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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.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 May 2004: Raadschelders, Lucia
POM I'll begin with a fairly easy question, not easy but an obvious one. You were born in Holland, went to school there and went to work there?
POM Maybe you could start by telling me how at first you became involved in activities involving South Africa.
LR That was actually quite simple and straightforward. I had finished my studies as a teacher and I didn't want to go into teaching, I wanted to have something more active and I was looking around for a job and the Anti-Apartheid Movement in The Netherlands at that time had a vacancy and I applied for the job and I got it. I had no formal involvement with South Africa. It, for me, was more that I wanted to be working and be active in the political organisation than anything else, and that's how it all started.
POM So maybe just moving along in your progression, how you got from there to being out in some house in the wilderness in Lusaka transmitting messages coming across in one form or another?
LR At a certain stage I wanted to leave the Anti-Apartheid Movement.
POM What year would that be when you left your job?
LR I left AAM
POM Sorry, when you joined the AAM, what year would that have been?
LR That was in 1979, late 1979 and by 1985/1986 I was a bit tired of doing the same thing all over, another picket line, another fund raising, and I felt I wanted to go further but it was not possible within that AAM so I decided to leave the organisation. The then chairperson of the AAM, Conny Braam, she was already recruiting people for the ANC.
POM Now was Conny a paid member of the AAM?
LR She was not, no, she was chairperson of the organisation, it was not a paid position. I was paid, I was a full time staff member. So she recruited me, she worked directly for the ANC in 1986, late 1986. I first was running a safe house.
POM So you left the AAM and then was it Conny who asked you to go to Swaziland?
POM This time were you officially associated with the ANC? When do you date your membership of the ANC to? Or whatever of the ANC.
LR Because in Swaziland, the ANC was underground in Swaziland, they were persecuted, that's the word I would use, so there was no formal membership whatsoever. My membership of ANC only happened in Lusaka.
POM So you went to Swaziland in 1986 and did you go there to work as a teacher?
LR Oh no, I had all sorts of jobs there. It was quite difficult for me to find a job so I worked in a restaurant for a few months and I worked in an office for a few months.
POM You had no problem getting a visa, a working visa or whatever?
LR It was a problem, I stayed illegally in the country.
POM OK, so when you came in you came in on a - ?
LR Tourist visa.
POM You were in charge of the house? Now were you told that this was a safe house or were you just told when you get there you will look after a house?
LR Well, one of the jobs was to look for houses to rent for ANC to make use of. So when I came there I mean for me it was the first time going to Africa anyway in my life, I had no clue of what I was going to.
POM Now you were told by Conny that you were renting houses for the ANC?
LR Yes. And that at least in one house a person would stay to use it for him or herself.
POM Did you assume when somebody was staying in that house, did you know the identity of the person?
LR We would meet.
POM I know but would you know who the person was? Like, for example, if the Swazi police had picked you up and subjected you to a bit of banging around you'd be able to tell them (i) you were working for the ANC and (ii) would you be able to give them the names of the people who were occupying those houses?
LR Not their real names. We all used ANC names.
POM Did the people who were renting the houses, what name did they know you by?
LR There's a story before that. Because of my surname, Raadschelders, it's quite a noticeable name, and because of my public face in Holland with AAM, we decided that I had to change my surname so I married just for the sole purpose of changing my surname so I could also change my passport, and that was a new surname I could use in Swaziland.
POM What was the name on your passport?
LR Van der Meer.
POM Now that passport was issued by?
LR The Dutch government, my Dutch passport. So I could enter Swaziland with my new name and I got my driver's licence there so that was my new surname, Van der Meer. Although I was at a certain stage illegal in Swaziland, I was not underground. I was renting houses, I had my daytime jobs so I was very visible in existence. So ANC people would know me either by Van der Meer, if it were people who were just coming over for a night or whatever then they would know me by my ANC name.
POM Did you meet Ivan Pillay during that period?
LR No I didn't meet Ivan there. I met what's her name now, she's now the housing minister, Sheila Sisulu. Yes. Because I think, I'm not absolutely sure because we used to know things only on a need to know basis, that Socks, Sheila and the other people were mainly in intelligence and security, that was the link of ANC I was attached to. And of course, Ismail Ibrahim who's now in the Senate. He was my first direct boss in Swaziland.
POM So you were really keeping house, people were moving through.
LR Usually one person would stay there permanently and a house was used up in three or four months so then I would have to look for another house and move everything again.
POM So you had a series of safe houses? A safe house was never a permanent safe house, that was against the purposes of it in case they found somebody who could locate the safe house or they broke, the safe house wouldn't be there when they went to look for it.
