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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

19 Sep 2003: Masondo, Andrew

POM     To get started perhaps you would tell me a little about your own background, how you became involved in the struggle, how you ended up on Robben Island.

AM     Well I was born in Sophiatown on 27th October 1936. I then left Sophiatown and went to stay in Alexandra and from Alexandra I went to stay in Newclare and then from Newclare I went to stay in White City and from there we went to Molapo. That's where I also stay.

POM     How is that spelt?

AM     MOLAPO, that's in Soweto.

POM     Why was the family moving around so much?

AM     My parents – we stayed in Alexandra because my grandparents were there and then later because we didn't have property so my parents went to Alexandra and in Alexandra part of the problem was that my mother was not very happy about the fact that I stayed in Alexandra because at the time because I had an uncle who was – shall I say, he was delinquent and I liked him. We then went to Newclare, stayed there, but then we were staying in one room house as a family. Then when we got a two-roomed house in White City we took it and then from White City we went to Molapo because it was a four-roomed house. I am the only child of my parents.

POM     The only child?

AM     My mother used to work as a receptionist. She worked there in town and then later she worked for a long time with Dr Patel in Newclare.

POM     How do you spell his name?

AM     Patel – PATEL. He is an Indian chap. Then I started school in the school in Sophiatown and then from there I went to Albert Street from kindergarten to Sub B. Then from there I left for St. Anzsturs Lutheran School, Swedish Mission actually. So I went to St Anzsturs, I did my Standard 1, 2, 4 and 6 there, I did my primary school in four years instead of six. Then after that I went to St Peters for the high school because my parents moved and we were in Sophiatown and Newclare, I attended school at St Cyprians. So I went to St Peters, I did my matric there and completed my matric in 1954 then left for Fort Hare where I did my BSC degree. Then from Fort Hare I went to Wits, I got a scholarship.

POM     To?

AM     To Wits and I did an honours degree in applied mathematics. From that I then went back to Fort Hare to go and do the university education degree. My father was a barber, hairdresser. He had a shop in Number 2 Smal Street, that's where he practiced.

     Now my mother basically was the person who played a very great part in my development. She had gone up to Standard 7, my father had gone up to Standard 2. He was just a businessman, in fact his family, brothers and sisters, were not educated but they were good at business. But my mother, you see, she made me a mathematician because she taught me to count and to do sums before I went to school.

POM     Was the family political at home?

AM     My mother was, yes. She actually made me political. She was an ANC member and also had a number of friends who were members of the Communist Party. She actually used to buy me the papers when it was still the Clarion, Advance, New Age, because I spent most of my time in boarding schools, I went to boarding school from the age of ten so when I was away she buys the papers every week and keeps then. When I come back I go through them. She also used to buy me novels and political books. For instance when I was in Form 2 I had already read the biography of Stalin and then also When Smuts Goes and things like Facing … by Kenyatta. The other thing, Benjamin Bennett's book she bought me because she thought I had too much of a background of the ghetto so she was trying to get me out of that type of thing. So she is one person.

     My father was not very happy about the political thing but my mother taught me that. But we never sat and discussed politics with my mother. She just gave me the books to read. So in 1953 when I was student I started to dabble with politics and became a member of the ANC.

POM     In 1953.

AM     Yes. But you see I had a feeling that you can't be a good politician if you are a student. When I was in Fort Hare I went on with other people and I wasn't very active.

POM     You weren't very active in Fort Hare?

AM     Yes, I mean I was as a student. Then after I completed UEd in 1959, as I completed my honours degree because I did it in 15 months and then because I was in a hurry to go and do UEd so in 1959 I did UEd and then in 1960 I started lecturing at Fort Hare. Actually I am among the first two blacks who majored in applied mathematics at Fort Hare and one of the first two blacks who did honours in applied mathematics. So in 1960 they offered me to lecture at Fort Hare so I taught physics, pure maths and applied mathematics, actually applied mathematics as a separate department. When I did applied mathematics it was still done in the Department of Physics but applied maths as a separate –

POM     Discipline.

