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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

10 Jun 2003: Kasrils, Ronnie

POM     Ronnie, first of all, just give me a little bit about your own background.

RK     Well I was born in 1938 in Yeoville, Johannesburg. Grandparents Jewish immigrants who came to SA in the 19th century out of the Baltic states, the Russian Empire. I grew up in Yeoville, a lower middle class Jewish suburb. Went to school at Yeoville Boys and then King Edward VII School, basically like a lot of white SA kids, sports mad and not much interest in anything else. Late school years my mind was opened up by our history teacher who taught about the French Revolution and somehow that gripped a rather rebellious young man's mind. I had related to black people's suffering and through that to romantic revolution internationally, possibly because of my Jewish background. It wasn't a religious family by any means, I'm just talking about the war years and nazism and elements of anti-Semitism that one encountered within white society which was inevitable given the racist nature of the society. So by the time I was leaving school I was actually seeking the unconventional or unorthodox type of South Africans across the colour line but also whites who in that period would be regarded as Bohemian types, artists, musicians and the like, writers, poets, and had a little bit of a flair perhaps for writing. I started writing poetry and short stories and actually became a script writer for a film studio in Johannesburg. So that was my career path.

     March 1960 was Sharpeville, the 21st, and it so shocked me, I so rejected everything that the white society stood for and I wanted this affinity with blacks and with liberation and change that I immediately began to use the contacts I had built up through my period of late adolescent revolt and involvement with black cultural society and soon managed to get into the ANC and then the Communist Party. Within a year of that I was very actively involved and liked the elements of clandestinity such as painting slogans on walls and giving out illegal leaflets and the like, driving people around who were wanted and who were underground in that first emergency that was declared at the end of March 1960 with the banning of the ANC.

     So I was in at the deep end and I obviously caught the attention of the leadership being young, perhaps adventuristic, young white guy, pretty physical and pretty skilled in those sort of operations and very passionate about what was being done and totally committed, that I became involved right at the onset in uMkhonto weSizwe and its sabotage activities. By mid 1963 the police had tried to arrest me. I was operating underground for virtually the rest of that year and had become the Commander of MK in the then province of Natal. With my then girlfriend, now my wife, who was arrested, managed to escape from prison, from police custody we were sent out of SA for training towards the end of 1963 and I was based in Tanzania which had just become independent.

POM     Where did you go for the training?

RK     Trained in Soviet Union for a full year. Towards the end of 1966 my wife was in Britain, gave birth to our first son. I was sent there by the ANC for involvement in developing our clandestine links with SA and carried out a lot of activity for the next ten years working with Joe Slovo and Yusuf Dadoo, Jack Hodgson, Robert Resha, people like that, top leaders of the ANC alliance and Communist Party and then in 1977 I was sent to Angola to work in the camps with the 1976 generation. I was there for four years or so and then the ANC transferred me to what we called the front line states for involvement in clandestine activities, development of armed struggle and political underground. So from that period I was based, lived in Mozambique and Zambia in disguise and clandestine activity from Swaziland, Botswana, out of Zimbabwe as well. By early 1990 I was sent into the country to join Mac Maharaj for Operation Vula.

POM     That would be early 1989?

RK     Yes, early 1990. I came in early 1990. Mac had been in for a couple of years. I will come back to that. I had to go underground in 1990, about August, when Mac was arrested and I was underground for another year, then got indemnity. From then on one worked openly. Deputy Minister of Defence 1994, Minister of Water Affairs & Forestry 1999.

     I will just say by way of this opening that I had heard a little bit about Mac Maharaj in the initial period that I was operating, that there was this guy Mac Maharaj who was abroad and once I joined MK I heard from somebody like M P Naicker and Billy Nair who were the leaders in Natal, based in Durban, that Mac would be coming back. By the time I was underground I had picked up that he was back but was not going to be working in Natal. Subsequently I heard that he was in the Johannesburg area. I think I might have heard that from Bram Fischer, I'm not 100% sure. That was about 1963. In fact Bram had asked me to get some material, some published material relating to radio work and I subsequently realised that was for Mac and Steve Naidoo, I think the two were working together possibly. So I had had that little bit of a point in time where our paths were about to meet.

POM     When did you actually meet?

