About this site

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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Maharaj, Mac [First Interview]


Conducted by Howard Barrell,

Johannesburg, November 19 1990

This is important stuff, man, this is interesting: You guys have got to write.

Let me see now. Can you put it [the tape recorder] off at the moment.

[break in tape]

But in Nelson's [Mandela's] diary, when he is arrested, there appears an item that he went down to Natal to brief chief Lutuli. And you know that his mission was primarily, 95 percent, from the point of view of MK and prosecution of the armed struggle. What would he be going down to Natal to brief chief Lutuli for?

Armed struggle.

And if chief Lutuli was unhappy? If your thesis of how MK was formed was that presenting MK as autonomous of the ANC could mollify some of the discomfort over the development which they were powerless to stop - begins to fall.

I actually [in Barrell's book, MK: The ANC's Armed Struggle] give two versions there: I then counterpose that with Joe Modise's version.

Joe's is nearer to the truth, up to a point again. JS [Slovo] has gone on record, and I couldn't understand why he did it at the stage where he did it, to insist on injecting the point that he and Nelson were entrusted with the formation of Umkhonto. The problem has been a political one. If you look at that period, you will find that, hardly had the ANC taken the decision on the formation of Umkhonto, Lutuli was granted the Nobel Peace Prize. So, besides the factors you raise there of legality, maintaining the capacity to overtly mobilise and keep visible an active political force, which was the Kotane argument - Kotane's argument was that you could not and you should not do anything which will deprive you of the instruments that enable you to mobilise the people politically; and it's he who came with the idea that, right, he sees the necessity for engaging in armed struggle, but that the way forward was to create MK as an autonomous force under this over-all control of the national liberation movement; it won't jeopardise the legality of the [South African] Indian Congress, the CPC [Coloured People's Organisation/Congress], etc, and the ANC will have to fashion a way to remain in existence in spite of illegality; don't allow the regime to charge an MK combatant, or a person for ANC membership, and be able to deduce in the courts that a person is ipso facto guilty of armed activity. Now, I think that in the debate - this debate took place first in the [SA communist] party. And I think that, historically, under the anti-communist attack, this portion has been suppressed. So, what really happened is that, I think it is in June 1961, the party decides, when it examines the matter on the necessity to begin to prepare for an armed struggle. And it deploys cadres; it sets up squads; they have a trial run; there are no bombs; but a very practical trial run, units get into action; they cut telephone lines, etc; this happens some time in July. In the meantime, the matter is also arising in the ANC and the Congress Alliance. The matter is raised in the ANC national executive meeting, I think in July, and after a very intense debate, it is agreed that there should be such a body, and that we should launch along that path, but not to the exclusion of normal political forms of struggle. Lutuli then does the unusual - usual that the ANC would take a decision and put it before the Congress Alliance - it has the unusual in that, at the Congress Alliance debates, because he believes that the matter is of critical significance, when the Congress Alliance meets, he introduces the matter by saying the ANC national executive committee has met and has taken this decision, and goes on to say this is a matter of tremendous significance, therefore he is allowing free debate, and even members of the NEC of the ANC were free to participate in that debate not bound by those decisions, although the decision is taken, he says, and we are going to go ahead. [It's a] Complicated formula for two reasons: he was bearing in mind that the other constituents were still legal; but, more importantly, he wanted the matter to be really thrashed out. A custom had arisen that the ANC has taken the decision, it will do it. But the debate in the ANC was sharp and quite deep-going, and he wanted the thing debated.

What date are we talking about now?

July 1961. That is where the distortions arise about chief's [Lutuli's] role. Certain comrades who were for engaging in armed activity, for that decision, felt that chief was re-opening the matter in a way in which they were likely to lose the debate. They were not understanding that chief was working for the maximum unity behind that decision. Now, I've argued with Brian [Bunting], and I've said that Brian is distorting history in...

This is Bunting?