AM     I started that at Fort Hare. I was the only teacher, I used to teach from course 1 to course 3 and I taught physics and I taught pure maths, the first years.

POM     So in 1960 you're the first lecturer in the Department of Applied Mathematics at Fort Hare and five years later you're on Robben Island. How did you make that jump?

AM     Once I had completed my studies and was no longer a student then I thought now I could be a serious politician. But whilst I was a student at Fort Hare I used to travel a lot. During my weekends I'd go to the villages to acquaint myself with the life of the people. In 1960 I then started to become an organiser of the rural areas and also I became active within the university. So I became the Ciskei Rural Area organiser and so even the schools around, Lovedale, Hilltown, I became very serious about it.

POM     So this would be around or just after the period of the Pondoland rural uprisings in the Transkei?

AM     No, during that. Then I was part of the Eastern Cape Rural Areas Organisation. I actually worked with Vuyisile Mini, Gqabi. Actually he, Mini, recruited me to MK. He was held, went to the gallows singing – he was Eastern Cape – he was actually the commissar, if you can use that term, or the man who represented at the ANC in the Eastern Cape command. Vuyisile Mini.

POM     So you joined MK just really after it was formed?

AM     Yes. I joined it in 1962 because the old man Govan didn't want me to be a member of MK.

POM     Who didn't? Govan?

AM     Govan Mbeki.

POM     Now you interacted with him in the Eastern Cape?

AM     Yes I used to work with him. I used to report to him actually. So he didn't want me to become a member of MK. He said I should just deal with politics and leave the other, but at the time I was 26 years old. In fact in 1960 I was already 24 years old. I started lecturing at Fort Hare at that date. In fact I was still 23 because I finished my 24th around October, so I started lecturing –

POM     So did he recruit you to the SACP as well?

AM     Yes. In 1961 I was a member of the Communist Party.

POM     OK, so you were both ANC and SACP, you intermingled the two.

AM     Yes. Because you see at home my mother provided me with communist literature so it was just waiting for –

POM     Just waiting for someone to ask you.

AM     To ask me to come into the party. In fact by the time I was arrested I was the secretary of the party in the Fort Hare area.

POM     So you're in MK. Did you get any training? Did you go - ?

AM     Well I started in the country. I was supposed to have left with Raymond Mhlaba.

POM     You'd known him too, right?

AM     Yes.

POM     In Port Elizabeth.

AM     Yes, because I worked politically, my headquarters was PE. I couldn't go because I had a student in applied mathematics who was doing third year and if I had left he wouldn't have completed so I then asked Raymond to go because I can't go. But in 1962 I joined MK in the Eastern Cape and then I became an alternate member of the Eastern Cape Command of uMkhonto weSizwe. So I then did both. But Mini had said to me, "Look, you mustn't operate as MK. You should just create a unit." But unfortunately because of difficulties I couldn't organise people and I don't act myself. In fact in my whole life I defied the ANC only twice when I was told that I shouldn't join, because even Sisulu also didn't want me to become a member of MK. He and Govan agreed because in their minds they thought as an academic I would do well. There were not many people who were applied mathematicians. So I then started, in fact I created a unit, acted with it and gave it a commander so that they don't think that I'm using them.

     Now the other difficulty with me was that I was, maybe being young, I was impatient so, for instance, one of the reasons why I got arrested was because I got myself into something which I shouldn't have got myself into in the manner I did. You see some young people came from Pretoria here to come and work at Fort Hare and while they were working there the Registrar and the people who were working with them decided to swingle them, the Registrar –

POM     To swindle?

AM     To swingle them, the Registrar – in other words they robbed them of –

POM     Swingle. Oh they swindled them, OK, yes.

AM     They robbed them and then I told them to go on strike and they went on strike but you see the mistake I made was to say to them when they said they want an interpreter for them they must call me so that I can interpret for them because I wanted to know exactly what was happening. So I did that. Now the Special Branch became very, very interested in me. Also the other thing, you don't find my name around, in fact there were times when many people just thought I'm just a chap who is an athlete and plays soccer. Once the ANC was banned I didn't mix with many people because it was important that I keep underground. Even the organisation didn't use me much. You see, Padraig, I wouldn't go to rallies but after a time I realised. So on the day, because also even within the university I was very active with organising the students and even with some of the lecturers, so it became clear that I am a troublemaker and they would have said.