LR Swaziland is tiny. There are only so many different routes you can take to a house. Even the country is like a province, a big city, it's so tiny everybody knows everybody.
POM Just to get this in my mind, let's say Ismail Ibrahim was picked up and they got him to talk, when it came to you how would he be able to what code name did you have?
LR He knew my real name and he knew where I was staying.
POM So in fact he could have told them, if they had picked him up, well they brought him back?
LR No, he was in jail for a long time in SA and he went to Robben Island.
POM I know that, yes, but when they kidnapped him and brought him back to SA, he would have been in a position if, as they did, torture him, he would have been able to reveal your real name and identity.
LR Yes. And that's what I thought at the time when he was kidnapped. I was only three months in Swaziland and as green as whatever. I thought if I were him I would give them my name because she doesn't know anything.
No I was not in contact with Conny at all. At that time I still stayed with a Dutch family who had been working for ANC for quite a while in Swaziland.
They were on holiday, it was in December, I still stayed in their house until because I hadn't found a place of my own yet. But they were away and I knew of another Dutch guy, we wouldn't talk about it, "Do you work for ANC or not?" But I just had a gut feeling that he was. So when Ibi was kidnapped I spoke to him and said, "You know, have you read the paper, do you maybe know that guy?" And we both decided, OK, let's not fool around, let's just admit to each other we both work for ANC and we both worked with Ibi. So we decided what to do then. So we turned the house we were staying in upside down to see if there was any paperwork or whatever in case the police would come.
POM What made moved you from getting a job in the AAM because it was a job that involved some political activity and you were active in that rather than being active in a classroom, what moved you from that to the kind of commitment that you were opening yourself to by going to Africa, dropping in on a continent you knew nothing about and automatically being up to your neck in political involvement?
LR Over the years, it's not from today to tomorrow, but over the years my connection with South Africans grew and that goes much further than the mere political connection, it's also the personal connections, seeing what people are doing for their own country, seeing their desperation, seeing their hope, starting to share those feelings, that became part of my own life and I think, therefore, also I got bored with AAM. Like, gee, a demonstration and for what, with what result? I wanted more.
POM OK. Now you're in the middle of Swaziland, people are being kidnapped around you, your tumbling house is upside down looking for papers, nothing happened.
POM More people came through. Can you take it from there? What happened to take you from Swaziland to getting involved in the initial stages of Vula?
LR At a certain stage I got exposed in Swaziland so I had to leave the country. That had to with arrests here in SA of a particular ANC unit.
POM So it would be somebody arrested in SA was able to give your name?
LR Well no not my name but it was somebody whose car I was driving in Swaziland so when she was arrested in SA, I mean they trace and she used to live in Swaziland, so they go back and trace where people are coming from and they still saw that car driving around with me in it.
POM So you at that point got out?
POM You got a plane to Amsterdam?
POM OK. And asked for redeployment.
POM Then what happens?
LR Then I stayed in Holland for about half a year, five months or whatever, indicating to Conny Braam that I would want to continue with my work for ANC.
POM And during those five months did you get a job?
LR No, I had odd cleaning jobs and I didn't have a house so I just moved from house to house whoever was on holidays so I could house sit. And I didn't want to, I didn't want to get established again in Holland.
POM Because you knew that you wanted to get re-involved.
POM So you talked to Conny?
LR Yes, and by that time she did more and more recruitment of people for Operation Vula so I became one of the Dutch people.
POM Can you remember the Dutch people who were recruited for it at that point?
LR I had no clue of course at that time, we're talking now 1988.
POM When she recruited you what did she say? She didn't say, "There's this operation called Operation Vula and I want you to become part of it."
LR We did discuss much more extensively what my work in Lusaka would entail than we did about what my work in Swaziland would entail because there was a very particular job for me to do and I needed training in Europe before I went to Lusaka. So I did know the name also, I did know it was Operation Vula. She told me some of the names of the people involved.
LR Tim Jenkin, Ivan, JS, OR.
POM Did she give you Mac's name?
LR I'm not sure if I knew at that stage.
POM But you knew?
LR It must have been because when I went to Lusaka, he was not there, Zarina wasn't there, I stayed in his house for a month or whatever.
POM Before you left for Lusaka you had been informed by Conny that there was an operation called Operation Vula and that you would be going to Lusaka to play a role in that operation?
POM Did she tell you what the purpose of the operation was?
LR I'm guessing a bit now but I suppose yes. I can imagine that she would have told me it's about bringing senior ANC people back into the country. That's my guess now, I can't remember clearly. My job was going to be the communications system.