Ja. Brian has argued with me that his sourcing of his version that Chief was opposed is interviews with Kotane on Kotane's deathbed. And I've said to him: No, you're wrong, and my source of information is different, and it never concluded, that argument between Brian and myself. It may well be that Moses Kotane, who was very, very conscious not to allow an extra space for our movement to be divided on an anti-communist platform, even on his deathbed, was being very cautious, but, in the process, he did commit a mistake. But, again, Lutuli was dead when Kotane was in hospital in Moscow. It's still possible that the climate was such that he, in his mind, saw the need not to reveal about chief's [Lutuli's] role. But that's the truth. The complication, additional complication was the Nobel Peace Prize. And I know who are the people who drafted that speech of his: Freedom is the Apex. And they drafted that speech with a very careful eye to the knowledge that already we had taken the decision to engage in armed struggle. Lutuli's candidature for the Nobel prize had been made the year before; we could not control those processes; and, sure, we wanted him to be awarded that prize. But, on the other hand, the tradition of sticking to the truth had to be strained somewhat; but that speech was crafted very carefully. And I remember the pamphlet very well; it was called: Freedom is the Apex.

Now, why, then does somebody like [Francis] Meli, who had the kind of access that he had, why does he come out in his book [South Africa Belongs to Us] and say that it was purely a group of individuals within the ANC who decided on armed struggle?

This is connected with another problem.

What's the other problem?

Who was [SA communist] party.

Well, presumably Meli was [SA communist] party.

No, but at the time that MK was formed: who was [SA communist] party.

Well, it seems like most of the MK high command were party.

Was Nelson [Mandela] party?

No, he's not. But, if you take Mhlaba, who are the other guys? - Mhlaba...

Is Walter [Sisulu] party?

It's a good question. You tell me. He describes himself as a "scientific socialist" when he's asked if he's [SA communist] party or not.

Will you switch that off.

[break in tape]


That's too complicated for me [Barrell responding to what has been told him off the record].

Now this is a problem. This is a problem. And, when I discussed it with them in prison, they came to me on their own, and the one said: If I die, whatever the repercussions, then reveal it. The other states his position that, in view of the positions he has taken in court, which was a collection decision, then began to bend it in his autobiography, to say he believes in the philosophy of dialectical materialism. But now, again, of course, there are problems there. So, you must be very, very careful with that. But I am telling you this because I want you to understand this. Because you won't be able to unravel things. You don't reveal it. But it will helps you to understand the complexities of the problem.

Ja, sure.

And you realise that Francis Meli's sources hardly touched the generation or the people in that generation who were involved. Francis Meli had left the country a student. When he studied abroad, grew up outside, in the post-Rivonia party, and that's it. And that's why both his books are shoddy, tremendously shoddy.

I think they are very shoddy. I was asked to review one, and I just refused. And I saw him, and he said: What do you think? And I said: I thought it was terrible, thought it was dishonest.

However, the party had created these units and, when the ANC agreed to the formation of Umkhonto, its decision entrusted the task to Nelson [Mandela].

So now who makes that decision?

The national executive.

With a quorum?

Full national executive.

When is that decision taken?

July 196 [1].

And when Lodge says it was taken on the basis that, well, Nelson can go ahead and do it, or Nelson and others can go ahead and do it but we are not committing the ANC, that's absolute crap then?

That's a formula.

What is it a formula - is it the formulation of the meeting, or is it a formula invented after the fact?

It's a formula not to get the ANC smashed over that decision, to protect the rest of the constituents of the alliance. And he's given these tasks.

So it is a purely tactical concession then?


Can I be clear on this?


It's purely tactical? It reflects no doubt in the minds of the NEC that they should go for armed struggle?

Ja, no, not at all. That's where the Lodge's go wrong.



Well, this is a huge advance then.


In history.

Ja. And I've been saying to OR that, starting on the question of Luthuli, in 1977, I said: Correct the record now, because Gatsha [Buthelezi] is claiming Lutuli was a pacifist. And I said: nonsense. And we better correct it right now. But we never had the time, in the middle of the work, to sit down and look at this problem and say: what must we correct now? Because what we have presented was not to mislead the masses, but simply to get round the fact that we were dealing with a state that was already on the path of, cycles, spirals of repression. And we wanted to protect, and give, ourselves as much space. So that's the truth. That's why the Modise version comes nearer to the truth. But where JS [Slovo] the enters the picture...

[requested break in tape]

OK, we had a break in the tape.

And, of course, what Nelson says he did, was the first thing that he did from the record point of view was to contact the [SA communist] party, saying, You've got squads; can we sit down and talk about how we get about this problem. And the party readily agreed. The two merge their squads into the formation of MK. They agreed they could not be two separate structures.

