he actually exaggerated the facts so as to really, as you said, tighten the noose around the necks of the accused. Of course he's a highly intelligent man and he was in a state of distress and he was one of the most dangerous witnesses I'd ever seen.

POM     Did you know that in the mid 1980s - the ANC had gotten him out of the country before he could give evidence, I think, at the Bram Fischer trial and he went to England and he rejoined the ANC there - and that in 1984 in Moscow Joe Slovo said to Mac, "I've got this guy Lionel Gay, he's very proficient with physics and I want to bring him into the MK and into the Central Committee." Joe had no idea this guy had ever given evidence at Mac's trial.

JJ     Really? Amazing. Absolutely amazing. The point about it is that he didn't turn in the sense that he ever lost his commitment to the freedom struggle and when he did come to England he really was determined to get back and join the liberation movement and do something active. There's no doubt about that so he wasn't one of those who switched sides but he was in a state at this trial and he gave evidence which was so damaging to the accused that it could have lead to death sentences. It was as bad as that but this was because of the state he was in. When he got out he behaved quite differently and he was rejected by the ANC initially and he had a great struggle to establish his bona fides in this country. I didn't know that he was actually taken back into the ANC.

POM     Who told me that? I think it was Paul Joseph or somebody. Wilton Mkwayi says that whenever Gay comes here Gay visits him and stays with him in PE.

JJ     Well I think they're a forgiving lot and I think they're right. I never felt that people who break down under torture and for a time behave in a way which is totally at odds with what they believe simply because they're totally terrified should be condemned and persecuted. Personally I have no doubt if I was tortured they way they were I would very soon have collapsed.

POM     He talks about Beyleveld as someone –

JJ     Piet, yes.

POM     He had fought in WW2, he was a big strong man physically and yet he broke as well.

JJ     Yes and he produced a rationale for his breaking which was rather different from Gay's. Beyleveld convinced himself that in giving evidence he was actually saving Bram Fischer and getting him convicted of the minor charges against him rather than the more serious ones. He persuaded himself that he was actually doing good by giving evidence.

POM     In Mac's trial?

JJ     No he wasn't in Mac's trial.

POM     Oh! Mac had him as a witness who was produced.

JJ     It's possible that he was but he didn't – I'm just trying to think, I'm quite surprised actually because Beyleveld was the main prosecution witness in Bram Fischer's first trial and I thought that was subsequent to Mac's trial, but maybe I've got him wrong. If Mac says he was at his trial then I would accept that.

POM     Now was the judge – he also was making the point that when a witness, whether it was Gay or Beyleveld (which I'll go back and check because that's something that can be checked) would say something that didn't come within the narrow confines of cross-examination, that the judge just allowed them to make statements.

JJ     Absolutely.

POM     Didn't hold them to say answer the question and just the question, don't wander. He would just say, "No, no, let the witness speak."

JJ     It was Judge Boschoff and he behaved appallingly and indeed one of the statements he made was a statement which effectively said that Bram Fischer was the leader of the Communist Party and Bram Fischer hadn't been charged at that stage. That's why I think that Bram's trial came after that but, again, I might be wrong.

POM     He says that Bram was on trial in an adjacent chamber where he was also one of the accused. He was accused and he was defending. Bram would occasionally drop in and out of the court where the trial was being held? No?

JJ     In Mac's trial? No I don't recall Bram ever being there in Mac's trial. He certainly wasn't appearing for any of the accused.

POM     Would he send messages? He says that at one point they were all talking about going into the witness box and they were all preparing grand statements and that Mac was co-ordinating the statements and they would go out and through you Bram would look at them and come back and say, "Cut out all this stuff, none of the histrionics, don't make the grand statements. They've been made. The idea here is that you make a statement that gets you the shortest jail sentence, not to put the noose around your neck."

JJ     Yes I think Bram would have sent messages.

POM     Did the whole question of execution squads arise at the trial?

JJ     I can't recall that.

POM     He brings it up in the context of Lionel Gay and then he brings it up again that a decision was made that one person would go into the witness box to make a statement and that person would be Dave Kitson and that Dave Kitson drafted a statement in which he talked about an execution squad being set up and that Wilton Mkwayi got very upset and said, "No, we never talked about that." Do you recall him, Kitson, ever drafting a statement that made reference to an execution squad?

