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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
12 Jun 2003: Kasrils, Ronnie
POM Ronnie, we had just stopped the last time when you were about to embark on your journey to SA itself. But before we get there, could you just talk about when you were in SA during the period you were here, what duties and responsibilities did you carry out in relation to Vula?
RK The period - ?
POM From when you arrived until
RK Well I was meant to come in as the Deputy Commander to Mac. Now just to give me a little bit of an insight about the extent to which Mac is taking you into his confidence, has he told you of any of his plans vis-à-vis Vula at the time, can you just give me an idea about that, when at the end of 1989 Mac was a bit unhappy about his situation?
POM No, no, maybe you could talk about that.
RK He hasn't mentioned that?
POM Well yes he has mentioned that he was unhappy about the fact that more senior people were not coming in, that Chris Hani had been earmarked for the Western Cape and that hadn't happened and then he was to take over responsibility for the Western Cape as well. There was the whole, that would be in 1989, part of the quelling of the suspicion when Madiba's letter to PW came out that (Madiba was selling out).
RK Well actually I can tell you that Mac was wanting to stand down and to leave the country and give up his command of Vula because he was unhappy with what he felt was lack of support from leadership outside. This came to my knowledge shortly before coming in, which wasn't the best kind of news to hear when one was coming into an established project as a deputy to a commander who was now talking about giving it up. I mention this to you because, yes, that's fine, I mention it to you because this was not news to the regime since they managed in the end to obtain the entire archives of Vula which was on computer disk, so they were very well aware that Mac was actually resigning his command.
POM They weren't aware of that in - ?
RK No, I'm talking about the fact that the regime came to know about this by July 1990 when they arrested Siphiwe Nyanda.
POM Sure, OK.
RK So this is why I am talking about it because I normally don't talk about and I don't reveal things of the underground that were not public domain. But I had to come into the country at a time when I was told that Mac was actually resigning his command, so it was a very sensitive situation when I finally arrived.
POM Was it accepted in Lusaka at that time that this was going to happen?
RK Well if he was going to there was no way they could have threatened him to stick to his post, but I actually came in in that situation.
POM He did talk about, not about that, he was not getting the support from Lusaka in terms of the personnel. He wanted more personnel to be coming in and they always had an excuse why somebody couldn't do it.
RK Well that's his story. But that was the situation that I found myself in.
POM And before you came in, because this has become something we will talk about, how would you characterise relationships between yourself and Mac, I will separate them, on a social level and on a professional level?
RK Well Mac is very mercurial, very waspish, like a hornet, he can be very sharp, very unforgiving, but also professional. I had mentioned to you a fallout I'd had with Joe Slovo and him some years before. Our approach to the struggle was one in which we could bury our differences and even our personal problems. I liked him because he's a very likeable person but very difficult, who can change in his behaviour and attitude quite quickly and doesn't forget things. He's got a mind like an elephant, a memory like an elephant, and when it suits him he will hammer his colleagues, when it suits him, and that certainly had happened to me and to many others at various times. So we all knew Mac and his temperament, it was a very difficult one but he was very dedicated and we always in the movement buried personal differences in order to get on with the job and Mac was like that, very much, very committed. Therefore, it was relationships like you have with lovers where there's a deep commitment and you can have a spat and then in the romance of the In the romance of the relationship you forget about the bad times and that's very much in accordance with a relationship with Mac Maharaj.
POM So you entered the country on what date?
RK Something like early 1990.
POM OK. I wanted to ask you what you did first in terms of your actual activities. Were you training people?
RK Where? Inside the country?
POM Inside the country.
RK We'll go through sequence-wise, I think it's better.
POM OK. So you arrive early 1990, it's then just very shortly before
RK It's around that time. I sat in a house, a safe house, watching Mandela being released. It was an absolute mind-bender to be in SA as part of a programme which was aimed to overthrow the government by insurrection and we now had the ban on the ANC being lifted and Mandela being released and subsequently I'm watching Joe Slovo, who had become my main handler, and Alfred Nzo, my main handlers, coming into the country and there I am seated with a strange disguise in a safe house, yes a safe underground house, and these guys were now in the country talking to the regime and I was in this strange situation so it was very, very peculiar indeed I must say.
POM OK, sequentially, Mac says that he was unhappy with the fact that you wanted him to meet him at the airport when you came in on Austrian Airlines, that you didn't give the day but gave the airline, didn't give the time of the airline and they were hanging around. Those were small things that he never forgave.
RK My exact point. It's laughable. The man is absolutely true to type as I've indicated and I'll tell you exactly what happened and how furious he was and how furious I was and how we nearly got involved in a punch-up except that Siphiwe Nyanda put his foot over mine in the safe house in Parkhurst, Johannesburg, not to be confused with the Parkhurst house that I subsequently came to live in when I was legal. It's a nice suburb.
Right. I come in and there's a connection through Tim Jenkin who was running the communications from London and it was very elaborate, very professional, streets ahead of anything that we'd achieved up to then in communications and that's Mac and his creation together with a person like Tim Jenkin for sure.
Now I came in via Rome, Greek businessman, nice forged passport, flew out of Vienna. In fact it wasn't out of Vienna, it was out of Rome, Alitalia, and I wasn't saying that, I never said that he must meet me at the airport, it's the last thing I would want. I was simply told that I should come into the country and I should locate at a hotel.
POM The Holiday Inn.
RK OK, at the Holiday Inn in Sandton. From there
POM A note would be put under your door that night saying whether everything was safe and where to go to meet a contact the following day.
RK That's what we did in fact do. I don't believe I would have gone to a hotel they told me to, no way. You see the detail that I was given, I'm not going to follow that because I'm not going to trust the communications however smart that it's claimed to be. What I had as the connection was to contact Tim Jenkin
POM At the airport.
RK Yes, and get a connection for the meeting. I covered myself because there is such a thing as the other side intercepting such communication and there's no way that I was putting the meeting in jeopardy. It was a question of meeting at a particular point which was the Wimpy Bar down Oxford Street, or down Illovo, continuation of Oxford Street, a Wimpy Bar and meeting him inside the Wimpy Bar. The bloody Wimpy Bar had been closed down for months, that Wimpy Bar wasn't bloody well functioning. I come into the country on a false passport with a false identity and I am not going to meet anybody where I lay up until, which happens to be the hotel, until the point of making that meeting. So Mac is covering himself but I'm also covering myself and I had my connection with Tim Jenkin to tell him I was AOK and to signal that I was ready for the meeting at the bloody Wimpy Bar.
POM Did you not lay over that night some place?
RK Yes, I laid overnight.
POM Who told you to go to the Sandton? Was it Jenkins or was it - ?
RK I can't actually remember but I am very well aware of Mac's irritation that it wasn't not complying with an arrangement to meet, the meeting place was a fucking Wimpy Bar which had closed down to my amazement when I cased it out. So alarm bells ring and I said, OK, I'll be around there for the meeting the next day and I will case it myself from across the road but there's no way that I reveal where I'm sleeping that night. Now it's come back to me, I was supposed to indicate to Tim Jenkin where I was sleeping that night, Mac didn't tell me to go to the Holiday Inn. What he wanted to do to cover his fucking arse is where are you staying, so he can send someone to case me out that I'm cool for the meeting the next day. OK, I'm coming into the country, I've got to be sure I'm clean as a whistle. That's the sequence of events.
So I contact Tim and I don't tell Tim where I'm staying. I just say I'm OK for the meeting, I signal everything is OK for Saturday morning meeting, this is Friday. I go to the meeting place an hour before, I case it out and the place, this Wimpy Bar is closed, it's closed down, it's no longer in business. I bloody move away and I start circling the area and looking out for the kind of signals you look out for. Are there police around? I come back to the place on the hour, ten a.m., I go to the spot and I stand there and there's nothing happening and I move up and I'm walking up the road and of course Mac is watching me at the point and he waits to see what I do and I move away and then he comes and picks me up. Of course instantly he's got a rage on.
We drive to the safe house where Siphiwe is. We drive to the house in dead silence, he says, "Well where were you last night?" And I said, "Well here I am now. That's the meeting place, why is it closed down?" He couldn't answer that one. He drove to the venue, a Canadian couple, safe house. Incidentally I put Mac in touch with the Canadian contacts to help organise the underground. You remember I told you about the international links? And the key guy in Canada is a chap called John Bazel who was my recruit in 1960 voetsak, which means a long time ago, 1961 in Durban and John Bazel helped Bram Fischer. He then left the country and he worked in Canada and I gave Mac that connection. John Bazel recruited somebody from the Canadian Communist Party.
POM The couple.
RK The couple, they live up the road here now. I play golf with him, the Douglases, and this was their house, the back area was this cottage. We sit down, I'm here, Mac there, Siphiwe there, and Mac now launches into a diatribe against me for not having indicated where I was staying the night before. And we get into a rage and Siphiwe puts his foot on mine and gives me a tap.
