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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
28 May 2004: Shaik, Yunus
POM Yunus, with Mo I did a little bit on the family background. Maybe you could just give me a little bit too, your Dad, your Mum, how she died. Then I can trace the two accounts and say, oh God, they were brothers but they have two entirely different accounts, different perspectives. I don't think they came from the same family.
YS I can give you my perspective of how I saw growing up. I was born in Kliptown in Johannesburg and funnily, opposite Freedom Park where they adopted the Freedom Charter. Before I started my pre-schooling years, which would be round about the time when I turned six or seven, we had gone to live in Durban where my Dad opened up a business. My Dad was an upholsterer and he grew up in Pietermaritzburg and he worked in a leather factory. Being in the leather trade he then left Pietermaritzburg. He was involved in a strike there in the late forties, early fifties, and he got fired for having participated in the strike.
That's a very significant thing because almost thirty or forty years later I was a union leader and my Dad's good name came to my rescue during a strike in Pietermartizburg. At any rate he got fired and he went to look for work in Johannesburg but at that time he could not come to Johannesburg except with ministerial consent, so my Dad then adopted the name Mohammed Salie as a sort of Malay name and he tried to pass himself off as a Malay and he did, he managed to get a sort of false driver's licence in that name. Then not too far from here in Becker Street in Johannesburg he opened up a little upholstery shop and he would do upholstery of cars.
POM That's the famous Becker Street of the Becker Street gang?
YS Yes, that's the one. So in Becker Street he had a little shop there and did car upholstery, fixing cars, the soft touches to a car. Then whilst here he met my Mum and they married and he lived in Kliptown which was a mixed neighbourhood but in the main it was Indian, Malay and coloured, that sort of fusion, and African. It's right opposite Freedom Square or Kliptown as it is called. There three of my brothers were born, my brother Faisal who is the eldest.
POM What does Faisal do?
YS Faisal is now a businessman in Durban. And my brother Schabir, he is also a businessman in Durban, and myself. We were born in Kliptown. At some stage, and I would place it round about say 1954/1955, my Dad came to Durban. He then opened up a similar kind of business in Albert Street.
POM And the other three brothers?
YS The other two brothers, Mo and Chippy and then my sister Rianna.
POM They were born in?
YS In Durban. The funny thing is if you look at my birth certificate you can just see how race affected all of us. My elder brother Faisal is a Malay, my brother Schabir is a Malay, you come to my birth certificate it says Cape Malay/Indian. You come to Mo it says Indian and for Rianna and my other brother it says Indian and so on. That was to create a real dilemma in our lives.
POM Mo had Malay?
POM He says Malay because when he went to University of Durban
YS Yes, I'll explain that. Malay/Indian. That was the device my Dad adopted in order to gain entrance to Johannesburg and if he said Malay in Johannesburg then he could get into the schools: he thought then that he was going to live and work in Johannesburg, he won't be evicted out of the neighbourhood, the kids could go to school and you could work in the town. Now that was a device in order to survive in a segregated town. When we went to Durban, on the other hand, we went into a number of suburbs but it would be mostly in mixed neighbourhoods, coloured neighbourhoods, Indian neighbourhoods. If you're in an Indian neighbourhood you're always in the margin of it. My Mum was very fair, we were very fair and it created problems. Just being in the neighbourhood that I first went to, it was a classical Indian working class area and the Indian people there in the main take their origins from south India so they are dark in complexion. And we stood out like a sore thumb in the neighbourhood and we would be called 'whities' because we were so fair.
We then moved to this suburban Durban that I marked time, somehow I call it Springfield because it's known as Springfield. It was there that my Mum died. She had gone to Johannesburg to see her family and she was returning to Durban and between Durban and Johannesburg her vehicle was involved in a car crash as a result of which she died. I honestly don't have much recollection of my mother. I'm not even sure whether that which I recollect is just an imagination or it is real. I've got a snippet or two in my mind.
POM I remember my father that way. He died when I was five. He's just a vague shadow.
YS Yes, that's right. I think that's all I have, just a glimmer. At any rate there was a hierarchical system that my Dad grew us up on and that was, because he's a single father and he's trying to run a little shop, he's an artisan, that's what he was and he was no different to any artisan who tried to start out, a little shop, a little capital, you do everything so he would carry the seats of a car on his back, pick it up from somebody and walk with it through the town to his shop, fix it up, put it back on his back, take it to the customer and fix it to the car. Take a bus to and fro to work and so on, so it was difficult and he was trying to run a business and he'd got five kids that he's got to feed, so he had to have some way of managing his household and one of his ways was the eldest guy always took care of the guy below and so on and so forth until you got to the bottom. Ever since I was a kid it was my responsibility to take care of Mo and look out for Mo in every possible way. So even as a little kid if Mo went to the toilet he will shout out, "I'm finished", loudly, and it was my job to go to him and wipe his bum and wash him and take him out. All his needs I would attend to it whatever it was. That in turn engendered in us a very intimate and close relationship. If he was scared in the night he would jump into bed with me. Just little things kids do when they're hanging out. So me, Mo and my younger brother Chippy had a very intimate bond with one another. The eldest brothers just for the most part shat on us, "Did you do your homework? You didn't do your homework? Hands out." You know what it's like. I suppose he adopted the system used in English schools.
POM Sure, colonial inheritance, the legacy of the past.
YS In a building next door my second Mum lived with her family and they would see like for most times Dad's gone then a domestic worker whom we had who was called Anna, she then started to take care of us. The burden fell on her because my younger brother Chippy was less than one year old, or one year old or thereabouts. So she was sort of bringing us up, taking us to the school nearby, dressing us up and generally attending to us. But she on the other hand wanted to touch the bottle on the weekends or whenever and sometimes she'd be sort of hitting the bottle and my brother Chippy on her back to be found in some corner of a shebeen. Once my youngest brother Chippy, I think she must have given him a nip or so, he was a bit drunk and he was acting funny so my Dad called the doctor. "No, there's nothing wrong with your boy, he's drunk."
POM Oh lovely.
YS We called Anna 'Mama'. Now you've got just a bare memory of your mother and here is 'Mama' taking care of you. She dresses you, feeds you, clothes you, settles all the squabbles amongst you, defends you against the neighbourhood who are messing around with you. So we started to think well this is Mama. She in some way and you in some way are attached, you belong to one another. So in my head, in my consciousness I adopted her as like my mother. She played that role. In our heads there was no distinction in the matter at any rate. So with Mama now life used to be a bit hard because she was working for us illegally because she shouldn't be in that neighbourhood after certain hours or maybe at all unless she had her ministerial permission. She used to be hounded by what were called the Black Jacks. Black Jacks were like a band of men, a state body like policemen, and their sole job was to monitor and police whether persons of colour were in the right place at the right time and if they were in a neighbourhood that they should not be in they would be arrested by the Black Jacks.
POM What colour was she?
YS She was African, an African woman. Now she's in this Indian neighbourhood and you needed permission or authority to leave your magisterial district which is part of KwaZulu/Natal and she had permission to work in this area within certain times. Now she's playing the role of the mother and my Dad used to work late so she could never go home because in terms of the time she would have had to leave roundabout four or five.
POM They got married?
YS They didn't. They couldn't. So Mama was the domestic worker and she couldn't leave work because who's going to look after the kids because we're too small to be left alone? So she couldn't get out of the neighbourhood so we all became trapped. At any rate what used to happen is they used to roam the streets with their dogs and their sjamboks so she was one day running out to try and find all of us and herd us back home because we would play in the neighbourhood, in the grounds and so on, and she'd want to get us back, wash us, get us ready for supper so she could go, and she gets attacked by these Black Jacks. So here's all of us fleeing with her in every possible direction and the cops are coming after her so this is like pandemonium that breaks out, all of us are rushing to defend her, hide her, run into the bushes. It was chaotic. So we came quite alive to racial discrimination but in a very real sense, not some abstract notions. My father, I never knew what's my father's name, why can't I go to the neighbourhood school, why are they attacking Mama, why are organs of the state attacking her? What did she do? You always had a sense that there was something illegal about us and my mother was Malay, it's already like something not quite right with the Aryan race here. It's like Mama, like all of the children, my father has got secret driver's licence.
Anyway that's like the early years. Now getting ready to go to school, we go to the nearest school and they say, "No, you can't come in." There's like a line between my house and the school, a fence, I can just hop across. Why? "No, you're not Indian." This fence, they say I can't go to the school. Why? Because you're not Indian. Your birth certificate says you're a Malay. It's a saga, why can't you go to the school? So my Dad prevails on the headmaster so the headmaster keeps us in the school but secretly, if an Inspector comes we will all get into trouble and you shouldn't show yourself too much. So going to school is an indulgence, it requires some patronage from the principal and there's something illicit in all of it. We finally finish our primary school and start to get ready to go to a high school and we change suburbs. We go to another area called Greenwood Park.
As I'm growing up almost in a parallel way I'm very aware of my father's life. His business is growing with him. He's a businessman but he's starting to get quite involved. He's caught and he then becomes the President of the golf club and this golf club gets caught into a fight with the municipality. The municipality wants to take away this golf club from this Indian or black community and put in a railway station or something, so there's a fight with the City Council about this. But in addition what my Dad is doing with all these people, you get a sense of he's fighting for non-racialism in sport because at that time there's also a great golfer who develops in the club and his name is Papwa Sewgolam, and this was a phenomenal golfer and my Dad is trying to promote him because he's a golfer of the club. He was like a professional in a sense and legendary, he had become like a legendary golfer. He could whip just about everybody including all the white people who were in golf, he was just phenomenal. At any rate there's some tournament that they arrange that Papwa could play in as well and he goes up against all the other professional white golfers and he wins the cup. Now to their everlasting shame it creates a crisis for them because now they've got to hand out this cup to the winner and it is pouring rain and the rule is that a black man cannot come into the club because that will infringe some rule or law and so on; no-one can socialise with one another. So he stands outside in the pouring rain and they give him the cup and he takes his cup and walks away and that's it. There are all the others, second, third and the last who all happen to be white, they all get their prizes inside the clubhouse and really enjoy the applause of the moment.