JJ     I can't recall that. It doesn't mean it didn't happen but I can't recall it.

POM     What did he say? "He was an articulate man, he was one of the top agents of the British Communist Party in elections in Britain, a long record and he was in the Technical Committee of the MK and then post-Rivonia in the High Command. We thought he would be a good seasoned witness. When he prepared his first draft we got a shock because with his first draft Wilton Mkwayi lost his cool because Dave Kitson in his draft said we had set up an execution squad. Wilton said, 'I don't know what you're talking about.' So he was saying if he went into the box he would say that we had set up an execution squad and thereby kind of put the rope around everybody's neck. Mac says, 'Yes, and we say on this thing we've never been questioned, we've not been interrogated about it, why are your raising this thing?' And Wilton said, 'I don't know anything about that decision.' And Dave said, 'But we took that decision.' Of course we're sitting with our lawyers, we don't want to get in that kind of discussion with our lawyers. There are certain ethics that govern lawyers. We became very edgy and again the matter arose between Joel and myself." But you've no recollection of Kitson preparing a draft statement that was discussed in which he talked about an execution squad being set up?

JJ     No I personally don't recall it but I wouldn't say it didn't happen, I just don't recall it. I'm very interested in the suggestion about the ethics of talking to your lawyers about these things seeing that Mac asked me to find him a revolver I think.

POM     He what? You'd better tell me that story. He asked you to find him a revolver when?

JJ     It might have been with the Benoni robbers but I'm not sure when that broke down and Mac, as I recall, wanted a revolver smuggled into the jail in order to help with the escape and asked me if I would kindly attend to this. He set it up from outside the jail and my recollection is that I said I would think about it but didn't commit myself at that stage. I think Mac, Mac says that I then came back and agreed to it. I don't remember my agreeing to it but it became unnecessary for some reason or other because the robbers had already been found out, something to that effect. But if you speak to Mac he'll remember it better than me and what is more I don't think I would have been brave enough to agree to bring it. He says I did agree to it and I can't recall that. Fortunately it wasn't required in the end.

POM     How did you find Mac? If I ask you – who is Mac? What would you say?

JJ     He was a youngish, very articulate, courageous man over there whose only thought was how to carry on the liberation struggle. Very intelligent, balanced, shrewd. He was a very remarkable man.

POM     Was he old for his years?

JJ     Well I think he was a real – he was old in experience I think. He'd been obviously operating for some time before. He had survived until then and he knew what he was about. He was intelligent, competent and courageous, totally committed.

POM     Did he talk to you about how he had been tortured?

JJ     Yes he did speak to me about how he had been tortured.

POM     And can you remember what he said about it or how he handled it or how he said he handled it?

JJ     No. Well what was clear to me is that they'd got nothing at all out of Mac and he'd handled it extremely intelligently. Basically the approach of a Mac or anybody else would be that they wouldn't give away any information but they might confirm something where they thought that the person was in no danger at all. Therefore if Joe Slovo was out of the country and the police in interrogation said, "Well was Joe at this particular meeting?" they might well say yes because they know Joe's out of the country. So they would feed back, they would confirm information which –

POM     Would lead to a dead end.

JJ     Lead to a dead end. That's right. It was a very clever tactical game they played, those who were brave and courageous enough as Mac was who could play.

POM     Among the group that were on trial, who stood out as the leader of the group? Was one person articulating what their - ?

JJ     It wasn't like the main Rivonia trial where Nelson Mandela was clearly the leader. In this trial, I think Wilton was the person who the police were most concerned about.

POM     He as number one, yes. Accused Number One.

JJ     He was number one. But Wilton wasn't, I don't think, as clever as Mac. There was Kitson and what's the other Indian chap?

POM     Laloo Chiba.

JJ     Laloo, yes. I can't recall any single one of them being the dominating leader. I think was a very democratic arrangement, a democratic set up whereby they each contributed and they took decisions together as a group.

POM     Now the white prisoners were separated from the black prisoners. Were they treated differently by warders, by the court?

