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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
25 May 2004: Shaik, Mo & 'The Nightingale'
POM First of all, thank you for taking the time to come and participate in this interview. Perhaps first you could tell me a little bit about yourself, where you came from. Well if you don't want to that's OK. What it was like growing up and things like that.
N Well basically our family was four, two brothers and two sisters, and very poor background, we came from a very poor background. My father left, my Mom told me, when I started to crawl and he left home and she had to work as a domestic worker and took care of us, schooling and things like that. In those days to collect a grant, a government grant, not a pension, like child support, we survived on that. I went to primary school and high school and in 1976 no I had to leave school when I wrote my Standard 8, they used to call it the Junior Certificate, and then I had to work and support my Mum because she was the only breadwinner. I excelled in Standard 8 and said I want to further my studies because I always wanted to become a teacher, which never materialised. Then I started work and there was very little money in those days and in 1976 I decided, no, I wanted something more permanent, a long term thing, so I joined the police force in 1976 and I went to college and then I was at various branches and then in 1981 I joined the Security Police, Security Branch as it was known.
POM What kind of work would you be doing in the Security Branch at that point?
N Mostly it was information gathering, intelligence work, handling of informers, getting their reports and intelligence work and following people, undercover work mostly insofar as the security of the state was concerned, organisations, persons and many other things like following people from day to day. You'd have to follow a guy, you would get into a car, follow the guy, more intelligence work to find out what is really going on.
POM Were you based in Durban?
N Monitoring someone, yes. I was based in Durban, C R Swart Square. I met Mo in 1985.
POM That's when Mo was detained?
N That's when he was detained, yes. He was detained in 1985 and because of their treatment inside I sort of like softened now, I said, no, this is not right, this is not what we're supposed to do. Somewhere along the line we just connected.
POM Was it because of the treatment of Mo in specific or because you were witnessing the treatment of detainees in general?
N Detainees in general because at heart I'm a very soft guy, I'm soft, I can mellow, I am soft. Being a policeman you have to be hard, a hard person, a person with no morals, no standing, but inside me I'm a soft guy. And during their detention what made me more to get onto Mo's side was he lost his mother whilst in detention. I remember taking Yunis Shaik to visit his mother on her deathbed and the last thing she told me was, "Take care of my boys." And when I went home that night I said to myself it was a woman's dying words, then I said no from that day onwards, I said no, my way forward is with those guys and that's how it all started.
POM Now when he got out Mo says one day you arrived and there you were with an intelligence file. Now did you have access to - ?
N Yes I had access to all the files.
POM How were these files arranged in terms of, for example, there would be files on, I assume, members of the ANC, there would be files on the UDF, there would be files on
N Files on individuals and files on organisations.
POM Would they be classified under a separate coding system for, say, people working for the state, one for people who were members of the UDF?
N No, the files were coded in such a way that one stroke and a number, one stroke (1/) was a white and two stroke (2/) was Indian, three stroke (3/) was coloured and four stroke (4/) was black.
POM When you say strokes it's like a slash?
N Take for instance Mo Shaik, his file would be 2/11 or 12, whatever the number was because they had a sort of a book and Mo was 11 and somebody else under him was 12 or 13 as the files go on, as the files get numbered. As far as organisations were concerned, organisations started with 9, 10, 11, 13, all those high numbers.
POM So if you looked at a file number how would you differentiate between whether it was a file that pertained to somebody who was a member of the ANC or somebody who was an informant?
N No the informant files we had no access to. Informant files were under lock and key at all times and only you as a handler of an informant you would know of those files because you would write them up from time to time. Insofar as the files are concerned where members were, say, for instance the ANC, the ANC had a number 9/126, that was the ANC, that would be written 9/126 and the ANC, African National Congress. But with the individual's files, say for instance Mo, 2/11 Mo Shaik, and there were different filing systems for the ones and twos and the organisations. There was one big room and all these steel cabinets, they were filed in there.
POM So who would have the key to the filing cabinets?
N It used to be called the filing room and there were two ladies, white ladies, that manned that, they manned the files. What we used to do was if you had to book out a file, say for instance you had to work on a certain file you had to book the file out. So you've got to go and book it out and she'd sign it and you'd sign it and then you take the file out and go to your office and do your work. Insofar as Mo's work and our work was concerned we never booked those files out because the way they operated we didn't want people to get suspicious why is this guy taking out a certain file all the time. So we mostly moved when security wasn't too high, security was lax, and we usually removed on a weekend, Saturday. Most of the time it was a Saturday but during the week, yes, when the time was right we'd move the files. You'd book one file out and you'd take another one as well with it. You know what I'm saying? Take, for argument's sake, Mo Shaik's file, say 2/11, take that out
POM OK, Mo Shaik.
N You book his file out and then you take the other ones without booking them. Nobody checked on it. There was not stringent security, there wasn't really. You could just get friendly, like with me I got very friendly with those ladies that worked there and I always brought them gifts like chocolates and this and that to give them so that they wouldn't really suspect anything.
POM Then the arrangement with Mo was, would he ask you, like the project he was working on, Project Bible, was to identify possible members of the ANC who were working for the state, so would he ask you for the names? Would I be correct in saying that what Mo did was that he would just take files from the filing system and take the files that looked the most important?
N Yes, we knew what files we wanted to look at. Mostly it was the ANC file and any other organisation files like COSATU and UDF.
POM Would the file actually contain the name of the individual on it or would it just be a code number?
