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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

26 Oct 2003: Naidoo, Phyllis

POM     Phyllis, just for background maybe you could tell me a bit about yourself.

PN     What for?

POM     Because I'm interested.

PN     Well what do I say? I'm 75 years old.

POM     75 OK. You were born in – you're from?

PN     I was born in 1928.

POM     Thank you. I can subtract.

PN     Good.

POM     Well I'm making progress here. You grew up and were born in Durban?

PN     No, in Estcourt which is in the midlands. My father was a teacher, my mother was a housewife. My father and mother were indentured labour –

POM     Your father was?

PN     A teacher.

POM     And had your family come here as?

PN     His parents.

POM     His parents had been indentured.

PN     Yes. OK, went to school.

POM     Was he active in any way in the Congress movement?

PN     Nothing political, no politics for civil servants you know. To an extent, the more I look at him the more I think he taught me so much in a funny way.

POM     In a clandestine way.

PN     No, no, it wasn't clandestine, he was never clandestine. He was headmaster now when the treason trials took place and he got Ismail Meer, Fatima Meer, Dr Naicker to speak at a school function. That was political.

POM     He did?

PN     Yes. Then at another time when I was house-arrested he was talking at a school and one of the students said, "Is your daughter house-arrested?" meaning what has she done to this government sort of thing. And he said, "Yes and I'm very proud of her.?" He never said that to me.

POM     Were you an only child?

PN     No. I've just been reading this account of this film –

POM     The Magdalene Sisters?

PN     Yes. Oh, we were ten. I was the head of ten children. How my mother coped - I had four, but how my mother coped with ten I can't remember. Sometimes I'm so proud of my father will be talking about my mother and I have to clap myself to say shut up. The hero here is your mother, how she coped, and Dad was one of those authoritarian, disciplinarian fellows. They used to call him King Shaka.

POM     So you went through school.

PN     You see everybody talks about apartheid and if you say apartheid started in 1948 with these buggers it's not true. I went to school to an Indian school. I never went to a mixed school or anything like that. And throughout - nobody else taught us until we got to what was called Junior Certificate, four years before university, and then it was the war, World War 2, and all the people that couldn't give their services actively were thrown to different schools and we had very old men, white men, or disabled men, or a history fellow who had his head cracked up, or an English teacher who used to go to sleep in the middle of classes, but they were great teachers, they were great teachers.

POM     Now when you were growing up did you, in terms of identity, did you consider that your identity lay in India? Say, for example, many people, Irish Americans would think that their real identity is in Ireland. They're American too but they'll tell you I'm Irish, my grandparents were from Ireland.

PN     Didn't Clinton claim he was Irish too?

POM     Well if it was good for the vote he certainly did. Everyone who runs for President of the United States finds an Irish ancestor.

PN     I grew up with Gandhi's pictures on my wall, Surej Naidoo, Chandra Bose, all the Indians – I don't know them all. And there was a white woman, Annie Besant, I never remember her name but it came through now, Annie Besant was on our walls. Whatever happened in India, we sang with everybody else. Then after matric Dad wanted me to go to Fort Hare but we were so poor, can you imagine with ten bloody children and the war is over, there's no food in the house. I'm writing about this now, but the poverty! We never saw mutton. We saw trotters and tripe and all the offal things, Grandpa used to take his vegetables to the market, sell it and then bring this head which we used to clean. I remember myself with a scrubbing brush scrubbing the burnt out portions of it and chopping it up and my Mum said to me much later, "Every time you clean the head we didn't want to look because you kept on saying – I wonder if this sheep cleaned its teeth with Colgate." And throughout the war there was no food. Don't you know Britain came here looking here for food in Africa, Zimbabwe, here? They were standing in queues in Britain for food there so they came here.

POM     So you went to – did you go to Fort Hare?

PN     No, no I didn't. I went to work at FOSA, FOSA settlement which is – it's called Friends of the Sick Association. It was established by some wonderful people and here things were so bad for the Indian community – it was a period when the Brits didn't want us, they just wanted our labour and get the hell out, repatriate you back to India, because by which time some Indian merchants were coming in and there was competition with British merchants and Indian merchants and they were in power. If you look at the Provincial Administration or the municipal they were all in power, businessmen, and they didn't want competition. So they pushed us out. Swaziland wouldn't have it because they were there and in fact in Lesotho only after independence did the Indians come down from the mountains. They were only allowed to be in the mountains, no competition with the Brits. And I went to work there because my teacher, the one that slept during lessons, had been to FOSA to see what was there in my last but one year and told us about the wonderful work that was going on at FOSA. It was Paul Sykes and Nell, a nurse he married.

     Paul Sykes and Nell Sykes who married and they together with some Indians, Pat Poovlingham, Naicker, Pillay, all of these people got together and established a tent and got donations to build a little facility and I went at that time when the facility was built and I was a nurse, a nurse of sorts without any training. We just filled these buggers up with … to fatten them up and my split with them came when one of the fellows who was so sick and we had made him well again was discharged to go home and of course home was unemployment and the family … and in two weeks time he was back and he died on us. I got the hell in to Paul. I said, "What are we doing? What are we doing?" We're spending our energies here and they come back again. I was about 17 then. And he said, "Look, that is politics."

     Oh yes, it was the passive resistance of 1946 because two of the people working at FOSA settlement were breaking the laws and going in. They were in for a month, three of them. A husband and wife spent their honeymoon in prison, Pat Poovlingham. So Paul said to me, "You see what these people are doing? That's the way to go. But I am a churchman and I can only exhort God and this is why we pray." Every morning we used to pray, all gather in the hut and he would read something and by which time I was still praying. That's where it started.

POM     So you were at FOSA for?

PN     For about two years.     I didn't have a teaching qualification because I went straight from matric to FOSA and then an old friend of mine said there's a job for two weeks teaching, why don't you take it. I was broke and I took that job and sort of studied on the job and made my teaching exams.

POM     When did your political involvement start?

PN     I think it started then. But my Dad took me to a Race Relations function when I was about eight I think to serve tea for the whatyoucallits. We were getting cups and all ready and wiping cups and teaspoons and all that and a white lady said to me, "Go and call the boy", and pointed and I went out that way and there was an old African woman dressed in a long dress, I said so-and-so wants the boy. She said, "The 'boy' is my husband." And I just broke down and cried and my father had to take me back home. There were no politics or anything, not that I thought about it after that.

     Because the other thing about FOSA was when I got to FOSA all the women there said to me, "Are you Indian or coloured?" And I said, "I'm Indian." And they said, "Well why didn't you pierce your ears?" It had never arisen before and they pierced my ears. Oh, it was painful, they had to put gold in here and they bought the bloody gold. When I went home my father said, "What have you done to your face? Who asked you to do these stupid things?"

     Anyway, yes, then I think – my father now when I said to him, "Dad, I want to go and join the passive resisters", I was about 17 then, and he said, "You think I've educated you to send you to jail? Does that make any sense?" So that was stuffed. But I did go and watch Dr Dadoo speak on top of a truck, he was standing on a truck and speaking. I came back and I said to my Dad, "You know, they are saying some good things." And Dad didn't reply, he sort of ignored me.

