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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

13 Jun 2004: Trewhela, Paul

POM     Anyway, Paul, what I would like to talk to you about is a couple of things starting with maybe Mac; how you got to know him and what you have understood his role to be in the struggle.

PT     OK, good. And my personal knowledge of Mac, person to person, is minimal but obviously Nandha knew him very, very well indeed and they were best friends. They came to England in the late fifties together to study at the LSE. I think Nandha was going towards a teacher's degree and I think it's possible that Mac was doing the same but I'm not 100% sure. I haven't asked Nandha very close questions about that time, I don't know why, I've always felt a bit awkward about it. They were clearly members of the Natal Indian Congress and had been active in politics.

POM     At the university.

PT     At university in Durban and earlier than that. I mean I've heard Nandha tell me how he and Mac during WW2 used to despise Kader Asmal because people of Hindu background such as themselves, of course, were for Congress which abstained from war and the Quit India campaign had a radical edge to it whereas Muslims, of course, were fighting in the British army at that time. So if you go back to the WW2 period, there are some comparisons with Ireland there. Nandha and Mac have known each other for a long time, since early boyhood and then came over to England.

     Now the return to SA I don't, again I am not sure about dates and I have not wanted to ask.

POM     OK, I have the dates.

PT     Whether or not they were members of uMkhonto at that time I don't know; I suspect yes, and I suspect that the return to SA was with the overall perspective of, you could say, a military side to it. I do think that there was military training in Czechoslovakia, I think there was military training in the Soviet Union and I think if you ask Mac a direct question there was military training in China. Mandela's autobiography recounts that one of the men sentenced to life imprisonment with him, Raymond Mhlaba, had been training in China. Now one of the men who was sentenced to life imprisonment, well the only one, in the same trial as Mac, Wilton Mkwayi was trained in China.

POM     That's right.

PT     And you may find that there was even a meeting with Mao Zedong in the course of that time. Now ask questions.

POM     Now where was Nandha then? Nandha was trained in?

PT     Well I don't want to be specific about it for various reasons but if you were to ask Mac very careful questions about that I'd be very surprised if Mac was not there. Nanking is the place where the training took place. Now as far as I know that was unknown to the SA authorities. I might be wrong, but it never appeared as far as I know in the course of the trial of Wilton and Mac.

POM     Nandha was tried separately. Or, remember, he was not tried at all.

PT     I don't think he was tried at all. He was arrested, I first met him in The Fort prison in Johannesburg in the second half of 1964 I think it was, possibly very early 1965, more likely late 1964. I met Nandha then.

POM     You were being held, you were being detained?

PT     I was at that time on trial with Bram Fischer and other members of the Communist Party. There was quite a large number of us. For a period of time it was called the 'Fischer trial' until Bram absconded and went underground. Then about a year later Bram was arrested and charged with the far more serious charge of high treason I think it was for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment. By that time other evidence had emerged against Bram.

POM     What happened in your trial?

PT     Well our trial was of members of the Communist Party and the highest sentence awarded was five years imprisonment; I got two years. All the people in our trial were white, they were mainly men but about a third women. I think about twelve of us altogether.

POM     And were you in Pretoria, spent the two years in Pretoria?

PT     Yes, yes, Pretoria Local prison, with about six months in Pretoria Central Prison.

POM     Do you know what the structure of the SACP was here at that time?

PT     Yes I've got a good idea about it. Although I was a low-ranking cell member I did secret journalism for the Central Committee. I wrote a leaflet for uMkhonto that was distributed in May 1963, it is reproduced in that book of documents From Protest to Challenge, a position paper of uMkhonto weSizwe basically against the Pan Africanist Congress and the military campaign of Poqo. Ruth First was my liaison with the Central Committee and with uMkhonto for that.

POM     Now who, to your recollection at this point, was on the Central Committee at that point?

PT     Joe Slovo very certainly was on the Central Committee, three people in our trial were on the Central Committee, Bram Fischer being one, Ivan Schermbrucker being another and Eli Weinberg being another. Moses Kotane, of course, was on the Central Committee. But what we're talking about is a very disrupted period for the SACP; some people fled into exile, some people were sent into exile, others remained within the country. It's very possible that individuals were co-opted onto the Central Committee in default of others more senior to them having left.