     So on this particular day when I had gone to operate they were preparing to ban me, so the Special Branch got to my house and I'd also made another mistake of – you see I was writing a comparative study of the Freedom Charter, the ten-point programme and the PAC basic policy. So normally the books – and then I was also having the Che Guevara book which I was going through because I wanted an alternative way of dealing with the pylons. So unfortunately whilst I was away they came to search and then they left some people there, after they had left to watch what happens when I come back. And that's how I got arrested. That was 1963. You see I joined MK in 1962.

POM     Now did you have any training or were you self-trained?

AM     I was actually self-trained during that time. I only got trained when I came back from Robben Island.

POM     So you were arrested in 1963 and you're charged with?

AM     Sabotage.

POM     Sabotage?

AM     Yes, and then I was sentenced to – actually they wanted to … wanted them to give me a death sentence because he said the pylons that I did he looked at the hospitals there and said they could create deaths in the hospitals but my lawyer, Seligsohn, said they must produce the dead bodies, so I was given 12 years.

POM     Now were others tried with you or were you tried on your own?

AM     No, I was tried with two students.

POM     And were they given 12 years as well?

AM     No there were three. It was three chaps, three students. One was a high school student, two were university students in that unit, and myself. So we were arrested the four of us. One of them was acquitted.

POM     Unusual.

AM     He didn't give evidence against us but he was acquitted, they couldn't prove the case in his case. Then the three of us, I was sentenced to 12 years, the other two chaps were sentenced to 8 years. It was a chap called Mdinge(?) he was at Fort Hare, he was sentenced to 8 years, and Nelson Deep(?) who was in fact my deputy, high school chap. He was sentenced to 8 years also and I was sentenced to 12.

POM     Were you all sent to Robben Island?

AM     Yes we were sent to Robben Island. We were actually among the first ten MK prisoners on Robben Island.

POM     And were the others put in the single cells too, the single cell section?

AM     No. I started by being in the main cells.

POM     The communal cells? Yes.

AM     With people, but when I got there I then started to create an ANC underground because all in all Govan Mbeki always told me wherever I am –

POM     You must organise.

AM     Yes, I must start to organise an ANC unit. So I did that.

POM     When did they transfer you to the single cells?

AM     After I had gone for a further charge. I had a further charge in 1964.

POM     A further charge? OK. While you were on the Island?

AM     Yes I was on the Island. I had seven charges of sabotage which they ultimately got again. So I went for the further charge and also because there were some young people who were my colleagues actually who were arrested for ANC so some of them said I was part of the ANC - because I hadn't been charged for membership of the ANC, I was just charged for sabotage. So when I got to East London I was put in the same - Now the problem with the sabotage cases that remained, they couldn't get somebody who was with me because those I had done only myself and by my deputy who was in Robben Island already and they didn't take him because he was a high school chap so people at Fort Hare did not know that he was in fact a member of the ANC nor even of MK but I knew because I used to organise [Seremanzi ?] where he stayed.

     I was charged for membership, soliciting funds and furthering the aims. Then they withdrew furthering the aims and found me guilty on these two – soliciting funds and membership. I got a year for membership and then I got two years for soliciting funds. But because I was already doing 12 years they then instead of it being 15 years, 2 years ran concurrently with the 12 and then the one year was added. So I served 13 years on Robben Island.

     When I got to Robben Island –

POM     The second time?

AM     Yes, it was then that I was taken to the segregation section. In fact they took me there when they were preparing to take me on 25 October 1964, they took me to the single cells and then from there I left for East London. When I came back they said - Donald Card and Scheepers said they wrote a very bad report about me.

POM     Sorry, who did?

AM     Donald Card and Scheepers, the Special Branch chaps.

POM     What's the name of the second guy?

AM     Scheepers, and Donald Card.

POM     They wrote a bad report about you.