     You see it's very hard to live in a society like this and watch from the road as you're going to work, people being arrested for being without a pass or watch people being kicked into vans. We didn't have any servants in our home. My Mum was our servant. We didn't have any problems with blacks and my grandfather in a funny way put into place a lot of the things that I hold dear now because there was an old African man, George, now George used to cook his putu and we used to sit with him and eat his putu We cooked here separately but when we cooked Grandpa used to say, "Children and workers eat first in this house", working people as it were. And that's strange because I was invited to dinner last night, Divali, to an Indian home, and the mother there never sits at table and every time I've been there I've called her and said, "You must join us now", and she said no, she eats in the kitchen.

POM     So these traditions die really hard?

PN     Oh, you must know that. Yes of course. You know Dudu who comes to me once a week, twice a week sometimes, she sits with me and we have lunch or breakfast together and most people say, "What the hell is this?" Certainly my fame in this building is that she sits with her servants and eats. You don't do that. This guy here who is Secretary of the ANC, dead now, and who was Chief Secretary as well, would never eat with his servants.

POM     Would never eat with?

PN     The servants, domestic workers. Never. He was a leading light in the ANC. And I think most ANC people don't that. My friend Bongi who is in the book, great woman, you can see how uncomfortable she is when Dudu and are having lunch and if she joins us, because when I've had dinner at her place her bloody servants will bring the food around but nothing else.

POM     So get me to Durban when you get to university here.

PN     University was part time, I was teaching and then studying in the afternoons. Indian schools were minimal at that stage and they had two sessions in the schools. They called it some bloody thing which doesn't come to mind now. So we taught in the morning and in the afternoon some others, same headmaster I think, came in with a bunch of teachers for the afternoon session. So we taught in the morning, and I wangled it so that I taught in the morning and went to classes in the afternoon.

POM     Now you'd go to classes in the afternoon here?

PN     Yes, just round the corner.

POM     Is that Sastri College?

PN     Sastri College at first and then we came down here, Marion Buildings, the commercial block, for a while. Four years.

POM     This would be the non-European section?

PN     The non-European section.

POM     How many students would there be about, roughly?

PN     Well in my English class there were about 120 students. In my psychology class less, less. Then much later they allowed us to go, the first break came here. In fact that's an interesting thing, the whole Natal University. They've now had a lunch and invited all us victims to come there and say how sorry they were. I say go to hell. But they gave me an award and I brought up all those things.

POM     So how many non-Europeans would there be altogether, say, enrolled?

PN     That's the funny part of it. Africans, a few coloureds and Indian students were all together.

POM     But how many, say, would it be 80% Indian?

PN     More Indian.

POM     90% Indian?

PN     No, more Indian. I mean coloureds I can remember too, there's one called me the other day, Sydney Dunn, and another chap, but Africans very few. When people were kicked out of Fort Hare, that's about 1959/60, then – Fort Hare had become then – I've got a few pictures here.

PAT     You put all this together? That's fabulous.

PN     I thought we need to be reminded, much as we'd like to think we did it all by ourselves.

POM     That's Govan on his release. My God, he must have been 80 years of age then. Powerful looking man.

PN     I was in Oslo at the time. Albie Sachs managed to get me in one of those things. I shouldn't say I hated it, no I didn't hate it, it was nice. A journalist friend phoned me up and said Govan has been released. I said, "No!" "Don't lie." And he said, "I'm telling you, I'll give you his telephone number." I said, "Give it to me." You know I corresponded with him throughout the period that he was in jail.

POM     While he was in jail.

PN     Yes. That was another subterfuge. I was house-arrested, he was named and also restricted and we were breaking the rules. When I phoned him eventually, I had to get past the Norwegian telephonists, they were asking me questions, and I heard the Special Branch. So I got through to Govan and said, "Hello!" And he burst out, "Hello", and we laughed and no bloody speech at all and I paid 270 kroner for the bloody call!

POM     Now had you known him before?

PN     We were in the underground together.

POM     OK, so let's go back. So you get here in Durban. How do you get to meet Mac?

PN     Tell me what are we doing, Mac or me?

POM     Can you remember the first time you met him?

PN     Mac? Not sort of – I can't, not like a momentous thing like I can remember they called the 'boy', that's etched in my memory. But you must remember they were full time students.

POM     He said he was part time.

PN     He probably attended part time but we were working. He was full time. I don't know how he paid for it.

POM     Gambling.

PN     Yes. But they weren't working. We were working and we had to come. In the afternoons there was a big sing-song and I remember hearing Mac. Even before that I think, I don't know when now, his wife and I were great pals.

POM     Tim.

PN     Tim.

POM     She was a student.

PN     She had been a student at Natal University teaching and studying in the afternoons and I didn't know, stupidly I came and I passed all four that I'd written the first year and I came to her home and said, "Hey! I passed", and she had failed and her sister said to me, "Haven't you got any sense at all?" I didn't know she had failed. It started then, it started this terrible fight that goes on.

POM     That fight goes on?

PN     Oh yes, oh yes. No recently when her brother died, my ex-husband, everybody phoned and said, "Listen, no matter the part that he was your husband, he was also your comrade, come to the funeral. I'll pick you up." I said, "OK, listen, let me clear it with Tim." So I rang Tim and I said, "People say I should attend, what do you think?" "Don't put your foot there." So how do you deal with that?

POM     And what did you do?

PN     I just put my foot there.

PN     You never lose the dead. Not only my children. My grandfather sort of looms over me sometimes when I'm at my meanest, I know I'm being a bloody prick, and I see him and I say sorry. Even now.

PN     That's why this ancestor worship, not worship so much as being a part of you. It's a funny thing. I went to a funeral, in fact I picked up a piece about him this morning. I went to some award that was being made to a dead person and this doctor spoke and then he said to me when we were coming out, "Hey Phyl, you know who my father is?" I said, "No, who is your father?" He's about 80 something this doctor I'm talking to. He said, "S R Naidoo." I said, "What! Ronnie." He said, "That's why I changed my name. He never used the word Naidoo, he used the word Dinadayoo." I said, "I wondered why you had this long name." And we laughed and he said to me, "I know some things about your grandparents, why don't you have tea with me", and I went and spent a day with him, had a lovely time. It wasn't much about my grandfather except that my grandparents were his father's tenants and he told me about the farm which my grandfather – but he died the other day and somebody said at the funeral, "He was seeing activist Phyllis Naidoo." For one day!

POM     You knew Tim before you knew Mac?

PN     Yes. I don't think she will open up to you. She's had a very difficult childhood. I think she lost her mother at birth or something like that, or close to it. Then they were sent to members of the family to take care of them. It seems she had a running row with the father, Tim's father, even before or after Tim was born they divorced, Tim's parents. The mother was dying in a TB hospital on the Bluff at the Point Hospital. MD, my husband, was on his mother's side and worked whenever he could and supported his mother but she got TB and she was in the hospital. It seemed like a rich family, the father was very wealthy. They didn't come here as indentured labourers, they came as passenger Indians. Certainly that branch of the family down on the South Coast were very well off. We knew them because my Dad was headmaster in that area so we knew them quite well. Tim was sent to that house and one day when Tim had a bath and I had to come into the room, there was a huge hole. Now I've been bombed and I've got six big marks but Tim's got a hole you can put your fist into. So I said, "How did that happen?" "You know we were starved at my relations on the South Coast - "

POM     You were starved?