Now the party takes a decision, as I understand it, in about October, or is it December, of 1960, to set up its...


Of 1960?

MK is 1961?


June 1961.

Are you sure it is that late?

Ja. June 1961 is [SA communist] party. July 1961 is ANC.

Because I have an interview in which a guy who was at that party congress, underground party congress, called just after the Sharpeville Emergency, about two months or so - the Emergency was lifted in August 1960 - and then there's a party congress either in October or, I think it's December in fact, there's an underground party congress, and it's held here near Zoo Lake, I think it's in the First's house, Julius First's house, certainly it's near Zoo Lake. And this guy told me in an interview that, at that party conference, congress, Rusty Bernstein stood up and, on behalf of the leadership, read out a note which contained the resolution saying that the party has resolved, the party leadership has resolved to form, I think the formulation is, "an armed force". And having read that out, he then, strikes a much, burns that piece of paper in front of everybody [laughter], it falls to the floor and then is crumpled into a powder. This is not correct?

No. I am in training already in 1961 when the decision is taken, and I am training in another field when the decision is taken, and it is conveyed to me while I'm training...

You're abroad, are you?

And then I change my training. That's 1961.

So when did you leave for abroad for the beginning of your training?

April, end of March, probably April 2 1961.

!960 or 61?

1961. There's debate going on, yes. I mean in the State of Emergency, there is the decision to publicise the existence of the party...

That I know about.

That leaflet. But when that decision is conveyed to the bulk of the central committee who are in State of Emergency detention, they are unhappy with that decision. But it's happened - the leaflet is out. And the decision is taken to publish, no 1959, to bring out the AC ["African Communist"]. That's 1959 - first edition, second edition, simply describes itself as "produced by African communists". It doesn't identify itself as South African. It's the third edition that identifies it as South African; that's because the decision - already a leaflet has come out saying that we are in existence. Now, there has been a debate going on from 1957 about how do we respond to the repression. And there was a group, which would have had [SA communist] party and ANC people, that started in the Eastern Cape and went through Natal and went to the Transvaal, which already resorted to all sorts of rudimentary forms of Molotov Cocktails. They ended up in MK. But that was not official from either side. OK, then you tackle the question of - of course, it doesn't fall within your thesis, but I think that Joe [Modise] has a tendency to dramatise these things. Memories begin to change, and everything goes in dramatic form, and Joe's selection really was [on the basis that] he was an ex-Sophiatown tsotsi.

You mean Modise?

Modise. He went into transport, conveying people out to go for training, and then he went out. Now, Nelson is first commander in chief. Your second one is Mhlaba. Mhlaba is training when you allege that he has become the second commander.

Isn't he back by then?


[Laughter] I've really fucked it up, haven't I?

Mhlaba's training commences in September 1962.

And Nelson is picked up in August 1962.

August 1962. But the decisions and the arrangements for the six who trained in China has been taken, and I won't be surprised if Mhlaba is already on his way, or out of the country on his way to China when Nelson is picked up. Mhlaba returns - September-October-November-December-January - February.

Of 1963?

Of 1963.

And he then takes over?

No. He's earmarked. The next commander is Walter Sisulu as a stopgap - on the basis that, when Mhlaba's group comes back, Mhlaba will take over. It is agreed that he will take over, but he is told to go on a mission to Algeria first. So he leaves on the mission to Algeria, March; he then returns and he is at Rivonia now, taking over as commander when the bust comes.

I see.

So he hardly took, he hardly occupied the position. He had to lead that mission to Algeria as a follow-up to the Nelson [Mandela] visit, to tie ends up. But Walter was appointed the stop gap.

So would he then have been acting?

Ja, acting commander in chief.

And then when Mhlaba is taking over the reins, he is taking over the reins as commander in chief, not as acting commander in chief?

Mmm [Yes]. And then Rivonia.

And then Rivonia. And then Wilton Mkwayi takes over, and he is working with you and others?

Now, there too, I think, that you've got a bit of a problem. Andrew Mlangeni is not in the original high command. He is part of the group that went for training with Raymond Mhlaba.

That's a JS [Slovo] sourcing.


Who's in the high command is a JS statement, published in that "Dawn" Anniversary Edition. Have you seen that "Dawn" anniversary edition? I must make you a photocopy of it.