POM This was nearly the end of the underground.
RK And a tap, just a little pressure on my foot, you know the bugger, just ignore it. So he blows his top and then we got into the agenda and the agenda was Mac's standing down and the fact that I had to take over. I then said, "Mac, you can't do that. There's no way I can take over like that, you ought to be committed to your duty and at least see it out for a period that I can find my feet and see how things go." That was my coming into the country for Vula.
POM He says, going around that, which would add up to what you're saying, because in January, and you would have come in in January if Mandela was released -
RK February I think.
POM If you came in in February then it was nine days because if you were in the country on the 9th, so it would have been in the first week of February that you actually came in. At that time he says he had indicated to Lusaka that he was getting out, he was leaving the ANC, he was quitting.
RK Oh OK. You held that back, that's why I wanted to check.
POM You see I was checking you out!
RK That's why I said to you, you're a bugger, I thought to myself, my God, Mac hasn't told him, this is a key thing. And I thought to myself I'm going to bloody show Mac, he wants history written and he's holding back on what is a key element and for me I'm very committed to not revealing things that might not be revealed as long as the regime knows about it and my rationale was, "Oh, Mac's keeping quiet about that but the regime knew so it's public property."
So right, you see he was leaving, he was quitting, he was actually quitting and I didn't use that term, you did. It was as harsh as that. I've come in and actually before I came in I was told, "See what you can do about this bugger." And if he's playing such open cards from his version, his critique of Lusaka was highly personal and it was aimed at one person, Joe Slovo, and I am sure he's dealt that card and I think he was bloody out of order because Joe Slovo was not letting him down. His whole diatribe was that Joe Slovo was not paying enough attention to his needs and Joe was working bloody hard to give support to the Vula project. Bloody interesting, you're on to something with your book. This is the kind of stuff we haven't written about, not even in my autobiography. Now I'm going to write about it because they want a couple of chapters for a re-issue of my book.
POM Now Mac even on the Canadians
RK But has Mac attacked Joe Slovo in his discussions with you? Because he wouldn't attack Oliver Tambo you see. Now Oliver Tambo is down with a stroke and he's out of business and therefore who's the bad guy in Lusaka? For him it's Joe Slovo. And it's totally unfair.
POM Yes, yes. Well from my conversations with him about Joe it was a love/hate relationship.
RK Very much so, very much. But with Mac all his relationships are love/hate. You see love/hate relationships are something we all have to experience but they should be a minority of our relationships, not the total picture. My feeling about Mac is love/hate and I'm sure his of me. Maybe. Maybe it's just hate because I blew up with him on another occasion.
POM I will get to that too.
RK This is a much more interesting interview than the other day.
POM Well we laid the groundwork first. I was casing you out again, see. I've been eleven years doing this and I've learned how to, but that's another point.
Now Mac's version of coming to the Canadian couple is that he took you, when he met you he took you to the safe house that was owned by this Canadian couple and it was this cottage or whatever, garage.
RK Has he given you their names by the way?
POM He doesn't give the names, no.
RK Well I will introduce you to them, you can interview them and you will see Mac from the way they saw him which would be very interesting.
POM Yes, that would be, because he said he had very little interaction with them. He separated himself and whatever. But the thing is that he left you there, said there's a fridge, there's some food in the fridge and relax and sit down and I've got to go out and do some work. And he went out and he did his work and when he came back you were there and you had oh, as he was coming in to the house the couple upstairs were outside and they very excitedly said to him, "Guess who's here? Guess who we met?"
RK Oh, what a load of rubbish.
POM "Ronnie Kasrils is here."
RK This is sheer bullshit. What lies. It's rubbish. I'll introduce you to them. Rob and Helen Douglas, their records are known. I managed to help them to resettle in SA. Mac did bugger all for them and they were the people who were there for him and working for him. This is interesting stuff. That is absolute crap. Mac took me to that house and the first thing that happened was the meeting with Siphiwe Nyanda in the cottage. I never ever told the Douglases who I was and you can check with them. That is sheer crap, that's really offensive stuff.
POM Secondly, he said that you had gone out and bought food from the store and he had to sit you down and tell you
RK What rubbish! Siphiwe Nyanda was there.
POM He was there all the time?
RK Yes, he did all that. For the first week I was there I didn't go out on my own. Siphiwe took me everywhere. That's fabrication and this is absolutely inadmissible if we're going to have a record that is worth anything, including personal foibles. I don't say that's got nothing to do with the historical record but that's crap. That's absolute malicious bullshit.
POM Well let me tell you what my approach to this whole thing has been, is that whenever Mac has mentioned anybody with whom he has been involved with an incident or a relationship I have gone to that person.
RK Well I think you really ought to. I can tell you I'm an atheist, so I don't swear on the bible, but my word is my word throughout my life, I don't tell lies. No, he's being very naughty and very nasty. Really that is really out of order. I am so angry, which I haven't been. You saw how I spoke about him in chapter one and even chapter two? I wanted to check with you to what degree do you know about Mac and you got on to my coming back. This is really disgusting that he should say that and you've got the great opportunity of meeting with Rob and Helen Douglas.
POM I will do that.
RK I will give you their number, I've got it on me.
POM I'd appreciate that. I will follow up.
RK Have you spoken to Siphiwe Nyanda?
POM I have yes.
RK Have you had his version of this?
POM Not of that. I was talking to him about the encryption that I was interested in. But I will go back and talk to him again, very definitely.
RK And actually now, since I've got the steam up and I've said that his real genius was the development of the communications, where his foolhardiness and stupidity, and Joe Slovo was furious, was the way that he maintained the whole archive in the country on stiffy disks, the computer disks, so that when Vula broke, when they smashed Vula they had the total record, it was there on disk. He blamed Siphiwe Nyanda. You get Siphiwe's explanation for this because he was venomous in his attack on Siphiwe for keeping those disks and the way the archive was maintained was absolutely out of order. I don't defend myself on this. I knew bugger all about computers and disks and I didn't really realise much about the security aspect except that communication between one country and another I'm not going to trust it, which is why there's no way I tell him where I'm sleeping the night before, in what room I'm sleeping or whatever.
POM Let's just talk about the system for a moment.
RK Can I just clarify? Maybe he told me to go to that Holiday Inn.
POM You mentioned Sandton and the Holiday Inn.
RK I think he told me to go. What I didn't do was tell, confirm to this chap in London Tim Jenkin where I was. Once I came in I thought, no this is crazy, I don't confirm where I'm sleeping tonight. That was what he was pissed off about, so I did go to the hotel but when I phoned Tim on the Friday lunchtime from a post office I felt there's no way I'm going to confirm where I'm staying and what room and he wanted the room. That was the thing, they wanted the room, I don't think they knew what name I'd come in under, they wanted the room to put an envelope under the door. That's just straightening it out. That's what I think that was.
POM When you get the transcript you'll be able to go through it. That's what I always do with people, send them a copy of their transcript.
RK I really hope, Padraig, that you're not going to paint Mac as a pristine, blue-eyed angel boy because he's far from that.
POM Listen, I have spent
RK It wasn't the first time that he was threatening to leave the ANC. When I spoke to Walter Sisulu about Mac and how did you find him in prison, because we had other hysterics from this man about leaving and he subsequently did and has. He left the Communist Party in mid 1990.
POM We'll get to that too.
RK This is part of his whole character and Walter Sisulu said to me, "That's Mac. We didn't pay attention to this behaviour in Robben Island. He said these things and we said, ah OK, Mac said it, leave it to him. He will simmer down." And that was his advice to me.
I told you the other day about our trainer, the Don Kozak Red Army guy. He spoke about Mac and the sharp shooting and said he had the most wonderful chuckle.
POM Laugh, yes.
RK What I didn't say then was when he told me that I agreed because he's got a delightful chuckle but every time Mac chuckles I'm thinking, what the fuck is going on in this man? And of course I couldn't say that to Comrade Don Kozak. You know Mac, what a bloody character.
POM How did Mac do on the sharp shooting test?
RK I think very well. You must ask him but I think the guy was impressed with Mac.
POM I was wondering, with one eye
RK No, you've got to shut one eye.
POM OK, so he's already one second prepared.
RK He's got an advance on us, the bugger's got an advantage.
POM Shows you how much I know about guns.
RK Never must shoot with both eyes open.
POM Going sequentially
RK Have you interviewed Tim Jenkin?
POM I have.
RK And Janet Love?
POM Yes. Janet Love at length, two occasions.
RK She will give quite an objective view. She's quite balanced and she's less emotional than someone like myself. Tim is a bit of a cold guy. Let's have you interview Rob and Helen Douglas and you will find out.
POM Definitely. Don't worry, definitely.
RK And I can tell you later I went and shopped. There was nothing wrong with that. Mac shopped. I didn't shop when I arrived and I didn't for a week. Helen and Rob knew nothing from me and I don't think they knew who I was but they never heard from me who I was, they know how I operate.