N No with the report, let's say a meeting on such and such a date, venue, and it said so many people attending and known suspects, there were known suspects, a known person, you would tabulate them and their file numbers would be on there, on those files. That is why we worked with those files because every individual will have a report and it will come into this file rather than getting the individual file itself, it would be too much, so we worked with the organisation files, all the reports were coming in. Anything pertaining to the ANC or the UDF they would come into that file.
POM So to go back to the case of Bulelani, did Mo request information on Bulelani from you? Or was that just one of the files you brought to him in the course of the work you did?
N Yes I think that was it.
POM Can you remember, Mo? Did you request?
MS It was an RS file, we didn't ask for Bulelani's file per se.
POM You asked for any RS file?
POM So you received an RS file and when you opened it you saw that it pertained to Bulelani Ngcuka?
MS Our analysis led us to believe that it was Bulelani. There was no actual documentation that said Bulelani. It was our analysis based on the criteria we developed at the time in terms of the counter-intelligence analysis. That analysis led us to believe that there was an association between Bulelani and RS452 at that time. There was no documentary proof of it and, of course, when we dug into the matter, and our investigation covered about five areas, as we outlined in the Hefer Commission, there were the first indications of RS452 in connection to another source by the name of PN647, then there was the time he was in detention, when he was on trial, we studied those documents. We then also looked at the passport application and the information we got post-1991 dealing with the false flag operations and then we double-checked with his passport and the Home Affairs file. Now in the Hefer Commission the evidence we gave, we have this file, I would gladly give you a copy so you could go through how we arrived at this analysis, it's all documented and everything there. But from the intelligence sources they gave us the first indications of they thought that we were hunting for RS452 who had penetrated NADEL and the second was the Henk van and it was more the analysis of the Henk van Trust that gave us an indication that we were looking for someone who was in Geneva. That's how we came to Bulelani. But we didn't get a file, as the Nightingale says, that says Bulelani was RS452, it would have been easier. In hindsight we should have done that. We should have done that. We should have said give us that file there and then looked at his personal file that was kept in KZN. We didn't do that.
POM Would you have been able to get access to that file?
MS To his personal file, yes.
POM So from the information that you provided on this RS file it would give the name of the handler? The actual name as distinct from a code name? So in this case the handler would have been Karl Edwards?
N Yes. Without looking at the file as well, when he writes the report Karl Edwards will be the writer of the report, he will write the report for distribution purposes, the meeting took place in Durban. Even if the handler is in East London he would send out a report to Durban to have it filed because the meeting itself took place in Port Natal. So we would find that.
POM Now you think RS452 was a false flag?
MS And it dealt mainly with Karl Edwards' relationship with National Intelligence. Remember Karl Edwards was a member of National Intelligence before he became a member of the Security Branch.
POM What I'm trying to get at Mo is if we're moving from you having been delivered an RS file, you open it, there are some documents in it, it's RS452 right? And from that you conclude that the individual is Bulelani Ngcuka and then you carry out further investigations yourself based on passport applications, just the things you went through, and then from that information you came to the conclusion that he was probably a spy, but in hindsight if he were, he wasn't filed in the system under RS452?
POM So what would he be filed under? RS358?
MS It could have been another filing system that they would have had. Remember, Padraig, at the time you had this major competition between National Intelligence and the Security Branch. National Intelligence was very guarded how they would share the information because they considered the Security Branch to be bulls in a china shop. On the other hand our information told us that of the two agencies the Security Branch was the more thorough and their information was more reliable in terms of knowing what was happening in the ANC. So I am still of the view that Bulelani was not RS452. I was told by a very senior Security Branch person that he was not RS452 but it was a false flag operation, but whether we can prove it is another matter and this senior Security Branch officer then gave us the insight into that, it was a false flag operation and Karl Edwards was the key to that false flag operation. And that's it.
POM You were talking about the case of, that's the case I didn't record of what was his name? Major? This PN690.
MS Well the information we had indicated that false flag operations were conducted and we have an example of 690 where a false flag operation was an operational technique of the intelligence community and it was done for different reasons. He would tell you that sources were paid per report.
POM You tell me. We didn't fly you all the way up here from Durban just for Mo to tell you how you worked, OK. So if you were recruiting an agent how would you go about it?
N I would look into an organisation, I would look for a weakling, look for he's got some problems, family problems, drinking problem, some weakness in him, or maybe he likes to go out with women, and then I would do my intelligence work and I would corner him one day and say, "Listen, I've got this video of you going into this hotel with this woman. Sign up boy otherwise I'm going to take you to the cleaners." I'd do that. Otherwise you recruit a guy from off the street, go to meeting upon meeting slowly getting into the organisation and work himself up.
POM How would you test the reliability of the information that the informants were providing?
N Say for that one meeting we would have four informers in that one meeting and you will see the four informers what reports they give and then you will verify. You must also remember that some of the meetings were recorded, which the informer doesn't even know that the meetings were recorded by us, and you would go back to the tapes and play the tapes and see whether he's talking nonsense or whether he's giving the right thing.
POM To what level of penetration did you get in terms of, not you but the security system?
N They had sources right high up, they had sources in Lusaka, they had sources in the ANC.
POM They had sources in the NEC?
N Could be, I'm not sure.
N They had.
POM They had sources in the NEC?
MS They admitted to some of them. I think in the run up, I think even in the ANC's submission to the TRC they admitted that they were infiltrated at a high level, the highest level.
N I think in London they had particular successes.
POM In London they had?