PN     Starved, because these were somebody else's children, and all those had travelled, they were rich, spent years at university and all that. But Tim and her brother MJ went to stay there. Suria, the elder sister, married somebody and she was here and eventually Tim was brought to Suria's house. Suria's husband hated Tim, didn't want her to study and used to be really miserable to her. He saw the lights burning when she was studying and he's come and put it off. So she had a very difficult childhood, very difficult. She was happiest at university, great ping-pong player. Mac and her were attracted. The family didn't want Mac because he was Hindi speaking and they were Telegu speaking or Tamil, South Indian versus North Indian. I remember MJ, her brother, who was also at university, having terrible fights with Mac, real, raw things. So when Mac packed up –

POM     Did MD object to it too?

PN     Not overtly because here he was married to a Christian and that the family objected to. There is so much shit in this family.

POM     I'm not going to ask you which kind of Christian are you.

PN     Catholic.

POM     Oh my God!

PN     I was, I'm not any more. When MD came from England, and he started saying to Tim, "Bring your friend along." It was me. I think Tim and them didn't like - they were quite happy to be my friends but they didn't want their brother - and I'll tell you why.

POM     Now MJ or MD?

PN     MD. This is where I come into the picture with the family. MD said to them, "Ask Phyllis to come." They were going to see a film. Now this family dressed up to the Ts, jewellery, bangles up to your arsehole sort of thing, and I just went in my corduroy pants and a T-shirt or jersey. Everybody looked at me like dirt. I didn't notice it till I said to Tim, "What's the matter? You've been acting very strange."

POM     Now was Tim all dressed up too?

PN     Tim was all dressed up too. "Why are you acting so strange?" And then she said, "I think you are not good enough for my brother and I think you must stop coming with us."

POM     Tim said that to you?

PN     Yes, to my face. And I said, "Why?" She said, "You're a Christian, you're a divorcee and my brother's an advocate. These things don't match."

POM     So at the same time her brother was saying to Mac, "You're not good enough for my sister"?

PN     This is the thing. You can't believe it, hey?

POM     Was she feisty? Was she, in terms of – I only met Mac in 1992, he's feisty and strong and very opinionated and arrogant and self-opinionated.

PN     Oh Mac has always been opinionated but not Tim. Tim, I can see a happy smile. I remember whenever I saw that I thought, isn't she beautiful. But not all the time. Quiet, not a very happy person.

POM     Was she on her own, like in solitary? There was no-one around her that she knew. Did she ever talk about what she went through?

PN     She did at first because we were quite close. We went through this mad period and then when they came down, Mac and her came down and I had the two boys, they were little then, and she was fascinated with her nephews. When I was looking at the books I saw lots of birthday cards, you sort of don't think about that, but there was a good relationship. They left Durban with Tim saying that she was going to try to get pregnant. So how the hysterectomy then and getting pregnant, now that's the two things I was thinking about only now. But when they got to their home the cops were waiting.

POM     Were there, yes.

PN     Waiting and they were picked up. It's over 100 days, I should remember how many days.

PN     And then when Mac was due to be released she decided to go back to England and I know Mac was very upset. He had asked for permission to have a contact visit and she didn't want to touch him. I don't know if the visit was granted but she didn't want to because she knew that he was going to force her to stay and she thought by going overseas he'll be spared all this torture. So she packed up and went. I remember this because I wrote to Mac and said, "I can write to you now, now that Tim's gone. If you want to use me please do." So somewhere in my files there's this long letter from Mac. He was very hurt by her leaving and she on the other hand wanted to go and establish a home for both of them, away from South Africa and all the problems. So she meant well, she meant well.

     You see you have to take into account her own childhood, her detention. She used to take Mac's mother to Robben Island with her. She was working here and she kept him going, education, whatever study he undertook it was Tim who paid, or some people helped him. Then she was devastated because as soon as he came he was attracted to Zarina.

POM     Where did he meet Zarina?

PN     At a party to welcome him.

POM     In?

PN     In London. She just went bonkers, went out of her head. You know who told me? It was OR long, long after and he then got her a job in Tanzania.

POM     She got – Tim?

PN     OR, Tim got a job there.

POM     OR got her a job there?

PN     Because he was very upset with this business.

POM     Now this is just for clarification because just what you've said, people have told me that during that period after he was released and he went to England that he would turn up to parties with Zarina.

PN     Yes.

POM     And people said nothing. But Tim must have been aware of that?

PN     That's where I said she went off her head. She was really bad and OR said, "You know, I have to rescue this woman", but sending her to Tanzania was not very happy. That had problems of its own and she came back to England. I don't know when he divorced her. But Zarina's husband was in Maputo working there at the time.

POM     That's Chippy?

PN     Chips or something.

POM     Now he was active too, right?

PN     He was active too.

POM     And Laloo of course was in prison with Mac.

PN     Chiba.

POM     How would you describe, while you knew Tim, I'm trying to build up an image in my mind. I have this, I must be honest with you, kind of fascination and it's a fascination of –

PN     Try and talk to her.

POM     I will, oh yes. Because I have this thing, I'm writing and I have this image in my mind of this person who fell in love with somebody, then it's kind of broken up, they broke up because of the family thing and he goes to England and she goes there slightly afterwards, they get together, they get married. They're no sooner married than he's off to the GDR for a year. He comes back to England. She thinks he's going to stay there and he says, "No I'm off to South Africa." She follows him, she lives illegally for a while in Johannesburg while he goes deep underground. She has to go back here to do a refresher course in nursing. They're separated again. She comes back, she has to live in this kind of shabby place.

PN     She was a nurse.

POM     Yes she was a nurse. A shabby place in Doornfontein, not be seen by many people. They're arrested, she spends 100 days plus in jail. He goes off to Robben island for 12 years. She stands by him during those 12 years. He comes out of jail and bang! He drops her. She must be enormously hurt.

PN     She is. She is very bitter. I haven't seen her now for about five, six years I think but when I saw her in London, I went and spent time with her in London, she was bitter, oozing bitterness. I said, "Tim, this is no good. It's over. Just cut your losses." By which time MD and I had separated. I said, "Just leave it. Get on with the work. Why don't you do a course of studies of something. Flower arranging, whatever, gardening, whatever. Get something." But this bile that was coming, that's how I felt when I last saw her. Very warm with her family, her nieces and nephews and all, lovely relationships with them. A very loving person.

POM     She is? Yes.

PN     She used to spend a lot of money at Christmas time and Divali buying them gifts and all that, that kind of thing. And then she was nursing old people. Now that needs a lot of nursing, it's not easy nursing. She was wonderful. I spoke to the lady in charge there and she was raving about Tim and yet when we sat together it was Mac and this horror.

POM     We had a long conversation one day about this and I was telling Mac essentially there is a lot of unfinished business between you and Tim and it just strikes me that way, and you know, you could write her a letter. You're both getting on and you could write her a letter and say I know I hurt you but I remember that throughout the days when we were together how you stood by me, you stood by me all the time when I was in jail and that's something I will never forget.

PN     You know at the funeral of Tim's brother, M J Naidoo, and Mac came for that, I think he was Minister then, I sat right at the back, I went and greeted them then sat right at the back and I watched him and he kissed her, kissed the sister, kissed MJ's wife and he kissed Tim. You could see her glowing, so she's probably still in love with the bugger. My brother had a similar sort of – the wife kicked him out when she was –

POM     Is this MJ?