AM     Yes. They said that for politics I can do anything. But then it was the same because within the prison people already wanted me to go to be segregated at any rate because I was kept in isolation for some time because I didn't like the way they made us work. One time they said to us, I used to push the wheelbarrow, I did that for the purpose that they thought it was something they were going to torture us with so I just got used to it, pushing the wheelbarrow so that they don't have any other thing they can use. But then one time we were at the quarry, the stone quarry, then they decided to make you push two wheelbarrows. In other words they load this one, when you go and empty that one and another one is being loaded. So after that time I told them I don't want to work there, I can't work that way, so they took me and locked me up in the segregation.

POM     So then you're locked in isolation are you?

AM     Isolation, yes.

POM     How long were you in isolation?

AM     They locked me up in isolation for about four weeks and the question was when they bring me back and sometimes they do the same thing I just decided I'm not working. So then I stayed there and then also you see I sued the government for assault because later they put me in a special group when they took me out from the isolation. They made up a group of myself and some common law prisoners and then I worked with them. One day we were going to work, we used to load rocks for ourselves and move them from one place to the next. Then one of the people, the warders, who used to work with me because I also worked in what they used to call the landbouspan which had two brothers, Kleynhans brothers who were very, very cruel, made life very, very difficult for us. And then there was this chap Du Plessis who was working with us. Then when they made this special group he was made in charge of us. One day we were just going to work and then the landbou chaps were also passing so as we go there the Kleynhans chaps say to Du Plessis, "Look you must make sure that when that chap comes back he's got a ticket so that he can - " where they punish you and then you don't get food for three meals or four.

POM     Oh, the spare diet?

AM     Not spare diet, just three meals. You see you come there, they gave you the normal food but they can just say to you, "No, you are not eating this meal." You are not on spare diet because when you are on spare diet then you're also in isolation. So I worked the whole day and then about four o'clock this chap says to me I've been loafing. I threw my card to him, I say, "Now I'm no longer working." So unfortunately for me I didn't know what was happening with the landbouspan. The chaps went on strike and they brought them back and when they got to the cells the warders were there waiting for them and they beat the hell out of them. Now I then moved, I'm going to be charged you see, and they then go to where I was to go and pick up those rocks. When I got there the Chief Warder says, "What has he done? It's him again. All right, let him join that group." So I went there and when I got there there was a young warder there who decided he wants to beat me up so when he picked up his baton he was near me. Then I let him fall, I applied judo, he fell and then he got to me and they held me and they beat me up like nobody's business. My back was like corrugations. I was taken to isolation again.

POM     Now you were in isolation in the communal cell section or in the single cell?

AM     In the single cell. When you are in isolation it's single cell. You see the difference between isolation – there is the segregation cells, you stay in single cells, you haven't done anything. That's where we were staying there. Then there is the isolation cells where if you are serving spare diet you sit.

POM     Is that around the corner, like on the other side?

AM     Yes.

POM     It's facing the quadrangle, is it?

AM     Yes it's in the quadrangle there.

POM     So you're away from the people. You're in a single cell but you're isolated from the other people in the single cell.

AM     Yes. I was there.

POM     When you joined the community of the single cells - ?

AM     That was at a different time, it was when I came back.

POM     So when you joined them how many people did you know? You knew Govan Mbeki.

AM     Yes, Fikile Bam. I'd interacted – Neville Alexander.

POM     Fikile Bam.

AM     The Rivonia group I knew, all of them but people I'd been always with were Uncle Walter and Govan Mbeki. Those I worked directly with.

POM     Those you had worked directly with before you came into the prison. So then you were put on the communications committee.

AM     Yes. When I came back then I was in the single cells, cell number 11. I spent 11 years in that cell. Yes what actually happened, the leadership said –

POM     The leadership then was Mandela, Mbeki –

AM     Mandela, Mbeki, Sisulu, Mhlaba and MD Naidoo.

POM     Was MD Naidoo there when you came in?

AM     No, he found me there.

POM     OK, so he wasn't there when you got there first. When you arrived in the single cells first he wasn't there?

AM     Yes, and even when I came back the second time then he wasn't there. He came later.