MS The Security Branch had some successes there. I think in the case of Francis Meli who was in the ANC. Oh yes, they had successes but this is why the ANC in structuring its operations would be very careful on who they select for special operations. Vula was a classic example of that. Vula was not known to the NEC, it was known to very select people within the ANC, in the leadership of the ANC.
POM So how many files do you think you worked on your own?
N I can't say really how many.
MS You mean worked on your own, the ones you gave us?
N Yes. I can't really say how many. Plenty.
POM Now Mo says that when this thing, Vula, broke that an investigation was being carried on by the Security Branch into who was the mole within your organisation, that you were appointed to the team to look at that.
N Looking at that. Yes they were looking everywhere. They were pointing at wrong people. They pulled in certain people and questioned them and interrogated them.
POM What did this do within the organisation? Were people looking at each other with suspicion?
N There was a lot of distrust, there was distrust amongst everyone, especially the non-whites because they said that the white can never be a mole. They said that, openly said that. Those were the days of living hell. You didn't know who was next. But as I said earlier, there was fear, fear of being detected kept us alive because if you were found out there was no way that you would stand trial or anything, they would just take you and that's the end of it.
POM That was it. So did you feel secure in terms of yourself, being on the review board itself that there was a level of trust?
N Not really. I was still scared because you never know, maybe they put you there to see what you're up to. Fear was still there. We had to always double track, cover the tracks. Whatever we did we'd cover the tracks. If we made some mistake we went back and corrected those mistakes. It was, I would say, a living hell.
POM During your period when you were engaged in supplying Mo with files you would still be recruiting informants yourself, going about normal things?
N Yes, day to day normal, my day to day we would still carry on.
POM So you would be a handler as well?
N Handler as well, I had sources in the university and NIC and all the other organisations. My day job would carry on because that's where I get paid from. So I would carry on that to show them that, listen, I'm working hard and there's no way that I can be the mole. You know what I'm saying? So we made it that we had information, we had informants and we had good information coming through and some of the disinformation was put before you and they recruit some people for me.
POM OK, so then if you recruited somebody and he worked his way up to a certain level would you turn that name over to Mo and say, "Now such and such has got to you know the guy that I recruited is doing quite well."
N We'd keep tabs on him and he'd analyse and say OK.
MS You didn't catch what he said there, Padraig. We recruited people for him in order to promote him so that when they are evaluating their production of Security Branch people we three had a lot of good sources, he would increase in the ranks and so we took some ANC people and said, "Your task is to provide information to this man." But the information was, of course, we filtered the information in terms of what we were giving in order to promote him within the ranks so he should be one of the trusted people within the Security Branch. That way they wouldn't look at him and say he's a non-productive man, he's not working. He was seen to be a productive person.
POM Were you evaluated by your superiors in terms of your - ?
N From time to time. Say, for instance, there was a meeting at night and I had a partner that used to work with me, we won't talk about him, and at night we would write the report and if there was a telex to go to Pretoria and we would write the telex overnight and we'd come in the morning and we'd throw it on the Major's table and say, "Right, this is it", and then they were happy. As long as that was done everybody was happy, everything was covered. They come to you and say, "Hey, there was a meeting there, what happened, what did you do, where is the report?" We had the whole thing covered. We had the thing coming in like a chain reaction. If they were meeting here, there, at university, everything was covered, the report would come in and we would do the reporting and it would go.
POM Into a vast information system and then you wouldn't know what happened with the information once you had done your part. But just to go back more and talk about it, I missed it on the tape, this relationship between PN690 and Major van Sittert.
MS We were getting the files.
POM You were getting the file of?
MS The Nightingale would bring us a file.
POM And it would be called? An SR file?
MS No, an ANC file, and in this file is a report, a whole lot of activities of forces. We then found in one of the ANC files the source of PN690. PN told us it was Port Natal, 690 was the number, we knew the handler was Major van Sittert. So after we get about five reports of a source you can pretty well bracket who the source is, you can come down to certain possibilities. We then started to find a very interesting relationship between this source and Major van Sittert.
POM That's PN690.
MS Because PN690 will talk about a UDF meeting, of the NEC of the UDF. Now we know who's in the UDF NEC, you know what was discussed in that NEC meeting so knowing that information you compared then the report and said there's no way that this source was in that UDF meeting, no way. So of course the information they had been given was false and just as they would want to identify a weakness in our system we wanted to identify a weakness in their system because if this fellow was lying then what is the relationship between him and the Major? Were they colluding to lie? If they were colluding to lie what was the basis? Was the basis that the Major was taking money from 690 or both of them conspired to defraud the state? And that gave us an indication of whether Major van Sittert would be recruitable because in all our work, as I said before, not only were we trying to find out who the agents were, we were trying to find out also how the system works and in particular we were trying to identify weaknesses in the system so that we could recruit people from that system for the ANC. So we targeted 690 and Major van Sittert and we had two approaches there; either to recruit Major van Sittert because we identified there was a weakness here, that they are lying on the reports, or to provide 690, to go to 690 and say, "Continue with this information that you are giving because it is disinformation."
So we were either prepared to play the disinformation game, to keep feeding disinformation in to them, or to recruit Major van Sittert, which was our target to recruit Major van Sittert. But just before we could do that, head office, the Security Branch, came to the same conclusion that there's something wrong in this relationship. So they kidnapped 690, they arranged for him to be kidnapped and they interrogated him and they discovered that he was bullshitting Major van Sittert because when they analysed the information, because this guy would give information that there is an NEC meeting of the UDF taking place in this house on this date and the Security Branch would swoop on the house and find nothing. What happened here? So he would then give them a bullshit story, "No, it changed two hours before the meeting and he had no way to tell them it changed."