POM     My reading of the situation, and this is where I'd like you to correct me, would be that during that period after the Rivonia trial or with the Rivonia arrests it would appear to me that it was the SACP who held things together in terms of regrouping uMkhonto, carrying out the sabotage campaign, still maintaining underground cells, publications and things like that.

PT     I take your point, Padraig, but I think it's more radical than the way that you put it. The SACP formed uMkhonto and effectively ran it from the beginning even though only African people were permitted to have dual membership of the ANC and the SACP.

POM     Until Morogoro, yes.

PT     To all intents and purposes the SACP did run the ANC and so the perception of the Pan Africanists when they broke away in 1959 was substantially accurate and the perception of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher was substantially accurate. I've had correspondence in The London Review of Books on the topic of whether Nelson Mandela had been a member of the Communist Party or not, in conflict with Anthony Sampson. Now Anthony Sampson's authorised biography is deeply inadequate.

POM     Sure. Let's just skip it, OK?

PT     I'm very glad to hear you say that. Yes, he's a fellow traveller, period, and the scope of fellow travelling relating to South Africa is identical to fellow travelling in relation to the Soviet Union except that it was more modulated and it had a broader scope because of the different historical times basically.

POM     Now what case were you making for Mandela being a member?

PT     In the course of the Rivonia trial the documents emerged which Sampson touches on very briefly only not to deal with the matter at all adequately: that is a lengthy document in his own handwriting by Mandela which is basically, (I haven't seen it but I'm going on the basis of what I've read and my understanding), a transcript but partly a summary of Liu Shao-chi's text How to be a Good Communist.

POM     Whose text?

PT     The man who at that time was President of China, he was got rid of by Mao in the course of the Cultural Revolution, Liu Shao-chi. One of his best known texts which was translated by the Communist Party. We're talking about a period before the Sino-Soviet split and China as a third world country obviously carried great ripples of enthusiasm in a country like SA at that time without disturbing its basic pro-Moscow orientation in the CP. And so the issue is why should a leader of the African National Congress go to the trouble of writing out by hand this text by Liu that was very widely distributed in Communist parties at that time, particularly in, let's say, third world Communist parties.

     In addition to that Mandela wrote some words of his own which Sampson quotes to the effect that under communism SA would be a land of milk and honey, there would be no unemployment, etc., etc. Something like that. Now again, I haven't seen the original document but any historian, any biographer of quality would have treated this text as something to be explored, posing many, many questions. Now that Sampson doesn't do. I've also heard that my suspicion, it's more than a suspicion, my judgement that Mandela had for a period of time been a member of the Communist Party, certainly one member of the people on trial at Rivonia agrees with my perception on that, a person who also was a member of the Communist Party.

POM     That person is dead now I assume?

PT     I'm not going to give a name.

POM     Dead or alive?

PT     I'm not going to give a name.

POM     No, I didn't ask for a name.

PT     It was a personal conversation and I'm not going to give a name to it. I set out my arguments a couple of years ago in the correspondence columns of The London Review of Books in response to Sampson's biography and Sampson then took issue in the correspondence columns with me on this point. The basic thing, I think, to be understood, I'm sure you've already perceived this, that the nature of the struggle in SA was very, very different from the struggle in Ireland and the role of Marxism in it is one of the most major differences.