JJ     Yes I think it was part of the South African tradition at that time. Firstly, a white prisoner would be clothed differently and be a lot more comfortable than a black prisoner and would be treated with less disrespect than a black prisoner. Once they were political prisoners I think the warders and everyone felt that they were all equally bad. In fact the police often were rather more sympathetic, on occasion more sympathetic, to black prisoners because they felt they had been misled by the white communists. I think the general approach was that the whole lot of them were a bunch of communists and they were therefore enemies of the state and should be treated as appallingly as it was possible to treat them.

POM     So was the emphasis of the state, I'm just in a way going beyond the trial looking at that era when you were there of the threat of communism and that race wasn't the question per se, it wasn't apartheid, it was communists either using race as a ploy to get blacks to join the Communist Party and communism would overthrow the government, the democratic order, as it was doing in other parts of Europe and throughout the world.

JJ     Yes it was very much that, that the communists had come across these happy, contented black people and had misled them into attacking the government and therefore the communists were really the main focus of the government's intention. They felt that by attacking and portraying the ANC and MK as communist dominated that they would get America on their side and most of the western world. It was very much like you remember in the McCarthy, well you might not remember, the McCarthy days in the States, you always thought that there was a communist under your bed and you were very frightened.

POM     Well I have friends in the US growing up at that time who would talk about how in their schools they would do atomic drills. A whistle would go, everybody would leave the classroom and there was a shelter built into the schoolyard and they would all - No, this is real OK. My question is, here you had Americans who had been drilled into a fear of communism, you had Europe where you had a fear of communism, you certainly had it in Ireland. I know at Mass every Sunday we said three Hail Marys for the conversion of Russia. Between that and giving a penny for black babies to be baptised I don't know! I don't know who I'm responsible for.

JJ     Well all your Hail Marys worked.

POM     That's right. It took a while but, God, they accumulated.

JJ     Amazing.

POM     What I'm getting at was the white South African fear of communism something that white South Africans believed was –

JJ     It was encouraged by the government and by the police and everyone else. It was much more justifiable to attack these communists who were opposed to so-called democracy than to attack black people who wanted equal rights. So the whole thing was aimed at discrediting the ANC and MK by alleging that they were really communist organisations being exploited probably by the USSR.

POM     I suppose the point I'm getting at, Lord Joffe, is you had two things, you had blacks looking for equal rights under the law, you had communism and that while whites had no intention of giving blacks equal rights under the law, in fact didn't even think of blacks in that regard, that that was subsidiary in their consciousness, that in their consciousness the fear of the government being overthrown by atheistic communism was the fear that drove them rather than the fear of what might happen if blacks had equal rights because they just didn't think in that direction.

JJ     I think that's the point really, they didn't really think that way. And it was very effective, the white population genuinely believed, were genuinely scared of communism in the same way as you describe the Americans.

POM     Yes. I have a friend here in SA who lives with me who describes vividly in Cincinnati, the middle of the country. Why the hell would they pick Cincinnati? It must be because they saw Jerry Springer coming from there, that's where he came from.

     Judge Boschoff, he had a background that was in John Vorster's party that had been banned during the Second World War, had he?

JJ     I'm not sure about that. It wouldn't surprise me but I'm not sure. He was one of these mediocre judges who were political appointments and the government didn't have to tell them what to do because they would do it without the government's encouragement. I'm not sure that he was involved with John Vorster. He might have been but I don't know.

POM     How would you compare him to the judge in the Rivonia trial?

JJ     I think he was even more – the judge in the Rivonia trial was an arrogant sod and was a typical white – had typical attitudes to blacks, typical white attitude to blacks in SA, but he had a measure of independence because of his arrogance so I don't think he would have sat there politely if the government had told him to hang these people. He might have thought, well maybe I won't do that. But Boschoff, I would say, would have done whatever the government wanted him to do. It wasn't necessary. De Wet was the judge in the Rivonia trial. The government were quite confident that he would convict everyone he could simply because he was a white Afrikaans judge who was also somebody of limited ability and he had all the prejudices which were common among most white judges in those days. But Boschoff I would see more as a particularly mediocre judge who would really allow any evidence which was prejudicial to the accused and would not take any action in relation to any of the allegations made against the police such as acts of torture. He would totally disregard it. He was even worse than the judge in the Rivonia trial.