POM So you've been briefed, now Mac then says after you had this spat or whatever that he thinks, or maybe it was part of what was pre-set that you ought to go to Natal, to Durban.
RK This is where he plays games, because I'm supposed to come in as his deputy, he's supposed to resign. I tell him, "What are you playing at?" in those sort of words, "How can you do it? And you really ought to be remaining here and handling this thing."
POM Mandela is now free, right? Because you were talking about watching him.
RK Yes, Mandela has been released and I'm supposed to be his deputy, he's supposed to be resigning and I'm actually in my mind wondering, is this a Mac Maharaj trick which everyone in the movement's sensed through experience? And what does Mac do? He says he wants me to go to Natal and see the situation there and get involved and for me that means immediately he's not serious about his threats because if he's serious about his threats he will take me to meet Mandela and Sisulu, which was being done secretly in his disguise through the lawyer connection.
RK You said it, not me, Ismail. He thinks we were all absolute dunces because he's now laying on these meetings and he's not saying you must come with me because you're my deputy and I'm resigning, but he's saying, "Will you go to Natal?" I knew at once that it was all bluff and my assessment of Mac was that here we were jolly well 'leadership' of the underground for the insurrection but the whole game's changed overnight and that's why if you've got ambition, who wants to be laid up underground? You want to be coming in from Lusaka and emergent and I'm starting to think to myself, well is this the game that he's now playing. So I've made the point to you about our compact with that revolution irrespective of likes or dislikes, personality and so on. You've got a job to do for the struggle and the revolution and you do it.
I'm just thinking, I'm having these third and fourth thoughts about what is Mac's motive, because we all know he's second to Tricky Dicky for sure and I realise, I'm not really there as someone who he wants to take over the project and because I don't have that kind of ambition I'm actually quite happy to get out of his way and actually just put myself away from him and to go and do an honest job in KwaZulu-Natal and see what's happening there, because in fact that's where the die is really cast and there is a full scale onslaught against the ANC. I go down there and I'm involved with the underground there and the first thing I want to do is arm the people, but I don't have the arms, I've just come in and I put through a request to him for arms. The response was no.
POM OK let's take that, let's just move backwards. First of all he talks about the going to Natal and he says (i) that you wanted him to go with you. He said no, no way.
RK I said no way to him?
POM No, he said no way.
RK Oh, I wanted him to come and he said no way.
POM Then that you wanted an armed escort.
RK Oh! Crap!
POM He said, "Who the hell do you think you are?"
RK He's mad! Good God, the guy is absolutely insane.
POM Then you wanted to carry a firearm and he said, no that would blow your cover. You've got the right passport and he compromised by having Janet Love travel with you.
RK He didn't say that. It wasn't Janet Love.
POM And you were to meet at Marianhill at the exit.
RK Who? Me and who?
POM Because Mac said, "I'll be following you and I will overtake you sometimes but I will always have an eye on you to see that nothing is happening but we will all of us reconnoitre or get together at the exit at Marianhill. Anyway, he says he pulled over to the sideway because he was tired and he slept for several hours and when he got up there was nobody anywhere and he goes like hell to Marianhill, the exit, and there was no-one there. Then he drove backwards and then he went to Marianhill and then he drove to Durban and he got in touch with, I forget whom, but he said, "Do you know the name of the Dutchman who was our underground person here?" And he said, "Yes", so Mac said he then went to the Dutchman
RK Maarten, I can't remember his surname.
POM He went there and he kind of insinuates he's going there because he had never met this man and suddenly there is going to be a knock on the door and he's going to say, "Did two people come here tonight?" The guy would pull back and say, "Who's this man? Is this the police?" But he convinced him that he was looking for you and your companion and he paged Janet. He asked the man could he get in touch with Janet and the man said yes, so he paged her and she rang back and he said, "Where the hell are you? I've been looking for you all over the place. Our arrangements were this and that and where are you?" She said, "You know Ronnie and I are at a restaurant on the waterfront having a meal." And he said, "Well get back here immediately." And so you both came back to the Dutchman's house and there was another blow up of he having to chastise her and chastise you.
RK It's crazy. That's about a year later. I actually had respect for his memory and I can see it's wonkers. The person who took me to Durban, which was about a month after I came into the country, was Siphiwe Nyanda. Mac had nothing to do with it and I didn't ask Mac to come to Durban with me. By the way, this is like ridiculous in terms of history but it's good in terms of biography, it really is.
POM I'm not doing his biography, that's the important
RK But I just want to tell you it's ridiculous in terms of history, absolutely.
POM Well this is more important.
RK I must have been laid up in Jo'burg for about a month. I didn't ask Mac for an armed escort, that's crap.
POM While you were in Johannesburg what were you doing? Who were you meeting?
RK I was getting some briefings, very little else. What was the situation, what's Mac doing. I don't even think it was a month, it could have been two or three weeks.
POM Were you being introduced to people?
RK No, they introduced me to nobody.
POM When you say 'they'?
RK Mac. I was the deputy. Mac introduced me to nobody from the underground in the country or the political mass movement.
POM So would he leave in the morning and say - ?
RK He didn't stay there with me. I was left there and Siphiwe was with me for a short time. Now Siphiwe was dealing with Durban. Probably in that period I met Janet and I would think in that period they wanted me to acclimatise and to come in on the communication system.
POM But you were really more being handled by Siphiwe than by Mac?
RK Well yes. Mac is there and it could have been as little as two weeks and I would say it was after several days, if not a week that when Siphiwe is not there I went out and bought some food. OK. The couple weren't there during the day and anyway there was no embargo on me, I was a legal person in the country. I needed to acclimatise and feel that I could get out and about. There was no problem in that. In actual fact within a couple of days I was walking around parts of Jo'burg, in my childhood area which I refer to in my autobiography, to get acclimatised and to see what is going on. I'm not coming in as a leper or Lenin in a sealed train. I came in 'legitimately' with a cover story. So it wasn't as though I'm wanted by the police and I'm in hiding and the Douglases have to do my shopping.
POM Now did you go around then in ordinary or disguises?
RK Yes, I was perfectly disguised. My mother wouldn't have been able to identify me and I can come back to that in a minute. But I had a disguise and a passport, an identify and I was a visitor from abroad in the country and obviously if I'm coming in to organise and so on I had to have that kind of mobility. But Siphiwe was with me. I don't know if Mac was around more than a night or two and we were having discussions. I would have been told and briefed about the situation in the country. Then came the question of going down to Durban. In that period was his meeting with Mandela and Sisulu and I didn't raise, I didn't want an unnecessary clash, why aren't you taking me along? And actually I've never pushed myself from that point of view, but of course I could have met them. I met Janet, I am sure, in that period and had some discussions and probably some further training in the internal communication and then this decision to go to Durban. Absolute crap about Mac being involved in me going down. I was given a young woman
POM Claudia Manning?
RK Claudia Manning. Probably, I never really got to know her, the name sounds familiar, who drove me down. I was totally relaxed. I had been working in the forward areas of a myriad of disguises in and out of border areas, I wasn't some schmuck who was scared to move and demanded weapons. I might have said, "Well do we have weapons and shouldn't I have a pistol?" but there was no insistence. I know the need of one's ID and cover story, it wasn't one that required a Makarov, but I am conceding that maybe I raised the question but not in terms of any debate and went down absolutely relaxed with her to Durban and she connected me with Siphiwe there and Siphiwe took me to an underground set up in Durban. So this crap of his
POM Did you stay with the Dutchman?
RK I was then linked to the Dutchman where I stayed for some period.
POM Was it Siphiwe who introduced you?
RK It was Siphiwe who introduced me to the Dutchman and Siphiwe will remember taking me to the underground house where Mina(?) was based. Now Mina is now the Deputy Chairman of the SA Communist Party so you must introduce her she was part of Vula in KZN. Her real name will come to me.
POM I've interviewed her. She's the Chairman of it now?
RK Deputy Chair. Have you met her? (Dipuo Mvelase aka Katherine.)
POM I've interviewed her.
RK Blade Nzimande is the Secretary. Charles Nqakula is the Chair. I was taken and I had to follow Siphiwe to that house in another car so from that point of view Siphiwe can deal with that aspect. Mac wasn't involved in any way and he's totally mixing up other periods in that 10 12 month period. He was arrested by August.
POM July 25th.
RK July 1990, within a few months. So what he's talking about in terms of my re-introduction into the country is three, four months.
POM So was there any occasion when you went to Durban with Janet Love?
RK Yes, sure.
POM Where you stopped off, where you were supposed to meet?
RK I went to Durban with Janet Love I think probably on a couple of occasions.
POM But there was never an occasion where you were supposed to reconnoitre with Mac at Marianhill?
RK Well that might have and Janet can talk to you about it. That might have been the occasion when we had the Tongaat meeting which was July.
POM OK, yes, OK.
RK I think July.