POM We'll get to that in one minute. I'm just trying to get a pattern in my head that the extent to which you knew about the activities of (a) that you knew it was called Operation Vula, (b) that you knew that the purpose was to infiltrate senior members of the ANC back into SA. Did you know the purpose for which they were being sent back?
LR In general terms, like linking up with the resistance on the ground.
POM So at that point you are despatched you do training, right?
LR I did some training in London.
POM And the training was with Tim, was it?
POM OK. And that was in the communications system which they were still experimenting with and perfecting all the time anyway. Had you worked with computers before or was this all new? Oh, is that a computer?
LR Honestly, I had not worked with computers. You can't imagine now, 1988.
POM So he gives you training there and then you go, you're parachuted into Lusaka. You arrive in Lusaka at the airport. Who picks you up?
LR Ivan. I'm not sure if Archie, that's somebody again, Archie was there as well, but definitely Ivan.
POM Was that Archie Andrews? Or Archie?
LR I don't know the surname of course. I think he's working in the Northern Province now.
LR Of course people were not using their real names so don't ask me.
POM Now did Ivan have a code name?
LR We changed code names every six months.
POM So Ivan's code name was?
LR I have to think again.
POM So Ivan picks you up and what does he do with you? Here you are, a blonde woman
LR I wasn't blonde in those days.
POM Did you get disguised before you went?
LR No, well, no not really.
POM You are there in a city where everybody is suspicious of everybody else.
LR Lusaka wasn't as bad as Swaziland. For me Lusaka was the ANC's own little tiny independent city. I was so amazed I mean in Swaziland you couldn't say ANC aloud, people would look at you. In Lusaka it was an honour to be ANC, it was such a huge difference. ANC, we all had our own IDs that worked like a passport.
POM Did you carry that in your pocket?
LR Yes. So I would have, I still have that, I would have my ANC ID in Lusaka with my ANC name because there I had another name again and that would be, I would almost travel on it.
POM What was your ANC name in Lusaka?
LR Mary van Zyl.
POM What does Ivan do with you?
LR He brought me to a house which turned out to be Mac's house in Lusaka and I was dumped there. I don't recall exactly when I met the others.
POM Did you know that that was Mac's house?
LR I was informed, yes I was told. And Zarina wasn't there at the time but the kids were.
POM Oh, the kids were?
POM And they were with?
LR They had a caretaker who stayed in the house. So I mean, of course, obviously because also of the children I had to know who they were and I think I stayed in that house for more or less a week or so until I moved to my own place.
POM And your own place was just in the city? Did you have an apartment?
LR No it was in a let me call it a black township just on the outskirts of Lusaka, New Byanga(?), I think it means something like 'my home' or so. So it was like Soweto, rows and rows and rows of houses.
POM Were you the only white person?
POM Were you conspicuous by being a white person?
LR Very much.
POM Did it seem odd to you that they would put you in a place where you looked conspicuous?
LR Not handy, no it wasn't particularly handy.
POM You were out of the way, right? Or you were removed from the main centres of wherever the ANC - ?
LR Well it was an area in which a lot of ANC people lived. It was sort of a black lower middle class area.
POM Did people ask you what you were doing there?
POM Like neighbours or whatever? Did you have a legend of any kind?
LR No, the neighbours just assumed I was ANC because apparently the house was occupied before I came with ANC people as well, so people just assumed that I'm ANC as well and you know the sort of traffic at the house, Ivan coming, JS coming, it wasn't very underground I think.
POM I'm trying to compile on this the entire history of Vula so that there is a verifiable history of what the operation did and what it actually contributed and stands historical scrutiny.
LR Did you speak to Charles Nqakula? He's now Minister of
POM Oh, Safety & Security. I did talk to him but, you know what, I don't think I talked to him about Vula.
LR Because he was definitely Vula.
POM Mac would say that he wasn't Vula, that the idea was that Vula was an operation conceived for Gauteng, what is now Gauteng, and for Natal. Then Chris Hani was supposed to come in to the Western Cape and set up an operation of his own and that would be called something different, the idea being that if Vula was exposed it would be a firewall for each one and then when the different four regions each had their own different coded operation type of Vula, at that point then they would start making contact with each other. But the idea was to create firewalls. But when Chris didn't come in and nobody came in for the Western Cape, not from the NEC, then by extension the Western Cape was absorbed or was beginning to be absorbed into Vula when it was exposed but in technical terms the Western Cape operations were awaiting the arrival of
LR Yes, OK, but speak to he's on the cover of the Vula book, Max, Max Ozinsky.