So it's just the shamefulness of it all, you know what I mean? My father starts this campaign for non-racialism in sport and he in turn starts to team up with other people who were involved in non-racial sport all across the spectrum, whether it was in soccer, whether it was in cricket, whether it was in golf, and tried to champion this cause of non-racialism in sport, gets heavily involved in sports administration and so on. And what's also significant about all that was as it was taking place in the seventies, early seventies, mid seventies and towards the end of the seventies, by that time there was no other political activity in the country. By the end of the sixties the ANC had been absolutely smashed by the Nationalist government and most of its cadres were driven underground or out of the country. There was no terrain of struggle, so to speak, which unlike in the eighties labour became a terrain, the economy became a terrain of struggle, but for the seventies the terrain of struggle was sport. So as the regime would give you space or you would claim space you would claim that space to fight on. So my Dad played quite a leading role in the region in sport and keeping alive the struggle of non-racialism but using sport as the issue and he was involved in an entire generation of activists in sport and they used sport very effectively as a means to conscientise and as a means to keep alive the struggle, as a means to promote non-racialism, as a means to confront the state.
So my Dad's political activism in sport was making an impression on me, Mo and everyone else and we were then entering high school, so we were now in our teens. We were all between fifteen and ten, I was probably roundabout twelve, thirteen, fourteen. So I entered into a high school and you go through the same saga, you can't get into the school now. Why can't I get into the school? No, you're not Indian. Fight, fight, fight, representation, begging, sucking patronage. OK stay in the school. And also you were in the school, the high school, but with the same usual rules; don't pop your head up too high, inspectors come around.
POM Get under the desk.
YS Duck, sort of issues. And we go through our school life like that except by 1974, I don't know how old I was then, but by 1974 a most telling event happened. You know my Dad at that time, as I said, was involved in sports administration, he was also quite a light on the political events and activities taking place. He took Mo and I to a rally. Now this was a rally that's taking place in 1974 with the first of the student movements rising and this rise took place under SASO, South African Students Organisation. I think the meeting was called by the BPC which was the Black People's Convention. At that time Black Consciousness was on the rise. Steve Biko, Saths Cooper, Strini Moodley were the characters of the age with Black Consciousness. So we go to this rally, my Dad, Mo and I, and this rally's in Currie's Fountain and my Dad was also responsible for administration of Currie's Fountain which was a soccer stadium, that's where all the soccer games used to be played and so on. So we go there and there were thousands and thousands of people who attended this meeting but in the main those who attended were all African people, African workers, African professionals and so on and I don't remember seeing too many Indians or whites or anybody else for that matter.
Anyway, we get there, he closes the shop at about five o'clock and he says, "I want you boys to come with me. We're going to this rally." Because he considered us to be of the age to start getting involved. So we go with him to this rally and we're like little school kids with our school uniforms on, in this rally and like little boys running around trying to see what's all the action, it looked all very interesting, and suddenly the crowd parts and on one side is a whole group of policemen with dogs and guns and the other side is all this mass of black people. The black people want to get into the stadium, the cops don't want anybody to get into the stadium. They want everybody to go so they start giving orders to disperse and before you know it - jeez, I thought the man only got to like two and then suddenly bullets started to fly and the dogs were unleashed on the crowd.
POM These are real bullets, rubber bullets?
YS I don't know. I know plastic bullets came to be used later. So the crowd just turned on itself and inward and everyone because we were in such a confined space, here's the stadium and its walls, here was a bank, an embankment of a school, a white school and it had a fence on it, so you're all trapped on this road and you've got to go that way, so some of the crowd is coming this way and now some of those in the front who could see the unleashing of the terror are trying to go that way, so the crowd in a sense ran into itself and pandemonium broke out, all these dogs attacking us. The dogs bit Mo and they bit me and then they grabbed Mo and they put him in the police van and my Dad had got separated from us and I was just looking out, "Where's Mo?" Now Mo's sitting in this police van, I'm standing outside this police van.
POM What age was he then? He's a couple of years younger than you.
YS Yes, like two years. Now I'm trying to get Mo and trying to go and look for my Dad to tell my Dad that Mo is here. So it was scary. They chucked him out seeing he was just a kid and we then reunited my Dad and we all go home and it was my first experience of political activity and the consequence of political activity and it was terribly frightening, jarring and adversarial in every sense. I saw this crowd like ten thick climbing on top of one another trying to flee everything so it was very, very frightening.
Now the most amazing thing happened because I didn't go to school on the Monday. We left on a Friday or somewhere towards the end of the weekdays. When I get back to school the following week my teacher is Mrs Cooper. Mrs Cooper is the Afrikaans teacher and she is the mother of Saths Cooper. Mam is crying in the class, telling us the arrest of her son, because of this rally that happened which I attended, after I tell Mam yes, I know, I was there and so on, phew, in the event Mam's son gets sent to prison I think for five or thereabout years on Robben Island. So that entire year is spent with Mam going through so much angst and agony about the trial of her son, his conviction and being sent to jail, and that's my class teacher, Mrs Cooper.
So now you've got your father engaged in political activity, you've got your teacher, her son who is engaged in political activity, so it legitimises in my consciousness that this is a matter you want to fight for. So we go into Consciousness in that way. And that rally then sort of brings a chapter of my youth to an end. In standard nine and ten, that's the matric or the final school year, Mo writes a play on an uprising and he writes this bit about Afrikaans and why we hate it so much, why we don't like to go to school. And that happens in about 1976 which is the same year that Soweto arises.
POM Was it before Soweto?
YS No I think Mo was drawing out of Soweto, because we were in the Soweto moment he writes this play, and we all go and perform this play. I get recruited to be an actor and the neighbourhood boys that we were with, which was at that time a mixed Indian and coloured neighbourhood, we all go and perform this play at an African school, and again, legitimisation, embracing of non-racialism and a commitment to fighting this. That's how we end our school years.
POM Now you're allowed to perform that play, no school authorities?
YS No, no, we couldn't do it at the school, you had to go and do it at this African school which was Inanda Seminary. So they could do it there. But at any rate that in a sense marks your political education, your political conscientisation and ours was just a house that my father kept that was just non-racialism was the banner. Also what was significant was my cousin gets tortured and murdered in prison for political activism, which is my father's brother's wife's son. My father's eldest brother was also very politically active in Pietermartizburg, he was in the Communist Party in the forties, thirties, forties and fifties he was in the Communist Party and he was quite active with an old comrade called Harry Gwala. So he in turn inculcated my Dad with notions of communism, non-racialism.
My Dad, I think, was a bit of a Stalin fan and he had quite a bent on communism so our house was not a very religious house to put it mildly. He had quite a disregard for the complicity of the mosque during the apartheid era, so when they detained and tortured and killed this young student, it just also plunged our family further into the resistance. Then a cousin of ours went into exile when I was still in school because she was a boarder at our house, she was boarding with us and her partner he went into exile in the mid-seventies and then suddenly one night you know she lives with us, all huddled with my Dad and Mum in her room chatting, in the middle of the night her bags are packed and she is gone into exile. So this is happening in the early seventies. Your sense of fight, your sense of participation in the fight was quite real. You were experiencing the repression, you were experiencing the tension points whether it was sport, whether it was education and access to education, whether at work, in very real ways and you also on the other hand experienced the suffering of the activists who were fighting, whether they were being, as my cousin was, tortured and killed, as the other who went into exile, as your teacher's son who went into prison. They were not African people, they were Indian people. They were not strangers, they were people living in your house and in the classroom. So the confrontation was brought close and up front. The endless attacks on Mama Anna was just close range fighting.
When I got to university I was ready to join the battle myself and to get into university was a mission. I first applied to get into University of Durban/Westville; no, you've got to go to Cape Town. So I apply to University of Western Cape; no, you've got to go to Durban/Westville because this bloody birth certificate says Indian/Cape Malay. If it just said Indian it was great or if it just said Cape Malay it was great, but Indian/Cape Malay, which made it agony because the Indian university won't take me and the coloured university won't take me. So where do I go? I had to endlessly finally the coloured university said they will take me and then the day that I'm supposed to get in my car and go to Cape Town we get a letter in the post saying, no, I can't come. Finally my Dad goes and begs with this Rector who happened to be a Broederbond member who was principal of the university.
YS At Durban/Westville. So I get admitted to Durban/Westville and I go for law. Mo at the time was studying computer science. So I go for law and in my first year
POM Now he wouldn't be there already, he was younger?
YS Mo got into university first. I had to repeat a year in standard eight, I couldn't get a high enough pass rate. I could go to standard nine and ten but I wanted to get a higher pass rate so I could go to university so I had to redo subjects that I had dropped quite badly in, I think it was Afrikaans and biology, so that kept me back. Then I finally got to university a year later than Mo. Mo and I have done our schooling together from nursery school to primary to high school and we had the same friends, same clique, same everything.
Anyway, I get to university my first year, experience the campus and it's seething with tension.
POM What year was this now?
YS 1977 I think it was, 1978. 1977/78. So I get to university and I do my first year and happily everything goes quite well and I passed, but very alive to political activism. Again I'm finding all the students struggling with what, because there were competing ideas at that time. There were the ideas of the BCM which was gaining rapid ground, there were the ideas of the Freedom Charter and those two sat unhappily with each other. There was a rivalry between these notions.
POM Where would Marxism, the left, have stood then?
YS And then there was Marxism and its range with socialism. Now I think the party was dead, you had no sense of it and the ANC you had absolutely minimum sense of its existence. It had become a memory and those who had been released ever so slowly were checking the lay of the land as they began to raise their heads.
POM So in fact you were going to university about the same year that Mac was being released from Robben Island?
YS Yes, so it was really a time when oppression was high, there was no significant political organisation taking place in our communities. There was a resurgence of a kind starting to occur, some space was opening up and that space later came to be exploited quite intensively.
So there were the 1976 riots that gave this new momentum but it also gave this new focus around students and student activism, so students at the time, campuses all over the country had become hotbeds of activity while the state would have liked to have called it at the time 'radicals'. So it was the right place to be at the time. Then in my second year a significant event occurred which just for me had such a resonance. There was an African student by the name of Pinky who had applied and got admitted into the residence. In March, for some odd reason, the university sought to expel her from the residence and the campus and her plight came to the attention of the student body and the student body then convened its meetings in the cafeteria and sought to resist this expulsion of Pinky and promote identification of the idea that all people should be admitted to this campus. That idea had great resonance with me because I was also year by year lurching, never knowing whether I will be admitted or won't be admitted, whether I can continue or can't continue and that I should just keep my head down. So I was by then just fed up with all of that and they invited people to come onto a committee to take this issue up with the university and I made myself available and was promptly elected by the student body to take up the issue.
No sooner we do that we all get sent to jail. I first get arrested for Section 6 of the Terrorism Act, spent two weeks in solitary confinement and then in a cell at Brighton Beach, which was a police station. I get into this cell I see a couple of slogans written on the walls by other political detainees, so I start writing my own slogans on this wall. It was very scary at the time though.