POM It was it was the end of May
RK Mac didn't come with me to Durban the first time I went. This woman, what did you call her? Manning, the Manning woman.
POM Claudia Manning.
RK She took me to Durban. I had no problem about weapons or paranoia. I came there and then I had a connection and I am sure it was Siphiwe it was who linked me to Maarten who had the safe house near Umhlanga Rocks, that posh suburb. It's just by Umhlanga Rocks.
So this story of his about where to meet and so on is a crap story. Janet drove me, I certainly drove with her to Durban on that occasion leading to the Tongaat meeting because I think I had been back up in Jo'burg, I was up and down in those few months. I drove Mac to Durban after we had emerged from the Vula situation and I've written about it in a chapter called 'Running on Empty' from the film.
POM I'll get to that.
RK In August. That's when I drove him down and he fell asleep, etc. So I can remember three times going down to Durban, the Mac time, the Claudia time which linked me with Maarten through Siphiwe, and the Janet Love time. I think Janet probably on two occasions.
POM Now you said you learned about the internal communication.
RK In the couple of weeks when I was at the Douglases and then further from Janet in Durban because I had to train a couple of other people. That's basically what happened. When you said, well you were in the Douglases house in the Parkhurst area for a couple of weeks, I'm focusing in on that there and with Janet I'm sure.
POM Now was this system that you learned?
RK It was similar to the external one.
POM It was. OK. But were you trained in the external one?
RK By Tim Jenkin originally and then internally with some development and some methods, internal Jo'burg to Durban and so on.
POM So you knew how to communicate in - ?
RK Internal, yes it was similar.
POM But did you know how to do it externally too?
RK Yes, sure.
POM So if you wanted to send a message to OR?
RK Or to my wife.
POM Or to your wife?
RK I communicated with my wife as well, yes.
POM You were able to use the system to do that?
RK Yes sure. I was trained up with the full benefit of the system. Tim Jenkin will tell you I'm not great at the computers. I did not realise the extent to which we were actually reckless and that recklessness emerged with the collapse of Vula and the fact that they had and could extract out of the computers every damn word whether in code or not.
POM Let's deal with that part. Mac left the country for some place in June.
RK Yes, same time as me.
POM He came back in about three weeks and now he's legal and he's only back a couple of days when he gets a call from Janet that there's been a problem and the two young Charles (Ndaba) and (Mbuso) Tshabalala, had disappeared.
RK It's one month. We came back like June.
POM He was arrested on 19 or 25 July.
RK 25 June.
POM No, no, when was the Communist Party launched? Because he missed that.
RK He was arrested the week before, the Friday. The Communist Party was launched on the Sunday at the Soweto grounds and he's arrested on the Thursday and they couldn't catch me and that's when I write in my book, Mike's Kitchen, I come there on the Friday. So he's arrested on the Thursday. We're talking about something like the end of July. We come back the middle of June and we're working for a month. We have a heated meeting of the Central Committee in Rosettenville, Troyville the Troyville meeting. Chris Hani, a lot of people, Joe Slovo, and his off the wall ranting and raving and that's when he leaves the party.
POM Who else was at that meeting?
RK Well there we've got communists and lapsed communists and I don't mention the names of lapsed communists. It's the top leadership of the Communist Party inside the country.
POM Thabo was there?
RK I couldn't say. Slovo was there and Chris Hani and myself and Mac Maharaj and ten others, and he goes off the flipping wall and he rants and raves and attacks Slovo in a most dreadful way. It's all highly personal, kind of sibling, infant attacking the father and we were all disgusted with him and he left the party. Raymond Mhlaba was there, go and speak to him. Have you spoken to him?
POM I have but not in regard to that meeting.
RK John Nkadimeng might have been there and Raymond Mhlaba.
POM Let me tell you what he says about that meeting. He says he was charged with launching the SACP.
RK He wasn't charged. Slovo, Mhlaba and Mac being the senior profile people met the press and gave an interview, a press conference about the launch of the party sometime in that two weeks, probably two weeks before.
POM Now Mac would say, or says, he said, "Let's not make the mistakes that the ANC did when they re-launched in the country", which he gives as the reason for his resignation by the way.
POM He had been communicating with Lusaka saying in the interim leadership you have there must be leaders of the underground in that leadership, people who are legally in the country but are part of the political underground. He said he didn't want a similar thing to happen in the Communist Party, that when it launched itself it should have had the input of all the cadres from around the country or whatever. That's why Tongaat was put together to have the kind of input about where the party was going, what role it would play in negotiations in the new SA or whatever. So you had this meeting, an extended meeting of the Politburo, he says the Politburo not the Central Committee.
RK Well it was an extended leadership meeting.
POM So it was more than the Politburo. It was bigger than a bread box, so to say, and that when it came to talking about who should be in that interim leadership, the voices of the interim leadership before you had your party conference or whatever, and I pulled the name out of him, the name is Harry Gwala, that Harry Gwala was proposed and Mac said, "No way, absolutely no way." He said, "I've been sending reports to the party for over a year saying that not only is Harry Gwala divisive but that Harry Gwala is setting one faction of the party against another and that Harry ordered the execution of a comrade, a good comrade, for no reason other than that he disagreed with him. On no grounds will I be part of anything that will have Harry Gwala as part of this leadership structure." At that point he says that Chris Hani said, "Well let's appoint him and then we will have a commission of enquiry about whatever he did about that comrade." And Mac said, "No commissions of enquiry, they fudge everything into the new environment, that's going no place." Then he says you butted in saying, "Mac if you don't go along with this", and I can quote exactly what he said if you want but I am summarising it pretty accurately, you said, "You're betraying the revolution." He said, "What the hell do you mean?" and you said, "Well Mac, you're a traitor to the revolution."
RK Oh rubbish. I would never have said that.
POM He said, "Are you calling me a traitor?" And he said there was a whole bust up and he said, "If that's the way things are I'm out of here."
RK I said that and that was the catalyst? That's rubbish, absolute rubbish, because I wouldn't use terminology like that, 'you're a traitor to the revolution'.
POM Well let me see what he said. He says, I'll read it to you so it's in the record. So when you look at the
RK I find it highly amusing. I think it's really rich, rich stuff.
POM He says everybody said he was right when he talked about morality in the party and that internal squabbles shouldn't be settled by one comrade having another one executed.
RK Well no-one would ever agree to that.
POM Mac says: - "You know the record of the man, he is a stalwart communist but he has never in his life had that moral fibre by distinguishing between how you fight the enemy and how you fight your own comrades. That was acceptable in political manoeuvring in the old days but not acceptable when it reached a point of fomenting the killing of a good comrade. I reported this previously, that these were problems that I encountered in Natal. We have to stamp it out because otherwise we will be riding a tiger that's going to bite us. This is the space that the party needs to occupy (the moral space).
Everybody says yes, you're right, but I can see they're impatient with the argument so I say, 'Now if that's the framework then this man cannot be put forward in the interim leadership because he is the person that I have previously reported to you was responsible for the killing of this one comrade.' Hani responds to me, he said, 'Look, it's right, there are these problems but this comrade that you are mentioning is an influential person. We need to put him in the leadership and we will have a commission of enquiry on his conduct.' I said, ,'I don't buy that, I don't buy that because I've seen commissions of enquiry before. Under the pressure of events they will be forced to fudge the events.'
Ronnie Kasrils then said, 'What are you saying? Are you saying that unless we do that you are not prepared to serve the Communist Party?' I said, 'Why do you ask me that question?' He said, 'Because the position you are taking, Mac, is a position of a traitor. You are betraying the Communist Party.' He used those actual words. So I said, 'Ronnie,' and I said to the meeting, 'Stop there. To call me a traitor for what I am saying is such a serious thing that it cannot be left at that. You have now personalised the issue. You know I have access to arms and I know you have access to arms. The logical conclusion of what you are saying by calling me a traitor is that you and I (that's you) had better get out of this room and fight it out because I will not tolerate that from you.' Fight it out because I'm ready to kill him for what he's just said to me. I want to fight it out.
The meeting then tries to pacify me. I said, 'No, I don't accept discussions being conducted this way because Ronnie by calling me a traitor has questioned my integrity, he's not listened to what I have to say.' He is in fact saying that if we appoint that person and have a commission of enquiry he will be calling for a whitewash of that person. It's not acceptable to me so JS and Chris tried to pacify me. They didn't call on Kasrils to withdraw his remark. Amen. They did say, I say in pacifying the meeting they say, 'Ronnie didn't mean it that way.' Ronnie says, 'I didn't mean it that way.' I said, 'The harm is done, now the harm is done. But OK, let's put it aside, you appoint that person to the interim leadership group and that's the last of me you'll see in the Communist Party.'
Slovo then said, 'Mac, what does that mean? Does it mean that you will not help us organise the rally?' I said, 'No, I will organise the rally and I will do it with the full passion when at the rally when we're going to announce the interim leadership, now that you've decided to include that person I will also introduce him too."