But Mlangeni, as I understand it, trained in China and, on his return, was appointed transport officer. Modise is transport officer; Mlangeni comes in, takes over that position; and by now it is elevated to a position in the high command; and Modise is sent out for training. JS [Slovo] has got a problem here. The chaps who trained in China are Raymond Mhlaba, Wilton Mkwayi, Andrew Mlangeni, Patrick Mthembu, Nantha [spelling?] Naidoo, and the sixth one is...?

Joe Gqabi.

Joe Gqabi. Now, these chaps went out on the basis that, when they have trained, they are likely all of them to be put in the high command. This is the first group, as a group, that's training. Before that, really, I don't think they spoke of a high command. It would be interesting to ask Walter [Sisulu] what did they call themselves. Anyway, for sure, they started their training in September 1962, [correction] September 1961. They are not here when MK acts. That's why I am saying: JS [Slovo] is wrong. The decision is taken in July, Madiba starts setting up MK, and one of the first acts that he undertakes is to say: These five must go out for training. On the basis that [he] who belongs to the high command must be trained. He himself is going to go out at some stage. But these five, joined by Nantha [Naidoo] from abroad go off.


Naidoo - go off for training.

How do I spell Nantha?

N-A - well, he was called Steve Naidoo at that time.

Where's he now? Is he around?

He was not earmarked for a high command position. He trained in radio communications.

Has he emerged again?

No, he became - he was arrested, detained with us, got away in his court case for lack of corroborative evidence, went out and became disgruntled and vanished. He was a friend of mine. So, the formation starts in July. The guys have got to be in China to commence their training in September. They've only got August to travel out illegally, and the route to China in those years...

[laughter] Was a slow boat...

You had to head for places like UK and then move to China. So, it speaks for itself that they could not be in the high command at that stage. But Ray could be, because he is central committee [of the SA communist party] at that time...


Mhlaba. He's already central committee. He's already in the squads. Anyway, that's that part.

And then does Wilton [Mkwayi] take over when...?

Wilton's problem is it's not really a high command. We eventually called it for technical reasons ad hoc high command. And that was that we needed some continuity; we needed something of an authoritative nature. The leadership, the majority of the leadership that survived was outside; we therefore had to act in an ad hoc capacity, taking it upon ourselves to do the regrouping, with the clear understanding that the leadership was now outside, and it would decide which way to go. We were clear we would go on, but we were very conscious that this does not force the movement to rubber stamp the decisions taken.

Now who was actually on that ad hoc high command? OK, it's Mkwayi - were you on it? Laloo Chiba? Who was actually on it?

I was invited to join the high command...

Because the way I formulate it there [in book, MK: The ANC's Armed Struggle] I talk about "high command structures" - I'm trying to...

Well, that part is a little complicated too. It's complicated because of the role of the [SA communist] party. Because what was left at that stage - who constituted the ginger group that had the commitment not to panic and to see the need to regroup and to push through the task of regrouping? The party was a cohesive force. So it does this. My own position - now the people that it draws in...

Can you just hold on a moment?


[End of side A]

[You were saying] It's a bit confusing because of the role of the [SA communist] party.

Now, again, we are back to the problem that Nelson had: untrained people. Mkwayi is trained. Laloo Chiba has carried out actions with inside training and he's in the regional command, has been detained already and released, but he has proven himself on the field. Kitson and John Matthews - Kitson was education officer of the [SA communist] party. John Matthews was working in the technical subcommittee of MK, good with his hands and drawn in. Kitson is drawn in as commissar initially, [since] he has come from the education office. Now, when I'd come in originally I had been interviewed by two comrades - I was [SA communist] party member, I had done this training - and I was interviewed by one who was specialising in party work and one who was in the MK high command.

Can you say who they were?

Off the record, for your purposes, Rusty [Bernstein] and Joe [Slovo]. [On the record:] Now, both wanted me - I had done a course in sabotage, but Rusty wanted - originally I had gone for Rusty, I was training for work in the central committee, and Rusty wanted me. Now, it was agreed I would work for the [Sa communist] party. When Rivonia takes place, I am at Rivonia doing other technical work, but Wilton is in trouble, and by sheer accident, he discovers, because of practical problems that he faced, that I had trained. And he got into trouble fixing up weapons and all that, and I started fixing it up for him. Then he asks for my background. We know each other for a while, for quite a while, he knew that I had trained but didn't know what I had trained as, because I had gone off in April 1961. So, and the late Ruth First knew my background, and, in the regrouping, she met me just before she left, and she said: How do I feel? And I said, I appreciate and I've accepted all this while my deployment for pure party work, but of course I had trained, and I felt I should be giving my energies even in that field, in the light of the crisis. I believe she raised the matter, but the MK was running into trouble at two levels: technical skills in the high command; and a commissar. So I was actually approached to join the high command in the capacity of commissar.