RK     I then met Mac – let me just say, you know he was a very shadowy figure at that stage because he wasn't a top leader, he was still too young but certainly five years or so older than me which made quite a difference at that period. I then heard about him after his trial with Wilton Mkwayi and realised that he was a person of considerable calibre as a revolutionary and had been involved in the leadership which was meant to be the new command at that time, after the Rivonia arrests, and of course there were many people one was learning about for the first time who were now on Robben Island. I knew a lot of them but I was interested in Mac because we had nearly met up.

     I met Mac the next time, it would have been shortly after his emergence into exile. I can't remember the exact date, you would have it, but I reckon it's somewhere around about 1977 perhaps.

POM     Yes 1977, he was going between London and Lusaka.

RK     Yes I met him around that time. The first meeting with him was an uproarious affair with Indres Naidoo, the two came to our flat in London in Golders Green. We gave them dinner. It was always incredibly exciting as an exile to meet fellow countrymen and women and comrades, whether for the first time or renewing contact. I knew Indres Naidoo from the 1960 period. This was the first time to meet Mac and he came across with all his true brilliance, highly articulate, very witty and very, very sharp intellectually. But when you meet Mac on the first occasion and it's a dinner and the whisky is flowing you have him at his best. I'm saying this in retrospect because I've also been with Mac at his worst, and very worst. I remember it being one of the loveliest nights in exile, it was very good meeting Indres Naidoo again, but Mac was actually quite exceptional because he is an exceptional intellect with tremendous –

POM     Was he married at that time?

RK     He was married to Tim, yes he was married to Tim who I had met a few times. Tim Naidoo, M D Naidoo's sister. But we didn't meet him in her company on that occasion because I think he had wanted to come – maybe she wasn't available. We hadn't met her on that occasion, I had met her already though. Anyway it was an uproarious evening and all the yarns were spun. So with Mac there's always another agenda I think – well I know there is but I would say even on that occasion.

POM     I'm learning that.

RK     Because quite soon he came and it was a follow up, and I don't say that in a mean way, another agenda, because we were in for our commitment single-mindedly to the struggle. Within a week he had sought me out again, this was a one-on-one, one of these sort of hush-hush meetings in a pub in London somewhere at a discreet hour so we couldn't be overheard and he was really enquiring about Sue Rabkin who was a recruit of mine who had gone into SA sent by me with her late husband David Rabkin in about 1972, trained by me as well to do underground work. They had been arrested in 1976. David was sentenced to ten years and Sue actually gave birth to her second child in detention, was deported. Sue was very committed and was absolutely itching to get back into the struggle somehow. She could be of use in London but she was one of these people who really wanted to be very involved. Mac came and asked me for an assessment of her, and I mean an assessment, her strengths, her weaknesses, her courage, her commitment, grasp of the theory and most of all reliability. I realised that he was seeking to involve her in the activities in the front line areas. I knew that Mac was, having come out into exile, was very closely connected with people back in SA in a very intimate way, more than those of us who had left in the early sixties and he had as a result been appointed to, I can't remember the name of the outfit, it was the political reorganisation.

POM     IPRD, Internal Political and Reconstruction –

RK     I think it was called the Internal Reconstruction Committee, which was basically political underground and links with the mass public movement. So in the assessment I gave Sue very top rating and he then asked if I thought she was the kind of person who could work in a political structure out in the frontline areas and I didn't need to take time out for that. I said she definitely was that kind of calibre. So that was that particular episode in time.

     I think he asked me for some other assistance in terms of possible contacts and techniques that we were using and what I felt about the training and whether I could recommend people from Angola. You see I had met him on a trip back to London, I was based in Angola at that time, so as to keep links with him and his committee with regard to people in Angola who in the training might show themselves to be good material for recruitment into this kind of activity. So we set up a working understanding and relationship from that point of view. That was that particular period.

     The next point in time, I'd obviously met Mac a few other times socially as well with my wife, with Tim, his wife, at the time. They were married at that point in time, 1977.

POM     Your wife knew Tim?

RK     Yes.

POM     Did you meet Tim?

RK     Yes we knew Tim.

POM     How did she come up – she was MD's sister, right? What kind of person was she?

RK     Quite reserved. I think quite a contrast to Mac who is very flamboyant and his second wife Zarina is more like him. Tim was in some senses like her brother, MD, quite studious people, quite reserved. I didn't know her very well. She was a good person, a person of solid character, had been living in London for, I can't remember actually – I wouldn't know.

POM     Yes, she was nursing.