POM During those two weeks you had no access to anybody?
YS No, absolutely, it was solitary. From there I get sent now to Modder B prison under Section 10, it's called a detention section or preventative detention section. So I get sent there in
POM That's outside Johannesburg isn't it?
YS Yes. Frigging cold place.
POM They take you all the way.
YS They take me in handcuffs and they handcuff me to this car and drive me off. So I get to Modder B prison, I don't know when I got there exactly but I stayed there until the end of August.
POM Now is that Modderfontein or?
YS Modder B prison.
POM Because I just had that this morning because that's where Valli Moosa and Murphy Morobe escaped from.
YS Could be.
POM Well it is because I was checking the names of the prison and I had it down as Modder B and Mac came and said it's called Modderfontein.
YS Certainly Modder B. I've got a box here, I can look up my imprisonment or something. So I get there and I'm like detained with a whole lot of students from around the country and luckily for me I actually get detained with the likes of Mr Thumba Pillay, who's now Judge Pillay, Mr M J Naidoo, who is Jayendra Naidoo's father, and Jayendra's uncle was also in prison in Modder B prison. So I get M J Naidoo as an attorney, I get another attorney called George Shoogoola(?) who happens to be the president of the Natal Indian Congress at the time, I get imprisoned with a guy called Cas Coovadia who is now Chair of the Banking Council, Abba Omar who is now ambassador to Oman and a whole range of other people.
POM Are you in communal cells now?
YS Yes, now there is a communal cell so there are thirty of us, I think, in this communal cell, and then other communal cells. It turns out to be just a fantastic time for me for education.
POM Education, yes, this is what they do all the time.
YS I just get the best of it. I get to hear about the history of the ANC, because there's no literature that was available. I get to hear about what is the Freedom Charter and what it stands for, I get to hear about the party, I get to hear about the alliance.
POM Your communal cell is all Indian?
YS Yes, our communal cells are. It's idiotic because our cell was all Indian and the next cell is all African. Chaos. Be that as it may we all had access to one another. So I get a Rolls Royce education in politics whether it is labour, Communist Party, Black Consciousness Movement, African National Congress, the frontiers of the struggle, the international dimension of the struggle, the local dimension of the struggle, MK work. I come out in August but unfortunately for me you know I go into prison in about March and I come out in August and the academic year starts in February and you write your exams in November, so I effectively only had I think two months of study time to write my exams.
POM Now during that period you were charged with nothing?
YS No, I was charged with nothing.
POM And you had access to no lawyers?
YS No we had no access, we were all detained.
POM Were you allowed any visitors?
YS My Mum came to see me once in that time.
POM A long trip.
YS For her it was long and my head was shaved and she sees it and burst into tears. I said, "No, no, Mum, I shaved my head myself, no-one beat me." She was just so worried, she was just so worried. Remember now there was another kid who died and was tortured in prison and the other one who went into exile, it's like what do they do to you? At any rate I didn't suffer any physical abuse in detention. I got bashed about during my Section 6 two week stay but when I was in the prison no-one hit you or anything. Anyway I was surrounded by all these lawyers who could just help.
POM There was no Kessie Naidu there?
YS Thank God no. No Kessie Naidu ever to be found in the trenches. So these alter your perspective of law, lawyering and human rights and then I come out and I was writing nine subjects and I failed two and I passed seven. My Dad was also hard pressed to fund me and having failed a very critical course I went back to repeat the year. So I just felt awful that he's going to have to pay for me and I've got to repeat the year and the funding for us was always such a problem. I was always mindful of the fact it was a great honour to be able to go to university. All of us had the chance to go to university and my Dad would foot the bill but we were also mindful of the fact that it had a cost to it and that cost of education had to be traded off with other costs. So I felt I should just go and study part time and do my articles and study part time and that's what I did. I went to take up articles and, again, such an interesting thing. I took up articles with a guy whose name is Pat Poovalingum. Now he at the time, and I'm now in let's say in 1979 I had this two week's detention and then again I finished that year, it was fine. Then in 1980 I got detained again and I think in 1980 it was
POM The six months?
YS No, the first one was two weeks in 1979.
POM And then the six months?
YS No, no, I got it muddled.
POM I'll be sending you back the transcript anyway.
YS No it was in 1980 it was two weeks and then six months and in 1979 it was just two weeks. So 1979 was a short period but my first and then 1980 was my second, it was detention and then six months. Then I'd left, I'd gone to take up articles. So I get to be articled to a man called Pat Poovalingum, I think it was 1981 now. Pat Poovalingum at that time was serving in the tricameral parliament. South Africa constructed this idea that you could have separate parliaments.
POM That would be 1983 then.
YS Was that 1983? OK, he was involved in it in some way. I think it was a precursor to that, there was a President's Council and he got into the tricameral parliament. So I was articled to him and he was involved in this kind of work which we at the time considered to be quite a collaborationist stance and we were vehement in our criticism of it. But be that as it may, I took articles with him and he tolerated my politics and I tolerated his and in fact the most absurd thing was, I think it was 1984, I don't remember, I think 1984, they had this great tricameral election. Now as his articled clerk the whole office during the period of the election effectively came to a standstill, all of us doing legal work by and by and he was campaigning furiously and I was campaigning. I was campaigning against him and against the system and he's campaigning to get elected and for the system. In the office what I would do, I would be a very dutiful clerk, the office will make up all these letters to be sent to his constituency and I would lick the stamps and put them on the letter and I would go and post all these letters and I would reproduce all his pamphlets. Then promptly I would take a note of all the people who we sent the letters to and then I will go in the evening to go to all those people and tell them, no, don't vote. That's a game.
By the eighties I'd become quite involved in the Natal Indian Congress and the UDF who were the bodies at the time campaigning against the system, so I was an activist of both organisations. The focus in 1980 to 1985 was so on this tricameral politics, that used to be the focus of the community work promoting housing, it was called DHAC, Durban Housing Action Committee which Pravin Gordhan used to lead, and we used to take issue with the City Council for cutting lines, evicting people, not giving them water and so on, so it had this community struggle around these fundamental issues, ratepayers and the discrimination in the payment of rates. Two houses divided by a street, one was paying three times as much rates as the other and the whites were paying like a third of the rates and we were paying three times the rates, because there's a principle in law that says market value will determine your rates. So because there was so limited land available to Indian people to buy homes that they ended up paying three times as much for the properties because of the competition and now they're doubly penalised because of the provision in the law that says 'rates to be calculated on market value'. Now because the market value is artificially high because of the control and supply we're paying three times as much rates, so you try and campaign around that, and a whole range of activities of that kind.
But also in the eighties, in fact in 1979/1980, I don't remember these things, I'm amazed that other people have got such graphic memory of all this, to me it's just like a blur, but in December 1979 I remember that I went across to Swaziland. I had a friend, a girlfriend who lived in Swaziland and I wanted to go and meet the ANC outside and I asked her to house me and help me, so I go across in my car and drive all the way to Swaziland and I go looking for the ANC. This is like the ANC people who finally through the network get to meet me are amazed at this guy, he's a youngster, he's coming to look for the ANC. Where do you find it? It's like, I don't know, it's like you're going to go and look for some fame.
POM I'll tell you that in 1989 I went to Lusaka and I went into the Hilton Hotel and I asked the bartender, "Where is the ANC headquarters here?" He said, "Hold on." In five minutes he had somebody to take me.
YS For me it was much harder because that was a frontline state, they were under constant attack. The ANC has also got to be wary and they were - this kid coming to find them. So they asked me to write a whole statement about myself, where I've been, what I've done and I write everything. They in turn cross check it and I get the nod. A most wonderful thing happened to me, that was my first year, I meet an African cadre and he interviews me and he asks me to write a statement and I write it. He sent me back into the country and I was to come back in the holidays the following year and he gave me some means of communication.
The following year I go back with Mo, he wanted me to recruit people by the way and I ended up by recruiting my closest and most beloved brother Mo into the ANC and then I also recruit Jayendra Naidoo, so the three of us formed this unit. Because we all had to take acronyms we took the name Mandla Judson Kuzwayo, because that was like the commander of the machinery that we were under, so each of us took a code name from his name, I was Mandla, Jay was Judson, I think Mo was Kuzwayo and then the unit became known as MJK out of that, by taking each of these initials of his name.
Anyway Mo and I go back the following year and we were assigned our commander who was Ivan Pillay who is now at SARS. We then worked under his command from 1980 to 1985, thereafter we were placed under the command of Ibrahim Ismail Ibrahim. Now for most of the eighties it was about you've got to recruit, you had to get involved in reporting of events that are taking place to them, you had to promote the struggle in all community organisations and labour. These issues threw up lots of tensions for us. For example, we were ANC operatives and we were working in NIC, for example, the Natal Indian Congress, and there were ANC operatives working in the Durban Housing Action Committee. Now we would have to recruit other cadres to join us. This created a lot of tension with the leadership of that organisation who felt that we were endangering that organisation by recruiting.
POM Would you tell the leadership?
YS They got alive to the fact that we were recruiting and it was a tension point about us doing that because we were exposing the NIC or the UDF or the civic organisation to be hit by the state and that would either set back that struggle or that organisation. That was like one kind of tension that we experienced. The other kinds of tension were experienced around - the question was the ethnicity question, are you promoting you had to operate in an Indian area so you operate under the Natal Indian Congress. If you operate in a coloured area what we then used was the UDF and I forget what it is. So that was another issue, this inter-changeability because all of these were just really devices you would use to allow you to function within the legal space that was allowed. But we had to struggle with that question.
We also had to struggle with the question of military and military or paramilitary activity, reconnoitring, bombing and so on. One example that stands up in my head, there was a young cadre who bombed a shopping centre in Amanzimtoti and in that some people died.
POM Now was he in your unit?
YS He was not in our unit, he was in another unit, and all the reporting on this about the use of soft targets. But that time it forced me to address the question of military engagement and what kind of engagement.
POM Would that young man have received any military training?
YS I believe he did. His name was Zondo I think and he was then sentenced to hang. The feelings were quite profound but the important thing about that was it was a bomb placed in a shopping centre and civilians died and it forced us to consider the question of the military engagement and its character and its form. So one was involved in either running dead letter boxes, carrying messages, raising funding, opening up funding channels, giving support to military activity or giving support to organising in communities.
POM When you say now giving support to military activities, how would that work?
YS We would have to reconnoitre like a bridge for important movements.