POM     One of the reasons, now this comes to my mind, why Mac was putting this emphasis on the idea of the ad hoc High Command having okayed execution squads was because he said at Rivonia part of the case was built on the basis that MK did not have execution squads, that civilians were not targets and that case was made convincingly enough that they were saved the rope. If it could be established, if you had witnesses in their trial saying that post-Rivonia a decision had been made to set up execution squads that defence would go and they would all be open to the death sentence.

JJ     Yes I think that is right and that was the problem. You see the problem with Gay's evidence, I don't remember the execution squads, but what was key in the Rivonia trial was that the High Command had specifically said that the lives of civilians must be protected regardless and civilians should not be targeted. In Mac's trial Gay went beyond that and said that effectively there was no order which prevented one attacking civilians and so civilians were at risk as a result of that decision. It's rather similar to the execution squads but I don't recall it being called execution squads, it was simply that if they targeted a police building and there were citizens about and they got killed it didn't particularly matter, or it was acceptable. That was the distinction I recall.

POM     Now he also refers to something called the 113 page statement. He says that when the decision was made that none of them would go into the witness box for cross-examination that Masters was furious and he referred to a 113 page confession, as he called it, from one of the accused that he threatened to introduce. Have you any memory of Masters bringing up the subject of having a confession from one of the accused, a 113 page (Mac says) or anything relating to that?

JJ     I can't recall that specific incident. It could have happened but I don't recall it.

POM     Mac puts it in the context of he said, "Well I want to go into the witness box anyway and be cross-examined." And the other accused were saying, "You're crazy, you're going to put the noose around your own neck. Why are you going to do that?" And Mac said, "Well I want to go in because I want to find out before I die who made that 113 – which of us made the confession to the police. I want to go to my grave with that knowledge." It sounds like Mac.

JJ     It could have been Mac because he was pretty fiery and impetuous in those days but I don't remember that.

POM     OK. The sentencing. Mac had expected that he would get one of the heaviest sentences and yet he came off with one of the lightest. Did the sentencing go according to your expectations?

JJ     I think that they didn't see Mac as the main leader and I think the evidence against him was more limited than against some of the others. That might have been the reason. They did definitely see Wilton as the most prominent of that group. I think he got life.

POM     He got life yes and Dave Kitson got 20 years and Laloo Chiba got 15 years and Mac got 12.

JJ     I think it was because Mac looked the youngest and the evidence against him was less damning. So I don't think it came as a surprise to us.

POM     I think he was disappointed, he thought he'd get life. What do you mean 12 years? I'm worth more than 12 years for God's sake! Let me tell you what I really did, OK.

JJ     Obviously he wanted to go to the witness box to increase his chances of a higher sentence.

POM     Did you get a chance to meet Tim during the trial? Tim, his wife.

JJ     No. I met her in England, I don't recall her in the trial. No, I don't. Very attractive woman she was in those days but I don't recall her specifically. I might have met her.

POM     When did you meet her in England?

JJ     She came to England with Mac, that's his first wife, came at the time after he was released and he was coming to look for finance for setting up the resistance movement.

POM     That would have been Vula.

JJ     That was the predecessor to Vula actually. He was out for a considerable – I think Vula only really started in the –

POM     In the eighties, 1986/87. And he would have come out in 1977.

JJ     He was going on a mission to SA and they were worried about security and so he came direct to me so that no-one else knew about it.

POM     Do you know what's happened to Tim afterwards, after they got divorced?

JJ     To the best of my recollection I only met her that one time. She was a very attractive woman and it was clear that she was under a lot of pressure and she was smoking all the time I recall. I didn't know what happened to her. What did happen?

POM     It's interesting. I've talked to her on the phone and she's living in Durban. I've talked to her and written to her and I will go to Durban to see her. She said she would see me. She didn't say whether or not she will agree to be interviewed formally but I will take my time and build a relationship with her first. Yesterday I was at the Mayibuye Centre and I came across a document that had - one of the documents on Mac that had been compiled on him while he was on Robben Island, and there were notes on all the family members and it said that Tim had gone to England and gotten remarried and that's the first time I've ever heard of that. She now goes under her maiden name, Naidoo, but it just surprised me because it said she had two children and this has never cropped up in a conversation with Mac.