RK     She was nursing well before Mac came out and she ran a modest, comfortable flat down in Cricklewood or somewhere, somewhere north London, was a good hostess. We went there a couple of times for a meal. A quiet person, rather inactive from the ANC and anti-apartheid point of view. I don't want to do her disservice in that, she might have been a member and attended meetings but not a person who one noted from that point of view. Certainly a person who had been, I am sure, very loyal and committed to Mac in that entire period.

POM     I only say that because Mac never talks about her and I am interested in her because she was there during the hard years. When he came back she was detained, she came back with him, she was detained for over three months.

RK     Is that so? I didn't realise that.

POM     They were arrested together and she was detained for six months.

RK     Oh in 1963, that period.

POM     She was detained again later on and that's when she decided to get out of the country.

RK     Which period was that?

POM     That would have been while he was on Robben Island.

RK     Is that so?

POM     Yes, she went back to Natal and she got detained on one occasion there.

RK     What year was that?

POM     It would have been about early 1970s. She left in 1973.

RK     I've got absolutely no knowledge of their earlier marriage, that period, but of course when one met her – at the time of meeting her with Mac, that period, not knowing Mac so well, I mean I didn't see any incompatibility whatsoever. Later when one came to know Mac more one could probably feel that certainly the way he developed once he was out of prison that perhaps one could understand the incompatibility.

POM     To jump a bit, when you were head of Military Intelligence –

RK     A contradiction in terms I'd say.

POM     There was this guy in 1981 called Piper. He had been sent to the Lenin School, he was one of the top people. He was the guy who was doing the - Oshkosh or something, he was like the travel co-ordinator, got you through to the airport in Lusaka, got you on the plane, got your tickets. They had been, they fled, he had been an agent. Do you remember that?

RK     Yes, yes.

POM     Did anyone ever establish who Piper was?

RK     Well I would have thought that Mac would know more about it than me. I can't tell you. I know exactly who you're talking about. I wasn't working in Lusaka, Mac was. I met Piper.

POM     In 1981 you weren't in Lusaka?

RK     I came to work in Lusaka from 1985 so I was in Mozambique in 1981 but I had met Piper a couple of times coming through Lusaka Airport. I had also met him at a Communist Party meeting. He was there, there were two guys, I can't remember the other guy's name at the moment, and he was regarded as one of the dynamic up and coming group of '76, so I had come across him there. I'm not sure whether Piper is the guy who was actually working at the airport.

POM     No it was the other guy.

RK     It was the network linked to the airport. I think Piper was more of a theoretical guy, more intellectual and more involved in developing a political underground.

POM     That's correct, yes.

RK     So when I say I met him at the airport, no, the other guy who I think his name was Oshkosh was maybe at the airport, but Piper fled when the ANC in Lusaka began penetrating this informer network, the network of apartheid agents, and Mac will know a lot about that. But there's a guy called Garth Strachan who lives in Cape Town who was in Lusaka at the time and might know Piper. So that's one lead that I might give you for finding out what happened to him.

POM     Is he the guy who wrote a series of articles for the Rand Daily Mail?

RK     No, he's an MPC in the Cape Legislature with the ANC. I haven't got his – Strachan as in the football player or manager, Gordon Strachan. Don't you know - ?

POM     I only follow Manchester United, OK!

RK     Don't tell me you don't know who Gordon Strachan is. STRACHAN.

POM     What team does he manage?

RK     Gordon Strachan, I think he used to be with Man. U or Liverpool. He's with one of those Geordie teams I think.

POM     There you are, I still remember the names of the guys who were killed in the Munich crash in 1958.

RK     So you can contact Garth Strachan through the ANC Western Cape. Anyway that's Piper. I mean Piper I would think worked with that Internal Reconstruction Committee, that's what I would have thought. Piper was a tall rather light skinned, very charismatic guy, very intellectual.

POM     What I was trying to establish in fact was whether or not he was Joe Seremane's brother.

RK     No, no, Joe Seremane's brother is a guy who I did know, a guy whose MK name was Mahamba and he was the Commander in the mid 1980s of a training camp at Quibaxe, it's in my book incidentally, a lot of this, and he was the Camp Commander there. That was Seremane's brother and he died in that camp. He was arrested and transferred to our holding camp for agents. That's the guy who was Seremane's brother, not Piper. Seremane might have had other brothers.