I hope you don't mind me saying so because it has always been strongly my feeling about writing history at whatever period. I think we shouldn't forget people working at the grassroots level and people like Max and whatsisname who's now in Swaziland (I'll find his name), they were really working at the grassroots level for Vula. You must speak to Maria, she lives in Botswana, she used to drive the weapons across the border.
POM We had stopped off where you had gotten to Lusaka and you were living in a more or less middle class house in a township adjacent to Lusaka and you said you were probably the only white person living in the area but everybody assumed you would be with the ANC, the house had been previously inhabited by ANC people. Now who used to come to the house, who used to visit you?
LR People visiting the house, I had one comrade staying with me there. I was not staying on my own.
POM OK, the person staying with you was?
LR There were some changes over time. I started off in the house with Cassius Motsoaledi. I've forgotten the name of who came after him, it's one of the people who passed away here in SA. I just can't get on to his name. After him I shared with a Dutch couple that came to Lusaka.
POM Do you remember their names?
LR Ineke and Links.
POM Did they come in for Vula too?
LR Yes, they came to assist me.
POM Did people like Joe Slovo visit you?
LR Occasionally Joe would come, Ivan would come quite a lot. Sometimes some of the other Vula people based in Lusaka like Archie Abrahams and occasionally also, especially if Ivan, Archie, JS were out of town or out of the country, OR would send one of his drivers. He wouldn't come himself but sent one of his drivers.
POM The working arrangement, did you go each day? You didn't work from the house did you? You worked from the house?
LR Yes, everything, all the equipment was there. I was usually just there the entire day.
POM Could you tell me how the system worked? If a message was coming in from Tim, the message would come in an encrypted form?
POM And then you would de-encrypt it and then you would write it out in English?
LR Or print it out.
POM Then you would take it to?
LR No, it would be collected. That is why Ivan, especially, came very regularly to my place. He used to collect messages or to drop them off.
POM Now the messages that you would receive, how would they vary in length?
LR It could be in the beginning because the system was not that reliable maybe, I am afraid, I mean it was not that advanced, that's a better word, they were relatively short. In those days we still had a modem in the beginning, you had to put the receiver of the phone literally on it, on a gadget, it was not the modem type we have these days. If there was any noise in downloading a message then that could corrupt it. So in the early days the messages weren't that long. If my memory serves me well maybe not more than half a page or so. As the system grew more and more advanced also the messages got longer.
POM There's a message there, if you tell people they have to be short they can be but if you tell them it's easy to send messages they start sending all kinds of messages.
LR Well, I think we were quite disciplined and only once you got to know each other, people dealing with the system, like me with Tim and sometimes you would know people, you would visit the recipient, the ultimate recipient. It took quite a while before you started to add personal things like, "Hey, how are you?" It started off quite businesslike, for me not knowing anybody.
POM Can you remember mostly what the content of these messages would be about, or did you bother to read them? You would have to read them if you had to decode, unencrypt them?
LR No I didn't have to read them for that because we had two methods of encoding and encrypting, one was a book and the other was a disk, so depending on the sensitivity of the message you would use either the book or a disk. So there was no need for me to read but of course I read them. I mean not just being a technical tool in the whole operation.
We would have short meetings with the Vula operatives in Lusaka, discussing what was going to happen next.
POM Who would come in for those meetings?
LR It would be Ivan, Archie, Cassius (Motsoaledi), mainly the four of us. We would discuss very brief things like sometimes financial issues if somebody had to be infiltrated into the country through the Vula network, who would do that, where it would take place, you know the practical arrangements around it more or less, who would be the back-up, stuff like that.
POM Initially did most of the messages come, or would you know, or would they come in a code name, did they come from Mac or did you know who the messages were coming from?
LR It took me quite a while to understand that, come to grips with it, also because they were sent through Tim and Tim sometimes reworked them because a message could start with information for him and not necessarily for Lusaka. But gradually you get to know the code names and at a certain stage I took over the role of changing the code names every half year or whatever, so I had to know who was who.
POM Can you remember when the first message came through to OR from Mandela?
LR No I can't exactly. I remember the excitement but don't pin me down on that.
POM Do you remember messages coming through in a longer form then from Mandela?
LR Yes, messages started to become quite long, I mean sometimes whole documents. For example, that's just something I remember clearly, on the anniversary of the ANC in January.
POM In January 1989, right?
LR Any anniversary, through the Vula network they would prepare a statement to be distributed inside the country. It was also that sort of work that went through the Vula network.