POM OK, you'd reconnoitre a bridge or something.
YS Or you will report on movements of police and army or you'll report on how a bombing is seen by the ordinary people.
POM Would you send that information out?
YS And you'll send that back to ANC.
POM That would be sent out by dead letter boxes or - ?
YS By all kinds of couriers with one another. I think they were training us in communications, they were training us in political analysis and writing, training us in recruitment, they were developing our capability as a unit to try to source cars, arrange funding.
POM So the man on top of this was Ivan?
POM OK, or then Ibi, right?
YS Ivan, and his commander was Ibrahim Ismail Ibrahim. They would report in to what's called the Political/Military Council and that was controlled in Maputo.
POM So sitting on top of that would be who?
YS Would be Jacob Zuma and a couple of others.
POM But who was sitting on like your unit was not reporting to Zuma per se.
YS No, we would report to Ivan.
POM Then Ivan would do to Ibrahim.
YS To Ibrahim who was sitting on the Political/Military Council. But I didn't know all their top reporting structures. I was quite limited to Ivan and they would go to great lengths when Mo and I were in Swaziland to ensure that there's no intersection between ourselves and other ANC people, try and keep all of us separately and manage our knowledge. In our unit I would recruit, Mo would recruit. Mo and I would share information a lot with one another but we would never let the junior cadre know who was all in the unit and we would be at great pains to keep all of them separate, in little groups.
YS Yes, so we wouldn't allow major cross-fertilisation of any kind to occur. So this was really our training from 1980 to about 1985 literally. By 1985 Ibrahim Ismail then took over immediate command of the unit. He at the time had received an instruction from the then President Oliver Tambo to re-enter the country and begin preparing the ground for other senior ANC cadres to come into the country and live in the country and fight in the country rather than stand outside the borders and fight. At that time we didn't have any senior ANC leadership in the country, so it's probably the only revolution I know where its leadership was entirely outside of the country and inside you had no leadership. There were people who had returned from Robben Island, and most notable in our community was Billy Nair. He had done twenty odd years and he had been released from jail. No sooner he got out of jail than he got back into political activity. He was our senior, the most senior person I knew in the ANC who actually has talked to Mandela. You would ask him how does Mandela look, what does Mandela say, what kind of man was Mandela? And just constantly.
POM How did, because I'm interested, the myth of Mandela, did you come by it?
YS I came by it as a young kid with my Dad.
POM Why was Mandela elevated to such stature?
YS Remember my Dad was living in Johannesburg.
POM Was that because of the Rivonia trial?
YS Yes, his trial, their work in the fifties.
POM But it wasn't Walter Sisulu?
YS Not Walter, but my Dad always told us, I remember this like even before it became commonly known, that Walter Sisulu was the movement's key strategist and thinker and he used to tell us that Sisulu was really a key thinker.
POM A man with a fourth grade education.
YS Yes, so I always grew up thinking Sisulu was our strategist, Mandela is our leader, commander in chief. The myth of him grew in me when I was probably round about twelve. Anyway, we're now in the mid-eighties, between 1980 and 1985.
POM Ibrahim has come in.
YS So five years of being an ANC underground operative then a change of command takes place with Ibrahim Ismail in, I think it's in the summer, December of 1984, beginning of 1985. Ismail then tells me that this is his mission and says that the unit
POM Did you meet him outside the country?
YS I see him outside the country and he says the unit has been judged ready, has got the necessary capacity and the capability to support this initiative and he asked me then to take on this assignment. So I agreed and I think it was early January or thereabouts, I don't remember dates any more, or March, April, somewhere there.
POM Well he had to be back for the Kabwe conference.
YS Yes, he had to come and consult with a whole lot of people about this conference, it was very important for him and they were going to get a cross-section of views on a whole range of matters and so on. So I then go and pick him up from the border of Swaziland, there's a road that runs between our borders and at a certain time, date and place I had to pick him up and drive him back home. I'll need to look at a map. I pick him up and I bring him into the country and then we had prepared a flat where we housed him and provide him with a car, funds and then help him to effect the connections that he needed to make to various people.
POM Like an advance man, the scheduler, high maintenance.
YS Our mission was like (a) we would give him security, (b) we would give him logistic support, (c) we assist him in making these connections that he had to make. We had to give him his disguises or help him with disguise. We had to get people to rendezvous with him. We had to serve as a courier for him in all of that. So that's what we do in 1985 for this period that he's with us. Unfortunately, whilst he was on this mission the Security Branch got wind of the fact that he's in the country and they start to tail him and it leads to us and we are all around him. Then one fine day in 1985 they surround his flat and they move in to capture him and with such daring we get him out. I mean the whole place, the whole building, everything is surrounded. What we do is we go in, he comes downstairs, jumps in the car and I take him out and I hand him over to my wife actually, no shame, she was then just a student with me, and she in turn goes and places him in the next safe house. Then I rush back to Mo's house which at the time was completely surrounded and I go in and the cops are all over Mo, searching his house and I act as his lawyer there and I get promptly arrested as well with Mo.
POM So the two of you are arrested together.
YS So the two of us get arrested. I get arrested on this absurd charge of dagga because they found a joint in one of our coats. It was probably a hangover from our student days. I was caught for this possession of dagga and I'm put into a cell and Mo gets carted off and he goes to another prison and another cell. Anyway the next day I get released, it was a weekend I think, the magistrate comes and releases me. Mo is kept in detention because Mo was seen as more closer to and primary in this. Mo starts his detention.
Now there was an unwritten rule amongst us, certainly between me and Mo, that no matter what happens to you you must give 48 hours. There was this unwritten rule between us and we spoke about it a lot in our years that if anything ever happened and anyone ever got caught we would hold out for 48 hours to three days so that the rest of the unit could escape, go into hiding. Sometimes we may not even be in contact with one another, so just give time for each other and for the rest of the unit. So I think Mo was quite true to that commitment and endured quite a beating in those first three days because at that time it was a very dangerous time for both me and Ibrahim because Ibrahim just slipped the net and I was in such a difficult period because now I'm also being sought after and I've got Ibi on my hands and now I don't know what the police know.
POM You still have to get him out of the country.
YS I've still got to get him out of the country. I was not on my watch going to abandon such a high ranking cadre or let down the unit or let down Ibrahim or the movement. It was a very difficult and frightening time. Now you don't want to have contagion and you don't want to spread the damage to other of your units but I had to pass him off because I could no longer sustain him. My immediate thing was to place him in safe quarters and just hold for the moment while an assessment could be made and with that three days we had the time to do that for Ibrahim. Then a decision was made that I should hand him back over to Pravin Gordhan and his unit. I get to meet Pravin Gordhan and disclose the predicament I was in then I handed Ibrahim over to him in a direct way. Then I was left to try and manage the hit on but knowing that somebody else takes responsibility for Ibrahim.
In the event I then go into detention a week later. I was picked up and I then spent two weeks there. So it was me, Mo, my Dad and my cousin.
POM Your Dad was arrested at the time?
YS He was also detained with us. Her name is Muneera Subedar, we call her Bunny. Her father was a Communist Party member in the fifties and she was at university with us at the time. I think we had the flat in her name, I'm not too sure.
POM She wasn't aware of - ?
YS She was aware.
POM But she wasn't a member of your unit?
YS She was an activist with us.
POM In the unit?
YS I can't remember if she was in the unit or one of the units. We were on a basis which was delicate or difficult and that's why we used her name on this flat, why we with Ibrahim Ismail. All three of us were in detention at that time, together.
POM You were in solitary confinement?
YS Yes it was the solitary confinement part. Now there's a first period that you get and I was then subjected to quite harrowing torture in that detention because the Security Branch laboured under the misconception that Ibrahim Ismail was on a military mission and that he was laying bombs and they had some other information about bombings that are going to occur. Because Ibrahim Ismail was quite a senior ranking ANC cadre and was known to be in the Political/Military Council and was known to be with MK, they associated that with a military mission that was going to take place and they were absolutely desperate to capture him.
So they then started to subject me to a lot of torture and brutality because they were fearing these bombs would now go off. They had a senior ranking ANC man who had slipped through their fingers and they were going to look like the village idiots for having allowed that to happen.
POM Can you talk about the torture?
YS Yes, I don't think the details are very important. The state of mind because with Ibrahim Ismail and I know where he is, they want to get the information out. So they had this mental attitude or perspective and the question to them was what would it take.
POM Like the Americans in Guantanamo Bay, the world's full of terrorists. It makes no difference what you do. Same principle.
YS Same principle, absolutely, it has such resonance with me today. So it was agony, it was quite brutalising. I was brought to the point where I'd started to contemplate suicide in detention. The choice was between Ismail and the ANC, the rest of my unit, I was then a senior commander, what kind of example would I be setting if I'm starting to fall apart? I remember Mo was in detention at the time, any talk on my part would have implications on Mo, on Ibrahim, on the rest of the unit, so it was just we're in one of those sort of binds that life sometimes puts you in and tests your mettle. At any rate I survived and the moment came to pass. My torture had started from about I was being worked over for several days but this particular one that has left a lasting impression on me was they had come to take me at four in the afternoon up to the offices and we were all held in the dungeon below, in the cells below ground. I was taken up there, there's nobody else there, there's just police officers, about five of them, and I was made to strip naked and put onto a table and this hood placed on my head. The police officer would then start to beat me on my kidneys and on the back but trying to inflict pain onto the kidneys. I'm trying to breathe and I can't breathe because the hood is on me now and there was a police officer in front of me, and they'd tied my hands with rubber tubing, so my hands were tied and my head was hooded. The man in the back would whack me on my back and he would hold the hood. So it was in a kind of way where they played with the pain on the back and then you gulped and then they grabbed the air with this hood and you struggled for air and you're getting hurt so you're in this zone between unable to breathe and reacting to a blow. I think one's natural reaction when you take a blow is to suck in so they were playing with that dynamic for a while. Then they started to insert something up my anus to try and exert pressure on some point on the inner side, that you go deep and you squeeze it, it's excruciating pain. I think they were trying to touch some nerve centre. I don't understand the physiology of it. That was like excruciating but it was also quite vulgar and humiliating because you're naked and you're on the table and whatever's in your bowels at the time is just starting to flow out freely. So at the end you're crawling in your own piss and shit. Going through this is quite an experience. Then they stop and start and stop and start and, "Tell us, when are the bombs going to go off. We know you know. This has been your history, you've been detained here, been detained there. You've been now with Ibrahim Ismail. You've been running that unit. It's a military unit. What's going on." Bang, bang, bang. "Give us a name. Where is he?" And this goes on, oh God! I don't know how it came to pass but I got to about six in the morning
POM This went on till six in the morning?