POM He was pretty good.
MS So a few of that happened and then they came to the conclusion, no, this guy is bullshitting. We also came to the conclusion that he was bullshitting and they moved before we did because we wanted to go to him, because we knew who he was, and say to him, "Listen, continue with what you're doing. We are now going to feed you more disinformation." Because at the end of the day the game was about information and disinformation. If we could put more disinformation into the system they will not be able to conduct their work, or to recruit Major van Sittert, we didn't quite get there but he was targeted for recruitment based on this.
So knowing this relationship we knew that disinformation, false flagging, was a practice within the Security Branch. It was just a matter of identifying who was a false flag and what has he done. And you can imagine a situation where - and we have had cases of this in the ANC where the source was X but the report was written under Y to protect the identity of X because they had to work on the basis that they were at some point going to be infiltrated, not that they believed to the very end that they were infiltrated. Even so, when they discovered they were infiltrated they were at a loss to find out how to discover the moles.
POM Now when you recruited somebody and they gave you a report and you were the handler of that person, you would write a report on that person and then that would be fed into the system.
POM Would that report be an analysis of the information or would it just be a straight report of the meeting and your relationship with the source?
N In some cases the informer himself would give some comments like 'these guys are barking up the wrong tree' in saying some demonstrations would take place insofar as university fees and things like that. So he did also give his comments as well about what's going on. But basically he'd give the report and it will be analysed and one will go into his file and then some will go to head office and some will go to
POM Would be analysed by whom? By a different structure?
POM Not by you?
N No. It goes to head office and is analysed at head office. They look at it.
POM OK, and the same thing would happen with you, after you got the information you became the analysing agency?
MS Yes, we'd have to analyse it.
POM Who participated in the analysis?
MS On our side?
POM Who would have been involved in the analysis of Bulelani?
MS Bulelani, I was involved in it, Shaheen was involved in it.
POM Sorry, who?
MS Shaheen Bawa.
POM That's in London?
MS I was involved with it, he was involved with it. Then it went to Lusaka, so we did our analysis here, sent it via London to Lusaka, Lusaka did their analysis and that was it. Remember because of the ANC we could cut the report down to certain meetings. Now we didn't have all the information in terms of the totality, we would have some of it, we would make our comments and send it up. They will then take it further. They would do their own investigations and sometimes come back to us, sometimes don't come back to us.
POM Basically you came to the conclusion that (a) as a result of looking at those documents that it was probably Bulelani, then (b) you conducted your investigations in four or five areas and came to the conclusion, yes, that it was him and he was probably a spy. You then sent that on to London where it was reviewed and a further analysis done and then it was sent on to Lusaka where it was reviewed and a further analysis done by the three people who you provided me with before. Then they would come back to you and say, "Confirmed."
MS Yes, or they would come back and say, "Fine, go ahead with the investigations. If you get any more information please send it to us." And that was the Bulelani case.
POM Would they often come back to you and say, "Don't bother with going any further with this"?
MS If you take once the source has been identified from our side. OK it's fine, it's done, if there are more reports that it's true, there's none, don't worry about it, continue with other stuff. And in the Bulelani case we were never told that our analysis was wrong.
POM So then you presume on that basis?
MS You presume on that. Fine.
POM So did you then continue to monitor?
MS No, because we had about 800 cases. So the quicker we arrived at a view it meant that we could move on to other cases. Clearly for us we were interested in categorising the levels of infiltration. We would get a low level source, we would get a serious source, and the other sources for us were very important because they were republican spies. So depending on the nature of the classification that the enemy gave we would pay similar attention to it.
POM But you're convinced, just to hear the difference of opinion, that RS452 was in fact created by the Scorpions?
N Well that's my view.
POM Now you would base that on just your own intuition about the way - ?
N The way the Branch operated.
POM Who else in the unit, I've talked to Billy Nair and he said, yes, Bulelani was. Who else?
MS You have spoken to Billy?
MS And he said yes?
MS So he had no doubt about it.
POM No doubt. Who else would have been privy to that information?
MS Those names I gave you.
POM Those three. But who else like Billy was, would people like Claudia?
MS There was Claudia, there was Shaheen, Selina.
POM All of those would be.
MS We owned the analysis completely, there was no dissenting view on the analysis.
POM So when you did your analysis and you presented it to them, did you present it to your team and say, "This is what I found"? And they'd go through it and try to pick holes in it.
MS They'd go through it and say no, yes, no, yes. The view that was given at the end was a consensus view.
POM OK, so it'd be Yunis. No? No. So it would be Shaheen, Claudia, Selina and what's the other one, the third woman?
MS Kamilla? No she was in economic intelligence. But Selina, Claudia, Shaheen from the unit. Unfortunately, I was discussing with Shaheen the other day, part of this problem now was that we had information not only from here, and it's a matter of retrieval now, where was the document that made us believe so convincingly? What was that document? Now we all seem to remember there was a document that was convincing in our belief which we just couldn't find now so I tried to recover my computer system which I handed over to Selina which eventually found it's way into NIA, so we were looking for that convincing document which we believe we had and we couldn't find, given the situation now. Thirteen years later people are in different places, the whole system had been dismantled and that was part of the difficulty. But if this thing took place in 1989 or 1991 we had all the information, things were fresh in everyone's mind, it would have been easier.