Now which high command are we talking about?

The ad hoc, post Rivonia. I turned it down with the formula, and that was that, although I had trained, I hadn't yet worked in any sabotage squad. And I felt, as a matter of principle, that nobody should occupy the position of commissar who hadn't seen field work. And I therefore asked - and when Wilton insisted, I said that I needed six months of squad work. So we came to this agreement, which Wilton began to bend in practice. The agreement was that I would do six months in the squads and then - it was my insistence; Wilton's position was, You're going to be the commissar, so you had better start doing the job. And, in practice, it wasn't commissar's work; it was fucking technical work in addition to being in the squad. Now I became a bomb manufacturer. Right. Because there was nobody to manufacture the bombs. So I started manufacturing bombs. Then there was nobody to do the radio; then I went on the radio transmission. Then there was nobody to repair weapons that we were buying; so I began to repair weapons.

And there [laughter] was nobody to sell the samoosas, so you had to sell the samoosas as well!

[Laughter] Selling fucking samoosas, as well. This fucking line! So, for the record to be straight, although they charged me with that, I was not in the ad hoc high command - I had not yet taken up my post in the ad hoc high command. So the ad hoc high command was Wilton Mkwayi, Laloo Chiba, Dave Kitson, John Matthews - I think these five can be described as the ad hoc high command at that stage. So there was another reason for ad hoc. No, it was Wilton Mkwayi, John Matthews, Laloo Chiba, Dave Kitson. Oh, oh, there is a fifth. There is a fifth. No, we never talk about him, because he never served. It had been agreed, but he hadn't served yet in the high command. And there was controversy about his role. It was more a selection based on facilitating where meetings could take place of the high command than the fact that he would be a good soldier. Of course, I think that they had evidence, if I remember correctly, that on a one-to-one basis, Wilton and I worked very closely on MK, on most problems. But I refused to be drawn into the high command - this is the only way; to me it's a matter of principle that anybody who goes into the high command must have first done squad work. I think there were undertones of, there were undertones in my mind and in my stand of a criticism of the previous efforts and, more importantly, of a criticism of Kitson. I knew he was, I felt he was unsuitable material - I knew him from England, I got to know him in 1957-58. And I knew that, and already the reason they wanted me, why Wilton wanted me was that Dave [Kitson] was not doing the job of a commissar. His conception of a commissar was somebody who sat somewhere and wrote lectures on politics. He didn't really get to grips with the problem that you had to relate to units and platoons. And I was unhappy with that, and plus I had a feeling that when I, the first time I saw Dave [Kitson] again inside the country, I said to myself: This fucking chap is having a soft life. That was when he was not yet in MK high command; he was in MK technical, helping in the technical and in [SA communist] party education.

How did you guys continue to justify this clear separation, this clear specialisation of MK. You were two years on, I'm talking about now before Rivonia, and Nelson [Mandela] has been picked up, you chaps are still sticking with this perspective that MK must be run as a separate specialist unit or section?

Ja, we had run into problems already on that question. The formula had been there in the manifesto. Nelson went abroad on this African tour. And, when he gets to Addis Ababa, he meets OR [Tambo] and Robbie Resha, and he's due to address the PAFMECSA conference; the position inside is clear that MK is autonomous. But Robbie Resha is the first one to take up the issue of Nelson's address to PAFMECSA, and he is insistent that we would make no headway in Africa unless and until the ANC claims that MK is the military wing. OK, the upshot of that debate is that Nelson then makes a speech and claims that MK is the military wing. This opens the courts' doors to charging ANC membership and, ipso facto, second count: armed struggle. This happened in the Eastern Cape. Here in the Transvaal, we managed, and other provinces, we managed to fight the point in the courts and prevent them from drawing the conclusion that therefore you are guilty of armed struggle and organising violence. However, the separation is maintained in practice because we felt that Nelson had made this statement, which he had explained under the pressures of external reasons. But we maintained the separation because of our view - the Kotane line - don't strip the political organisations and don't paralyse them. In practice, we paralysed them.