RK I will now show you what bullshit it all is. Post that would you expect him and I to travel down in a car, occupy a room together? Would you? After hearing that.
If that's true is it possible that he and I had anything to do with each other ever again? It's not possible.
POM It would seem that way.
RK Right. We receive news that Charles and Paul's brother, the other man, (Mbuso Tshabalala), Charles Ndaba, the teacher, have been arrested and disappeared. We go down to Durban, that's post that meeting.
POM He says you go down to Durban. Let me give you
RK This is post the meeting. He and I, I drive Mac to Durban and I would say it's like two days after the meeting. The meeting was sometime in the week, we know when Mac was arrested and the thing started coming apart. We get information, we can check the dates, it's all there the dates. We drive down to Durban to meet Mo Shaik and Billy Nair because the balloon is really up.
POM The arms stores are there.
RK People were being arrested, there are all sorts of things falling apart and we've got to rush down to Durban to save the bacon as far as it can be saved. I think we're talking here about Siphiwe Nyanda's arrest.
POM Yes, he had been arrested.
RK Like on a Thursday or something.
POM He had been arrested.
RK That week of this meeting that he's referring to, certainly post that meeting. So if it's not the week of the meeting it's the week after. It's the run up to the party rally and I take Mac, we're both working in Shell House, ANC, well it wasn't Shell House, the ANC building in Sauer Street, and Mac comes to me totally friendly, there's no problem between us. "I've just received some bad news, Siphiwe's arrested. I've got this news from Mo Shaik, we've got to get going. Can you organise a car?" and so on. I said, "No problem." Organise a safe car. We leave and we drive down on Thursday or a Friday, something like that, and I write about the whole thing in Running on Empty. That's post this meeting where I called him the traitor and we're going to fight it out. It's post that meeting. We drive down, comrades.
POM Let's back up first. What happened at the meeting?
RK Well he's created a ball by ball commentary there. I don't recognise that to the degree when I call him traitor and I'm the catalyst for his demise in the party and walking out of the party, and it couldn't have actually been the case because he was still on the line for the launch of the rally. He didn't leave the party at that point. I don't recall firey sparks at that meeting. I can picture the meeting. I can see people in the Troyville house, it's Troyville, where we had that meeting. I can remember the name of the person who organised that house, Momo, Momoniat, who after the meeting I met and we drove off and Momo was close to Mac and myself.
POM Was Momo at the meeting?
RK No he wasn't but he organised the house, some relative or other. I didn't have that kind of altercation with Mac. I will come to when I had my altercation with Mac later, which also shows that we couldn't have parted on the terms of drawing guns. It's bullshit. I remember the meeting and I don't recall a real - any confrontation at that meeting. OK. I take Mac and we drive down, convivial and as comrades, to Durban.
POM Claudia is doing the driving?
RK No, no, Claudia's out of the picture. Claudia drove me to Durban previously.
POM She doesn't drive you? Oh you two drive down together, yes.
RK No, no, I'm now working, we're above ground, this is July 1990, not earlier in the year when Claudia took me down. Claudia has already left SA by the way. I'm the driver, it's my car, cool car. I drive Mac down and we go down to Durban and we meet with Mo Shaik and Billy Nair and they give us the briefing about Siphiwe's arrest and what's taken place. So how on earth are Mac and I at loggerheads? We're working together. We go back up to Johannesburg and my book has got the detail and the time and so on.
POM So what do you do when you're in Durban?
RK We get a briefing and we leave the next day. They briefed us as to what had happened with Siphiwe and we had a lunch that Saturday, I think it was a Saturday. I can remember having the lunch at the park where Mo Shaik's brother took us for lunch because we met at his house, at his flat, and we had this chat and I'm saying to Billy Nair who was my mentor in 1960, that in 1963 I remember coming to Himalaya House where he lived saying we're going to be arrested, let's go underground. And he said no and I went underground and he was arrested and went for 20 years. I said, "Billy this thing is coming apart, you're going to be arrested", and he said, "No, no", and I begged him to go underground.
Mac and I drive back up to Johannesburg. OK. Whatever date that was, maybe the weekend before the party launch so we're talking probably about the third weekend of July. I would hazard that date. The party launch is the last weekend of July. During that week Mac is still involved and we're all involved in the party launch and it comes Thursday and Mac gets arrested and I hear from Momo about this and from other people and I go underground and that was Mac's arrest.
So how on earth can he claim that story, that's fucking bullshit and I never speak this way and I'm not speaking as a portfolio now. This is such crap, it so annoys me because I constantly try to keep a calm aura with Mac Maharaj but it's impossible. His bloody interpretation and misinterpretation of his bloody eccentric and egotistical, totally conceited role in the struggle. And where is he now? How many times has he divorced himself from this movement? There we are, it's a great story. It will make very good reading. I'm telling you, it's absolute shit. The other day when you asked me can you interview me about Mac and I bumped into Mac the other day and I'm being very careful about the problem he's facing at the moment, and you could see how I kept it. When we started today and I asked you, when you started coming with a little bit about what Mac is saying, that I'm not prepared to allow that to go on record historically without challenging it.
POM Now what I want to go back and hear you about are the encryptions. According to Mac you would get from him, and I know nothing about computers either and I said you've got to get somebody to write this thing about how this system works down.
RK I keep forgetting and every time I come back to it it's got to be written for me.
POM But the bottom line was that if you unencrypted something you re-encrypt it right away and that once it was re-encrypted it was non-accessible to anybody because the codes changed all the time and whatever.
RK So the theory went.
POM He says that, not he says or whatever, that when the police, security people picked up Siphiwe that they found a ton of unencrypted documents that had been unencrypted by Siphiwe and that it was this information, the unencrypted information that allowed them to run off everything. They could do that but they couldn't break into all the materials that had been encrypted. What was accessible to the security people
RK The name of Mina is Mvelase. That woman.
POM Yes I interviewed her. I'll go back again.
RK Mina, that was her MK name.
POM That once the material was unencrypted of course you could access it and run it off but what was encrypted was still safe. So in fact what they got was a lot of material that Siphiwe, for one reason or another, had run off and there were disks in the house that also had been not re-encrypted so they got a lot of material and everyone involved with looking after the encryption of material was in a sense to blame, particularly Siphiwe was because he had opened stuff and left it opened and not re-encrypted it when he opened it, so all kinds of communications were available to the security people.
Now you made a remark earlier that it was a joke that
RK An absolute joke that one could think that they couldn't decipher. I think that this is really shallow stuff for him to blame Siphiwe. He was the commander. The whole communication was his development and I'm not blaming him. We tried to get ahead of the system, it was a very creative programme. The idea of keeping the disks in the country instead of destroying them was crazy and that's where the responsibility lies, with him, not with what Siphiwe may or may not have done. The idea that you should keep those disks in the country was sheer stupidity. They should have been destroyed.
POM But he says that
RK He kept all of these things, the whole Tongaat record. He never ever said to me this is stuff that should be destroyed. He had his mind, Mac Maharaj had his mind on the future, the Tony Blair syndrome, what is history going to say about me? And keeping that record intact. So he mustn't move responsibility to Siphiwe.
POM No he doesn't but he
RK He says that Siphiwe kept it in open form. But whether it was closed or open do you really think that they wouldn't have cracked that code?
POM He says they couldn't have.
RK Oh of course they could have. You send it out, you put it on your hard drive in your original form, it's going to be on your hard drive and then you encipher and you send it out. So as it communicates out through the phone system it's in coded form but in your hard drive it's not, it's in both forms and that's what they could easily lift.
POM So they got it from the computers?
RK They could catch it from the computer and from the disks, they're not babies, they're not infants in this regard.
POM He says that the system you used was based on vaguely that there would be a book and you would go to
RK You would work it out in proper form and then you would decipher it and then you would send it. So what you were dealing with was the communication from the what's that piece that you put on to the phone? They always talk about it, there's a term for it. You put it out through phone to phone in decipher form the modem, yes in the modem, you put it through the modem what's left on your hard disk in the machine. You actually go through a process of wiping it out but they can still
POM Then an obvious question would be
RK So it was there on every single machine that we had in the country, everyone who was arrested with a machine.
POM So why didn't the security forces break the system, or did they?
RK Well the only way they could break the system was when they finally arrested somebody. But I'm saying when they arrested Siphiwe he's saying that Siphiwe kept it in an open form and he's to blame. I'm saying that, yes, it was there in an open form but even if it hadn't been it was there on the hard drive and for you and me as amateurish as we are with the system, computers, modems and the like, we do understand that it's imprinted within the hard drive, it's there. So on the hard drive there's the image of the original text which was an open text which you then put into a cipher and you then sent that. This is very unfair, shifting of blame to Siphiwe.