     The Communist Party reoriented itself in 1928 under Stalin's orders, once the Black Republic slogan was forced on it which meant the expulsion of Sidney Bunting who had upheld the previous basically proletarian revolution position. Once that happened, over the decades the Communist Party was exceptionally successful in winning into its membership leading members of the ANC as well as the Indian Congress, so that by the end of the 1950s, having been banned itself in 1950, which actually was a great advantage to the Communist Party, the Communist Party exercised a leadership position, I would say leadership position within the ANC. It did so through people like Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Raymond Mhlabla, Elias Motsoaledi and a substantial number of others. The fact that the Communist Party was banned ten years before the ANC and the PAC was a great advantage to it. It had to learn methods of secrecy and it had to work through other agencies which it did very successfully, it couldn't operate on its own behalf. The ANC newspaper, New Age (as it eventually came to be called after many changes of name) was a Communist Party newspaper and was entirely run by members of the Communist Party: Brian Bunting as editor based in Cape Town, Ruth First editor based in Johannesburg, Govan Mbeki editor based in Port Elizabeth. The newspaper which was distributed en masse to ANC members was a Communist Party newspaper, it was a really important political nexus.

     To all intents and purposes the Communist Party was in leadership of the ANC at the time of the Sharpeville massacre early in 1960. That's my judgement. Now the way it did so was very flexible and it was very successful. Basically conflict was not sought with the ANC on any single point. Once the Africanists left the ANC it strengthened the position of the Communist Party within the ANC. Now my interpretation is that Mandela was a member of the Communist Party certainly in the very early 1960s. What my guess is, is that he ceased to be formally a member of the Communist Party at least after his return from his illegal trip abroad in 1962. I think what he found as he toured the recently independent African countries was tremendous suspicion of the role of the Communist Party. But basically that provided no problem, because whether somebody of Mandela's stature was in the Communist Party or out of the party, basically the collaboration was very heartfelt and believed in.1

     Once the Sharpeville massacre and the state of emergency took place, consideration that the Gandhian non-violent approach, represented by Luthuli, was outmoded became almost universal across SA. The role of the Communist Party was further strengthened. UMkhonto effectively meant that the Communist Party immensely strengthened its role within the ANC. Military training, who had military training? Well by and large only whites had military training; Joe Slovo, Fred Carneson and a number of whites who were members of the party who had been in the SA Army during WW2. You had people like Denis Goldberg who was an engineer. Here was someone who seriously could be given the task of considering weapons production. David Kitson who got 20 years in Mac's trial had been in the SA Army and was also an engineer. So in addition to that, in addition to individual persons, where was military training to be provided? Well it was all in the communist countries. Who was to provide the resources for it? Well, basically, the Soviet Union and allied states. So the turn to violence meant a tremendous difference between the ANC and the PAC. The ANC had behind it the whole of the Soviet side in the cold war network and prior to the Sino-Soviet split it even had China. Now that meant an enormous difference and that difference became very apparent in 1976 once the stream of Black Consciousness students left the country, basically more oriented at that time to the PAC than to the ANC. They found that the only effective organisation was uMkhonto, whether that was in Mozambique or wherever and behind that structure lay the Soviet Union.

     What also happened is that once consideration of military strategy became predominant in the ANC, uMkhonto was the first non-racial organisation in which Communist Party people and ANC people worked together in a single organisation with no holds barred. And there was no such issue as a Morogoro issue or later on in 1985, a Kabwe issue in uMkhonto, there was just universal membership. Whether you were white or black or of Indian background or of coloured background, basically the structure of uMkhonto was the same as the Communist Party. The old Congress quadri-partite division didn't exist in the military organisation.

     Then I was later in the situation, up to my arrest in July 1964, as editor of the uMkhonto underground newspaper Freedom Fighter in Johannesburg. My next line of contact was Hilda Bernstein who's husband Rusty Bernstein was on trial as a member of the Communist Party in the Rivonia trial with Mandela. Hilda was my next link after Ruth First had left and so you effectively had the uMkhonto newspaper simply being written by an ordinary Communist Party member, who was white. Now that was normal.

POM     Now when you went to prison you spent two years there?

PT     Well I was arrested in July 1964 and came out in April 1967 because we had a very long trial following about two months in 90-day detention.

POM     So did you do 90-day solitary?

PT     Yes. They'd arrested a lot of people so there were a lot of us doing solitary at the same time and we were able in a secret way to communicate with each other.

POM     Were you tortured?