POM     Later, yes.

AM     And he was doing a very short period. They then said to us, look, we need to create a communication with the communal cells, they don't want to be cut off from the cells. Now I know both sides of this and then Joe Gqabi later joined us. When he joined us they then said we need to create the communications committee and Joe Gqabi was the leader of –

POM     The communications?

AM     Yes.

POM     Who else was on the committee that you remember?

AM     It was myself, Mac Maharaj, Kathrada, Joe Gqabi. And then at a certain time Magdi Make, he later joined us. He joined us. That was the committee. But the technical group was Laloo Chiba. Laloo Chiba and Mac were more or less both – Mac was both the committee and the technical group but Laloo was the person for that.

POM     When that committee was set up wasn't there, at least from Maharaj and Kathrada, that they wanted to communicate not just with the prisoners in the communal cells but they wanted to communicate also with the outside and that yourself and Joe Gqabi said, no, the mandate should be that you just communicate with the other prisoners?

AM     Because, you see there was a principle involved. During that time we were in jail there was the question of where the leadership of the ANC was and in our view the leadership of the ANC was outside, it was the Deputy President Tambo who was running the ANC.

POM     He was the head of the ANC?

AM     Yes.

POM     When you say 'in our view', you're talking about?

AM     Myself, Joe Gqabi, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba. We were of the view that we can't run the ANC from jail because when you are in jail you are out of touch.

POM     So were the others saying that Madiba was the head, or - ?

AM     Because you see Madiba was a junior to Tambo all the time and there was a feeling, for instance, people like Mac and others had a feeling that now that Luthuli has died Madiba should be the president whilst he's in jail. Now for us that could not happen. We thought that the people outside there. So it did create a bit of a serious problem and then you see sometimes to interfere, you are there, you create units and things there, you can't verify whether those people are genuine people.

POM     Sorry, you can't?

AM     Verify that if you ask somebody to go and create a unit somehow, you can't verify whether those are genuine people. In fact that aspect did create a bit of a problem. You see the leadership itself was divided.

POM     Outside or inside?

AM     I mean inside because the other thing, you see when Kathy and Mac had been working with Madiba, even before we had created, so that this idea of theirs to have that thing was not – even when we decided that this is a committee they did continue to work with Madiba in spite of the fact that the other members of the leadership were saying, no, no, no, this is not correct.

POM     You've got to work within the structure that was created? The communications structure.

AM     Yes, it was too serious because for some of us that question of leading the ANC from jail was a principle question. We didn't want that to happen.

POM     So there was an election. Was there a debate – there was a debate about this?

AM     There was a debate about this but not for everybody. It was the four of us with the leadership. The four of us with the leadership.

POM     That's the four – that was the - ?

AM     Communication four.

POM     The communication four and - ?

AM     And the leaders, the leadership. We discussed this matter and we put our viewpoints.

POM     What was the outcome of that discussion?

AM     Well we then said that we don't want it. I mean I know for a fact that in spite of that Madiba and these two continued to do things.

POM     Continued to do their own thing?

AM     Yes, because we were not prepared to be part of it but we continued to communicate because the internal communication was vital.

POM     Was Madiba accepted at some point as being the first among equals, as being the leader of - ?

AM     On Robben Island yes but I mean he could not do what he likes.

POM     OK, it had to be a collective leadership.

AM     Collective, yes.

POM     So he couldn't make decisions on his own? He had to make – the decision had to be a collective one?

AM     Yes, that's was it.

POM     Was he ranked first among those four or were they all equal?

AM     No, no, I mean he was – I mean from the MK point of view he was senior to the others because he was the commander of MK. But you see now we're not talking MK, we're talking ANC. So those were much of the National Executive so then we said officially we only deal with this aspect, internal.

POM     You only deal with?

AM     Internal communication, we are not going to deviate from that.

POM     I just want to get back to was there a point at which it was accepted that Madiba would be the spokesperson, the leader as it were – even among the leadership of the four of them he was first among equals?

AM     No. They made him to be the one who becomes the spokesperson.

POM     OK. So he wasn't the leader, he was the spokesperson of - ?