POM So if I said, I raised this
RK I'm not blaming Mac, it's not as though we were into some situation where we were proving we could send a rocket to Mars. It was an advance on every form of communication we had before. But why want to shift the blame and responsibility from him to Siphiwe? I'm responsible, I came in, I was very involved, Deputy Commander, I didn't know enough about this sort of thing. I'm not saying that exonerates me.
POM You weren't even there long enough to
RK Well I was there long enough. I'm not putting up any defence. If one wants to say you made mistakes I'll say I made mistakes. What's wrong with saying you make a mistake? He doesn't ever in his whole history from the time he got involved in 1963/64 he never says he made a mistake. It's just not possible and that's his problem, it's the ego, it's the conceit. That's what you're dealing with in an interpretation of our history through the eyes and the mind of Mac Maharaj. That's the problem, a very gifted, committed, very brave guy with a tremendous degree of flaw and when it comes to social interaction he's the absolute pits and that's why you can't find anybody who will say they're in love with Mac Maharaj. It's love/hate. I said to you earlier on as a human being there are always some relationships which are love/hate but that's maybe 5% of your relationships, not 95% or more with him. That's my obituary on Mac Maharaj.
POM I've interviewed a number of people in the security forces and in the SADF or what it was then, and I talked to Meiring about this.
RK Georg Meiring? The General?
RK He's a weirdo isn't he? Sharp, very intelligent but he's got his agenda. A very political right wing General.
POM So I raised this question with Georg Meiring. There had been a system that was continually sending messages out of the country and I mentioned Vula and he said, "Oh we broke it." I said, "Well, where is the evidence of it?" There was none. I said, "Did you break it afterwards or before Vula unravelled?" He said, "No, no, we were on to it all along." I said, "Well why didn't you arrest people?" He didn't have any good answer for that. That might have been three years ago. I had the occasion to meet him since he's also part of this new trade called, 'How South Africa did it', which all over the world is becoming an industry. And he walks up to me and he says, "Remember that conversation we had about Vula? I've located the guy who broke the code so when you come to Pretoria the next time give me a call and I'll introduce you to him and you can talk to him about when they did it. We broke it before Vula unravelled." Would that surprise you?
RK You see I wouldn't accept what Meiring says as gospel. He's got his own agenda and his own ego which is basically that they knew everything. When one looks at the statements and the claims they made and some of their stupidities whether it was related to activities in Britain and Ireland where they really messed up, and I'm referring to activities there to assassinate some of us, and their claims inside the country I take with a bit of a pinch of salt. So that side, I'm not saying they didn't know but the question of if they did know they were always very quick out of the starting blocks and didn't allow us much room to manoeuvre and they would come down on us like a ton of bricks.
POM What I'm saying is that's why would you find it interesting that three years later he would come to me and
RK Yes, but that would be for his own ego and his own history so I'm not disinterested but I would doubt that they did break Vula ahead of that period when they swooped in June/July of 1990. When they arrested Charles they obviously came to understand that there was this sort of activity taking place and that arrest would have linked what Charles was doing to Mac and Siphiwe and myself. That was about June that they disappeared. I don't think they knew previously and if they had they would have certainly swooped on Mac and Siphiwe and myself. By the time I came in the others would have been arrested I'm sure, it would have been such a major claim on their part that I don't see that. That's my view of what Meiring said. One would need to see more evidence, real fact.
POM Well he said when I get to Pretoria he will introduce me to the person.
RK Yes but it's not what the person says, it's also looking at the record and the dates, so there must be documentation which shows here we are, they've unravelled the code, this was it. My belief is that they came into it probably in the middle of the year which would have been June into July and I think it was more the Durban police, security police than anybody else.
POM Was Siphiwe tortured when he was arrested?
RK Siphiwe? I don't know. He hasn't indicated that to me. There was certainly some bad blood between Mac and Siphiwe after the arrests. Janet and I met Mac once, and bear in mind that we were Vula, we continued to exist after his arrest and Siphiwe's. So when they were released they owed it to come and brief us on their experience and what they knew and we met with both of them and of course there was no way we were going to involve them with our ongoing activity because it did continue up until the time that we were given indemnity. It was the ANC, Nelson Mandela and Joe Slovo, Joe Modise for MK and Alfred Nzo and Thomas Nkobi who was the Treasurer. They kept us in business and we continued to distribute weapons for self defence purposes and there's no way that I was commanding that situation and there's no way that we would have asked Mac or Siphiwe to be involved, it was too vulnerable for that. So we debriefed them and I met them both with Janet, each of them, debriefed them, and there was certainly from Mac's side an antagonism of Siphiwe and an inference that he had given information or had broken down, but I never found that, I've never seen any proof of that. I continue to hold Siphiwe Nyanda in very high esteem.
POM Moving back, you're in the country, Mandela is released, the ANC is unbanned, there is an over-ground
RK The term I wanted to use for that period was 'surreal'. It was surreal for me to watch the television and see this going on.
POM So you have the ANC over-ground talking about negotiations, Mandela going around, all that activity happening. Mac says he met with Mandela who said the underground continues. How did you understand the redefined role of the underground?
RK I think very clearly, very simply, certainly I didn't meet Mandela at that point. I met him after Mac's arrest. He never took me to meetings with Mandela pre his arrest so I met Mandela post July of 1990 on at least three or four occasions together with Alfred Nzo, Thomas Nkobi, Joe Modise, Joe Slovo. I met Joe Modise, Joe Slovo many times, I met Chris Hani many times in that period. I met Maharaj once, he was out of the issue actually as a leader.
POM He was gone at that point.
RK Yes, and the clear leadership was keep the underground and we need to distribute weapons to the self defence units in KZN and that's linking with Harry Gwala, that's linking with Soweto and the East Rand which was boiling over and I was given funds and I had a structure operating.
POM You were now in charge?
RK Absolutely. With Mac out of the way I was in charge of the underground and the arming of the self defence units and I had that instruction from MK, Communist Party and ANC, Mandela and the Treasurer General who bankrolled me and provided me with the wherewithal to survive and keep many people in the underground in action, including Charles Nqakula who handled the East and Western Cape for us and I handled the Gauteng, what was the Transvaal, and the Natal area directly and we ensured that we had weaponry for self defence purposes. And that's not to intervene with negotiations and the peaceful settlement but for self defence purposes.
POM Now Allister Sparks quotes you in Tomorrow is Another Day as saying that the underground was 'an insurance policy'.
RK Yes, that's the term I used, so an insurance policy, could we be sure that De Klerk was negotiating in good faith? But it was defensive on our part and if the whole thing came apart, went off the rails, then at least we had an underground in place and we had weaponry.
POM Do you think that was the leadership's understanding of it?
RK Absolutely, without any doubt whatsoever because I received my instructions very clearly.
POM So you were still importing arms, still storing arms, still training people?
RK We continued to import arms till about, and General Aboobaker Ismail was involved in that.
POM I know him, I've interviewed him.
RK He can tell you exactly until what time. It was about 1993 if I recollect correctly.
POM That you were importing arms and maintaining the underground?
POM Now were you involved in that as the kind of Commander of the underground until - ?
RK If you look at my amnesty application
POM I don't have that, but I will.
RK No, but that covers that, sure, that we played this role and we were providing weapons to the self-defence units and we were having an underground in place to a certain degree. Sorry, the underground was until, say you know the underground transformed into the self defence units scheme, so the underground by the time we all had indemnity in a sense there wasn't that underground. So that's 1991.
POM But in terms of having an armed capacity and arms stored?
RK But we had a network and an armed capacity which we maintained until probably 1995 when we began surrendering all our last weapons.
POM To yourselves.
POM Because you were then the government.
RK Yes, sure. I had an AK under my bed until the election of 1994, then I buried it and that was later handed over to the Defence Force.
POM You've got to go to see Bowling For Columbine.
RK I've just seen it. And I love my weapons.
The Troyville meeting, having a chance to gather my thoughts, and I think there was more of an outburst along the lines that Mac's indicated, but there's no way that I gave him the push to get out of the party. I would say he came there saying that he's leaving on the grounds of the Harry Gwala issue and that we weren't dealing with that, which was a fabrication on his part because he was already deciding that he was going to leave. That was already indicated from the time I came into the country for Vula and he was indicating that he was resigning and his critique of Joe Slovo. I think now I've had a little bit of time to let it muddle around in my mind that I probably really criticised him very harshly for getting out of the party. But I've indicated to you that there is no way that that was guns drawn stuff because I was working with Mac for the next two weeks. OK? Just to be very clear on that issue.
POM You talked about when you did have your bust up and I want to see does it coincide with
RK Mac now leaves the ANC, the SACP, he's out, he's retired, he makes some statement that he's retired which was some great joke because you see if you resign, if you mean it and you want to get out you say you resign, I've had you to the back teeth, I don't want to have anything to do with you guys, I'm resigning. What is retirement? Oh, I've got to a point in my life where I want to take a back seat so I retire and we come to the point now of the ANC's first public and legal conference, national conference or congress in something like four decades. That's Durban.