POM Sure. Now where is Shaheen? I'd like to talk to him too.
MS He's in Johannesburg, I spoke to him earlier. He says he and I should talk first before you see him. I will try and do that. Many people will want to stay away from this particular topic. They may want to talk about in general how we worked, etc., but you will have to convince them.
POM Well I only really want to ask one question like: you were part of the team. And it's either yes I was or if people say 'I can't talk about it' then I know the answer.
MS I'll put it to him.
POM I'm not going to use his name or anything like that, it's just to be able to state something quite categorically in a book you have to have to be able to say first to your publisher that I can back this up or else they say we have a bloody libel suit. So once they hear the information they will say that's fine, we needn't disclose who it is, it's just in the event of if the guy wants to sue you we can tell his lawyer we have people who have said he was, four or five people and if you want to listen to it you can listen to it, so there's no point in taking a law suit. It's really a protection at the end to say when you state something that if other people wish to pursue it and contest it that you've already got people on record verifying. The people wouldn't come forward at Hefer, they wouldn't want to do it in public.
MS Those are the names, you've worked on them?
POM I haven't worked on I knocked him off because I assume that now that he's where he is that he would be reluctant. You've given me this name, I haven't approached him, I haven't thought of a way of approaching him yet. You gave me his number, right? I haven't thought of a way, maybe we'll talk about it, how to approach from the outside. I rang his office and his office wants a short thing of why I want to interview him, whatever. I know somebody who works with him in his office so I will talk to that person and see what's the best approach.
I think what we can do is that if you just want to talk about how the system worked and whatever and then I'll give the interview to Mo to send to you in Durban and then if there are follow-up questions I can go to Durban and work it through. You'll get a better sense of what I'm looking for, is that if we're doing something with this material it's like you're there in the security system, you are producing the files, taking them to Mo, you are working with Mo on a one-on-one basis. Mo is the only one who is aware of The Nightingale, who knows who he is, so he's yours and yours alone. Nobody else knows him.
MS Yunis knew.
POM Yes, OK.
MS Of course in the later years when Operation Vula was bust I had to go into hiding, he was then given one other person to be the link. Cham(?) Govender. But he wouldn't know anything he was just the substitute handler at the time because I was in hiding so Cham would then meet with him.
POM So you continued right through doing this until?
MS When did you leave, 1991?
N 1992 I left.
POM So you left the security service then?
MS Are you sure it's 1992 and not 1994?
N I think 1992.
MS Tell him about Yunis' torture.
N Who wants to know about that? OK I'll tell you. You want to know about that?
POM Yes, talk about Yunis. Now Yunis was detained at the same time that Mo was.
N Yes, they were detained together. What do you want to know?
POM He was also detained for 90 days in solitary confinement and he was interrogated. Interrogated frequently over that nine months or interrogated for one concentrated period of time?
N They were working on him on numerous we'd pick him up every day, every day until we got what we were looking for. So in this instance we were asking about a certain car that they used, a red Datsun 120Y that was used to move Ibrahim Ismail. While Ibrahim Ismail was in the country the Security Branch was looking for him so we knew that he was in a certain flat in Overport and Mo was in charge of looking after his affairs. What had happened was whilst we were still watching the flat and everything they moved this guy out, they moved him out right under our noses. They used a certain car, a red car, a Datsun 120Y to move this guy out and Yunis' interrogation was the car; where is that car? Subsequently what happened to the car was they'd taken the car and parked it in some parking lot which Yunis was not aware of but the poor guy was tortured for that.
What they did was they undressed him, they put him on a table and they said at that time that this guy was a neuro surgeon but it didn't add up. What we established later on was he was some sort of District Surgeon of either the Westville area or Hillcrest area. This guy they brought in whilst the other guys were holding Yunis down, like a dog on all fours, and this doctor or neuro surgeon or whatever they called him put his finger up Yunis's anus and tried to tickle some nerve in there and this guy was suffering with pain. I think this went on for about an hour, two hours, I'm not sure. When they finished with him he said he doesn't know what they ask. Every time they did that they asked him where's the car, where's the red car? Because Yunis wasn't involved with the red car, these guys were involved with the car, Mo was. So finally they exhausted everything and then they took him back to cells.
Now I think whilst he was in the cells he picked up a fever or something and they didn't want to take him to the doctor and they'd left him there for two or three days and somehow or other you guys got the message and then they started kicking up a dust, and they denied that they did that but I was there, I was present and I know they did it. I haven't got words to explain the pain, all I can say it was barbaric, that's what I would say. Whilst this was going on in that room I would just walk out or just cool my nerve, just to cool off my nerves and I wouldn't show these whites that, listen, I'm affected by this but I was affected by it.
POM I'd just like to talk about that, this must have put you under great stress?
N Enormous stress. What kept me going was fear, fear of being detected and covering your tracks, when you made mistakes, go back. I'd take off with Mo as well, I'd said, "Listen here, you made certain mistakes, you don't need to do that again." The one instance where we had a safe house in Reservoir Hills, right at the bottom, and there was a certain group that was getting very close. They were just about to hit the place and then I said to Mo, "Get out of there, take your baggage and get out of there." That was touch and go. And with Vula as well I told him, "Listen, there is something going down there. People are there." He was so bloody risky, he took such a big risk by going there but he didn't go in there himself, he sent somebody else in there and the Security Branch was inside waiting for him and that's how he fled.