AM     Of the leadership. Because truly speaking within the ANC it's a very difficult thing, a person like Sisulu – how can you say Madiba is the leader of Sisulu? You see? But let me give you another thing which happened. We said Madiba should speak for them every time they came to him but the Boers sometimes wanted to go to him without asking us. So one day when the Commissioner was coming we decided, no, Madiba should not be the spokesperson so we decided Raymond Mhlaba will be the spokesperson for that. Another time when we think the Boers think they want to do things the way they want, we said no, no, no, it's Sisulu. But then it wasn't against Madiba that thing but we were fighting another principle that the Boers should not decide who is our spokesperson.

POM     That who shouldn't decide it?

AM     The warders.

POM     Yes, OK.

AM     You see, for instance, how he became the spokesperson. Once we had decided that he's going to speak for us when they come to me, I'm standing there, they say, "What do you want to say?" I say, "No, go to Madiba." They go to the next person, he says, "Go to Madiba." They go to the next and he says, "Go to Madiba." So they must accept that. We have decided. And on those days when we have decided Madiba is not the spokesperson they go to Madiba, Madiba says, "Go to so-and-so", because we have taken that decision. So it must not be seen as if we were challenging Madiba, no, in terms of the spokesperson.

POM     So was the communications committee and the leadership, the High Organ as it was called –

AM     No, no, we were not in the High Organ.

POM     No you weren't in it but the four were.

AM     Yes. The people I told you about those were the High Organ.

POM     And then you had the communications committee.

AM     Yes.

POM     So was it the communications committee and the High Organ that would make the decision as to who would be - ?

AM     No, no, we would make the decision all of us, the ANC.

POM     Everyone? Everyone in the –

AM     Yes, you see there were certain things we took A to Z because we had ourselves and people who will go to the High Organ to go and report. So we'd discuss them in ourselves. Now for instance, I was always with Madiba the whole 11 years and the only person who was with him in an ANC cell. Yes. Mac was with us for some time, then he left us. Magdi Make was also in the same cell with us. Joe Gqabi was in the same cell with us but he left. I and Madiba are the two who were always together until I left the jail. So we would sit and discuss the thing and then he would go and report to the High Organ once we have taken that decision.

POM     So again my understanding is that there were some divisions between the members of the High Organ themselves. There were - this is what I have been told by others and I'm just looking for whether your recollection is the same – that Govan and Madiba didn't get on very well together, there was a lot of tension between the two.

AM     Yes. It became worse after this particular problem.

POM     Then you had the issue of –

AM     The question of whether we can take part in the Bantustans. Then we removed them, we dissolved the High Organ and created another one for which I was the chair.

POM     You were the chair of that one?

AM     Yes I was the chair. It was myself, Mkwayi, it was Joshua Zulu, it was Dandala, it was –

POM     Mike?

AM     No, Mike was not in that Organ. You see that's when we sat and interrogated them and asked them why –

POM     You interrogated?

AM     Yes, the whole leadership, that leadership because they split so –

POM     They were splitting on the issues of the Bantustans.

AM     We, you see, because those Bantustan issues came and they themselves became divided we began to suspect that it was not only the Bantustan thing that was the problem so we told them, no, we are going to sit down and discuss this matter. But you see we were not saying they are not our leaders. In fact when I was talking to them –

POM     Sorry, they were?

AM     I mean that day that I was talking to them I told them that you see you can't afford to divide us – and I stressed it to Madiba and Govan – because if you start, if you are going to be divided here some will go with you, Madiba, some will go with Govan because you are serious leaders. So we told them that and I said we can't afford it so we then went into the discussions with them until we were satisfied that they can take over their task. Until we were satisfied that they should take over and be the High Organ again.

POM     And that took a couple of years didn't it?

AM     Six years.

POM     How many?

AM     It took six years.

POM     Six years?

AM     At the same time we had a problem in the single cells, I mean in the communal cells. Again there was a very serious split.

POM     Between?