POM     No, this is the one.

RK     I see Piper so clearly, no family resemblance.

POM     And he was another outstanding, up and coming - ?

RK     Who? Mahamba? No.

POM     He wasn't?

RK     No, a very strange guy. The moment I met him in that camp I thought what gives with this man. No he was not impressive at all. He had become Camp Commander but nevertheless I had question marks in my mind about his behaviour there.

POM     So it didn't surprise you?

RK     No, not at all. I think this event with Piper surprised people because he was the top.

POM     Because he was the top, he'd gone to the Lenin School.

RK     There was a shadow over him there. In retrospect it shouldn't be thought of as a shadow but he and another guy who was with him, and that name will come to me, and Mac would know that Piper and the other guy who was also a leading young ANC recruit from the early seventies, the two of them became critical when they were at the Lenin School at the time of the Soviet Union's invasion, or let's put it this way, the Soviet Union's involvement in Afghanistan and they were quite outspoken on it and that cast a bit of a question mark because people in that period were really unquestioning of the Soviet Union, whether you were Communist Party or ANC and it was always regarded as something a little strange if a person was critical. The guy he was at the Lenin School with was not an agent and subsequently was placed in positions of responsibility in the ANC until he died about ten years ago, I think it was of ill health, probably about the late 1990s. He worked for the Department of Foreign Affairs and I think was married to one of the Shope daughters. I just can't remember his name, but just to help you – you will find out if you want to talk about the two of them. The one guy wasn't an agent.

POM     When you were – was it OR who told you that you were going to be involved in Vula?

RK     Yes.

POM     And then was it Joe Slovo who made the introduction to you of Mac to say what Vula was about?

RK     OR asked me if I would become involved with Vula and go into the country to join Mac and Siphiwe Nyanda and I immediately agreed.

POM     Were you surprised to learn that - ?

RK     I wasn't surprised because I think before Mac disappeared from Lusaka he had been asking me for assistance vis-à-vis contacts at home. I'm not talking about the initial request when I met him in London, that was 1977/78. I'm talking now about the period of 1986/87 probably when I was now working in Lusaka as head of MK Military Intelligence. He asked me for contacts and some assistance and points about training and my views on the various training that you could get from the Soviet Union to the GDR to Cuba with crash courses, the range of courses because I had been very involved in that side of work and also the question of courses in Angola where I had worked. He was asking me about contacts in the underground at home and whether there were people who I could release to his work in the broad sense of the political reorganisation, building of the underground at home and he was also very interested in assistance from me in relation to my very wide range of contacts in Europe and North America. I'd been recruiting people from the late sixties, from London, when I first went to London it was that type of work. The kind of anchor people in some of the countries whether in Britain or parts of Britain or on the continent, France or Netherlands for example or over in Canada, people who might be of use to him as spotters, as recruiters.

     Well I could link that in to his overall work in the country but round about that time he was talking about getting ill and having to leave Lusaka for treatment and more and more this was presented to the inner sanctum, those of us on the committees, the ANC's National Executive Committee and the Communist Party Central Committee or the Political Military Committee which linked military and political underground in the country and activity. He was very clever in the way he built up what became in the long term his cover story for leaving Lusaka, beginning to hobble around using a walking stick, beginning to talk about problems with smoking, trying to get rid of smoking, that it was affecting his lungs. People were wondering what the hell is this guy doing, he's dying on us but he was very fit and active anyway. So I was involved in intelligence work and just in my mind, I'm not saying I was forming an opinion of what he was doing –

POM     That there was something going on.

RK     By the time Mac now had to go on long leave to recuperate at some seminar in the Soviet Union, well quite frankly you could pull my other leg. I never spoke about this or asked anybody because we operated in these ways. I would certainly say that the kind of intricate scenario that was being played out would have fooled the enemy or any of their agents in Zambia which was what it was meant to do.

     So, no, I wasn't surprised when Tambo wrote on a pad like this, "And you will be joining", and he wrote, "Mac and Siphiwe." So there wasn't any whistling sound out of my body.