POM Sorry, the Security Branch was inside?
N Inside the Vula house itself waiting for anybody who would come, who came in there.
POM But no-one came.
N No-one came.
POM That was the house they got out of.
N What else do you want to know?
POM Just as you talk, things like that, the information that you were able to provide that prevented a catastrophe as in the case of
N Other information we gave whereby we'd say like people are crossing the border, from training they're coming over. I said, "Listen, our guys have gone to - "
POM Knock them off.
N Yes. They couldn't act on the information because there was so little time, the timeframe. If it was happening tonight then what would you do? You can't put anything in place and that's why most of our comrades died while crossing the border as well. Mo will tell you himself that it was difficult. You know what I'm saying, it was difficult.
POM How would that information come? This wouldn't be from a file would it? Would this be meetings?
N I worked with a team of guys, one of the guys was Brandt Visagie, Hentie Botha, we were a team like an intelligence team. So this information would come through, it would either come from head office and they'll talk about it and then I will grasp that as quick as I can and then I'll touch Mo and say, "Listen we will meet at the safe house and we have to talk about certain things", and he would pitch up there. But one thing with him when I made the phone call and said a certain time we're going to meet there
POM Now would you have an arrangement to ring him from a certain place or would you vary the phone?
N I would trigger him from a call box.
POM When you say trigger him, you mean what?
N I would phone him via a message system, a paging system. You know those pagers they used? This pager was not his own, it was somebody else's pager and then he was using this pager. I remember the number very clearly was 876. When you ring these people, I think it was Autopage. What was the other one? Autopage, yes, I would say I will leave a message for so-and-so and I will leave my message. What was your message? Please meet so-and-so, please meet Mr Naidoo or so-and-so. Then at certain times and I'll give the time and then without him answering the message or anything he'd be there I would meet him there. That's how we met most of the time.
POM Now you worked with, you said, four other people?
N My team, yes.
POM That was?
N Hentie Botha, Brandt Visagie. There was an Indian bloke there as well by the name of Michael Archery but he never knew what I was doing because he was more leaning towards the right wing than anything else. Basically that's really what took place, like when these guys from Vlakplaas, De Kock and company, when they would come to town and we know now because we'd discuss amongst ourselves, our colleagues and things, we'd say, "Listen here, another one's going to bite the dust", and we'd find next morning that somebody had died.
Take Griffiths Mxenge, he died when they came to town that morning, that morning they came to town and I remember I used to take tapes away from a massage parlour that was next to Griffiths' office, we used to take all the interviews in Griffiths' office and then I used to go and collect those tapes because Security Branch had a thing there. So they would ask me, when these guys came they would ask me to point out the offices of this guy. So what I would do I'd just go past and show them, "Right, OK, it's there", then I will go away. And next morning you find this guy is dead. There was a lot of other violence and things. To take one typical example
POM Now would you convey that information even after the fact back to Mo that these guys came to town and your man was killed the following day so you can assume that
N Yes, I'd tell him. And there was another instance where, I don't know if you guys know about this, there were four black guys in KwaMashu that came over from the Branch suspected that they were people from training across the border. What they did was they waited for these guys to move, when they started moving then they followed these guys. I think somewhere near Quarry Road, I don't know if you know Durban at all, Quarry Road, and they cornered these guys and they shot these guys in the car. So they said these guys were terrorists and when they checked the car there was no gun there. These guys were completely unarmed. What happened was they had these guys, these other guys, back up guys, they called them on the radio and said, "Listen here, try and get an AK47 so we can put it in the car", and that's what they did. They would plant these weapons in the car, so that's what they did.
In the Vula thing as well when Mo asked me about the two guys that went missing in Vula
POM Charles and yes.
N I remember guys coming to the office, at one stage I think they brought them in and then that's the last we saw of them because we suspected that they took them somewhere in Tongaat where they had a farm or something and they shot them, because apparently these guys they wanted them to work for the Security Branch and they refused. From what I gathered they were shot in Tongaat somewhere and buried with lime or something on their bodies. That's what I heard. Basically that's what it is, a lot of dirty tricks.
POM The people who took them, were they Security Branch people?
N Yes they were. The group that did all these funny things, the man's dead now, Andy Taylor. Andy Taylor was a colonel and he was in charge of the terrorist units, they call it the terrorist units and they would do research on terrorism, who's coming in and who's going out and things like that and they would get into all these funny, funny businesses.
POM What do you think motivated them? Did they see these guys as terrorists?
N Terrorists, they saw them as terrorists to overthrow the government.
POM Did they see them as communists? Was there that element? What was the - ?
N No they just saw them as people that went across for training as terrorists, bad people. Take, for instance, where this guy Andrew the guy that put the bomb in Toti, Andrew Zondo or something (he was hanged), we were in charge of his interrogation. They took this guy into a sugar cane field and told him, "Listen here, run." The guy never ran.
POM They took him into? Sorry, I'm a little bit deaf.
N Sugar cane field and they told him to run. OK at that time you said well he killed a certain number of people and put the bomb there but then they also realised that he was fighting for freedom at that time. He never ran and then a few months later after they took his statement then he was hanged. They wanted to set an example to say, well listen here you must go, as you took lives you must go. So that is why my situation was a very, very sort of a tense situation because what would they do to me if they found out? You know what I'm saying? So as I said earlier, fear was the factor beyond everything. It was more fear of being detected that kept you alive, being afraid of being detected kept you alive and kept you to cover your tracks and things like that.