YS Yes, so now, jeez, that was the night I looked through, I was not even conscious, existed. So at some point of course I messed myself and all that. They took me to a toilet and I was trying to see if I could escape through the toilet window. Then it was just like an 18 floor plunge to the bottom. As I was trying to do that another police officer sort of got hold of me. I'd become quite delirious, sweating profusely and yet my skin was cold and clammy. They finally took me down into the cells again and I must have been quite traumatised. I don't know how he did it but my Dad pleaded with the guard, just an ordinary cell guard, to take him from his cell and bring him to me.
POM Could he see you going by?
YS No we couldn't see one another, all our cells were completely shut, but we would always hear if someone's taken out.
YS I think someone tipped my Dad off that I was taken off for interrogation. But the whole night had passed and I had not returned and then I was taken back in the wee hours of the following day and then my Dad got to hear I had been brought back, that I was carried down into the cell. So he was quite alarmed on his side I imagine. So he pleaded with the jailer at the bottom with us, just an ordinary warder character. So my Dad came into my cell, I don't know where my Dad got disprin from, he had given me a disprin and told me to hang on and to take each hour by the hour. I was like a two year old kid in his arms.
POM The sheer imagination. So you were there for each other.
YS What humans can do to one another. When you so dehumanise and demonise each other you're capable of such brutality.
POM Then you go home and your wife says, "How was your day?" "It was OK, bit tough but were the kids good?"
YS I must confess I really think their own brutality worked against them in that time me and Mo were arrested because here were two young men My second mother was a Hindu and there was one man in particular, let's call him the Nightingale, he was present at my entire torture that night. Then he was the one who saved me from throwing myself off this building. I don't know, it must have made such an impression on him, the brutality with us, just on a human level it profoundly affected him. Then what happened is that he started to tell my Dad, "Look, your boy's OK, he's OK." Him and my Dad struck up this rapport and then he started, whilst we were in detention, started to give us information of another unit member [the actual unit member who was and myself and Mo and others were my Dad and is not doing very well, he's gone to the edge and started to fall over, try and hold the man together.]
There was a little information that started to circulate, the kind of information that you're getting from the enemy or the other side on how they see you, what did I do to you, how they're reacting to information you're giving them. It was quite a breakthrough and it happened while in detention. That's how it started. That became our first recruit. He was recruited whilst we were in the cells. We were his prisoners and we recruit him to help us. Not recruit him to the ANC but recruit him to join our cause, to show him the futility of the other side, the wrongs of its ideology, the wrongs of their practice and their conduct as human beings and to show on the other side what people are, what people can be, what is good and what is something better to believe in, what's worth fighting for and, if necessary, dying for. So these things are then created, this consciousness of the struggle. Then I got released.
POM You spent ninety days in detention?
YS No we got taken in in about April I think and got released the following year in March. I got released after two weeks, after this torture, then they said, "No, this guy doesn't know anything", and they released me. Then they came back to get me again but two weeks later realising their fuck-up, they came back to get me. I go back and I do another, I sit with Mo for the rest of the time until the following year. Our conditions when we were in solitary and I had a 24-hour guard, here's my cell, a little three by three and then there's a courtyard which is like a three by three. You'd walk three steps and then you've got the next wall and then do another four steps and you've got your next wall. So it's about from that window to that door, then it comes down this way, that's your cell that you're in.
POM And you had in the cell?
YS And then outside the cell there's a small courtyard, but it's still all underground, so it's not that you see the sky or anything. It's just what you may call a courtyard and then out of the courtyard is another set of doors and then there's a passage and then another cell and another courtyard and so on.
POM Quite an operation.
YS It was quite an operation.
POM Was the light on in the night?
YS Our lights were on all day.
POM Twenty four hours a day?
YS Yes, the lights never went off.
POM So you had 24 hour a day light which is a torture in itself.
YS The lights never went off.
POM And sunlight? You didn't have sunlight?
YS I had no access to sunlight.
POM When you went outside?
YS No, you couldn't see anything because you're underground.
POM The time, how would you tell time?
YS You can't tell time. You can only tell time by your meal that you are getting. Now this was in C R Swart which is a huge police headquarters. Me and Mo used to communicate through notes, through tapping.
POM Pass the notes?
YS No, no, we'd get like a cleaner the prisoners used to come and clean your cell so you'd tell another prisoner to take this note to that cell.
POM Now would they be common law prisoners?
YS Common law prisoners, that's right, because they come to clean your cell. Or when everything went late at night, me and Mo like shout to one another underneath the door. You know if you close this door there's a gap there, then you can shout through the gap. Through a distance it can follow in a quiet night so you'll be able to shout to one another and you'd hear something and you'd shout back. We would call this the 'bush telegraph', in fact the cops used to call it the bush telegraph.
POM But you said you had a 24-hour a day guard, he wouldn't mind?
YS No, sometimes the guards go to either relieve themselves or they get tired.
POM You're not going to come out and run away.
YS So it's like via that gap now I would shout to Mo and also we could carry these messages, whatever opportunity to shout we would shout. If Mo has been taken up, you know what I mean? Or there used to be this, that's right, I forgot, we used to have these medical check ups once a week. A District Surgeon would come to check up on us and see how we were all doing. It's a very stupid session and a magistrate, "Any complaints? No complaints? Right", gone. It's so futile complaining to this magistrate anyway.
POM Can you remember what his name was?
YS The District Surgeon? No I can't unfortunately. Not that they introduced you. They didn't introduce themselves to you. I don't even know, he was just another man, another face. He didn't introduce himself or if he did I couldn't care less who he was. A magistrate used to come and see you to see if you were being tortured or anything and then he would promptly file a report and give the report to the Security Branch and the Security Branch said, "If you say anything you'll get some more. Don't say anything." So now what do you want to tell the magistrate for? You won't tell him anything. So he comes and says, "Any complaints?" "No, no." The doctor comes to look at you, "Tortured?" "No, no torture." They think it's fine.
POM All those bruises around your head there they just came naturally?
POM You were just banging your head against the wall.
YS Yes, I hurt myself. What am I going to do because I'll get tortured again so I won't tell you anything. You don't even get a sense of any independence. I didn't get a sense that the District Surgeon is independent, that this magistrate who is coming to look at you is independent, that he will champion the cause, that he would protect your rights. I don't know this man. Anyway, so when we go to this District Surgeon it was like going through the underground, like twenty steps away to another little cell which I imagine doubled up as a doctor's quarters. So Mo and I from time to time passed and glanced one another and we began to were going in with one another.
So several months together and Mo and I constantly rewriting and revising and rewriting our version to the Security Branch depending who's holding and dropping a line, you know what I mean?
POM They keep interrogating you about the same thing for nine months?
YS Yes. And then you just keep changing your story depending on what information they've got.
POM Did they continue to torture you during that period or did the torture cease?
YS For me the torture stopped probably after the first month and then it was just like a holding. But that became like its own torture because now you're left in this cell for weeks on end, you never see anybody.
POM How did you maintain your sanity?
YS I went completely fucking bonkers, you know what I mean, and so did Mo. Now I think round about my sixth month of detention I began to display some psychiatric disorders.
POM Sure, but how would you pass the day?
YS Time was longer than rope really, it was agony waking up in the morning, then I'll try and construct a regimen, exercises. You just find things to occupy yourself. Try and study the life and times of a cockroach. What would be a cockroach's pattern of walking? How do ants survey their environment to find food? And try and study that, just look at it. But you've got no access to literature. You've got a Koran with you, it's all in Arabic so if you can't read it you can't understand it. Well you sit and sit and sit and sit, it was just agony.
POM The bed, the bunk that you had, was that the only piece of furniture. So if you sat you had to sit on that?
YS You had to lay on the bunk or sit on the bed.
POM Sit or lay.
YS I don't know how time passed. It was just unimaginably long. I think Mo and I were the longest solitary prisoners of KZN.
POM There's even a difference between solitary confinement if you are taken out into a courtyard where there is sunlight, you see the sun, you see if it's day or night.
YS You have a visual sense.
POM But you're being reduced, the fact that light itself, that in itself was a continuing torture.
YS Trying to sleep was a problem. So with me the day became the night, the night became the day and it didn't matter to me whether this was day or it was night. Then you get your food and by the time you get your food it's so goddamn cold, so you rather just sleep anyway and eat your food when you wake up.
POM Did you dream when you slept?
YS I used to get all kinds of I used to dream a lot but also wake up with a lot of sweatiness because it's a mixture of fear
POM The whole trauma of what you had gone through, you had to play it out in some way.
YS Now to make matters worse my Mum had a heart attack in my ninth month or thereabouts.
POM Was your Dad still in?
YS No my Dad was released after two weeks. But you're also cut off from information so you don't know what's going on, you don't know who else is here, whether Ibrahim's been got or not got, you're just getting bits of snippets. My Mum had this heart attack now in the ninth month, she'd heard about my torture and so on, and my Dad made an application to the High Court for my release or to stop the torture and that application failed. He couldn't do anything. I was not brought before the court or anything. My Mum got quite depressed and it was quite stressful for her, all her sons are in detention and with all the horror stories of what happens there and evidence of my torture coming out, I had written a paper about this torture.
POM Your Dad would have seen you too.
YS And my Dad saw me and so on. Anyway, she gets a heart attack and she was quite critically ill and she died. They did take us to go and see her in hospital.
POM They took you?
YS I don't know if they took Mo but they took me and I got to see her and she was just, you know barely... Of course at that time I was not shaving, I had grown a beard, I was looking quite hollow and haggard. Anyway, I think she was delirious because her kidneys had started to fail and with kidney failure and organ failure she had become delirious. So the doctors were giving us information, well this is getting better, your Mum's getting better. Anyway I think a few days later she died, or a week later she died and then my Dad came to tell me the news.
POM He was allowed to see you? Your Dad was allowed to see you?
YS No, no-one was allowed to see us but I suppose my Mum having died they then thought it's only for humanitarian reasons, which I think is quite laudable, they should allow me to go to her funeral. They take Mo out and they take us in chains, handcuffed. When we get to our family home and then we at that stage were able to have a meal with all my brothers. We were all with our expressions and our eyes indicating to one another, we're doing OK, and back after the funeral to those cells.
POM When you saw daylight first, did you say - ?