PN     No, my brother. MJ is her brother. They talk about, what's the wife? The abused wife. Well he was an abused husband but he went back for more and more and more and he got it. I give up.

POM     Is there anyone in this whole circle who didn't get kicked out of something?

PN     Oh I know. You know who I'm reading at the moment, amongst other things, is Njabula's(?) account, a book that was –

POM     I am Winnie Mandela.

PN     I think you should read this because – look I haven't read it, I've just got it. He takes the wife who stayed behind and it's been my swansong because when these guys start talking about Robben Island and sending out people to interview ex-Robben Islanders and I said to Kathy, "What the hell are cell stories? Are you going to say how you were caught, how they tortured you and all? What about the bloody wives?" Why cell stories? What about our stories? The other white chap who was there, now left, I forget his name now, Afrikaans name, and he said to me, "Phyl, thank you, we are going to attend to it." But when I go there, when I visited subsequently, they're talking about the cell stories and I said, "Where are the bloody women?"

POM     That would be a great book.

PN     This book deals with that. He hit me with something, I forget now, I must read it again. His medical woman, she visited me and she brought me this. He's the Rector or Vice Chancellor at UCT.

POM     Jakes?

PN     No, no, not Jakes Gerwel.

POM     Oh this man.

PN     Yes. It's strange, I was reading another book, I found it in the surgery and I said, "Can I take this book?" He says, "Take it." And I read it and throughout this little boy was detained and tortured and all, he talks about the kindness of this man whenever he met him. It was such a strange thing and somebody I've known who had become a Moslem in the struggle, and I read him and I was fascinated. If I was hungry and I didn't know where to go to I went to see Chief, he'd give me a great home. And nobody really did that. Just how to retain your humanity through all the struggles that we've been through . It's very hard even though we're about this wonderful concept, hey. This whole system criminalized us. How could somebody come in here and read a book and pinch it? Literally I found the book, I said, "How can you take a book of mine? You know I'm working on it." "But I want to read it too." I said, "Tell me, and I know that it's out because when I'm writing I need the book and I need to make the reference and you've stolen it. That's what you did. You didn't ask." All that sort of criminality and even I, all the backdoor stuff we bought to live. I mean Thabo Mbeki I can see him now on TV saying, "And who of us has not been touched by this book?" I picked up some stuff and I liked it and I said, "How much?" Cheap, and I bought it and afterwards it was made by FOSA and it hurt my hands and I gave it to … He didn't want it.

POM     So back to Tim and Mac. While you knew Mac - who is Mac?

PN     When you saw Tim and Mac together you said what a loving couple. But then you saw Mac have a fight with somebody. It was horrible. That's where his eyes were gouged out. What did he tell you about the eye?

POM     He didn't.

PN     At least he's honest.

POM     I have it in my notebook to be dealt with.

PN     I didn't know about it, I didn't hear the eye – I just went to varsity, came back, I couldn't afford a bus. I was earning paid rent, 3.8s. for university (can you imagine?) I was starving. We used to have school meals at school and the Principal said teachers must take part in it. That was the only meal I had. So that was five days in the week. Saturdays and Sundays, oh God! MJ said that Mac had been smoking dagga, because they had a fight in front of us also and I heard, "Oh you're a dagga smoker, you're no good for my sister", and Mac said, "At least I've been there, drunk, and you haven't been. Wait till you get there."

POM     He was smoking dagga when he got into a fight?

PN     I don't think he smoked dagga all the time. I think just for a gimmick, I don't know, I only know – I lived in the dagga area and when I'd go through I was shit scared and I could smell that thing.

POM     You thought you were going to just breathe it in, right?

PN     No, no, get high. And a woman on your own. Once they held me up so I was scared. From university I used to come here to Wilslow(?). So this other guy that he fought with, I don't know his name, that fellow gouged his eye out and he had to be rushed to the hospital but he came back within a couple of days and wrote his exams and passed. That was Mac. That was Mac.

POM     Was he the brightest of the students there?

PN     Very bright. He used to love taking on lecturers and all the white students, the liberal students. He used to take them on, tearing them to bits – where he managed this, you know. Didcott became a judge, Mac and him used to have terrific fights. There was another fellow, I should remember his name, he was the South African Ambassador –

POM     To London you said.

PN     In London. And they used to have rows. Wow!

POM     During – can you remember? I'll find out if you can give me the name.

PN     Oh Mac will know his name, Mac will know his name. He was the Ambassador in London in 1987 when the ANC was 70 years old.

POM     Not Dennis Worrall?

PN     Worrall.

POM     Dennis Worrall!

PN     Dennis Worrall. If you check his whatyoucallit, he did law. I think he did law. Dennis Worrall. Terrific fights. Dennis Worrall.

POM     I've interviewed him about five or six times, way back in 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, those years. That's funny.

PN     Well Harry Belafonte, this was Mandela's birthday, 70th birthday I think, they have a big concert in England and after the concert they had this panel on Channel Four, I had the bloody thing and my daughter put her stuff on it, blotted it out, four tapes of it. Harry Belafonte said, "I was wondering about the whites, the whites that are involved in the struggle", and feeling very proud of them and after the debate and all that – I'm sure it's Dennis Worrall, he said, "God! If the whites are like you Dennis, God help South Africa." Something like that. If you could listen to that thing and hear it.

POM     That's amazing. So he was argumentative. Was he a personality in his own right around campus?

PN     Yes, we were having running fights with the Unity Movement. Have you heard of them?

POM     Yes.

PN     And Kader, Amadola(?) Khan of the Unity Movement, but Mac would take them on. We didn't have to speak at all. It was Mac who did the speaking and enjoyed it and I can see him now – you know these lecture rooms that look like theatres? And he's standing here shouting at somebody there, not shouting, giving them stick. He had a phenomenal memory, phenomenal memory.

POM     Did he have friends or acquaintances?

PN     Nandha was his friend. Steve, they called him. He doesn't want to be called Steve now. He's gone to England.

POM     He's in Bournemouth, right? Living in Bournemouth?

PN     Yes, yes. They'll be here next month.

POM     Oh they will? I'm going to get in touch with him. He's one of the names I haven't traced a telephone number for. Do you have a telephone number for him?

PN     I should. I've got the e-mail.

POM     That's even better.

PN     I'm in touch with his wife, she's a writer.

POM     Steve went to China to do his training?

PN     Yes.

POM     He went out with the first group. He went out with Wilton Mkwayi. So was anybody else kind of close to him in terms of – what I'm trying to get at is a friend as different from an acquaintance, somebody he'd hang out with. Was he essentially, despite all this public appearance, was he more of a loner than a very social animal or was he a very social animal?

PN     I wouldn't call him lonely. A loner? No. Friends I don't know. Steve would be – don't call him Steve, hey, it's Nandha, he'd resent you calling him Steve. There were lots of friends then. I remember one Divali we spent with somebody. I can't remember the names, Pat Samuels was there, Sella(?) Pather was there, he's dead now. Pat Samuels is dead. But you're dealing with a whole dying crowd here. That other chap that I'm thinking of he's dead too, he was the pharmacist. He wasn't one for the girls.

POM     He didn't bother with them?

PN     No, no.

POM     So Tim in a sense would have been his first girlfriend?

PN     I think so, yes. Nobody else. There was Prem, there was Subeida and all that.