     Sorry, can I just finish, because you did ask me how does Joe Slovo then come into the picture. Well on that basis OR said to me, "Look, as you probably might realise", I don't even think he said that, I think he said, "Look, now you will speak to JS, he's going to take this further with you and you will be working with him." Then I spoke to JS, I said to him, "Look, I'm ready to go home at a moment's notice", and he said, "Well, look, well we're going to have Mac coming out soon and that's going to be important that you meet with him and discuss with him. Secondly your responsibilities are too great to just drop. We've got to start working on phasing out your work and then beginning to build up, as Mac had, a legend for your disappearance." I also needed certain training which related to the way Mac was operating and then JS said to me, "The kind of information we're getting from home comes from Mac and it comes from a system that he has developed using computer communication and there's quite a bit of training that's needed with regard to that that you will have to do in London." So this delayed my departure for about a year or so, or nine months, something like that.

POM     What was your understanding of what Vula was about?

RK     Very clear that it was about introducing into the country an underground leadership, senior underground leadership of the ANC and Communist Party where people who were introduced who might be party members as well would also separately work on the development of party work and activity. It wasn't that it was one and the same for the Communist Party and the ANC. The two worked so closely together, the outsiders at times, like F W de Klerk once said famously, they're like a scrambled egg, but in fact it wasn't quite like a scrambled egg but the lines of communication and the actual activities, mission and so on, might be similar in certain respects but it was a different organisation. So it was to establish a senior leadership of the ANC inside the country. It would be a leadership which combined political and military work which could give leadership to the above ground as well as the underground as well as to MK. Those who were communists would be involved in parallel but, as a Communist Party leadership, giving leadership to the communist underground.

     The raison d'être for this was that from 1963 we had gone through many up-hills and down-hills, vicissitudes of the struggle whereby we had attempted to re-establish internal leadership and command centres of the highest level. Bram Fischer's leadership post the Rivonia arrests, even Wilton Mkwayi and the Mac group, these had been smashed. We had continued through a period of infiltration of quite senior people, Chris Hani, Lambert Maloi, we infiltrated them back, London played an important role in the early seventies, I think that was about 1972 period and those were quite senior people you know, of Mac's generation, Chris Hani for example, Lambert Maloi, another MK commander, we had re-established that leadership in Lesotho.

     Through the seventies we had begun operating in the forward areas, as I've indicated, and we began establishing middle level leadership in the forward countries such as Swaziland and Botswana as with Lesotho because they were cheek by jowl with SA, you know Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia were – well Zimbabwe was part of that I would say junior level leadership. Mozambique was an axis with Lusaka for the more senior, higher command level. But with developments in SA post 1976 and particularly now into the mid eighties with the development of the mass struggle and the UDF and so on, the need now to have a seasoned political leadership inside was the reason why Mac Maharaj and Siphiwe Nyanda had been the pioneer duo infiltrating in in 1987 and then asking for reinforcement at that leadership level. So that was the reason.

POM     Was it your understanding that this leadership had a dual mandate, on the one hand to develop the political underground and parallel with that to develop an MK capacity at the same time?

RK     Yes definitely.

POM     With a view in the end to a combination of mass mobilisation and military activity to overthrow whatever?

RK     Precisely. It was the evolution of our whole strategy of political mass clandestine and military activity to combine in order to create the conditions for an insurrection. If you look at all the strategy tactics, documents of the ANC from 1969, the Morogoro documents spells that out. It goes back to then, which said that the lessons of post-Rivonia and the incursions into the then Rhodesia, 1967/68, showed that we needed to establish leadership, underground leadership within the country and to develop both political and military activities in order to get to a point of overthrowing the regime. The four pillars which Mac very often quoted, I'm not saying he was the author, this was very much a part of our strategy, the four pillars of struggle was exactly that, the mass people's struggle, the underground struggle, the armed struggle and international solidarity, the four pillars. And we saw the culmination in the overthrow of the regime.

     As we went through the eighties so we began to clarify the concept further. From the time that the Green Book was published in 1980 following the visit to Vietnam, so we're talking about 1979/80.

POM     How many went on that trip? There was Slovo, there was OR, there was - ?