AM     Between people like Gwala. It was sort of a left/right type of thing and when I left I said to the people, "We teach everybody Marxism", because those that don't like Marxism they must know why they don't like it and those that like it they must know why they like it. But when Gwala came they then started a sectarian type of thing and the other thing we had decided earlier before the other chaps came that the Communist Party doesn't exist on the Island. All of us who were members of the Communist Party took that decision.

POM     So was Marxism taught in the courses in the single cells?

AM     Yes.

POM     Marxism was taught on the outside too but there was a division – what division was Harry Gwala trying to make?

AM     No, the problem – Harry Gwala recruited some young people into a separate – he did not, you see they stopped teaching Marxism to everybody which was the thing which was not correct. Then some element of ultra-leftism was developing and it was serious. We solved it in the single cells, we solved it and at the same time we were dealing with this one of the single cells and we solved both.

POM     Then there was an issue over the Bantustans OK? And you said there was something else, it wasn't just the Bantustans. Was it the fact that they didn't like each other as personalities?

AM     It was just strong personalities.

POM     Strong personalities. Too many strong personalities.

AM     The worst culprits are these two. Madiba and Govan. They were the worst culprits. I worked with Govan. If he thinks that something is right it's right, it doesn't matter what happens. You have to convince him that the problem with Madiba sometimes is that he too, you see, if he says something he thinks that it is –

POM     Written in stone.

AM     Yes. So that was the thing and we told them that.

POM     So then there was – who told me? Somebody who was – oh it was Mike Dingake, that he was in the study group with you and Joe Gqabi about guerrilla warfare and Madiba was very tough with Joe Gqabi.

AM     No. It was when myself and Joe Gqabi, Mike, it was the ANC cell. But the problem was – actually no, I think the difficulty was the two of them you see. Madiba has a way, you are discussing with him, then he interrogates people. Now I have no problem about that but Joe didn't like that. I had a way of dealing with Madiba but Joe got angry. So that was the problem.

POM     Then he complained to Govan about the way Madiba was treating him?

AM     Yes.

POM     So that attitude –

AM     No, no, I mean while we disagreed with Madiba very seriously and he said something I didn't like so I just told the other people. For instance, I said to Mkwayi who was our contact with him so I told him that he shouldn't say such things because he doesn't know. So I said he must go and tell this and let Govan tell him why I took up the post because I didn't want to take it. But for me it was that once he came back and said no he is wrong, I didn't want to push it because that wasn't my point. I liked him but unfortunately - I respect my leaders but I don't accept the fact that they can as politicians just tell me that things go that way. I don't accept that. I mean I've got a brain so I discuss, they convince me. Sometimes I become stubborn and then later I realise, no, no, no, I was wrong. That's no problem. But you can't stop me from putting my view because it's my life also and it's the life of the people.

POM     Joe Gqabi was much the same way?

AM     Yes he was but you see he also got angry. At the back of my mind there's always this – by the way, this person is an elderly person, so I don't show my anger to elderly people and he's my leader. But I will continue to say what I think is right.

POM     Was the issue of the Bantustans discussed within - ?

AM     Yes. We discussed very seriously.

POM     In the course, did you have a course on whether or not there should be participation, fight from within or fight from - ?

AM     When I tell people about this thing, we all made mistakes, all of us because we took a technical question and made it a principle question. That was the problem. And then after that we did a lot of research and we found out that in some cases, in Algeria, it didn't work. In India it worked. In the Soviet Union it worked at one time and didn't work another time. But that one we solved actually. By the time I left the Island it was no longer an issue.

POM     What was the feeling on the Island by the time you left on the Bantustans, whether the ANC should work from within to try to - ?

AM     No we didn't take a decision, we said this thing will be decided on the merit.

POM     Yes, OK.

AM     You see I used to tell my people, he used to like writing to Gatsha, I'd tell him, "Don't do that."

POM     He used to write to Gatsha?

AM     Yes. And I said to him, "Some of these people will use you", and he would be unhappy and say, "You Andrew, you are anti-chiefs." "No", I say, "No, I'm anti the institution of chieftainship when it is being used."

POM     So you are saying some of the people outside would use you, like Buthelezi?