PT     Torture was the absolutely normal rule at that time and afterwards. The whole purpose of bringing in the 90-day detention was to permit torture to take place, that was the reason for indefinite detention without trial. The two went hand in hand. Torture varied between who was arrested, to some degree on racial grounds. What was normal for white people under 90-days at that time was sleep deprivation, standing torture which had been inherited from the KGB. In Russia it was called 'the conveyor'. But of course Mac had a far worse experience. You know what was done to Mac?

POM     Yes. When you emerged from prison how would you describe your political orientation?

PT     I took a very different route in prison from that of all my colleagues, or nearly all my colleagues, because I was interested in the Maoist argument and particularly the theory of people's war. In I think 1966 a man called Rowley Arenstein was sent to Pretoria Local prison who was a Maoist. Rowley had a very strange subsequent career. He had been in the CP, he was a long-standing old Stalinist and he stuck to the old pro-Stalin line, he'd probably been hostile to Khrushchev's secret speech.

POM     Just to clarify for myself, how do you describe a Stalinist? What would you give as a definition?

PT     To this day a former member of the Politburo like Thabo Mbeki retains tremendous elements of Stalinism. Robert Mugabe as a former Maoist, probably still an active present Maoist, retains tremendous elements of Stalinism. Essop Pahad too. I mean the basic character of Stalin's rule in the Communist Party in Russia is the main organisational principle of the ANC to this day, it had a very powerful effect. When you hear the word 'discipline', even from Mandela's lips, that is the resonance that it comes from.

POM     So Stalinism is described as, defined as?

PT     I'd need to take a bit of time over that.

POM     OK. You'll get a transcript of this.

PT     I'm fine about that. The thing is this, as we know the SACP never deviated ever from the official line of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, ever.

POM     And that official line?

PT     And that's the way from Lenin's time through to Gorbachev, no deviation ever. Whatever the twist in the Soviet Union they twisted in SA. That for one is a deeply Stalinist approach. The SACP, following Khrushchev, uttered words about the bad things that had been done against loyal communists in the 1930s by Stalin. A very Brezhnevite party. Basically the period of the ANC in exile is the Brezhnev period. The manner in which the ANC, with CP members very prominent in its leadership, set up this chain of prison camps across Africa and the status of the ANC Security Department within the organisation as a whole, as a power in itself, that is deeply Stalinist. So no leader of the ANC today who went through that experience, particularly in exile, escaped being formed by that Stalinist ethos (with the possible exception of Pallo Jordan, who was not at all typical). It was slightly modified within SA during the period of ANC illegality, those people who remained within SA did not go through the experience of setting up a state within a state as they did in Angola and Tanzania and other countries like that. Those were Stalinist semi mini states that they set up. Every ANC member, I was told, who came to Britain had to surrender his or her passport to the Security Department. It was one of the great problems within the ANC in exile because not only was this Security Department so tyrannical but it was actually very easy for the South African state to infiltrate it. So the person who was head of the Security Department in London through most of the eighties, Solly Smith (the ANC Chief Representative), was later found to have been a state agent. If you mouth the right words, which is very easy to do, you could go very far within the ANC Security Department and you could capture a central line of direction in the ANC in exile. This Stalinist apparatus was very easy to infiltrate actually.

POM     Because?

PT     Well, because of its top/down nature, because proper discussion was not permitted on anything. It was very difficult. It's well known, if you've got a totalitarian apparatus it's very difficult for complex matters to be aired and who is and who is not a secret agent is very difficult to uncover.

     Now Mac was not a part of that Security Department apparatus. There were a number of parallel agencies in the ANC in exile. That's my understanding. One of the reasons he was not was that by and large, with one exception as far as I know, whites and Indians did not play a part in the security apparatus. They kept away from it or were kept away from it. The one exception was Aziz Pahad and Aziz Pahad took part in the Commission of Inquiry after the mutiny in Angola in February 1984 which led to a number of the mutineers being sent basically to the Gulag conditions of Quatro and then later on when a further mutiny took place at Pango camp in northern Angola it led to execution of mutineers, I understand public executions.

POM     Now Aziz spent most of his time in London.

PT     He did but he was part of the Commission of Inquiry which investigated within Angola.