YS It was like when I came up, that's what you experience, you're coming out of detention, they've given you clothes to wear and my Dad was a man steeped in struggle, he made it clear in the cell when he came to visit and he says, "My boy, I'm sorry to say but your Mum has died. You must exercise self-control. It's very important for you."
POM He was a great man.
YS He was great, truly he was and he was better under stress and conditions of battle. So he dressed me up and took me out of the cell and held me steady as we walked and then the guards took us and we were taken to the funeral. I got to see Mo after something like nine months, or six months, because what had happened along the way was they had separated us because of Mo and I attempting to communicate, separate us in prison. I was taken to another police station where I was held and Mo was kept at C R Swart. So about six months more and we had lost all contact with one another. That was the first time I got to see Mo, I was quite shocked when I saw him. He looked like shit, he had a beard, he was looking haggard. I thought maybe I'm looking like that as well. Because you had no mirror, you couldn't see yourself. You don't know how you are looking. You don't have any sense of your own self. You only had a set of very few clothes so you will wash your clothes and wear it and wash it and wear the next set, so you don't know how you are looking. So when I saw Mo he was pale, like his skin was grey. You know when someone's denied sunlight for a long period you get that ashen look about you. I saw how he was looking, I didn't realise I was looking the same. You get gaunt and hollow with prolonged stress, you just get that look of worn out and weary.
I went back to that cell. I must have been taken out for about two hours I think it was and I went back to the cell. You've seen sky, you've see traffic on the roads, you've seen people, things rushing at you, and you go to a funeral and you get to see your family but you get to see them in a very different time yet you're happy and you're sad. So these emotions are just like you want to hug your brothers, celebrate the fact that you are with each other but it's not a celebratory moment. And there's so much of stimulus coming at you and then you get sent back into detention three hours later and bang, bang, bang, all the doors close and the key is turned, bang, bang, bang. Silence. Now you sit. I don't know what was worse, having gone or not gone. Now you really fall to a new level of depression. Trying to haul yourself out of that was a nightmare.
It came to pass and I think three or four months later we got released. The thing also before my Mum died both me and Mo at different times, though, had begun to manifest quite a lot of psychiatric disorder symptoms. I was sent into a hospital to go for psychiatric observation. The doctor put me on sleep therapy where I'd get medication so for three days I must have slept.
POM Where would this be?
YS In a hospital, yes.
POM A regular hospital?
YS A regular hospital but they would cordon it off and I was under 24-hour guard there. The good thing about the hospital was new sights, new sounds, nurses, caring and affectionate people all around you. You could hear all these sounds and you could see the sky. Anyway I was sent back into detention after my period of hospitalisation, it must have been about ten days I was in the hospital. So I went back into detention and I think it was two or three months after that my Mum had this heart attack and then I got out into the world again and then went back in and another three or four months of solitary and then we were released in March or April of the following year. By that time I think we'd had something close to eleven to twelve months, probably eleven of detention because we went in in March and came out by April, how many months is that? By that time Ibrahim Ismail had escaped out of the country.
POM We hope he had.
YS They subsequently got him.
POM He had enough time.
YS He had enough time, I tell you, God! Ibrahim. So we had started this contact with the Nightingale, this information, this human relationship, and when I got out I tapped him again and he'd say they're going to arrest so-and-so and arrest so-and-so. We would get this message.
POM That they were going to arrest somebody on the outside?
YS Yes, and then Mo would frantically try and get word out that so-and-so is going to be arrested. So whilst we were still in detention this information
POM He'd already turned.
YS - was coming to us and we'd have to find ways now to get this information out urgently that so-and-so could be arrested. The relationship started at that level, I think he crossed that line when he started to tell who's going to be arrested, what do they know? He would tell us. He came to see us at our shop, he came to see my Dad a week or so after we were released just to see if we were all OK as a family, if all of us were fine. So I got released on the Thursday, I think both of us got released on a Thursday and then promptly the next day I went to work which was the Friday and presented myself at work.
POM As if everything was normal.
YS I was then in the union, I was the Deputy General Secretary of the union, the SA Clothing & Textile Workers Union, so I had to quickly go to the union. I think they were quite concerned and the union movement had sent out this alert about this detained unionist. They were campaigning for my release as well and then Amnesty International was also campaigning for my release because of the torture and so on, and not just me, Mo as well. So there was starting to be some international pressure around all of this. So I went to the union straight away.
POM The next day.
YS The next day. I was in the union and it wasn't such a good thing to do because I was so pent up, on a yo-yo, so in that following week then, I think it was, we established contact with the Nightingale and he came to see us, how are we doing and so on and, I don't know how, I can't remember exactly, but I asked him if he could get us a file and he then brought me a file on the ANC I think it was, who they were going to hit and so forth. These files they looked like this, have you ever seen one?
POM A security file?
YS A security report.
POM No. I don't think so.
YS I'm given this file to look at, this security file. I think this is absolute gold we are getting, you're getting the current security alerts of the Security Branch. It's telling you what they know, what they're doing, when they're going to do it and so on. I'm given this file, it's like a typical official file, it's brown and it's got all these official reports in it. I make a photocopy of it. Much of the file is written in Afrikaans, my Afrikaans is not that hot. I'm sitting with a dictionary, me and Mo are trying to figure out what does it mean. Imagine you're a nazi man and I'm a Jew and you're trying to get me and I've got your file saying exactly what you're going to do and it's all written in German and I only speak Hebrew. So I was trying to decipher, decode everything, and that is how our intelligence work started. The Nightingale, turned by the brutality of his own regime which eclipses his affinity with these guys.
POM Finds his way home.
YS Finds his way home and starts to give us these files and then we start getting these files from him. But these files in turn started to create their own set of problems because now you've got just the most sensitive bits of information you can imagine and it creates such a dilemma, you just cannot believe.
POM How did you manage the translation.
YS Well the dictionary and all of that and you make the best that you can, early days. It presents all kinds of dilemmas to us. What do you do if you know that the Security Branch is about to arrest and capture Pravin Gordhan or Billy Nair or this ANC unit or that or that or that? Do you go and tell them they're going to arrest you?
POM That you were tipped off.
YS That's right. So now you get information that could affect other people's welfare, their lives, safety and all those around them, but you don't know how to tell them you're exposed, the fact that there's a breach in their security. So it presented such a moral dilemma who to say that to and who not to, who to alert and who not to, and you're 24 years old, 25 years old. You know in some cases that they are planning to maybe assassinate, in other cases we've got this information, we've got access to this information. How do you manage it? It became quite a troubling matter for us and, of course, urgently then Mo goes off on a mission to London to tell the ANC about what it is we have. He gets to tell it to former President Oliver Tambo, Jacob Zuma, the present President Thabo Mbeki, and a group of them meet and the quality of the intelligence is completely verified by no less than Oliver Tambo. He says, "This is true, I had this conversation that is featured in this." Mo will remember more clearly. He says, "The word is like the Bible."
POM Yes, he said it's right out of the Bible.
YS It's right out of the Bible and that is how the project got it's name, the Bible. They quickly escalated this work and assigned us to Jacob Zuma who then happened to manage this kind of intelligence work, although he was not the head of intelligence, Nhlanhla was head of intelligence. That's what then puts us in immediate proximity in relation to Jacob Zuma. This work takes the unit in a whole new range now, the unit has to deal with we have to learn how to reproduce them, we then had to carry it, we then had to establish means by which we alert people, we had to get the reports arranged so the ANC could verify and confirm and do its own damage control and assessment. At the time these reports indicated the ANC was riddled with infiltration and so was everybody else, not just the ANC but the entire democratic movement, the trade union movement and so on and the former President of Alec Erwin's union, NUMSA, the Vice-President or President of that union, and he was a spy. There you have it. You know you're 24, 25, people in your movement with us, questions of who to say and who not to. You struggle with all these issues.
POM So you can meet a comrade and he will be talking to you and he's being very 'we must do this and we must do that' and you're looking him right in the eye and saying, 'This man's a spy.'
YS Now what does that do to you as a young man?
POM Would they give the names of the individuals in this?
YS You can work them out in most cases, they will have coding on this. So you work it out. In fact that was even another major part, the working out of the codes. You'd just be given a code, PN495, and you had to work out who was PN495. That also became the dilemma of the Bulelani Ngcuka matter because you had to figure out from a range of thousands of people who was 495, for example, so who was that person who attended this meeting, this meeting and that? What is the commonality at all times? You had to try and find what was common so that you know who was the source. You had to verify the information at a time when you can't just go to somebody and say, "Look, did Joe Soap meet with you in a café last week Thursday?" Now if you do that when the meeting is just between him and Joe Soap, how do you know? On what basis are you even asking about that meeting? You agree? That in turn could reveal that, hey, there's a problem because you don't know who the source is at that moment when you're asking him that question. He could be the source you see. So at any rate, very difficult access and very difficult to corroborate, very difficult to verify in a world when so many people had become spies.
POM Was your intelligence, were the files that the Nightingale was providing, would they now be files on people whom the security people had classified as agents, their own agents? Or were you just getting files and if it fell into like was Operation Bible concerned only with trying to determine who in the ANC was spying or was Operation Bible concerned with just gathering the information, all the information possible from this source, alerting people in the case on using it?
YS You see they had a general file as the reports were coming in. Then they had files on every organisation. Then they had files on every individual. Now as information came in it had to be acted on, the Security Branch they had to confirm, check, verify or do something and you could then ask for a file from the Nightingale, say, "I want the file on Nelson Mandela. I want the file on the ANC in KZN."
POM So if you said Nelson Mandela, would he be able then to go to ?
YS Access that file.
POM He would know the code?
YS Yes, he will know the code number or we could give him a code number and he would go and get the file and he'd bring the file and you'd study the file. So we'd ask for a file on, say, Natal Indian Congress, so we will know what do they know about the Natal Indian Congress. Or we'll ask for a file on, say, Mo Shaik, you don't know what they know about Mo Shaik. So it was a way of accessing their intelligence bank and so on. We'll ask information on who's in the Security Branch? What's this? Find out who. Although we didn't ask for their personnel file, I don't remember, but we will know like in labour section is so-and-so and so-and-so, so we will know those guys are on surveillance in labour so you watch out for those guys, and so forth. So you got a sense of their organisation, their structures, their personnel, their deployment, their techniques, their tactics, the divisions between them, the divisions around ethnicity, divisions around race, divisions around competition for title, promotion and so on, so what was the tension, so to speak, between them so you could be more alive to how you play it. What was their knowledge on what was happening in the underground? So we were reading the situation from the point of view of the Internal, put down the revolution and us being able to have a sense of their strategic thinking and their sense of the moment, the time, what was happening and was going to happen, how they were reading the situation. Of course they were also giving the reports to their political section saying, "Gee, we're not in control of the situation in KZN", or we're not in control of this, that and the other, then you'd get a sense of space, who's winning and who's losing, whether they can continue with the battle or change tactics. It was very important for us to understand how the enemy at that time was interpreting events happening around them and its ability to defeat us. So that information was quite important to us. For instance, what did they know about Pravin Gordhan, Billy Nair and what he was doing and who were they going to attack, who were they going to arrest? Information at that level, information at the macro level of how they saw the unfolding struggle at the time, what were the tactics they were deploying so we could deal with that and they were promoting division tactics, a lot of confusion, promoting confusion, promoting disharmony in the ranks, they were the tactics that they would adopt. So it gave us a deeper and more penetrating insight into the enemy and his style of work.