POM     You mentioned when he was in jail you corresponded with him quite a bit and you talk about a visit that you made to him and that you picked him up after he was released. Now he says that – let me put the question to you in a different way. I would say that I've interviewed Mac for maybe 200 hours altogether and in all of those 200 hours he rarely mentions anybody else other than himself.

PN     That's Mac.

POM     That's Mac. I mean in his childhood he never mentions one of his siblings. He said, "There were eight of us", and that was it.

PN     His little brother was at varsity with him and in fact when Mac was –

POM     Was at varsity with him?

PN     Yes. He also was a bright fellow.

POM     Would they hang out together?

PN     No, just around. In fact Mac used to complain he's drinking too much.

POM     Mac used to?

PN     Mac used to complain.

POM     That his brother was? OK. Because he talks about being taken home and that incident when he was picked up by his mother and brother and taken back to Newcastle and his father said, "We hear rumours about you. You've been womanising and drinking."

PN     When was he taken to Newcastle?

POM     This was in nineteen fifty - maybe the first year, they said he was gambling and drinking the whole year and his brother arrived and said, "Your Mum is in the car here, your father's ill and you've got to go back to Newcastle." And he went back and then on Saturday there was a meeting of all the men in the family and they said, "We've got you a job here and it pays well. All we hear is that at university you drink and you womanise and you gamble and you've got to come home."

PN     That must have been at the end of the first year.

POM     Yes.

PN     I wouldn't say he womanised.

POM     Well no, that was – they were saying there were rumours of that in Newcastle.

PN     Well if they knew that he was having an affair with a Tamil woman that would be big problems for a Hindi speaking Maharaj. They were the Brahmin class don't forget.

POM     OK. So Mac's people would be regarded as Brahmin and being a Maharaj kind of was up there in the class structure.

PN     Yes.

POM     It's interesting, I asked Mac once did he ever make a comparison between apartheid and the caste structure, he wouldn't have it.

PN     No, in fact I've been introduced to – my German friend came to visit, stayed here, we talked and he said, "What are you doing now?" I said, "I'm looking at my grandparents and leaving India." "Do you know where they came from?" So I said, "Yes, Chingleput, the Brits called it." He went to a conference in Tamil Nadu and met a priest (he's a priest, this guy is a priest) met a priest from Chingleput and he said, "Isn't that strange? My friend in Durban who's been involved in the struggle is writing about her grandparents who came from Chingleput." I hadn't started, I've done a whole lot of research but hadn't started writing. And so this man writes to me, "I'm Dr. So-and-so", and the moment somebody says that I'm put off. Religious, he's a Methodist, blah, blah, blah. I said, "My father was a Methodist. My mother was a Catholic. I am an atheist, so I don't think we will have much in common but if you still want to help me with some of the problems I might have say so." And he wrote back very fast, e-mail, it's too fast, that he'd be glad to help me. Don't worry about the atheism, you know.

POM     Mac says that it was his brother who picked him up. He tells the story about wanting to drive and driving but he says that it was his brother who picked him up.

PN     Kithar. Yes, I had both of them in the car.

POM     Oh both of them were in the car. Well it's interesting you see, he doesn't mention you.

PN     No! And I got him out of all that shit of this country.

POM     Now how did you do that? So he arrives, he has this kind of folder with him that's got -

PN     I don't know where it was. Where it was I don't know. All I'm told is, I'm asked, do you know anybody who's leaving the country? And I knew. I said, "Yes." "Just find out if they'll carry an album and deliver it to somebody in London." This one was apolitical as they come. She was working as a maid for some Dutch people and earning well and in love with a Dutch guy I think. So I invite her home, we talk and I said, "Hey, will you take an album to my friends?" Not Mac, I dare not mention that. She said yes.

POM     Is this Rusty Bernstein it was going to? Yes.

PN     Well that was it. He fixed up the album, he did all that. He gave it to Jimmy and I gave it to the girl who was leaving for England. My stomach was running until I had got a note saying she had done the thing wherever it was going to.

POM     Now did you know what was in the album?

PN     Nothing. Subsequently when the book was written and all the rest of the diary … But he's very careful of mentioning a whole lot of people but quite often he doesn't say whether it was Tim, whether it was me, and I thought he was shielding us.

POM     But why would – you say that's Mac, why would you think he would – it strikes me as peculiar that he would go into some detail in his childhood mostly about his father and his rows with his father but never mention the other kids in the family where there were eight, five and three, eight of them under the same roof. It just strikes me as odd.

PN     You know I was bombed and I couldn't lie on a bed, I was on the floor and I was watching and he brought Zarina to meet his mother and brother who had come up from Durban and he was not divorced from Tim. The brother brought the mother to my house to meet Mac and Zarina and he wasn't divorced.

POM     What did his mother say?

PN     The mother had previously been taken to Robben Island by Tim. She couldn't read and write. And there was this other woman, nothing, not in our presence and I remember thinking, what's going on here? She kept on asking him, "Why do you want to marry this girl?" And he took a record where Zarina was on a record and showed her this is who she is and I want to marry her.

POM     Was this a record of her CV and where she had gone to college?

PN     No. A record, gramophone record and on that thing was a picture of Amandla and Zarina, looking very beautiful, and she said, "Who the hell is this one?"

POM     Oh she was in Mayibuye, right?

PN     Mayibuye. Yes. That's the one. He said, "Yes, she can sing." "But why are you marrying her?" The mother was asking and the brother kept quiet throughout.

POM     That was his younger brother?

PN     Yes. There was never a real relationship between those two. Mac had nowhere to go, that's why he went to his brother.

POM     No warm relationship between?

PN     Kithar and Mac, even though he stayed there and they fed him, took care of him for all that time. I've got lots of pictures of Mac in that flat.

POM     Why do you think that was?

PN     You see Kithar had a drinking problem. We'd talk to Kithar and he'd tell us great stories but I can't remember Mac talking to him. He was very dismissive of him. No warm relationship. They felt obliged in the circumstances to take care of him and his wife was lovely. Shanti of course is his sister who's married to a boxer.

POM     Yes, Lucky.

PN     Yes. They loved Mac. She did, I don't know about Lucky.

POM     Yes, I talked to her yesterday and she's just an adorable little thing.

PN     I haven't seen her for a long time. She had a terrible fight with Zarina, that was the last time I saw her.

POM     They were fighting? I see.

PN     Well Zarina had had an accident and was in hospital in Harare and Shanti was brought to look after the kids. I think she had a fight with Zarina and she came to my place and she wanted to stay here.

POM     This is here in - ?

PN     In Harare. I don't know why at that time, oh yes, the whole place was protected with cops and all, soldiers were there all the time and I said, well I didn't think this was a good place to stay, can we get you another place? And she said, "Don't worry", and she packed up and went home. Then Alfred Nzo said to me, "Man, nobody wants to go and look after Zarina's kids. The sister's packed up and left and none of the comrades – I've ordered two comrades to go and look after the children."

POM     And they wouldn't do it?

PN     They wouldn't do it till they said you have to. They wouldn't.

POM     Was Zarina unpopular in Lusaka?

PN     Very, very.

POM     Very unpopular?

PN     With the comrades. But with Ambassadors and all those, great fun with them.

POM     Why do you think that was?