JJ     Children with Mac?

POM     Yes. Oh sorry, it could have been with her second husband.

JJ     I think it was probably with her second husband I would think.

POM     No they didn't have any children.

JJ     Her position was that she waited around for 12 years or thereabouts for Mac to come out and it was rather sad that it all broke up then.

POM     I always feel sorry for her. Mac talks about an occasion where I guess they were having one of these conversations and she came down one morning and said, "You know we've been married for 12 years and I did a debit and a credit and in that 12 years we have spent 15 months together. I can't take it." He was saying, "I'm going right back to SA." He wasn't saying, 'I'm going to settle in England, I've done my time.' It was like when's the next boat back.

JJ     That was typical of him.

POM     If I asked you finally, I put this question in a funny way because I made Mac do this exercise once. If Mac, God forbid, were to drop dead and say The Times or The Guardian came to you and said, you defended him at his trial, would you write a little appreciation of him or whatever. Having known him throughout all those years and still knowing him, what would you say about him, who is Mac?

JJ     I think Mac is and has always been a person of extraordinary courage, intelligence, integrity and total commitment to the cause of democracy in SA and he's made a remarkable contribution which I don't think has ever really been recognised. He generally was held in the highest regard by his colleagues who admired his courage and his leadership skills and this, I think, is evidenced by in the elections, the ANC elections, he would always come out right at the top. Personally I thought that if he had been black rather than Indian that he might well have been Prime Minister. As an individual I've seldom come across anyone of such courage and determination and intelligence. I had the privilege of working for him for a while when he was Minister of Transport and I think he showed outstanding ability as the minister in charge. Again, this was recognised whenever they would – I think the Weekly Mail & Guardian would publish an assessment of the performance of ministers and Mac was invariably right at the top there.

POM     That's right.

JJ     So an extraordinary man who I have the highest respect for – have always had the highest respect and admiration for.

POM     I won't tell him you said that. It'd go right to his head.

JJ     Obviously one of the things which you must be thinking about at this stage is about the allegations in the Sunday Times and I would almost stake my life on Mac never under any circumstances having given preferential treatment to a friend in awarding contracts. That's inconceivable to me. There might have been some transactions outside his government business but for him to have done anything improper as a minister is something I do not believe is remotely possible.

POM     It would be contrary to, my God, I think I must have 300 hours of interviews, material with him and it would make them all irrelevant. I'll have to buy the Sunday Times off and say what about my book?

JJ     When's your book going to come out?

POM     I hope to have it with publishers by the fall. In the US it takes about nine months. Well it's like publishing in Britain. There's a much a longer turn-around time, it takes them about nine months to bring it out but President Mandela has done a foreword. He did a 15,000 word foreword, not your page and a half, so it's like more than a foreword, it's like a whole –

JJ     A whole book.

POM     The publisher has no interest in Mac. They just say, "Get a longer introduction, OK." Let me ask you one final thing, I don't know whether you have just stepped down as head of Oxfam –

JJ     Chair of Oxfam, yes.

POM     Are you taking up something else?

JJ     I'm involved in voluntary organisations, NGOs. I'm working with a number of these NGOs and of course being in the House of Lords gives one the opportunity for raising issues in relation to the developing world which is a major area.

POM     Sure. I'll tell you why I was asking you. In a different part of my life at the University of Massachusetts, which is my employer –

JJ     Are you a lecturer there?