Why? And how?

They took everybody who was the best in each of their fields. It was one thing to do a job, full-time for a capitalist employer. Such a job stops when you clock out. But, if you were a Sactu organiser or an ANC functionary, your job didn't stop at five. So, to think that you are a full-time worker in a factory, you had time in the evening to do your MK work. It was a delusion when you transferred it to the key activists in the trade unions and the political movement. They had no time.

Now, who was in charge of political organisation in this period? For ensuring there was a continuing organisation and mobilisation of the people?

On the ANC level, it had collapsed. Because the blows that we had received at Rivonia left us with no person who was there at the formation of Umkhonto.

But I am talking about even before Rivonia?

Before Rivonia, Walter [Sisulu] was in the secretariat of the ANC, in the leadership of the ANC. There was a viable secretariate working to inter-relations purposes. Nelson was on the secretariat. But the secretariat - and Walter, it's that reason why Walter is only seconded as an acting commander.

Because his main task...

Was still political. Walter was political.

But Walter has to go underground - he goes underground in about May of 1963...

Duma [Nokwe] is also around.

Duma Nokwe?


So, how is it then that - OK I can understand Walter gets - after Mandela's detention or arrest in August 1962 - he becomes acting MK commander in chief...

On the basis that Ray [Mhlaba] is coming back.

So this detracts from his ability to give energy to political work...

Not really.

Not really?


So then, how do we explain properly the failure of the political side to keep its end up? These are difficult conditions, I understand that.

The political side doesn't keep its end up because, although Kotane warned of this problem and it was discussed at that level, their practice was different. And why was the practice different in those years? The practice was different for several reasons. First of all, here we were experiencing repression of an un-- it was beyond our experience - the ANC was banned. It needed sitting back to look at what other overt structures you could create to maintain. Nelson [Mandela] had tried through the National Action Council. But Nelson's thrust for the National Action Council was not only a forum for the ANC to act; but a forum to unify all the forces. It tried to bring in the PAC, Liberal Party, etc. It didn't work. In the end, the National Action Council was ANC. Because the PAC pulled out, the Labour Party repudiated its man that was...

You mean the Liberal Party?

The Liberal Party. So effectively, it became us once more. The Transkei is coming up. The Lobatse conference receives reports from comrades who are field organisers, and they insist that there must be a boycott of the Transkei elections for their self-governing status. Having taken the decision to boycott, in the midst of that repression coming out of the Pondo Revolt, we did no work. Of course the majority of the people boycotted. But we did not work. I think that that decision was wrong.

Why did you do no work?

Had we not boycotted it, we would have been forced to undertake political work. The boycott gave us an easy option, combined with the mood that the work to do, the in-thing was to go into MK. So, Walter [Sisulu] may be sitting there in Johannesburg, recognising the need for political work. But, on the ground, none of us were prepared to do political work. We were young people, and we wanted army work. And to us that was the thing. So, whatever Walter said form the top was undercut. But, had we said, Put up candidates, Fight the elections - something that headquarters can look [sic], can measure. All other forms of action - boycott, non-cooperation - you couldn't measure what we were doing. So we could just devote our attention to MK. It's not the leadership that's at fault in this instance; it's the membership that's at fault; we're at fault - the young guys, because we didn't want to do anything more. We had been agitating for too long to shift from non-violence to violence and, so, when it came, we all wanted [to be involved].

If you look back now, with the benefit of hindsight but you continue to situate yourself within the potentialities of that time - you've mentioned the example of the Transkei - but what could the movement, or should the movement have done, in order to ensure that political work was undertaken comprehensively?

I think at the level of the bilateral structure, at the secretariat levels, there should have been an insistence that, if you were going, if the high command was going to take people from the leadership layer of mass formations, it needed to be done by agreement of the secretariat. And that the standard the secretariat would use is that, if you could prove your case why you needed Billy Nair, you must be clear that this does not mean that you can also take Howard Barrell from the regional Sactu leadership. But all of us wanted to get into it. And it would have been very hard for headquarters to stop us.

And how close was the communication between the secretariat and, say, the MK high command? What would have been the channel?

Very close. