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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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.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 Oct 2005: Pillay, Ivan

POM     Ivan, I had asked you, I'd said that there are a number of references to Bulelani Ngcuka in the communications that would have crossed your desk on the way to OR. Are you aware, do you have a recollection of those communications?

IP     Yes I do.

POM     Do you have a recollection that at that point in time in 1988/89 that Oliver Tambo, to whom these communications were going, knew that ANC intelligence had concluded that Bulelani Ngcuka probably was a spy?

IP     Yes. I was not privy to the structures where -

POM     - where they reflected that. So it would have been your understanding that at that time OR concurred with the information coming to him which was that Bulelani probably was RS452.

IP     Yes.

POM     That's one. Two, the funding of Vula, I want to take just a couple of minutes to talk about that. How was Vula funded?

IP     Well the funding generally came from the ANC.

POM     So that meant it would have gone from the Treasurer General's office to - ?

IP     It usually went from the Treasurer General's office and for that money that was going to go into it directly, the money would be picked up from London. People in South Africa trying to get that sort of money into South Africa so some arrangement would be made such that –

POM     It was the foreign currency from Lusaka, from your accounts, would send money to London to deposit the equivalent of money with the underground here.

IP     That's right.

POM     Now since Vula was known only to the select group and the Treasurer General's office wasn't in the loop, how did that work?

IP     Well I'm not sure of the exact details of that as to the Treasurer General in London. He knew that there was a project.

POM     Who would that have been?

IP     He works for Foreign Affairs, Indian guy. He was, I think, in one of the Scandinavian countries but I can check that. I used to be in touch with –

POM     Money for arms, where did that – how was that dealt with?

IP     In the sense that if arms were needed, if money was needed to buy arms it would have gone through in a similar way. Soviet arms we sent in directly.

POM     You would be saving in money, were large sums of money going in? Was there a difference between money going in say for ANC intelligence that would be underground activities over here, say Zuma's department so to speak, and money going in for Vula?

IP     Yes there was a difference.

POM     That was handled separately?

IP     That was handled separately.

POM     Your man in London only handled Vula, or did he handle - ?

IP     I think it would have been handled separately … sources of the money and to account, it is possible that they could have combined the means of getting the money into the country.

POM     That money going in for – since Mac also had a mandate from the Politburo to operate on its behalf, so would the SACP be sending in money separately from ANC money from its accounts?

IP     Yes. So again the source of the money there might be separate but the same channels would have been used to get the money through and it would have been accounted for separately.

POM     That would be to the Politburo of the SACP.

IP     Yes. And I was involved, I was in the secretariat of the party and I was co-ordinating.

POM     If you were reporting to the party that meant that you were reporting to the Politburo which included Thabo?

IP     That's right

POM     Which included – ?

IP     JS, Zuma.

POM     They didn't know what was for Vula, they only knew it was for underground activities in South Africa. Is there any reason to believe that Thabo at any time, or any member of the Politburo would have known – they wouldn't because JS has never (told them). That Mac goes in, they didn't know, they thought he was in Moscow, they didn't know he was going into South Africa for a special project, they did not know who …

IP     No they wouldn't know who. They would have known there was a project and we reported.

POM     To London and it came back to Lusaka?

IP     Yes.

POM     That's right.

IP     There was a meeting with the Politburo.

POM     Of 1989. Was Thabo at that meeting?

IP     I think he was.

POM     OK. When he (Mac) was in London, what I get from him is that he went to Lusaka, one was the occasion he says he went there because OR wanted him to go to talk to the meeting of the NEC where Madiba's letter to the President was going to be discussed and he wanted Mac there for some reason. That's why he went to Lusaka.

IP     Yes. But it was also to –

POM     He's in Moscow with you, OR and JS.

IP     Yes.

POM     And then he goes to London to meet Zarina and Zarina says I'm not going back to Lusaka, I'm going to relocate here. Then he goes to Lusaka for a meeting of the NEC on the 10 October, it was after that because OR had had a stroke on the 10th. So he goes to that meeting because OR had asked him to.

IP     But also then we would have some sort of –

POM     It's determined that he would go back to South Africa. He's there until Christmas, he doesn't start leaving until 3 January. Is he out of the loop?

IP     Yes he would be out of the loop.

POM     But nobody bothered to keep him informed about (a) things are progressing. He's just sitting out there in virtual exile on his own in Brighton. He says Nzo never contacted him even when he went through London, nobody ever contacted him.

IP     In terms of the Vula people?

POM     He's talking about Vula. They pass through London and they never – Nzo came through London and Nzo was like the head of Vula because he took over from OR but he never contacted him.

IP     But Nzo was always a useless chap. One shouldn't put too much –

POM     Was that because things were proceeding on automatic?

IP     I would say things were proceeding on automatic, one, two, we wouldn't want to – by and large the reality is out of sight out of mind and there would have been a wariness of contact. Few people knew what it was about. Unless there was something really urgent to go and discuss, a lot of things were going on because we are now coming to that point where at least he needs to be informed of those things. That's possibly right, in terms of the totality. A lot of things were happening.

POM     On the other hand Mandela was released and they were able to go to Lusaka and De Klerk gets elected President and Botha's gone and the whole picture is shifting.

IP     There's a great deal of fluidity. Yes. So in that sense, yes, I imagine he would want to know because things changed from minute to minute, literally, but I wouldn't say – this was pretty compartmentalised. [… quite distant, I don't know if you remember, I think … on the ball and we were actively –]

POM     Mells Park talks, then going to Zurich.

IP     Yes. So certainly there were some people more ahead of the game than others. I would say a lot of the people would have just seen it as a sort of an escalation, not really understanding that we were on the threshold of a momentous occasion. If you look with hindsight now it's a … that is due to them. But I think the other thing is that OR was no longer in control. Nzo, I mean Nzo was a bit of a joke, and the next person to Nzo was Thomas Nkobi and he neither –

POM     You really had a vacuum of leadership between OR and you really come down to Thabo.

IP     Yes, yes, a vacuum. Certainly you have JS but JS is always going to be an outsider trying to get in.

POM     Why?

IP     In the sense that –

POM     Sorry, Joe, yes, sorry I thought JZ.

IP     Slovo.

POM     He's a white man, OK. Now suddenly his time is up.

IP     The white man.

POM     Things are rapidly changing.

IP     And the General Secretary of the party.

POM     I understand that part. It's the African revolution. Was there any other funding for Vula that came other than by the party, by the ANC itself? Were there any front companies in the US, in Canada, in Britain or whatever through which money was being funnelled, again really laundered to come back into South Africa?

IP     I'm not aware. It might be but I was not aware. I would say other things, that there were some activities that were undertaken which we didn't (know about).

POM     OK, yes.

IP     And those people would have paid for themselves, carried out in kind which other people paid for.

POM     Did you ever regard - Mac makes the distinction that the people in the Western Cape, that's Charles Nqakula and …, that when Chris didn't come in that they never were part of Vula as such? Like Vula, he was slow, he didn't even go down there till the very end and they were never integrated. They were there but they weren't operational in any way in the same way that Vula was operational, they were not importing truck loads of arms and they were not dumping arms around the Western Cape. They were underground waiting for something to happen.

IP     I think Mac is right to make the distinction. The right way to see it is that we had a number of projects to place leadership inside the country. We then kept the technology used separate. So in other words we did not use the advanced, for that time, advanced technology at that stage. Vula was linked to the people in the Western Cape at a very late stage. So, yes, they were run separately.

POM     Zuma, he says he was aware that Mac was in the country.

IP     Well he was not aware from us. He himself was a candidate at one stage.

POM     He says he was ready to go in and he told the same thing – what he said to me was that he said, he was asked to go in and he said OK, I'll get ready in my own way. Did it ever get to that point?

IP     No it never got to that. It's a touchy thing. That's why I always admire Mac. I think people had to make (decisions) at that stage in 1988/89.

POM     You had to be in the Crimea, ill if you want to be the centre of action. Right?

IP     I think the other very real thing when it comes to Zuma, in the ANC we had our own politics around the Zulu issue. … the most senior, Moses Mabida, and sensitivities about having to deal with Inkatha and Zuma played a role in the ANC that's an important one. Somewhere, I can't remember now, in the early eighties there was actually a little rebellion in Angola by those who felt that they had no place there. There was a sensitivity to this. I don't think it would be very easy for OR.

POM     Out of sight at that time when he wanted a visible Zulu to – yes, OK, that makes sense. After OR's stroke - I'm now trying to separate out all those things that are happening, did Vula change in any way? Here you had OR hands on it, it was important to him. Even in July just before he met Mac, a month before he had his stroke he was saying we must push ahead with Vula, I think negotiations are a long way off. This is what he was saying a month before he had his stroke. He was invested in it. That kind of lack of investment results in – lost its prioritisation in the mind of the new Secretary and JS was at that point becoming less – did you have less to do?

IP     Yes.

POM     The volume of communications wasn't coming through the way they were coming through before. Gebhuza wasn't exactly banging away at that machine. How many communications were there in establishing – was the Vula channel used to communicate with Mandela?

IP     There were communications from OR.

POM     That went?

IP     To Madiba via –

POM     I got those I think. There were a small number because it wouldn't have happened after – they were happening in fact in July. Mac had got his act together in getting word to Mandela that he was in the country just about a month before he left to go to - But it most revolved around when Govan got news that Mandela had been – and all of that stuff, in communication. I don't know whether it ever came, it might not have come through Vula, but OR says to Mandela, got through to him and said, "Listen, we", now when he used the word 'we' since he did not take these things to the NEC, he was using the word 'we' "here in Lusaka think you should continue with these talks but we want to know what you are talking about." Was he really saying, "I want to know"?

IP     I think the way it would have worked is that although OR could not go and discuss these things openly –

POM     Over fifteen years, OK. Last thing, and this has just come into my mind now. I did an interview, another interview with Barnard which is embargoed until after Mandela dies. He says quite clearly that when they were talking to Mandela as far as they were concerned they were engaged in negotiations, they weren't engaged in talks about talks or kind of probing things, they were negotiating about the future. "As far as I was concerned we were negotiating." Mandela was always at great pains to tell us, "No, no, I'm not negotiating." Well does that surprise you that the regime … want to set up what kind of South Africa would it be: would it be a communist South Africa? And Mandela was saying no it won't be. Will it be this, will it be that? Looking at broad parameters, not detail. Does that surprise you that the regime thought it was engaged in negotiations, that they had the belief that Mandela could deliver? But they did not want to put him in a position that if they released him it would appear that he would call for an end to the armed struggle, they discussed that, we won't put you in a situation where you have to go out and say end the armed struggle, then you'll be looked at as a stooge.

IP     Yes and no. In the sense that, to be honest and I think I told you this the last time, in which things moved and you just said to me now that when Mac spoke to OR just a few months before they were not expecting things to move so rapidly, that they would be probing Madiba who would regard it in the context of what was then unfolding, taking place, people were moving within the Nationalist Party and position also. We were surprised that somebody like Niel Barnard went further than the others … in which things moved. It surprised me.

POM     In a way, looking back on this and say, you know what happened in the end, it's better for everybody … it was like they were waiting for something to happen and then when something did happen nobody had actually thought about it.

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.