POM So if you got a document, now how did the process work on the way out? You would receive a document from Tim, he would deliver it to you and it would be from either OR or JS and it would be going now did anybody else send messages other than OR and JS?
LR There would be messages from oh, you mean from the Lusaka side? Ivan himself as well.
LR I remember there was one disk, if I'm not mistaken Tim had it but Mac lost the decoding book so he had a problem there.
POM That's right, yes.
LR I am sure I owned that disk, it always happens. I wonder what happened to the OR files from Lusaka.
POM They probably would be at Wits or Fort Hare or one of the universities. I wonder are they open? That's the question.
LR You can discuss that with the ANC. I don't know if there is, how you call it, if they are not to be opened for a certain time.
POM Yes, there might be that restriction on them. Now how long did you work altogether just sitting in that house taking messages day and night?
LR Two and a half years.
POM During that period what did you do for socialisation?
LR There wasn't much and that was, to be honest, a bit my problem. We had the agreement more or less that the house with the equipment should not be on itself, it shouldn't be empty, so if I was staying with the comrades who wanted to meet girl friends or whatever in the evenings as well I was a bit stuck in that place and because Lusaka in those days it wasn't much. We didn't have money.
I hear from people that now it's a fantastic city compared to those days. And we didn't have money. I got supplies and a little bit of pocket money from ANC, I had to live on that and to live on it was fine but not to go out with it, things weren't that cheap in Lusaka. At a certain stage, for example, I requested Ivan if I couldn't meet socially with people like Barbara Masekela who I used to know from my anti-apartheid days, just to meet somebody outside work and a normal person. So that happened and there were some ANC people living further down in the same street as I did and occasionally I would go over to their place to watch telly, because we didn't have TV also.
POM Just in the small circle that you moved about in Lusaka, who knew about Vula?
LR Only the people I worked with.
POM That would be OR, JS.
LR That's right, and of course the NEC knew of Vula, the National Executive.
POM It did know?
LR Yes it did. They didn't know the name Vula as far as I remember but they knew that there was a special President's project, as we called it as well.
POM But did they know that Mac was in the country?
LR If I went late 1988, it was either October or November that met Mac in Lusaka because he would come when he was there I would either go to his house for messages or he would come to my place for messages.
POM Do you remember him being there on more than one occasion?
LR You mean more than one trip?
LR No, I'm only aware of one trip.
POM There was some, he said, fault with the system at one point where it seemed that a strange voice was coming over. Do you recall that?
LR No I don't.
POM You don't, OK. So Ivan would come and give you messages and you would send them off per Tim. Would you send all your messages through Tim ? You never used the Holland outlet?
LR No, wait, I would send directly to Conny if it was instructions for people she had newly recruited.
POM Would these be messages from Ivan to Conny?
POM They wouldn't be from within the country to Conny would they? There wouldn't be messages coming from SA to you to send to Conny?
LR No, that would go via Tim.
POM But would there be messages from within SA that were for Conny, like messages from either Mac or somebody else in SA that would come to you and those messages then go to Tim and then from Tim on to Holland?
LR No the line would really be SA/Tim/Lusaka, SA/Tim/Holland. I mean Tim was really the spear of it. I could send directly to Conny and probably copy to Tim. The main things that would go straight to her from me would be indeed instructions for new people coming.
POM And these instructions would be coming from?
LR Ivan and they could also come from the people inside the country if it was new recruits to go to SA and depending on Conny's recruits which country they would go to.
POM But the people inside the country, the only people did you know who had access to the communications system within SA?
LR More or less, yes.
POM And they were, do you recall?
LR Janet Love, Mac of course, Gebhuza, Gebuza's assistant Susan Tshabalala. Who was Mac's assistant? I've forgotten that name actually.
POM Mac's assistant? Was that Janet Love? No?
LR Yes Janet as well, it must have been Janet only.
POM Now what was your connection with Charles in the Western Cape?
LR I had no direct connection. I knew that he had some of the people going to Holland for disguises would pass via Lusaka and sometimes I just had to drop them off at the airport or pick them up again before they went for their disguises. So that would be my connection.
POM Now what did you think that Vula was all about? What was your understanding of what it was?
LR Two lines. First of all bringing ANC leadership back into the country to make contact again with the resistance on the ground and the UDF. Secondly to provide the necessary military support to that.
POM Now when Vula was uncovered it still continued. Did messages still continue to come from within SA?
LR That would be Janet then, yes.
POM So all the messages would have been coming from Janet.
POM And that continued until? Can you remember, until?
LR No, I don't recall. It was a few months if I'm not mistaken after the arrests.