POM Durban, July.
RK July 1991. Mandela has forced De Klerk to give me indemnity and with me Janet Love in June, so I can actually legally attend that meeting. I've been underground for that year, from the time of Mac's arrest in June/July 1990 to June 1991. That's when I'm hunted and with Janet we keep the underground in place. There are many people like us who are underground, the Vula people, keeping them together and I'm the commander of that. I'm now contacted by Mac and he says that there are a number of comrades who have approached him and who are begging him to stand again for leadership so he's thinking of coming out of retirement and would I assist him with that.
I'm a month above ground and my respect, maybe misplaced, for Mac Maharaj, is such that when Mandela has a press conference at his Orlando home to receive me, what do I do? I get all the underground people of Vula, the key people, to come with me. That's Ivan Pillay, that's Pravin Gordhan, that's Mo Shaik, Mac Maharaj, which means he's the star turn, not me, and we appear with Mandela and Slovo in the Mandela garden and he welcomes us, including those like myself who have been in hiding and haven't got indemnity. So I give the show really to Mac except the media focus on me and on Joe Slovo.
We're now above ground and this is a month before the ANC Durban conference and he says to me, "Well I've retired but there are many people, comrades who are pressurising me to stand for the new NEC", would I assist? And I said to him, "Well, sure Mac. If you're coming back into politics we need you." And he says to me he will come down to Durban, he will stay at his friend's place in Reservoir Hills down the road from the conference and would I keep in touch with him and tell him the right time to appear at the conference. I said yes, sure and we'd keep in touch.
I arrive at the conference and it's very busy and I didn't send through a message to Mac and he arrives at the conference and he gets me in a back room over some coffee and he launches a vicious attack on me as to how I'm trying to keep him out because I failed to link with him. I said, "Mac, I'm sorry, I've come here and I'm so involved in what's taking place I've actually forgotten." And we had a ding-dong battle, blew up and I really blew up and I told him to just bugger off and I'm just not interested in whatever he wants to do or any of his dramas and I just left the table. It was actually in a coffee bar and a few of our comrades saw it so it spread quite quickly. OK, that's the blow-up.
I met up with Mac again in government, I was a Deputy Minister, he was Transport, we got on very well and to this day, the last time I bumped into Mac was at a reunion of the veterans, a party a couple of months ago, Mandela gave the party, we literally bumped into each other and I'm a polite bugger and I said, "Oh Mac, how are you and how are things going? What gives with this latest allegation?" He's now with the Rand Merchant Bank, "What's it all about?" And he says to me oh, he's got that all solved. And I said, "Good luck to you, Mac." Those were my last words to him.
Now that you've interviewed me and you've given me an insight into the man's absolute vituperative antagonistic view of what's happened
POM But he doesn't say it that way.
RK I just kind of lose all respect for him.
POM Let me then ask you, when we talked two days ago you
RK But very often his honesty is warped.
POM You said 'brutal honesty'. And today you talked not specifically in relation to what I said but that he had this conceit.
RK Total. That's his flaw, the main flaw.
POM I'm asking you, leaving Mac out of it, if I said to you well I know this person, on the one hand I think they're brutally honest and on the other hand I think they have this fantastic conceit, and I said to you, "Ronnie, what do you mean? It's a paradox?"
RK But of course, but the man's a paradox. If I say 'a brutal honesty', I'm not saying that his honesty is a relevant honesty, it's a warped honesty. But that's how he sees things and he sees through a glass darkly, but darkly in terms of very, very darkly. So he's paranoid, he sees things in a most obtuse way.
RK Everything is related to a paranoia around himself and he's a lovely, beautiful human being and we love him and we loathe him and very much a candidate for that. He's done great things in the struggle but he's really hurt to the bone marrow countless comrades and I have if you say to me vivid memory of Mac Maharaj, I see him in Luanda in 1980 when we're having a discussion post the Green Book and it's about political/military merging and he is vicious in his discourse with Joe Nhlanhla and Joe Nhlanhla beats him on the head and delivers a blow against the temple of Mac Maharaj and I intervene and I understand this man's emotions, and I'm talking about Joe Nhlanhla, and I'm feeling, "Fuck you, Mac, you really deserved that." But I get in between them and I say to Joe, "Don't do it, hold back", because of the way Mac was goading Joe Nhlanhla. That's my picture of Mac Maharaj. That's something that the Irish would understand.
POM Sure. We're nearly finished.
RK You'll never get me like this on the rest of ANC history. This is the only time I'm prepared to bare my chest because of the way Mac speaks about the rest of us and he's totally unfair in his, you haven't mentioned it, but his love/hate with Joe Slovo.
POM I was going to come to that next.
RK Joe Slovo, his scapegoat, his whipping boy.
RK Because you're in love with the guy and you expect total devotion and Joe Slovo is a human being and one of the great intellects of the struggle and when Joe Slovo is on a project he gives you 100% Joe Slovo but when he's not involved in that project with you he's involved with other people and you feel like a scorned lover and that's how Mac's behaved in relation to Joe Slovo, that he wanted 100% of Joe Slovo when that was impossible. That's the conceit of the man.
POM Two questions, and these again deal more with personality, because personalities make for all courses.
RK That's why I'm prepared to open up to you because I can see you're a person who understands.
POM I'll give you a funny example because you said something to me the other day that stuck in my mind and it was about no matter what kind of differences there were in the ANC or among individuals, when you said 'we never split', and I said you were like an elastic band, pull you out that way and then let's go and get back together. Why it stuck in my mind was because in Ireland in 1920/21 over the status of silly things the IRA split and we had a civil war. You had a case where, let's say you and I are best friends and very best friends to the extent that I want you to be best man, you are best man at my wedding, and six months later I have you put up against a wall and without a trial have you summarily shot.
RK It could never have happened in the ANC or the SACP. Never. For all that Mac's interpretation of the Troyville meeting of somewhere like June 1990, never, and I'll tell you why. I don't want to idealise this movement and the struggle
POM I want you to get back to Joe Slovo though.
RK It's not a question of idealising the Communist Party and the ANC and the SA struggle, it's because of the material objective, down to earth situation which has saved us through these vicissitudes that we've referred to plus our conflict with the regime pre-1994 and even now with the diehard elements, or even those who come into parliament from the Georg Meirings, the Tony Leons, that this struggle is favoured, it's got the advantage of the fact that we're steeped in a massive, massive majority because the struggle here is 80% of disenfranchised black South Africans. So that kind of contrast between a massive majority of the oppressed and a minority of oppressor is what's created the absolute foundation of unity.
You look at other struggles as just as they are and as just as ours is, the Irish struggle, it doesn't have that type of demographic so we were always totally anchored and secure in the overwhelming majority that we would have for justice. The Irish troubles were too finely divided and on that basis you use that formula, you look at others, Palestine, Israel, wherever, it's too fine. Here it was overwhelming and it's on that, not just on Mandela's mentality and therefore on division of ego which you have in every struggle, Maharaj and Slovo or whatever. These became very peripheral and they didn't dominate as they are in the Middle East today, the Palestine situation and the Irish situation for example.
That's the basic statement I would make on the issue and you add to that then the enormous I'm just looking for a word that's eluding me, generosity of the black people, the majority of this country, and that overrides the sectarian bitterness. It always has even within the PAC, AZAPO, ANC divide and that's what's the binding cement of the struggle. That's why all this expectation of pulling apart by our enemies, their hope it would happen, never came about. I would say De Klerk's expectation that maybe that would happen and would strengthen him was a foregone conclusion.
POM That's for another day but we're just talking and you tell me. I've one last question.
RK The Slovo thing. Put your questions because I'll just give you a view on this.
POM That's important because you've actually put something exceptionally feel
RK I know how people feel in terms of personal relationship about Joe Slovo because I've been through it as his blue-eyed boy and I've seen successions of
POM You were his blue-eyed boy?
RK In a particular period. When you work closely with Joe on a project it was wonderful, here was a charismatic, brilliant, intellectual, witty man, the likes of which are very rare and you were now engaged in a project with Joe and with me it lasted for a long time. From the time I came to London in 1965, end of 1965, to 1975, ten years and it was a majestic interaction and Joe was just superb as a human being with that engagement, but love affairs come and go and Joe Slovo was involved in numerous projects and I experienced the lovers' bitterness of a relationship that had passed on and now he was involved successively with Rashid, Sue Rabkin (not in terms of any physical I'm talking about political), a succession of people, Mac Maharaj and so on, Chris Hani, and every time I looked at them and saw similar fallouts. I had some fallouts with Joe which were ideological and also personal, so when you felt that
POM You told me he banged you into line over -
RK Yes, which became together with Mac as an alliance against me.
POM An alliance?
RK Of Mac and Joe against me.
POM That was in Maputo over your criticism of the - ?
RK Both the military and the political led by Mac and the military led by Joe, and they couldn't take it. So I'm talking here about personal interaction, personal relationship, and how one felt spurned because he was no longer giving you such focus and concentration and I saw what went sour between Mac and Joe in the same light.