POM     I'm just wondering, it seems kind of odd that he would have been chosen.

PT     The thing is, an organ like the Security Department would have ultimately been run by the CP from where they had greater freedom of operation and they could keep their hands clean and that was basically London. We know it operated: wherever there were ANC members there was the Security Department. ANC members in London were terrified, I mean particularly African members. It was different for white members, a funny kind of apartheid operated.

POM     Were you in London at that time, in and out of London? When you say ANC members in London were terrified – ?

PT     Yes, I'm talking about the mid 1980s onward to the early 1990s. I came back here from Dublin in August 1983 and began to make contact with South African friends whom I'd been in prison with roughly from, let me try and think, 1985/1986, roughly the time when Denis Goldberg was released. I very shortly afterwards made contact with Norma Kitson who had been part of the SACP underground. Her book Where Sixpence Lives gives some information on her life and on David Kitson's life. When David arrived I saw quite a lot of Norma and David. Norma had quite extensive contacts and so we shared quite a lot of information although my political orientation was not the same as hers. You know she had been responsible for a number of campaigns culminating in the non-stop picket for release of Mandela and all political prisoners in Trafalgar Square but she was ordered to disband her campaign, was expelled from the Communist Party and suspended from the ANC.

POM     For?

PT     Because she refused to suspend her method of protest.

POM     And her method of protest was that she was running a non-stop campaign for the release of political prisoners?

PT     Yes, yes. The thing is, her campaign centred on South Africa House in Trafalgar Square, it involved the possibility of the occasional scuffle with the police and therefore a possible arrest. The whole strategy of the SACP was to keep in the good books of all the British institutions. In my view there was no more successful Popular Front in history than the Anti-Apartheid Movement which was run by the SACP basically. So what they did not want were scuffles on the street because they had all the contacts they needed in parliament, the judiciary, the universities, the press, television and schools, and Norma's method of campaigning threatened to upset that. Norma began her method of campaigning when David was in very serious bad health in a new prison built as part of Pretoria Local for the white male political prisoners, he was held underground, they were all held underground. His health went to pot and Norma helped to save his life by this on-the-street campaigning. Then when her son was arrested in SA going to see David of course she continued this. Her sister was murdered in her flat and David and Norma's son Stephen had stayed with her sister. Norma continued. Norma was a very determined kind of person. Along the line Norma was ordered to stop.

POM     Did she tell you this?

PT     Yes and it's in her book and I published it in my obituary of Norma in The Independent when she died a couple of years ago, 2002. R W Johnson, Bill Johnson, goes through this because he also knew them well. Bill Johnson goes through this in an article in Business Day from about a year and a half ago or two years ago. When David was finally released he was ordered to denounce Norma. Really. I know, exactly. Yes. I can give you his phone number, you can chat with him about it. It was as manic as that.

     In the camps, to have a word out of place could be the end of your life. So the ANC operated a Stalinist apparatus of suppression abroad and Mac is guilty of collusion with that. Now he was not an active administrator of the Security Department but he and Joe Slovo and all the other leaders of uMkhonto in exile, such as Ronnie Kasrils, they all knew about it.

POM     They knew about the camps?

PT     They knew about the camps. If I can give you another piece of information about the way the Stalinist system operated abroad; leaders of the mutiny were arrested after its different phases in 1984. They were tortured in Luanda State Prison, then run by Cubans, by ANC Security Department personnel. They were then sent off to Quatro, a number of them were murdered in Quatro, they were very heavily brutalised there. However, the whole structure fell apart with the downfall of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall. That is what put an end to apartheid and that is what put an end to uMkhonto's presence in Angola. The Crocker Accords required the removal not only of Cuban troops but of the ANC troops from Angola. When the ANC had to remove its troops they had to disband their prison camps. The prisoners were then transported through Zambia to Tanzania where they were told by Alfred Nzo that they were free to take part in political life among the exiles.