RK     Mzwai Piliso, Cassius Make, Moses Mabida, Joe Modise. I think it was that six. That Green Book takes the Morogoro strategy document through to this point where the study of Vietnam was so clearly linking military, political underground struggle together in a most skilful way and this was a result of a lot of frustration and debate. Let me rather emphasise debate, but with it a certain degree of frustration and tension between the military structures and the political structures, political now meaning the underground reconstruction structures. In a sense that debate between two wings of the struggle working in parallel but too much away from each other through the post-1976 period to 1980. Military leadership really Joe Slovo and Joe Modise. Political leadership, I'm talking here about the underground reconstruction, Jacob Zuma, Josiah Jele, Mac Maharaj and the chairperson of their committee, John Pule, John Motsabe was his real name, John Pule. And I can tell you I had become involved in that already in Mozambique because in 1980 when I was posted to Mozambique the struggle then was being run by the Revolutionary Council in Lusaka. Moses Mabida was the chair, Cassius Make the secretary and it brought together the military machinery and the political underground machinery. I can tell you there were very fierce debates and we felt this in Mozambique.

     I was transferred there from 1980, Angola to Mozambique, to join Jacob Zuma who was the chairperson of this Political Committee, I was the secretary. Joe Slovo was chairing the Military Committee and John Nkadimeng was chairing the overall Political/Military Committee which was an attempt to fuse the two post the Green Book and you had a Political/Military Committee in Lusaka replacing the Revolutionary Council in order to fuse the two. Now in actual fact the idea of fusing the two in that way didn't really achieve the objective of the real integration of the military and the political, there were still the tensions, they still worked in parallel and we had some very fierce arguments. I had very, very sharp arguments and at times fallouts with Joe Slovo. I was very much in line with Jacob Zuma and I would say Joe was very jealous of an erosion of his territory and his theoretical leadership. There were tensions.

POM     A lot of human tensions going on.

RK     In Lusaka. They were very interesting and at the end of the day we drank our whisky together and loved each other but it was really serious, sharp at times, and the same thing was going on in Lusaka between Joe Modise and John Pule and that particular division.

     Now Mac Maharaj with his sharp tongue would be really mixing it, so the sparks were flying and it doesn't mean that, as one might anticipate, that the alliance was such that I never fell out with Mac because I had my biggest fallout where Mac and Joe Slovo were aligned against me because of my critique not only of the way the military were conducting their activity out of Maputo, but the way the political machinery that Jacob Zuma and I came to inherit which had been set up by Mac and where Sue Rabkin and Indres Naidoo were working when I was transferred and I had my criticism about the two operating separately but I also had a critique about some of the weaknesses in the Political Committee and I made a critique and Mac really didn't like that. So we ended up with Mac and Joe Slovo aligning against me and making a very heavy criticism of my criticism to the point where I was accused by the two of them of insubordination.

     So we can talk about these things now in the year 2003, and I hadn't even written about this in my autobiography because we can see these things more clearly now. The beauty and the strength of the ANC was that we could have sharp differences, they weren't about ideology, they were strategy and there was never a split as a result and there wasn't back-stabbing, although at times Mac Maharaj would think there was back-stabbing and was very unforgiving and I am sure to this day doesn't forgive some of us for some of the things we said at that time.

POM     It was like ballistic going out and coming together. Do you want to hold it there for today?

RK     I can give you another ten minutes, unless you feel we've come to a good spot.

POM     I think we have come to a good spot.

RK     A very good spot because you see the next element would be coming into the country. Let me just, so I don't forget and we can flag it, where we've got to come back to now is I'm now in Lusaka and I've told you about the sharpness of exchanges in 1980/81 in Maputo and they even said you could be charged with insubordination because of the way I spoke to them in a meeting, and the meeting I'm talking about would have been ten people in a meeting, nothing public, no rank and file, and there were no swear words I can assure you. But the fact is that we're now in Lusaka in 1988 I would say, or maybe 1989, somewhere round about early 1989 I think this must be and I meet Mac, he's come out, he's hobbling around, he's got an eye patch and he remembers to cough and so on. He does quite a good job of it. Mac is absolutely a natural when it comes to that form of deception, and I use the word in a good sense, in a totally good sense, don't get me wrong, in the underground clandestine sense. I would say a very highly moral and frank, honest, brutally honest person in the way he sees things.