POM What went sour?
RK Joe wasn't giving Mac his undivided attention and when Mac complained, and this was the gist of Mac's complaint about how Lusaka was letting him down when he came in on Vula, who was his target? Joe Slovo. Why Joe Slovo? Oliver Tambo was the fountain of that. Joe Slovo. He couldn't attack Oliver Tambo, and this is pre Oliver succumbing to a stroke and Joe was the guy and Joe was the target of his bitter vituperation right to the time that he exited from the Communist Party at the Troyville meeting.
POM Would Joe tell you this?
RK Never, never, because Joe didn't see it. Go and speak to Joe's daughters, Shawn and Robin and Gillian, to get an insight into Joe Slovo. Joe didn't see it, he was too above it, but very personable but he didn't understand why Sue Rabkin came to get pissed off with him or Pallo Jordan or Mac Maharaj or Ronnie Kasrils and you go on and on because Joe was one of these very warm people, revolutionaries, who couldn't sustain the warmth and the focus of love. I'm talking to you this way, South Africans wouldn't understand this, I'm talking to you because you're an Irishman and over Black Bush and I know you know what I'm saying, South Africans don't understand what I'm saying I can assure you and I want you to say that if you're going to write it, they wouldn't understand it. They don't understand if I talk about the love of Irish comradeship and of course we had this in the ANC and I've had this with Thabo Mbeki, Chris Hani, Oliver Tambo, Aziz and Essop Pahad, Pallo Jordan, Sue Rabkin, to name a few. Mac understands it in his bare bones and this is what you've got to understand about Joe, the enigma of the relationships with Joe Slovo. Joe himself was a creative intellect, artistic intellect, but didn't see what was happening when he moved from project to project because he dropped us and he focused exclusively in the new project and those who were in the pre-projects felt like lovers not rejected but ignored and Mac felt that with Joe Slovo, I wager that with you.
POM Now if you had to put their two intellects together, who has the better intellect?
RK Oh Mac doesn't come anywhere near. I've said he's sharp but he's not the intellect of Thabo Mbeki, who he's very jealous of, very, deeply.
POM What happened there by the way?
RK I don't know but deeply.
POM But you do.
RK To the core. He's extremely sensitive.
POM What would you say Ronnie?
RK With people like Joe Slovo, with Thabo Mbeki to an extreme degree, and possibly Chris Hani. With me, I'm not the intellect at their level but I've always got under his frigging skin, always, and I know, Padraig, I'm not the intellect of those guys. I know what I am, I know exactly what I am, I'm not their intellect. I've got under his skin because I know when to call the bluff and that's what I did in Troyville and the rest is bullshit, about going down to Durban, it's sheer, unadulterated crap.
POM So when you said you called the bluff at Troyville, that was over?
RK I've re-thought when I went into the loo, because I was a bit a troubled. I know with Mac that he doesn't conjure up fiction and I initially said to you that this is just it never happened. Remember? And then I said, look, you know I went into the loo, I came out and I thought back on it and I'll concede he left the party at that point. I wouldn't have driven him out, it didn't come to the point that let's fight it out. And I just said to you no, no I think that on the basis of him saying he's getting out, I said well this is treacherous. I don't have that kind of memory for the word, I've got the memory for the action and I'm very secure on that.
POM I must say Ronnie I can't remember last week.
RK Well I can remember a long time ago but as you get closer to this week, so I'm being very fair to you which is why I said, look I'm prepared to consider. Let me also point out one thing, that I've also been bothered about this thing of him saying that I said to the Douglases that I'm Ronnie Kasrils. It might have been that they said to me, "We've worked out that you're Ronnie Kasrils", and I might have said, "You're right." There's no way that I said to them I am. I wasn't out to project myself.
POM OK. Let me be fair too, just in my recollection of what he said about it since I haven't imprinted on my mind exactly what was in the interview.
RK You're a man after my own heart.
POM Thank you.
RK I thought this the other day. I told my wife, I said I've met this crazy Irish guy who my son Chris in London would love to meet, he's like you.
Thabo Mbeki. Thabo Mbeki has got a much greater, more rounded, strategic intellect than Joe had. Joe was very creative, very sharp and certainly the top drawer. Mac Maharaj is not in that league by an absolute long chalk but he's a creative thinker, he's more tactical, he raises issues which are above the tactical and he raises them very sharply, but not at that level. Unfortunately his response to questions is not the aplomb of a Thabo Mbeki which is never personal. Whatever they say to him it's never personal. Joe Slovo tended, this was his problem, to descend into the personal and put on the boxing gloves as a diversion, there was the diversionary bout. Mac was always at that third level, coming into the ring from a corner which was very much the personal which he always allowed to overtake the main event, the main issue. That affected the dialogue always, every time. This was the case from the occasion that we met in the ring in Maputo in 1980 and Joe Slovo showed his subjectivism when he joined with Mac, I would say, in claiming that I was out of order and insubordinate.
I've had differences with Thabo Mbeki, now the President of our country, in that period and it was never, never a descent into the personal, never ever. There were occasions when it could easily have become that and every time I sat in my corner of the ring and he came out of his corner, not against me, but to lay down his position, I had often started off feeling I was going to oppose him and I never could because of the rationality and the logic of his argument and that relates to the Durban conference in 1991 when he came and defended a thesis that we should go for the lifting of sanctions and I was totally opposed to that before I heard from him, before I listened to him.
POM This is Thabo?
RK And I listened to his thesis at that conference and I absolutely accepted what he was saying. And that's the example of my engagements. With Mac it could never ever be that because it was too full of conceit his argument, there was the egoistic aspect, personal aspect, and I always found myself coming out with my fists raised but always with gloves on, never bare fisted, and opposing him.
POM When Mac was at meetings at, say, the Central Committee or the Politburo or in the NEC, or say the SACP, would Mac be a voice that was making himself heard?
POM Insistent all the time or was he somebody who would listen to everybody else and then give his position?
RK No, no, he always came in with a position and he was always very interesting to listen to, he always had a good sharp point of view of intervention.
POM So how did he and Joe get on? How did they engage?
RK He was always inclined to try and question Joe and to oppose Joe and that's not as though the rest of us didn't in any sense.
POM That's good, everybody should question, everybody questions.
RK I can only say that when Mac spoke one listened, it was always interesting intervention.
POM The question about did Joe and Mac like each other?
RK I think that Joe did not like Mac. He found him a bit of an upstart. I think that he would have felt that Mac was always very obtuse. He certainly in those last years found him utterly insufferable because Mac heaped blame on Joe and used Joe as his excuse to want to resign from his command of Vula because Joe was not giving him enough support and that was totally unfounded and unsubstantiated and Joe was utterly amazed that Mac would level that kind of accusation against him. My view of it was that he was being cowardly, he wanted out because he saw that the sands of history were shifting, that it was no longer the internal underground that would lead the breakthrough to revolution but rather the negotiated situation and he did not want to be plugged into a situation where he was inside the country in a secondary position and that he wanted out and he was blaming Joe for inadequate support and was going to exit from the command of MK. When I came into SA I began to sense that that was the case, something I had begun to suspect from Lusaka at the time at which I was moving into SA via the capital of Italy, namely Rome. Finished and klaar, as they say.
POM Which you liked and enjoyed, I would assume, I would hope. You wrote an article in the African Communist in 1988 about the revolutionary army.
RK It was in Sechaba not African Communist.
POM By the way I asked you for the reference and I said it's in Sechaba and you said no, it was the African Communist.
RK We were totally convinced that it would be an insurrection.
POM Who was?
RK The Communist Party, ANC.
RK Because despite the unofficial contacts that had begun to be made with the younger Thabo Mbeki, Aziz Pahad, Joe Nhlanhla on behalf of Oliver Tambo this was not revealed to the rest of us and we did not know. If we had known I would say by the time the Communist Party came to consider its insurrectionary thesis and its meeting in April of 1989 in Cuba we would have shifted from that thesis.
POM But Thabo was the main speaker.
RK Well I don't know.
POM He was.
RK I'm not making any comment on that.
POM But I know that he was. Oh, sorry, I never heard it, OK.
RK I think it would have given us cause to re-address the situation but even those who were involved in the initial contacts with the regime would also have wanted to have kept the second agenda. How on earth given the position of Sinn Fein and the IRA to this day in the UK can they be sure? The people who fight the just cause whether ANC/SACP alliance pre-1994, whether the Palestinian liberation movement, whether the Irish liberation movement in the face of imperialism and its local pressures must have a secondary agenda, we must keep it alive although we would want to see the initial primary agenda for peace without bloodshed worked out. So I support Arafat, I support Jerry, I support the IRA and Sinn Fein and I uphold the position we took through to 1994 in SA under the leadership of Mandela, Tambo, Mbeki. As we say in SA, finish and klaar.