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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Cable 1

U.S.A. CABLE 1

DEPARTMENT OF STATE

AFRICAN AFFAIRS

C O N F I D E N T I A L  PRETORIA   12:25

PARIS FOR FENDRICK

SUBJECT:  ANC DENIES CONSPIRACY BUT EVIDENCE MOUNTS

REFS: A. PRETORIA  12057    B,  PRETORIA 11852  C. PRETORIA 31859

1.     C. ENTIRE TEXT

2.     SUMMARY     Mac Maharaj, one of the ANC's top communist officials, was arrested in Johannesburg July 23.  Police believe he is a key figure in the ANC's armed underground network code-named "Vula".  Although the ANC's National Executive has dismissed "with contempt the hysteria, fuelled by press reports" of a communist insurrectionary plot, there is growing evidence that a communist-dominated ANC underground was at work in South Africa preparing for a possible seizure of state power.  It is unlikely that Mandela was fully briefed on "Vula" activity.  Mandela and De Klerk will meet later today, July 26, reportedly to discuss this security problem.   End Summary.

CONFESSIONS OF UNDERGROUND LEADER

3.     SACP Politburo and ANC National Executive member Mac Maharaj was detained July 25 in Johannesburg under Section 29 of the Internal Security Act.  Maharaj is the highest ranking of the 40-plus ANC officials and operatives detained in the current police action against the ANC underground command structure code-named "Vula".  According to an embassy press source who several days ago predicted Maharaj's arrest, MK military intelligence chief Ronnie Kasrils, another senior communist figure, will also be arrested soon.

4.     Our source interviewed Maharaj July 23 shortly before he was arrested.  Maharaj, according to our source, knew that the Policy were aware of his leading role in "Vula" but doubted that they would arrest him.  He revealed that he had spent much of the last three years inside South Africa – not in Lusaka as ANC-watchers including the SAP had believed.  Kasrils, too according to our source, has been in and out of South Africa repeatedly.

5.     Our source was astonished that Maharaj admitted off-the-record that:

-     he had indeed been busy caching arms inside South Africa, as police allege;

-     one of the contingency plans of  "Vula" for triggering a "national insurrection" called for the assassination of Nelson Mandela;

-     The ANC National Executive Committee in Lusaka, which three years ago authorized creation of an underground command structure in South Africa, had only hazy knowledge of the actual structure and operations of "Vula"

MANDELA BLAMES THE PRESS

6.     At a press conference July 25, Mandela repudiated reports of an underground conspiracy as mere press speculation:  "When the press talk about a communist plot, where do they get this information.   We know of no such plot.  All this talk of a plot comes from the press and nobody else."

7.     Mandela also noted that MK members had deployed inside SouthAfrica prior to the Groote Schuur Accords of May 4 and were "still operating according to old instructions".  The ANC, he said, was still unable to reach all its cadres to inform them of the Groote Schuur commitment by both the SAG and ANC to peaceful negotiations.

8.     Mandela also blamed the press for "taking out of context" recent remarks by the Chief of Staff Chris Hani.  According to press reports, Hani warned that the ANC was prepared to "seize power" if the SAG failed to negotiate a transfer of power.  Mandela insisted that a return to the armed struggle would have to remain an ANC option.

9.     Journalists in attendance reported to us that Mandela's explanations "strained credulity" and raised new concerns about his knowledge of ANC control over militant tendencies within the ANC.

MANDELA AND DE KLERK TO MEET

10.     Mandela and De Klerk are scheduled to meet this afternoon, July 25, and the State President's office has said a statement will be issued after the meeting.  There is speculation that De Klerk may present Mandela with evidence of "Vula" consideration of plans to assassinate him.

COMMENT

11.     Despite Mandela's disclaimers, the available evidence (mainly police leads to selected media) shows that an ANC underground structure is operating in South Africa, that it is dominated by communist party members and that it is well-armed and well-organized.   It is also computerized.  Police claim that they have 4600 pages of documentation from the Vula computer system, containing information on membership, code names, foreign support, finances, etc.

12.     What is still unclear at this point is the overall objective of the underground organization.  Press  reports, citing official police sources, say the aim was "to seize power in the event of the failure of negotiations" – how the ANC underground would accomplish this against Vastly superior SAG forces is unclear.  Perhaps a better hypothesis is that "Vula" would come into play at a later stage – to seize power not from the current government but from a weaker successor regime.

13.     While the "Vula" episode constitutes a tough test of Mandela's authority over the ANC, it also raises some questions concerning SAG motives.  Police has been quick to label the underground structure "communist" and to imply that ANC leaders were being manipulated  by their SACP allies.  Foreign Minister "Pik" Botha seized the opportunity to call for pressure on the ANC to distance itself from the SACP (ref. C1 – the timing of police revelations – in the weeks before the SACP launches itself publicly at a mass rally in Soweto July 29 – also appears suspect.  Thus far, however, Mandela and the ANC leadership stiffly deny they are alarmed by "Vula" operations, or that they see it as a source of tension within the ANC/SACP alliance.

14.     The good news is that both the ANC and SAG have insisted that the police sweep against  the "Vula" network must not interfere with formal talks now scheduled for August 5.  Both sides insist that they look forward to substantial progress in those discussions                   .  If such progress includes a public ANC decision to suspend violence, the significance of the current revelations could recede considerably.

End comment.

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.