     So here we've got Joe Slovo, my relationship is very good, he's wanting to work with me. They've selected me and they've spoken to Oliver Tambo; this is the man they want back in the country and Mac wants me to join them. So possibly he would tell you, it would seem to me to be in maybe early 1989, and I meet Mac and we have some very long meetings in Lusaka in preparation, briefing and preparation for my return to SA. I think I met him again probably mid year, towards end of year 1989 when he's again in Lusaka and I think at that time showing a bit of pique and criticism as to why I'm not back in the country and a hint that maybe I'm holding back because we can begin to see that the situation is opening up and there are other people around who should be infiltrating back but are keeping their powder dry, so to speak, because they can see other openings arising in relation to what might be a totally different situation in SA in the coming year. I found that that very wrong, it certainly wasn't my reason. My reason was purely to do with the points I've made about Joe Slovo, phasing out, getting training and that they would take the decision about when I went in and I was totally open to that. There was never for a moment with Tambo, Slovo, and now Tambo was ill unfortunately stricken with the stroke that he had, and the person I was now meeting with was Alfred Nzo who had taken over together with Slovo the responsibility for Vula from outside. So it was top level ANC leadership which linked, which was responsible for the development of Vula whatever the press and F W de Klerk attempted to project later that it was a Communist Party plot of some kind and aimed at derailing the negotiations. It was absolutely not the case.

POM     But they got Tongaat and Vula all mixed up together.

RK     They did, yes. So that might be a good point, with Mac being back and we've actually passed – I don't think I've got very much more to talk about in relation to his coming back and the sessions we had and a tendency, but that's par for the course of Mac, the pique shows. I knew Mac very well and I knew for me what were elements of the chemistry which one had to be wary of for the sake of the project and I've got a little bit of a short fuse myself and had had some awful scraps with him. But the question was not allowing any sensitivity to any level of the criticism which Mac was always inclined to articulate and had raised this to me and I had to tell him in no uncertain words that, listen, that's not the case, a bit of bull dust.

POM     I'm sure the language was a little bit different.

RK     Let's say somewhat richer. But then with Mac you can engage and you see no matter how rich the language and the temperament that shows at the end he can laugh it off. You're talking about someone with one of the most engaging laughs in the business that's full of riches and people – I've seen, for instance, a Soviet instructor in sharp shooting when I was, just before slipping back into the country, undergoing a very top level training course in sharp shooting under all situations and he talked about Mac and how Mac had engaged with him and he said that man's got the most wonderful laugh he's ever come across. And this was a Red Army man. We spent time at that stage drowning some sorrows in vodka about the demise of the Soviet Union which was obviously coming.

POM     Mac told me a story about that, about when he realised – the man he dealt with in the Soviet Union a lot was Shubin.

RK     Yes. This isn't Shubin. Shubin was the political guy, the connection with the Central Committee and the ANC. I'm talking here about the instructor who instructed us in sharp shooting. You go into most interesting situations where you'd be in the absolute darkness in a shooting gallery just as an exercise with your Makarov and lying down as though in bed with a Makarov under your pillow and suddenly the lights would come on for a split second and there was a target, it could be anywhere, a target of a man and you had a second and you were out and then the light would come on again and stay on for three seconds and you had to get three shots off and then they would go and check the results. They really provided us with tiptop training. My shooting with a pistol through that course of ten days became absolutely remarkable. I was always a good shooter with a rifle, with an AK, a pistol is very difficult, and that training, 50 yards in that condition and one was hitting a target, I never dreamt that I would be able to shoot with a pistol like that because I don't have a very steady hand and I was amazed at how they took me through the steps, shooting from a moving car and all these situations, coming through an open door, sudden situation where there were six targets and you had about ten seconds.

POM     Whenever you must go to movies, if you ever get a chance, you must look at these guys with guns and say, 'Oh they're doing it all the wrong way!'

RK     Well they do it in the most stupid way because the one thing is they never hold the pistol in the vertical, they now hold it in the horizontal. I don't know if you've ever noticed. I noticed it on TV, I was in the cinema the other day, I don't go and see those films, I don't like them, these real sort of stupid things, and they turn the gun to the horizontal, they shoot this way. You've got to shoot like that, pointing your finger.

POM     You might find it interesting – whatever I did there.

RK     My God, you need to get the guy a new pen.

POM     You know I bought up all these pens.

RK     Don't buy these. Have you got one of these pens? Somebody told me that these are the best pens going. Sue Rabkin.

POM     They're not available any more.

RK     She's just had a birthday, we were out with her for dinner. She says to me, "I always know", we went to her house for a drink before, "You love these pens that really write well. These are the best." And she showed me hers and I said, "Oh really?" She said, "They're fountain pens, Solway fountain pens", that's what it does, and when you put these bloody things here and you look and you see the ink I nearly die. But by all means use the gents and wash yourself off, Padraig. Very good to meet you.

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.