     Now they found the political structures, I'm talking about 1989 here, they found the exile structures moribund in the camps at –

POM     Solomon –

PT     Yes, the Solomon Mahlangu Centre at Mazimbu and at Dakawa. Now I've got a particular knowledge about what happened at Dakawa Development Centre and all of this I've documented in Searchlight. What then happened in September 1989 is that elections were held for a number of representative structures in Tanzania of ANC exiles. Tanzania had the greatest number of ANC exiles anywhere at that time. Elections were to take place for the Zonal Youth Committee and for the Regional Political Committee. The RPC was the highest directly elected body of the ANC anywhere, and fair and democratic elections did take place supervised by top level ANC people. What happened was that the exiles elected mutineers who had just been released from the Gulag, to those bodies, including the chairman of the RCP. This was a man who had been a Commander of uMkhonto in Angola at the time of the mutiny, who had not taken part in the mutiny, who helped to disarm the mutineers when they were surrounded by the Angolan Presidential Guard in February 1984 at Viana Camp just outside Luanda, but he had been elected to the Committee of Ten, elected by the mutineers. As a result he was tortured, went into Quatro. Now this man was elected chairman of all ANC exiles in Tanzania, the biggest body of ANC exiles anywhere.

POM     Is he still alive?

PT     Yes, he's in SA, he's an engineer. He qualified in engineering in London in the 1990s before returning to SA and he was the first black engineer at a power station on the Vaal River and I think he now has a Masters in engineering.

POM     Do you know any way I could go about getting hold of him?

PT     Yes, I've got his phone number.

POM     I'd appreciate that.

PT     OK I'll give it to you. He was one of several younger members who resigned from the Security Department in Lusaka in 1980 on the grounds that the Security Department was infiltrated by the SA state which had compromised a number of military operations going into the country. He also resigned in opposition to corruption in the ANC leadership and oppressive behaviour on the part of the Security Department. For this he was stripped of his rank, placed as an ordinary other rank in one of the uMkhonto battalions. I think there were only two battalions of MK troops at that time; June 16th and Moncada. There might have been three, I'm not sure if there wasn't a Luthuli one. He was elected as spokesperson of his own detachment to make representations to the ANC leadership in Lusaka for which he was sent to Angola. There he rose from the ranks to be Commander of the Luanda region, took part in discussions of the High Command, probably with Mac, certainly with Joe Slovo, certainly with Tambo, before the mutiny took place. He warned them about disaffection.2

     Now I'm getting back to what happened in 1989, this man was then elected to the chairmanship of the Regional Political Committee of all the ANC exiles in Tanzania. When the ANC National Executive Committee heard about this in Lusaka they immediately ordered the annulment of the election. The people who had been elected held on as long as possible until in December 1989, (we're talking just a month or two before Mandela was released) two people were sent from Lusaka to Tanzania with instructions to forcibly dissolve the committees that had been democratically elected. The two individuals were Chris Hani and another member of the NEC, Stanley Mabizela whom I had known in 1960/1961 when he was at Fort Hare.

POM     I met Stanley, he was the first person I met in New York, believe it or not. Sorry, in Washington. But Paul, can we hold on there and we will continue because somebody is actually waiting to pick me up, I said I'd be about an hour and they're picking me up to go to dinner.

PT     That's fine, Padraig, it's a very big complicated thing.

POM     I have the time but do you have an e-mail address? No?

PT     I'm in a mess about that. I did have an e-mail address on my daughter's computer. My son's come back from university and things have got switched around so for the time being I don't.

POM     If you have this man's telephone number? Or why don't you ring him first and tell him that he will get a call from me, that I would like to talk to him. Let's go about it that way.

PT     Now as a first step towards that, have you got access to Searchlight South Africa No. 5?

POM     I think I may.

PT     July 1990. It's all in there.

POM     OK. Let me do that and let me have Leanne ring you and we'll set up a second session.

PT     Fine.

POM     Lovely. Listen, thank you for taking the time.

PT     The scope of this book is enormous because the thread of Mac is, so to speak, of an honest Stalinist who was not part of the security apparatus but knew about it and condoned it. It leads out in all directions.

POM     I'm getting there. I will talk to you again. Thank you. Bye bye now.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.