POM So you would get a file, the file would be the section was expanding, right?
YS You'd get various kinds of reports that were put on these files.
[Now to show you what a report looks like, let's just look here. That means safety, high means secret. Now here's the name of a person who is doing the region Port Natal. Now concerning PMV9/126, that's the African National Congress, that's the police code name for it. This is a report, file 2/12/1986, more or less at the time you were in the country. Now the person who filed this report is a Sergeant Fourie, a Warrant Officer MD Gopah. His report is filed on that date and it's from a source. You see that code there? You see that, codent Van Braun, it means code of source. The source is PN608, the source is on the ANC. The ANC's file name is S.9/126. The subject matter is the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for SA.
YS IDASA. That's there now. Now here it is whatever Braun, 608 berug, source volk(??) Now Braun informs them of the following and the whole report comes there. Page one, close the page, page 2 and it goes on and on and on. Now if you look here this is now who are all the people mentioned in the report? See, it says, "Verslaag commenter ", there's no file. You see that? Mawa Ramgobin. Now Mawa Ramgobin was quite a long time activist. That means Port Natal, that means that's the region he's involved in. His file number is 2/602.
POM The 2 means?
YS S means it's a head office file number, 2/132, 2 is Indian, and so on. You will get all those numbers like that. So organisation mentioned: ANC, Durban Housing Action Committee, Nationalist Party, Natal Indian Congress and so on and so forth.
POM And that's their file numbers.
YS Right, that's everyone's file numbers. Now when you try to uncover who the spy was, because remember your challenge was you had to figure out who is doing this report, so your big nightmare is trying to figure out and that is where the burden fell on the unit, that insufferable burden, who is code 608,, who is 608. That's all you knew, PN608, and the narrative of his report. So from that narrative you had to work now, that person is going to be in IDASA, he's reporting about IDASA, and he's giving a report about what happened at IDASA meetings in Port Elizabeth and it goes on.
But if you just take another one, let's take one that's in English so it will be a bit easier on the reading. Telegraph. At that time you usually worked on telexes and so on, you didn't have the e-mail system. So here's a message from Port Natal, top secret, Captain so-and-so.
POM Van Sittert.
YS June 16, PN. 608. Report that on 87.6.15 Archie Gumede, and that's his detail there, S, 4 means he's African, 1631 is his head office number, of the UDF, Pat Steele, and that's their numbers, of Black Sash and Farouk Khan of the Daily News held a short meeting to discuss last minute arrangements for any meetings to celebrate June 16th. Now there's three people in a meeting. You see that? Archie Gumede, Pat Steele, Farouk Khan. Archie Gumede of the UDF said that the UDF must call for a mass stayaway of workers on June 16 and that UDF demands that June 16 be declared a public holiday. And it goes on. Now the important thing about that is it is a classic example of the problem. Three people in a meeting, they at the last minute held a short meeting to discuss arrangements. Archie of the UDF said that the UDF must call for a mass stayaway for workers and Pat Steele said that she visited 13 white high schools and distributed leaflets explaining the reasons behind the Soweto uprising. Steele also posted copies of those leaflets to heads of the Coloured, Indian and white schools in the Durban area. Pat Steele said the Black Sash would be staging a silent protest on June 16 in Durban. Further details unknown. Now who's the spy? Three people in a meeting, who's the spy? Who is code name 608? See that? Now you see that man, an obvious person is this person here. Not so obvious but you assess that that's the person. See that person? ]
Now you know there was this man, my Dad helped him to get a job at a newspaper, he was a journalist, he used to come to our house and eat with us. He used to visit my Dad regularly to get stories on sport and so on. He's an old man now and I grew up with that man thinking I should call him Uncle so-and-so. Now what does that do to a young boy who when he was in school this was the uncle that promised to get him a pair of shoes? This was the same man whose Dad helped him to get a job and every time as a journalist he can't make it, it's just so hard with the salary he was getting, will come and borrow some money from his Dad, would come and sup at that house table.
At the Hefer Commission I ran into him, "Ah, you boys, I know how committed you all were to the struggle and how good you were. All the things said about you in the newspaper with Bulelani is just rubbish." Now you must experience this over and over and over again until your entire consciousness gets shattered and reassembled, shattered and reassembled around the question of trust. But he is not a bad man, he's a human being like. He is dealing and managing with his own reality. He could have ended up getting recruited because (a) he was threatened he would lose his job, (b) that he would be sent to jail or something will happen to him. So somebody was squeezing his balls. So it's his way of yielding to the pressure he was experiencing and then got entrapped in the bitterness of it all. Surely he could have said maybe many more things about what actually happened at that meeting but he put it down to these matters, distributing about a secret meeting to try and call for a stayaway and the terms around that. You understand?
Now it just went on and on and on, report after report, all more painful, more betrayal, more dastardly than the other. So it reports, for instance, that Archie Gumede handed to Simon Davies of the British Consulate, Durban, a copy of a memorandum issued to the Detainees' Parents Support Committee calling for the release of all detainees and upliftment of the emergency regulations. Simon Davies to forward a copy to the British Embassy in Pretoria. A similar memorandum was handed over to Archie Gumede and so on, and the American Consulate and so on. So it doesn't matter what's the report, these reports may bear no significance, It's just a record the nature of the struggle at the time, how difficult it was, who to trust, who not to trust. That is why to talk about whether Bulelani was a spy or not in these circumstances now, devoid of the circumstances that prevailed at the time, is utterly meaningless. Do you know what I mean?
POM Oh yes.
YS So what was your job? Get it, first step photocopy it or make a photograph of it. Then analyse it. There it was easy. There are other ones that were extremely difficult because the Security Branch shielded their spy, would conceal his identity, would conceal everything as much as possible. So the hunt was very difficult.
POM This is what the false flagging is called?
YS Yes. They will try and pass off information received from one source under the name of another because they're trying to hide who the source is. So you take extra precautions then, extra care with different kinds of sources. Some of the sources were so high up in the ANC it was frightening. I mean in one case the commander of a unit in Swaziland who was sending his soldiers into SA to come and bomb was himself a spy. As soon as his unit people go off into the country to engage in mission, the commander tells the branch expect this and this and this and this is what they're coming to do. The commander sent a good friend of Bulelani Ngcuka in Bulelani's unit, that commander busted Bulelani, that's what caused Bulelani to go to jail. Bulelani was due to testify in that matter but the people who were on trial in that matter served 20 years, 17 to 20 years, in that range. The commander sent his own people to the slaughter.
POM Was Bulelani in that unit?
YS No he was not, I'm just saying he was tangential to it but he refused to testify in that case.
POM Oh when the case came, the case was on trial?
YS Yes he went on trial, there was a full blown trial and in that trial where he refused to testify, the result of which he got I think three years or something, I'm not too sure on that now, but the person or the group of persons who was standing on trial, the commanders of those units got lengthy terms. Patrick Makubela I think got 17 years in prison and Bulelani refused to testify against Patrick Makubela. Now that person who sent them to that jail was the commander. You see now the dilemma? You have to read it, you have to sift it.
Through the entire circle so you could see how it was in a single investigation, how difficult it was and yet on the other hand how thorough were our attempts to deal with the matter. The case of Bulelani illustrates that, that this was not a bunch of mavericks at work playing guessing, they would scrutinise every tiny, itsy bit of information. It's true you often made mistakes but you had to make assessments on that information, you had to make a judgement on the probability. You didn't have to make an indictment that he's a spy; you just had to say there's something wrong here, I ask you all to exercise caution.
POM Now let's just talk for a minute about him. Was that file requested or did that come to you?
YS It came to us because of another matter. How that matter came to us was we got a file. What had happened was a union grouping went to meet Thabo Mbeki and a range of other people and gave them a briefing on the state of the nation. That state of the nation briefing got to Port Elizabeth Security Branch. Out of that meeting, and it featured that that source attended that briefing with Thabo Mbeki, attended the meeting of Bulelani Ncguka and Archie Gumede. We discounted Archie Gumede because a lifetime of struggle and reports on him means he was always the subject of the report. That left us with Bulelani Ncguka and another person. So subsequently and after months and months of verification we came to establish that the other person was a trade unionist and he was in NUMSA and Alec Erwin himself confirmed that person to be a spy, but then that brought us Bulelani into the focus. Then in other matters with Bulelani, he in the years before had gone to jail for refusing to testify and that unit got a hit. Now we get to see Bulelani and we see several other reports on Bulelani, well not just only one, where he features in it. The process of elimination, he constantly comes up. What we get to discover at the bottom end of it all is that
POM So you have a series of reports coming in, you have asked for them, but his name keeps appearing in these reports?
YS Yes because these are events taking place and we're getting, as the cops get the report we get the report, so in other words the current file.
POM OK, you get the current file.
YS Every time someone files a report and it goes in that man's file we get that report. So as events were happening we were getting it, or within a few months apart from one another. So, you know, the hunt for this source is what we try and find. Now what we get in it all is this; at the beginning of the eighties Bulelani Ncguka was associated with a unit under the lead of Patrick Makubela. That unit was bust and Bulelani refuses to testify, he gets three years, Patrick gets something like 15 to 20, I'm not too sure what. Next, several years later round about 1987 or thereabouts a mission goes from the labour movement to give a state of the nation report briefing in London and Scandinavia. Bulelani is present.
POM Who goes?