POM So when they did the enquiry as to who was the mole, how did they go about doing that?
N They called in one guy they suspected because what we did was we gave them disinformation, we said this guy and that guy.
POM So you were feeding them disinformation?
N No, well Mo had already done his informers, the information was coming through from the outside and they were acting on this information that was coming from the outside but it was a disinformation thing. So they caught the one guy and he said, "No, I don't know anything about this." So insofar as I was concerned I was relieved at that time because the focus is not on me now, it is on these guys. Then the other thing was some fortunate thing happened, one of the guys that was this guy used to only do photostats, photostating of files and things like that and then we said to Mo this is an opportune time to say well, this guy was the mole because he was involved in photostating files and things like that. So that died down as well.
POM Would these guys be interrogated?
N Yes, they would interrogate them. They couldn't do much because then the word would get around that they're interrogating their own men and torturing, they'd just question and question because they were clutching at something because they didn't know what was going on, they didn't know, they never had the information. If your information is right you can act on that information but if your information is wrong you can't act on it. It has to be 100% then you know a thing, you can't ask a guy, "Listen here, you are the guy. We know that you work with the ANC." He doesn't know nothing, how can he say he's working for the ANC?
In the beginning what I was doing, I thought it was wrong at that time but as time went on and the atrocities that these guys committed, then I felt I was doing the right thing because just after 1990 I think it was Mo said to me that there will be negotiations and we must start shifting away from ANC. Even the office guys, the Branch people, they were also saying that we must shift away from the ANC and must go towards the right wing people at that time. A lot of people, a lot of whites left their jobs, they said they won't be able to serve under the ANC government and things like that and a lot of them left the country and came back again. There was turmoil, when this information came through to the officers there was a lot of turmoil amongst the whites because they said, "Listen here, we cannot do this." Then they had to bring high ranking officers from Pretoria to pacify these guys and say, "Listen here, this is the story and this is what is going to happen."
POM Because they were going to?
N The transition period, to say the ANC's going to come into power, we're negotiating to be a joint government. But still it didn't really go down well with the whites.
POM Were you in C R Swart, right? Were you there when Mac Maharaj was arrested and brought there?
N No I don't think I was there. What year was that?
POM When Siphiwe Nyanda, when he was brought in?
N Yes I was there as well at that time. And the most important, not important, the uncanny way in which Mo worked. They were interrogating Mo Shaik and his brothers and things like that so in the meantime, in the interim the father was released. So what Mo did was he befriended a little coloured guy and they were talking, this guy used to bring the newspaper to them and things like that. What they did was they wrote this letter, a letter to their father, to say to their father we've said everything we want to say but the Security Branch people don't want to believe us. And they told the guy to get caught with this letter and he was caught and that letter came back to the Security Branch and that's when they released these guys. Do you know about that?
POM No. So they were released because a letter was intercepted to their father and if the letter hadn't been intercepted
N When we had the safe house in Overport, Mac would come to the safe house as well. One day I rubbed shoulders with this guy. You know Mac with his beard. The Security Branch is looking for this man. So I was supposed to meet Mo at a certain time so I think this guy had his work and he was going. Now I confronted Mo, I said, "Mo, what is the story here?" He said, "No man, it's my father." I said, "No, Mo." And he denied it to the bitter end. Then eventually as everything subsided then he said it was him. The Security Branch was looking at all the airports and things like that and there the man was right there, right in the heart of Natal. We had some good innings and some bad innings. I only regret the fact that what I have done was wrong or against my moral ethics but I think at the time it was the right thing to do.
POM It was the right thing to do. It still is the right thing to do. You should be very proud.
N I always stayed away from the limelight, I didn't want to come in the forefront because you never know with these guys. They can just send someone for you and then that's the end of it. I'm not ready to give up life now. Life has too much to offer so I'm taking one day at a time.
POM Are you living in Durban?
N I work for the Receiver of Revenue. I got the job via Ivan.
POM Ivan's terrific.
N Ivan, too, doesn't like the limelight. He always wants to be behind the scenes. I've got a lot of respect for him.
POM Very insightful and he did an awful lot of work. So if I were to summarise
N Don't you want to talk about Pravin Gordhan?
N When he was detained he was handcuffed, his two hands in between his legs, handcuffed him, they shaved him and they cut his hair. That was his torture. And Billy Nair, you know about the assault case, where the guy assaulted him? There was a guy by the name of De Wet interrogating at that time. They assaulted him over the ear, I think his eardrum was perforated or something and then he sued the Minister of Police at that time and he won the case, I think about R30,000 or R50,000, I'm not sure. But those are the bad ones. This guy that was there his name was De Wet, Hennie de Wet. Did you come across that name? He was a guy that if he wanted information out of you he got it out.
POM Did you ever come across the name, it was in Durban, sorry it was in Johannesburg, Swanepoel? Rus, the Red Russian?
N They would usually come down like if there was a certain interrogation to be done they would come for a week or so and then they would go back. But I don't know whether I want to say this, just put this off and I'll tell you something.
Somebody is going die.
POM Now would they - ? (Tape switched off).
Were they known at that time to - ?
N To eliminate people?
N They had a stigma over their name because we knew them because over the years what happened, they don't just come to town for a holiday. We know that for a fact and I know that for a fact because when Griffiths was killed they came that morning and they asked me to point out the offices where he worked and that same night he was taken out.
POM Did the guys in Durban, did they believe that these guys were operating with the authority of the higher ups? That they'd been ordered to
POM Just come down to Durban to take somebody out?