AM     Yes, and that's exactly what he did, use him. So you know I mean, for most of the time I mean you had to – he's a leader but you must also lead him at times.

POM     Now when the new High Organ was - for the six years it was in place, you were chairman of that were you?

AM     Yes I was the chairman.

POM     So were you the spokesperson then if complaints had to be made?

AM     No, no, no. We could still ask Madiba to do that and he did it. Because you see this High Organ was to control the ANC and not trying to tell the Boers that we are unhappy about one another. No. In fact that's one thing about the ANC, it's very resilient, very, very resilient. That's what has made the ANC what it is.

POM     There's another question I have over a class.

AM     I have to go to North West.

POM     A couple of minutes because I've been two days here, came up at 9 o'clock in the morning.

AM     But they want me there.

POM     OK. I'll just be quick. There was one night when the raid took place, there was a raid when all the warders came in.

AM     That's when the Namibians were also there.

POM     That's right. Now that night as I recall Joe Gqabi was encoding –

AM     I was, I am the specialist, that's what I did.

POM     So you were encoding the message that said that he – and then the warders burst in and you had the manuscript.

AM     You see I was busy with it and when they came I pulled those things in files. Then this young chap who was with me there opened and saw that thing, what I had written. He took it out and I just said to him, "Give me that." And without thinking he gave it to me and I put in my mouth and I chewed it.

POM     You chewed the whole thing?

AM     Yes I chewed the whole thing because it was about a page.

POM     That was the night they beat Toivo and then they put him in isolation.

AM     No. We were all in single cells so they beat him in his cell.

POM     Yes but then they –

AM     Yes, then they took him to the isolation on the other side.

POM     I think it was Mac Maharaj who told me that he had to paint the windows in his cell black, in the cell that Toivo was in, that he had to go out and paint.

AM     That's possible. I don't remember that. I was also at one time, Mandela and I were locked up because of me. You see I was talking to Mandela and the Boers, the young warder swore at him, said something and I was angry. He and I were locked up, were taken to isolation twice and in all cases I was the cause.

POM     You were the cause?

AM     Because, you see, I couldn't stand these chaps insulting my leaders.

POM     Just the other thing was Operation Mayibuye, you had this ongoing dispute between Govan and Walter over whether or not it had been approved or not approved at the time of the Rivonia trial and they never resolved that one.

AM     Because you mean up to today was filled really with that thing and even it's not really but there's still a question mark whether it was really approved.

POM     Yes. But when Mayibuye then was going to be taught as a course to see whether it was tactically a good plan or a bad plan, but Govan didn't want it any class.

AM     Well I don't know because whilst I was there we didn't discuss Operation Mayibuye, we didn't. Also I mean the question is, you know what? Govan was actually one of the people who drafted Mayibuye, he and Slovo.

POM     And Slovo was out of the country with the plan at the time they were arrested. I'm nearly there. What did you think of Mac Maharaj? Was he – ?

AM     Was he what?

POM     In the prison as a member of both the communications committee and the technical committee.

AM     Mac is a brilliant person but I think Mac sometimes has a difficulty of working with people. He's got sometimes a way of annoying people, giving the impression to people that he doesn't take them seriously. But as somebody, as a thinker and even doing things he's quite practical.

POM     But in prison did you find him easy to work with, difficult to work with?

AM     Well sometimes I did, sometimes I did quarrel with him over things. He's the type of person you have to make sure that you understand that sometimes his head goes off.

POM     His head goes off?

AM     I mean when it comes to certain views. He can be rigid on certain things. As a person who used to work with him on this particular thing the problems that we had about out or inside, but I worked with him quite well.

POM     Listen, thank you. I'll probably come back to you again on another occasion because I want to get more of your story, what happened to you after you left Robben Island. OK?

AM     Yes.

POM     Thank you very much.

AM     I actually – another thing we can talk about is before I went to Robben Island.

POM     Yes.

AM     Before I went to the single cells because I spent two years with those people there.

POM     In the communal cells?

AM     Yes.

POM     OK, we'll talk about that too.

AM     And with the PAC.

POM     Yes, OK. Thank you very much, General.

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.