YS A grouping of trade unionists. And a very sensitive report gets produced which tells the Security Branch exactly what we're going to do with our thinking at the moment, how we're relating to the sanction issue and, you know, the boycott. Right, and we've got to hunt down who is the source. It's a very senior delegation that goes to this meeting and to give this briefing with this top leadership of the ANC. He features there. He then gets featured in other reports that he's representing the ANC in, into the country and so on. Now the same issue that comes to your mind came to our mind. How is it that the Security Branch, believing as they did that Bulelani was associated with the ANC, he was associated with an MK unit, he's now actively aiding and abetting and working with the ANC in Europe, he's meeting with high ranking people of the labour movement and the ANC, he's travelling all over on ANC business, he's able to come into our country and attend meetings and then go to join NADEL. He's involved in giving funding to various people and organisations in the country.
POM This is funding coming from Geneva?
YS Yes. We don't know who is the source. But there's a movement of funding. The question arises, how is that possible? How is it possible to get in and out?
POM In effect what you're saying is that the Security Branch have in their files a report that says Bulelani Ncguka attended a meeting in London where Thabo Mbeki was present and other members of the ANC leadership and in this group they gave a report on the state of the country and rather than pulling his passport they just let him go back and forth.
YS They renew his passport every time he comes into the country.
POM They renew his passport. Every time he comes into the country it has to be renewed?
YS Yes. He has easy access, he comes in and goes out, no problem. That is something we put a red flag on. Yet ten girls in Ireland aged between 15 and 16 and 17 can't come into the country, but a man who's been in prison, associated with MK, seen to be working on behalf of the ANC in Europe, in the political arm of the ANC, he's able to come in. How is that possible?
POM And go out. And come in again.
YS Yes. How is that possible? Now red flag, and at the time we're hunting for the source and we make an assessment, the probabilities are he's the source. Because there are reports also coming out of organisations he's associated with in NADEL. That's not to say we have got all the facts right, that's not to say that he is a spy, that's not to say that as a matter of fact he was a spy.
POM The probability that he may be a spy.
YS I don't want to go there any more except to say that whatever we may judge the merits of the conclusion to be now, but it was the view then that the source of a certain set of reports probably was Bulelani. I think I'll forever regret that judgement that was made then because in the events that followed later it was wrong. But be that as it may that was the conclusion drawn. Because in many of these cases, in some cases we could say with absolute certainty because it was so easy, in other cases it was not so easy. You had to collate various kinds of different reports.
POM When you got this information then you forwarded that information to?
YS To head office.
POM Through London?
POM Did they check on things that you couldn't check on?
YS Yes, because we were not in Europe and we didn't know.
POM So they could check off on your findings and then it would go to Lusaka and then Lusaka would conduct their investigation and added the totality of that information.
YS We would not get that. We would draw our assessments, verify facts within our means, draw our conclusions and express our view, rather than, say, draw a conclusion, let's say express our view from where we were sitting and send that off to London.
POM It went to head office eventually and then it was re-evaluated and other things that you couldn't verify would be looked into and then they would make a final determination.
POM Now would that determination be sent to you?
YS Not necessarily because we couldn't go out every few days, weeks or months to go and see the ANC. Sometimes we may get a message sent to us that it's correct, we confirm, sometimes we wouldn't get information.
POM And in the case of Bulelani?
YS We didn't get any information to say that the ANC's view on the matter is this, that or the other. Our belief was that this was accepted by headquarters, that that was their perception.
POM Did you ever get a report back? Say you had come to the conclusion that somebody might probably be a spy and the report-back from Lusaka would say, "Forget it, wrong"?
YS No I don't remember a case of that kind. I don't have any recollection of a particular case. You could check with Mo.
POM Would Jacob Zuma know?
YS Jacob Zuma would know.
POM Would Jacob Zuma know? Would he be able to say who, yes, we looked at that information.
YS And we concur.
POM And we concurred?
YS He would know.
POM Why do you think he did not step forward?
YS In this case? What was the tragedy of this case in some sense was that we had conducted this intelligence work, this was legitimate work of the ANC. It was funded by the ANC, it was under the direction of the ANC, it was in every respect controlled by the ANC and the procedures we followed were the procedures laid down and direction given to us. So we were not manufacturing anything. You can see from these reports, we're not manufacturing anything. All these reports are documentary based so it's not hearsay, it's not opinion, it's not anything of that kind. Wherever that subjective element was ever introduced into the intelligence work it was strictly managed so as to eliminate bias, prejudice, favour or whatever. Because also sometimes the shocking nature of betrayal is that, like in the case I showed you, when I was growing up as a kid this man was offering me shoes, my sense of disbelief, my ethnic affiliation, my religious affiliation, the filial relations, the family relations would so weigh heavy and I would almost unconsciously discount information. So betrayal is like that so you try and eliminate the subjective part of it and you try and look at the objective part. At any rate our purpose was, and our primary purpose was to gather, analyse, verify to the extent within our range, record and report, and we had to also evaluate the quality of the information. So this is high quality information which is coming out of Security Branch themselves, it's in a documentary form, the document is authentic. The author will know, we would assess the quality of the information he is getting, we would assess his range of information as Security Branch and we would assess the kind of person he was getting the information from, whether that person would be giving truthful information, bullshitting or making up information. After all in the struggle what also happened was Security Branch was putting such pressure on these sources, these sources after a while would have to throw in a couple of odd ones, say he was at a meeting when he was not, and in fact he went to find out from somebody what happened at the meeting, he himself was not there. You could see.
POM This is like Mac when he was editor of Parade as his cover in the country when he was staying with Indres Naidoo and he would stay at home and they'd go to the game, they didn't know that he was working undercover, they thought he was just a loafer, and they would come back and he'd ask them about the game and then they'd pick up the Parade the following week and, "Jesus!" they'd say, "That bloody Mac, he just took what we said about the game and reported it as though he was there."
YS You had to do that, you had to analyse whether that was the kind of information. So the techniques were getting more sophisticated.
POM Do you think, I mean there was much of this material that he was able to present, even your own material, at the commission, is it your belief that he was a spy or do you think that the commission effectively disproved that he was?
YS What I was saying was the tragedy of the commission is this, that the people in ANC's intelligence who knew about this matter, not just Jacob Zuma, there were others -
POM Who would have known?
YS Other intelligence operators in the ANC and none of them came forward to legitimise the fact that it is true that the MJK unit was performing amongst other things an intelligence function; that it is true such an investigation was indeed conducted; it is true that these reports were received by Lusaka; it is true that this was the view that existed based on these probabilities at the time. Nobody came forward. The President at the time had issued a statement to the effect, an unfortunate statement, that sent out a very strong signal that nobody should cooperate, nobody should come forward and nobody did. As a result Mo and Mac were left on their own and even Mo and Mac had the insufferable burden. Now the President says this in his weekly letter
POM After the thing.
YS Now Mo and them have to decide, gee, shit, do we show all our reports to the commission? And if we show our reports to the commission will we not be censured now for having done that after the commission finding for having not followed the President's guidance on this matter, or should we rather suffer a term of imprisonment for refusing to cooperate with the commission? The commission could inflict a five-year prison term. What should we do? They said, well, let's say what we did and whether the ANC takes action on it or not. So even at that point our biggest concern was what is going to happen to us for co-operating with this commission? Endless dilemma that we suffered.
Now coming to your question, I am embarrassed to say, I am even ashamed to say it, but at the time in the late eighties the conclusion was or the belief was, based only on probability and based only on the information we then had on hand, that Bulelani was a spy. I don't hold that belief presently but that was the belief of the unit at that time. The only relevance of that belief, that opinion, of that view today, the only relevance and no other is that the belief existed. When Bulelani went to brief those editors following an article that appeared, a letter that was sent to editors by somebody which said that he was a spy, his reaction to that was just over the top. He called a meeting of editors, he briefed them extensively on his investigation and he maligned Mac and Zuma to no end, and Schabir.
And the reason for having done that, and related to other events also that had happened after such as the mediation and so on, it gave rise to the perception of bias that Bulelani was affronted by that (a) there was this investigation, (b) there was this belief. And no less than Jacob Zuma, Mac Maharaj, Mo, all held these beliefs. His indignation then caused him to malign them. This was in about July and then in his briefing to the editors it was reported that he said he will adopt the Pontius Pilate approach to Jacob Zuma, not bring him to a court of law and try him based on the evidence he had on hand, but he won't give him a trial but he would malign him such as he did on TV.
Now that flew in the face of the rule of law. It is a gross violation of procedural rights so it gave rise to the perception of bias on the part of the National Director for the Prosecuting Authority, that he was biased against these people who had conducted an investigation against him and he had a score to settle with them and the way in which he settled the score in Zuma's case was he maligned him on TV. The way he settled the score with Mac was he calls for the leaking of that information to the press and until this day, until this day, never having made a statement to the effect that, "I've conducted an investigation and I've found no evidence of impropriety in the award of any tender by Mac Maharaj." Until this day he has not done that. So it was enough for him to malign Mac Maharaj. So Mac Maharaj loses his job, loses his high standing, loses his name, his respect, his dignity and never sees and never enters a court to ever give his version.
So in our minds the perception arose that he was biased because we conducted this investigation, not that we held the belief that he's a spy, that we say he is a spy. No, the spy business as far as we are concerned, or the veracity of the claim whether he is or is not a spy is irrelevant. What is relevant is the fact that such an investigation was conducted, that knowledge was an affront to him, it gave rise to his behaviour which behaviour was so gross and inexplicable that the only justifiable conclusion to be drawn was there was this perception of bias. And we say no administrative official who acts as judge, prosecutor, cop, can hold bias. No judge in any matter that he has an interest in can sit on that chair in judgement, he must recuse himself. That is the standard and the universal practice. No administrative official who exercises any administrative act may do so if he has an interest in the matter.
Now that was the simple point we tried to express during Mac's case and then the whole saga as it unfolded. However, the newspapers insisted on casting the story as "Is Bulelani a spy?" We cannot say he's a spy, we never made the charge that he was a spy, we never made that charge. They conveniently ignored that and raised that as the issue, they wrote the terms of reference so that that becomes the singular issue and no other, and the onus was put on us to prove that he's a spy.
POM Which you couldn't.
YS We couldn't. How can we prove he's a spy when all the documents we asked for they refused to give us? Absolutely refused to give us anything. Now that was the point of the matter as far as we were concerned.
POM They should have put you on the stand, it would have been much better.
YS I was the lawyer in the matter. But that's the case, that's the point, at any rate, about our political life. At the same time we had to do intelligence work. Then we had to get funding so we had to take out money. We had to receive money because the ANC wanted a fund. You know you came for the NUM strike, well we had given R250,000 for that NUM strike. How did we get it? The ANC would place money in various accounts in London and so on.