N We had the suspicion but we don't know, but we always hear that because you must remember that the Security Council at that time, the President was aware of what was going on in that council. Every morning they sat and they would know. That's why I said De Kock went to jail without spilling the beans but if he had spilled the beans a lot of people would have gone to jail, a lot of them. So he took the burden on himself and went to jail because he knew, because they didn't carry out the activities without knowledge, the high ranking officials had knowledge of what was going on.
POM I want you to feel I think you made an immense contribution of the most difficult kind. You know I think you have, one, I think you have responsibility and your responsibility is to the history of this country, that it's important that a record of these things is set down and kept so that even future generations can know, that children can know what went into making them free, that it wasn't just Mandela coming out, halleluiah, I've arrived. And already young children, they're not told in school. I was at a school in White River yesterday where
N No, my worst fear is what happens when Mandela goes. I can go into mourning, the country can go into mourning but what we can experience if he had died in prison then you would have seen the nation abuzz, uprising, you would have seen that. I feel our generation will never see that. I think a lot of credit must go to De Klerk for what he has done, to take the man out of prison and say, "Well listen here, I'm releasing you unconditionally", because, remember, all the time that they went to him they said to him, "We want you released but on condition that you renounce violence." So he said, "No, I will stay here."
POM Don't waste your time.
N Yes, don't waste your time.
POM There's this great story that he recounts in his autobiography where he had to have the operation for prostate cancer, because they were scared stiff that he would die, so they flew in a top class surgeon from Switzerland and one from Germany, they wanted to make sure it was international and no-one could say that a dirty deed had been done and they would say Dr such and such is going to do it. And he said, "No, I want an Afrikaner surgeon. You see he can't afford to let me die."
N And I think that is why they kept him alive. Remember at one stage they moved him from the prison to a house.
POM Victor Verster, yes.
N Yes, so in a way it was OK, but to be imprisoned for 27 years. But we need to know, as you say, the children need to know what went down in those years, why was he detained? We get sketches of this but if you do research you will know why, why he wanted to overthrow the government.
POM They also want to know that there were people like yourself who were providing information that if it had not been provided would have resulted in the deaths of many people, the detention of many people, ultimately probably the whole of Operation Vula unfolding well before it did. You can never underestimate.
N Mo said to me sometime towards the end of last year, he said that he wants Jacob Zuma because he was in charge of that at that time, he wanted Jacob Zuma to acknowledge what we have done, acknowledge in public. As long as they are aware of what we have done and we are happy with that, we don't want to go out in public and say, "Oh this man did this and this man did that." We don't need that.
POM Well I'm going to him. I've interviewed him about ten times before, since about 1990 when I knew nothing about this stuff. On this I'm going to go to him directly and say, "You were in charge. This came to you. Right? Acknowledge it." Again it's a matter of, his aide is Ibrahim Ismail, that's how Mo got detained because he had to take the hit in order to get him out of the country. There are debts of honour involved if nothing else.
N I know Mo did take him to familiarise himself with the surrounding in Durban, they would let him walk down the street there and they would walk on this side and watch what he is doing wrong, to say whether he's looking back, to say this is what you're doing wrong, act normal. That's why I said to Mo that we need to write this book so he said you were the man.
POM I'll start, in time you will gain my trust more and I hope this is not our last conversation because it takes time. I'm a stranger.
N Yes, well he knows that I'm very sceptical talking to anybody. He said, no, you are OK, you are writing the biography for Mac.
POM For Mac and I've been doing recording now here for 15 years and I've talked to everybody, from Clive Derby-Lewis
N As you said earlier, this is going to be recorded and put in the libraries so people can read.
POM Well there are two or three ways depending ultimately on what you're going to do. One is that all my work is being put on, all those who have agreed that I've interviewed from 1989, is being put on a special site by M-Web but you can access it free. So anybody in the world who wants to study South Africa on something to do with this period can click automatically and get 2000 interviews conducted from 1990 through to now, well they're still ongoing. Then I'm breaking it down into different categories. That's one. Two, Robben Island is digitalising all the tapes and putting them on CDs. They will be made available to schools and libraries so there will be an audio record of all this period too. With this tape it will be your decision completely on the uses to which you want it put. If you say no, no, no, I just want it kept and maybe released ten years after I'm dead or whatever, that's fine. If you say no, no, go ahead and put it on, that's fine, but that decision will be your decision, not my decision. Until then I'm using it so that I can say authoritatively that there was a source called The Nightingale and this is the way information was supplied, and that's it. I would just put a footnote, 'Interview with The Nightingale, blah, blah, blah', and that's it. Then the tape is stored in my own thing.
N I'll have to take it up with Mo and see what happens, what he has to say. I want your opinion on this, whether it will be a good thing for us to write a book, Mo and myself?
POM Yes. Definitely.
N Because I've been talking to him for a couple of years now. I said, listen here, we must get down to writing this book and he said he can't find the right person to do that. So I think we will talk in the near future, get together. I think it will be a very interesting book. What do you think?
POM It's the living history, that's what it is.
When these guys wanted to see a District Surgeon, was that followed?
N With Mo and them, yes. I know who used to see them. There was a Dr Naidoo that used to see them once a week I think, it was once a week. I know for a fact that Naidoo used to take some messages across. I remember when I was going on my Medical Board he was the doctor. But I'm enjoying it at the Receiver of Revenue, it's a complete change.
POM Well yes and no, you're still looking for information.