PN     Look personally, I don't know about her politics at all, I've read some of the articles that she wrote on women and all that. I don't know that I should tell you this, it's probably too long. The Gender Commission was going to be announced and I don't know who, and I honestly don't know who, told me that Mac flew in from Jo'berg to see Madiba either from Cape Town to Jo'burg or from Jo'berg – I don't know which way, to see Madiba and ask him to put Zarina's name on the list and Mandela refused. I don't know. This wonderful human being, so many faceted you know. And I am sure she must have done it because I don't think he would have tackled his friendship with Mandela to that extent.

POM     So who is he? I'm back to the question.

PN     Oh he's many faceted, there's no one – some people will swear by his integrity, some people would say he's a thug, he's a gambler, dagga smoker, all those things will come up. But I don't know. When the movement needed him he was there. There's one thing I'd like you to bear in mind, and that's all I'm going to say, and I'll tell you – they called me a loose cannon in the ANC. The Indian journalist who was based here for some time from Maseru said to me, "I don't know what sort of ANC you are, loose cannon."

POM     Well you should say a cannon is part of the armament, part of the weaponry.

PN     A fellow called Cassius Make, you've heard the name?

POM     Yes.

PN     Cassius was on the NEC. I loved him. If I loved anybody on the NEC I loved him simply because he was so self-effacing. If any NEC member came there would be a big fuss to go and pick them up at Maseru Airport and bring them and house them in safe houses and go in the hotels, but not Cass. Cass would get off the plane, take a taxi, get off and the taxi was on the highway there, there was a golf course and if you ran through the golf course you'd come to my place. And he'd get off the taxi and come, come when I'm at home, of course I was working then, and then with all that I was living in a house that could be moved and had just been bombed and anybody wanting to get rid of me could throw a bomb, and he went and made a fuss at the Justice Department and I was moved that night. He helped me move into the other townhouse.

POM     This is in Lesotho?

PN     Yes. About 1980 after the bomb. He said to me, "Phyl, I have to ask you a special favour. You are very friendly with Mac, aren't you?" So I said, "What?" So he says, "The ANC is not made up of graduates, university people. There are some in the NEC who can't read and write. Some people haven't been to school but the record of struggle is a long one. They haven't got the wherewithal that a Mac Maharaj has. He's gone to university, he's gone overseas, trained and all that, all the disciplines. Mac forgets that." So I said, "What do you want me to do now?" He said, "No, I don't want to put you against him but a comrade came to the NEC and hadn't finished his work (the work that was allotted to him) and Mac gave him hell, absolutely. You know in Tamil there's a saying that he blasted, left him flat on the floor and nobody said a thing. Everybody was appalled."

POM     Appalled at Mac for bawling out this comrade?

PN     Yes. My daughter, who's 37 now, went to dinner with Mac and Zarina's two nieces and she came back in a terrible state and I said, "What's the matter?" She said, "Mac was having a row with one of his nieces and he went on dealing with her and …" And I remembered Cass, by that time Cass was killed and I remembered, I said, "Did you say anything?" She said, "No, you can't say anything when Mac is having those moods." This child, she couldn't say anything to Mac. So that's another thing.

PAT     Do you spend a lot of time writing?

PN     I'd like to. You know I write to a whole lot of people like anti-apartheid people who have become friends in Australia, New Zealand, England, America, so I have to respond to their letters. At the moment I've got this job here, this wife who's coming from England and sent me this stuff, I'm putting that together. Then I've now been asked to speak at some launch of a book so I'm reading that book. Really busy and my body doesn't give me the speed I need.

PAT     It's starting to say we've got to slow down here Phyllis.

PN     And what penalties if I don't. Last week I was really buggered. I'm feeling so angry with myself. And then the other thing that I've just done recently is I've met this woman Eugenia Ginsberg.

POM     When you went to visit Mac did you go in your capacity as an attorney or as a friend?

PN     Lawyer, attorney.

POM     Representing him with regard to?

PN     Anything he wanted. I just wrote to him and said, "Do you wan to see me?" Yes, and I went. I couldn't go at first, I was banned, they wouldn't let me go. Once my banning ended I sent him a telegram, I said I am now free and let me know, let me come. They sent two top chaps from Pretoria to that visit. They sat on my side and Mac sat on the other side. It was difficult. Our whole talk was political. He said, "Where will I work assuming I'm not restricted?" I didn't know people that he could work at and they were political enough to have him. Nobody would have me and I'm a woman. It would have been easier than perhaps somebody from Robben Island twelve years bloody jail – who's going to employ him? We weren't the favoured ones. I walked the streets several times asking for a job. They were quite prepared to sleep with me and give me ten rand, but a job? No. So I had to reply to him, thinking about all that. Who's the best – Pillay? But Pillay's not a fool so he won't be able to be articled. Oh and then he'd say so-and-so and I talked about the politics and the dismissal of their politics. Now that's like Archie, now Archie will be, God he's too poor to pay himself, where the hell's he going to pay you? But politically he's OK, so we dismissed it. So we had this terrible conversation and then they brought him tea and they served me tea. And then lunch they took me and -

POM     They were very polite, they weren't looking for a tip.

PN     Sometimes I came asking myself, did these thing happen to you?

POM     Let me ask you, it's a question I always get either ambivalent replies to or defensive replies and it's two things, one is why do you think it is, or it seems to me after all these years of talking to people, that Indians played a very disproportionate role in the struggle compared to their numbers in the population.

PN     Say that again.

POM     That Indians played, in terms of – if you look at leadership structures and whatever, that in terms of their numbers in the population –

PN     One million at that time.

POM     That the role they played in leadership structures in the country and particularly in the SACP but taking the alliance as a whole, was very disproportionate to their numbers in the population.

PN     I don't know if I'm understanding you but in terms of population we played a bigger role.

POM     Yes, that's what I'm saying.

PN     Oh, OK, I wasn't sure if I was getting that. I think first of all that we went to school a lot more than anybody else. We had the advantage of learning. I told you at university we were 80% to 90% and you got to think. I can remember my lecturers saying - well I can't remember the thing, it's like today isn't it? Look at all the detentions, there's this fellow talking about it, who's that lovely human being, what's his name, I read him yesterday.

POM     Talking about?

PN     The English writer who could have been a communist, powerful fellow, tie up the knob, tell them I'm sick, tell them to go to hell, whole bunch of things. In our literature studies our reflection on literature whether it was Charles Dickens, any one of these, we always looked at our own society, not complete because the woman that I'm talking about when I said to her it's elections, who will you be voting for? And she says, "Oh our family has voted for the United Party, I suppose I'll do the same." I said, "Don't you think about these things?" She said, "There's nothing to think about." And she would be the one to tell you … look at our detentions now without trial? It happened then, it's happening now. How much have we changed? For me and for Chris too, Chris Hani, it was literature that really helped us. There was this Ginsberg woman, she's absolutely amazing, she brings out so many American writers, English writers, French writers.

POM     What is her name again?

PN     Ginsberg.

POM     Her first name?

PN     Eugenie. It's a whirlwind something, I've got it, I wanted Gonda to read it and she's gone.

POM     You don't know the name of the book?

PN     I can get it. I've had it photocopied for me.

POM     You're saying the literature education, so awareness factors became –

PN     Oh yes, for me, for Chris, he said so. I was writing Chris's story, Chris Hani.

POM     Who's story?