POM     Well I spent most of my time, the first part of my tenure there, in Northern Ireland. I've been very involved in Northern Ireland since the 1970s. In fact one of things that emerged out of my getting involved in SA was that the SA government agreed to host a conference in 1997 where we brought all the leaders from all the parties in Northern Ireland to Arniston in the Western Cape to a secure facility and all the other parties agreed to bring in all the people who had participated in the negotiations and they spent three days sharing their experiences with the Northern Irish and that's generally agreed that that kick-started the peace talks in Northern Ireland which had gotten stalled. Since then that led to Cyril Ramaphosa being appointed with Martii Ahtisaari being one of the international inspectors to oversee the beginning of decommissioning and other people like Roelf Meyer remained very involved with parties there and there's a real connection between the people here. Cyril is involved again now in trying to bring about the final round of decommissioning, of getting the IRA to finally say we'll call it a day. I don't ever see them disbanding because that's like taking some historical identity and it's not there. But the contribution of SA to the peace process in Northern Ireland has been enormous and is ongoing.

JJ     That's very interesting.

POM     That all arose out of my getting involved here and beginning to interview people. I've done about, in the last 13 years, done about 2000 interviews and I would interview the same people every year from Mandela and De Klerk all the way down to ordinary families. Now the Mayibuye Centre has taken over all the recordings and they're going to digitalise them and put them on a CD Rom and distribute them to every school library and municipal library in the country and they'd be for sale so people can hear what people were actually saying in 1992, not what they said in 1996 about 1992 but what they were actually saying. You can hear Trevor Manuel saying in 1992, "Everything is going to be nationalised", and you can hear him in 1996 saying, "Everything is going to be privatised." So you've all these lovely contradictions. MWeb, which is the big search engine here, is also putting all the transcriptions which were done on a separate site so they will be available, and they will all be cross indexed by theme and everything like that, and they'll be available to anybody throughout the world who is doing research on SA. I've another five books to write which will take the rest of my life so my university is saying, when are you coming back?

JJ     Do they pay you while you are around?

POM     They have been doing it but I think they're getting tired. There was a time when Northern Ireland was hot. That's gone. There was a time when SA was hot. That's gone. It's tricky. In another part of my life I edit a Public Policy Journal. On occasion I do special issues. I have been putting together a special issue that I began conceptualising about 18 months ago and it was just called 'On War' and the preliminary idea was to have different people look at the changing nature and conduct of war in the 20th century to see what lessons we might draw and what measures we might put in place as a result of those lessons as preventative measures in the 21st century. I had thought of you in that context and if you have the time and the inclination, you'd have four to five months, to do an essay on the changing nature of maybe war and humanitarian aid or war and food and the importance that food plays in war and how famine is used as an instrument of war or how the nature of war itself is changing because – as in Iraq the immense emphasis being put already on humanitarian aid and the need to get it in there as quickly as possible, and the problems with humanitarian aid and the relationship between humanitarian aid and war. Issues like that, issues that might interest you.

JJ     I think that's a fascinating book and a fascinating study. I'm not – basically I haven't got the depth of knowledge to do anything useful in that area. My role has tended to be more as a manager rather than as a thinker.

POM     Is there somebody you might suggest who I might contact?

JJ     I think there would be.

POM     I'll drop you an e-mail about it. You can think about it and maybe come back with some names and telephone numbers and I will then follow up with the people.

JJ     Yes I think that's – curiously enough, I mean that's a major field of interest to Oxfam, it could also be to the Red Cross. It's really getting somebody who has the intellectual depth to do something like that. But do drop me a note and I'll try to follow it up.

POM     I will send a transcript of this interview to you and you can go through it and look at what you think needs to be corrected or added to or whatever.

JJ     That will be fine. I'm always nervous seeing anything that I've said put down in writing. It's normally quite embarrassing.

POM     I see, well then I'll make a point of –

JJ     Edit it for me.

POM     I'll begin my piece on you by saying, Lord Joffe said I've never seen anything that I've said put down in writing, so here goes. Thank you for taking the time and sorry for all the cancellations and confusions. It's really been a pleasure talking to you.

JJ     I've enjoyed talking to you and learning about Ireland.

POM     I hope when getting through London, which I do quite frequently, that perhaps we can get together for a cup of coffee. I always like to attach a face to somebody I do an interview with over a telephone, there's a face behind the voice.

JJ     I would enjoy that and I'm really, I must say I'm really delighted that you're writing this book. I've been saying to Mac for a long time that he should be writing a book about his experiences and he's always said no but the fact that you're doing it will make up for that.

POM     I hope so. Thanks ever so much. Bye bye now.

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