PN     Chris Hani. He asked me to write his story and I had – in fact the whole thing has gone to UDW. I interviewed over 100 people and when I came back from Cuba I think it was, and I saw one of them and he told me a completely different story. So I said, "This is not what you told me when I interviewed you." He said, "Do you expect us to tell you the truth about a bleeding body?" I said, "Now you can tell me which is the truth, was that the truth or this one? Tell me the truth now." So it rattled me and I couldn't write any more.

POM     What was the truth? I interviewed him too, I interviewed him about nine times.

PN     Chris?

POM     Yes.

PN     I was going to interview Chris, I was talking to him and telling him that I'm going to Zimbabwe, I'll be back on Tuesday, I'll see him on Wednesday and he made an appointment to see me at four o'clock and I did see him at four o'clock, that appointment was kept only he was dead. Then all these interviews happened afterwards. I couldn't deal with it.

POM     So what's the truth?

PN     Of what?

POM     About Chris.

PN     It's like Mac, a lot of wonderful things, a lot of wonderful things, but there were sides to him that I said, "Why don't you take up this issue of your wife?" He did. When the comrades were sitting to talk to her she said, "Who's your leader? That fellow with the scratches on his face? He's not my leader." That's the picture, one who was … he's my leader. So you can't talk and Chris didn't say anything. The relationship with husband and wife has its own dynamics and you can't apply – the truth is very absent there.

POM     That's a nice phrase.

PN     How else can I put it?

POM     I might borrow that. So did you see Mac after his release?

PN     I was his lawyer.

POM     When he was in Durban.

PN     He had my car to work with.

POM     That's the Volkswagen.

PN     Yes, and he posted the keys to me and the cops were there to take the keys.

POM     Now he talked about the bug on the car, that he discovered a bug. And you said that Ashley Wills who was the American Consul –

PN     Does he talk about the American?

POM     A little but I've been trying to trace Ashley Wills without much luck so far.

PN     I don't remember that name but I can't remember the name at all.

POM     He was the American Consul who occupied the house where he worked.

PN     What is the intelligence of the Americans?

POM     CIA.

PN     No, not that.

POM     FBI.

PN     No, no. Another one. That's the policing department but the one that does the work, that fellow belonged to that.

POM     Are you sure of that?

PAT     USIS, Information Service.

PN     Yes that one. I'm sure of that.

POM     I've never heard of it.

PN     Mac got very friendly with him, even Mac sent some stuff to London with him. Mac told me this. I said, "You trust him enough to do this?" I just thought it was strange.

POM     This was when Mac was a rabid communist and he's giving stuff to a captain of the most imperial state.

PN     Well that's Mac. You see Justin Kuzwayo is not on my walls now, I've taken out all these pictures and put them away. He said, "They punished me and I was put into the isolation section. I was wondering why the hell Mac was talking to the warders, very friendly with the warders." So eventually he went to Walter Sisulu and said to him, "Walter, I don't understand this thing", and Walter said, "Watch very carefully." And after a couple of days he came back and he said, "I don't see anything yet." And Walter said to him, "He's getting newspapers, information, that's what he's doing. If you didn't know that you'd think Mac was playing games with the cops."

     You know this book, Eugenia, how I found it, one of the Unity Movement guys who is a friend of mine and I make no bones about it to anybody, I am sure the ultra left is being targeted now and I'm sure one of them – but he when the cops took the air out of my tyres, they were flat and I was trying to fix it.

POM     This is when now?

PN     1967. And I was trying to change it and I put the bricks there so that the thing wouldn't go – I knew some things, and he came and he was house-arrested and I'm house-arrested, he pushed me aside, there was no communication, and he changed my wheels. And the cops were shouting, "Hey, you can't be there, can't be there!" And he fixed my wheels, threw my keys at me. He wasn't communicating.

POM     Who is this?

PN     This is this Unity Movement guy and I'm his friend, he's my friend. When Walter died I was so devastated that I wrote to him and said, "Tell me how you fared with Walter in Robben Island." He was eight years on Robben Island. He said, "One of the best, one of the best." You know this book by Ginsberg that the ANC banned on Robben Island saying it was anti-Soviet.

POM     The ANC banned this?

PN     The story doesn't end there. Walter came to him and said to this guy, Kader, "You're always reading, are there any women writers in the library?" And Kader said, "Yes, there's one there but the ANC has banned it." Walter said, "What? Which one?" And so he said, "Get it for me, I want to see this book. I want to read about women writers." When people found Walter reading it apparently it was unbanned. So he told me and I said I'd like to read this woman. Walter is very close to me.

POM     Who is this person? The person you're talking about.

PN     Unity Movement, Kader, Kader Hassim.

PAT     Oh Kader, oh.

POM     Kader.

PN     But I don't think you should talk about that because he's still in the bad books and he's very sick now, he can't breathe, he's having problems.

POM     I've known Kader since he was in Dublin.

PN     Not that Kader. Not him. It's Kader but it's Hassim. That one's Kader Asmal. I know one story which you probably can't remember, or you probably won't, with Marius Schoon. Apparently when Nelson was released they got pissed out of their minds and Kader Asmal was heard to say, "You could be shaking hands with the new president of the democratic - "

POM     He was talking about himself now. OK. You know in an interview with Mac we were talking about, I was trying to get an idea of how the new cabinet functioned when it was set up because nobody had any experience, they kind of put the rules together and he said they would make submissions from their DGs and whatever packages and put them there and he said, "You know we discussed things and there was one person who always talked on every subject that ever came before the cabinet." I said, "Let me guess." It was Kader.

PN     But he works. He's a talker but he works, he works very hard. I'm pals with his underlings. They hate him only because he wants them to work.

POM     Steve, he made a statement, Mac made two statements. This is one of them.

PN     That's the full statement?

POM     This is the full statement but you say he made a second statement? No?

PN     No.

POM     Where do I have that from? But he says when he gave them the names of Doha, Cajee, did he ever tell Nandha that he gave his name as being in his –

PN     Nandha was here and had escaped to Botswana.

POM     OK, so when he gave Nandha – no, because Nandha ended up in a cell in Marshall Square beside –

PN     Were they arrested? I've forgotten.

POM     They arrested him, yes.

PN     Then you see it was at a time –

POM     But he got off. Mac, as he tells it –

PN     Nandha will be very difficult to interview. He's very anti us.

POM     Very anti?

PN     ANC, SACP, everything. He's another Tim. But talk to him.

POM     But when you say he's another Tim, Tim is anti-ANC?

PN     Hates and you feel this hate.

POM     Well one person gave me a theory for that and that was Daso Joseph who Tim and Mac used to stay with but particularly Tim when they came back in 1963. They said they more or less took care of Tim because Mac was gone all the time and she stayed at their house with their kids and they were very friendly. Then he says that after Mac was released (he lives in England) was that after Mac and she got divorced that she dropped ANC circles in England. He said, "We were very close and she just dropped the friendship." He says he thinks it's because she thought that all the comrades in London knew what was going on between Mac and Zarina and she was closed out of the loop and nobody told her.

PN     Yes, that's true because Pallo's partner now, Sue Rabkin, says the same thing. In fact I think at one stage Tim thought it was Sue that Mac was going out with, she didn't know who.

POM     Because he was doing – she was the typist that he used to dictate the translation of Madiba's book, so that would make sense, they would spend a lot of time in her house.

PN     I know because Sue used to say, oh, she can't stand that woman. And Tim will say she can't stand Sue. Tim thought Sue was the woman.

POM     Just going back to what Cassius Make said about Mac lashing into somebody who hadn't performed their work, do you get the impression that Mac was unpopular with a lot of the leadership, a lot of the NEC and a lot of the Revolutionary Council members in Lusaka because he was hard-driving, demanding?

PN     I don't know. I don't know. There's one thing I do know, completely by accident, have you spoken to Ibrahim Ismail? Ibi?

POM     Ismail, no.

PN     Mac hasn't asked you to?

POM     He didn't mention the name. What's the name again?

PN     Ibi who was on Robben Island for 15 years. I B I and it's Ibrahim Ismail. He was on Robben Island for 15 years, I took care of him, he's my son.

POM     Was he in the single cells?

PN     No he was on the other side, he went in on MK. In fact he's in my book too but I don't think I deal with him, I'll let somebody else tell his story.

POM     He knew Mac?

PN     Oh yes. Now he was released, 15 plus 1964, in 1979. 1979 he was released and then came out and subsequently was kidnapped in Swaziland and held in detention. He went off his head almost, terrible things, and went back to Robben Island for life and was only released when Madiba and the amnesty was given. During that period this, what's this chap, the one that's charged with Zuma? All the Shaiks. He came into the country underground, was working here and the Shaiks and their father were very close to him. I remember this because I've got most of his papers. He said the only person that's here in the trial with me is Shaik's mother and he loved her because there was nobody, they had moved the trial from the big centre to Delmas I think it was.

POM     Delmas yes.

PN     Yes I think it's Delmas. She was the only one who was there so there was a very close relationship and when she died he wrote to me and said, "My Mum has died." Very close. But it was with these fellows and they looked after him when he came into the country and just got him out of the country and they arrested his girl friend, a woman from Belgium, a white woman. You don't know this trial? It was a mammoth trial?

POM     Is this the Delmas trial? No?

PN     No, no, Delmas trial is these other chaps.

POM     Popo and Terror.

PN     Popo and all this. Ibi was alone. No Ibi was with somebody, some of the big nobs in –

POM     What year would this be?

PN     You know when the Dutch fellow was arrested and he escaped into the Dutch Embassy?

POM     No, which one was that.

PN     These made headlines. This fellow was there so they came to some understanding and he was released. I can't remember his name now but I know him. In fact there's a picture of him with my son, he went to the farm. This woman was here visiting. This is how I write now, forgetting names. Oh God!

POM     So you're saying he knows Mac well from?

PN     When he became – between his release and going into exile, during that period, and then coming back into the country. You see Mac in the NEC was dealing with the Indians in this country so that if anybody went out to England, to America, Mac would be the one to go and interview them and get it. So Mac was dealing with some people but when Ibi came into the country he dealt with other people and I don't know who they all are. [He was going to produce a report to the NEC (this is strictly off the record) and Mac said no, Mac didn't want that report and he was fighting it to say since he was the person responsible, why is this other one coming in. And I think there was a row between Ibi, Zuma and Mac but eventually he did produce the report.

POM     He didn't?

PN     He did.

POM     He did.]

PN     And I think for a long time he and Mac were having daggers drawn. I remember in Harare saying what is it between you two? Now you can't be fighting all the time. He said, "No, no better, no change." There is an arrogance about Mac, you've probably met that, and it comes out here. When my son was … Ibi, in the first slot they had taken his, locked his hands, his legs and threw him into Midmar and when he was drowning they fished him out. That was the first time they locked him away. But how I knew about that was the policeman, the black policeman who was asked to kick Ibi into Midmar Dam refused and they kicked him out, told him, "You're not a policeman after this." And he came to the office that I was working in, Bill Bengu's office, and he told me this story and that's how I know about it. Ibi was shocked when I told him that I knew about that and he was locked up for 23 days when they got him, no water, nothing, just a bucket of slop in a toilet where he couldn't lie down completely. He had to sit for 23 days. The magistrate called me and said to me, "Look, we've asked these people to come and visit him and they haven't come. It's stinking there, he is stinking, his clothes. Please go." And I had to go back and fight and get the magistrate to get him and see Ibi and take him clean clothes. When eventually I visited him he said, "Hey Ma! You made it." So I earned motherhood there. Then after the second whatyoucallit he was really mental.

POM     But that's not surprising.

PN     No.

POM     I mean everybody has a point no matter who you are. I often wonder whether or not all of these people are all living in a state of post-traumatic stress, never been treated for anything, they've never sought anything.

PN     Treated! No. MK can't be treated. Don't talk about the army. Only now you hear of we go for counselling. Counselling, we've never thought was in our vocabulary. We used to think of the Americans who go for every bloody thing to their shrink and laugh at them, but not for us, we didn't cry, they didn't cry, it was soft. You can't do those things. When I said to OR, "OR, I think we should get a welfare department, social welfare department, we need somebody to talk to these kids." He said, "Do you think this movement will have me do that?" And I thought when we come back – and this is why I get people to talk, get them to talk.

POM     A form of therapy.

PN     Yes. And what things we haven't been through. The raid into Lesotho, we adapted. When I lost my son, the second one, somebody said, "I'm taking you to somebody, you need to talk to somebody", I've been there. If he had stayed there it might have been different and I asked this fellow, "What are you charging for this?" R156 for half an hour. I said, "Go to bloody hell. I can't afford that. Nobody is going to pay that for me." And I walked off.

POM     I have this belief that when the indentured Indians came here working on the sugar plantations that at that time their condition was even worse than Africans because Africans had a piece of land or whatever, they had something, but these people lived in barracks and were on five years EhWE`hE m

     - so they were five year slaves.      

PN     When did indentured labour become fashionable? After slavery?

POM     Yes, it just swept –

PN     But why? If you needed 100 people to work on your farm and now you can turn over to indentured it must suit you a lot better. The new system is even better than the old because here you pay him ten shillings a month and he has to fiddle on his own. There you have to take care of him, it's property and property is always number one.

POM     That's right. Very good point, yes.

PN     That I believe with my grandfather. Never went to school for a day, couldn't read and write and I wrote his letters when I could write Tamil. I can't write Tamil, I can't read it. Why I went to university, I can't remember anything. Old age is not kind. Don't get in a hurry to get there.

     You know Chris Hani gave the last lecture before he died, the Robbie Burns lecture in England?

POM     He did?

PN     I have a copy, I had so much on Chris Hani. It's all at to the university. I asked the SACP if they're interested in these things. They said, yes, they'd like it. I said, "Get somebody to do it." Well they never came and I just haven't got enough space here for all the rubbish that I'm gathering so I gave it to the university and said if ever the SACP ask for it lend it to them, but they are holding all this, a whole lot of stuff I gave them. About fifteen of those, some lovely stuff, really some awful stuff.

POM     The last time we saw him it was the time when he had the row of Shakespeare behind him, since were laughing about Shakespeare, but he was late but he was coming from some meeting and it was the first time I'd ever seen him wearing a tie and a shirt and a jacket and I was telling him that he was losing it.

PN     That speech was the last one of him there, was when he launched my book on Lesotho and he dressed up, suit. I said, "Why are you dressed up?" He said, "Your daughter, your daughter."

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.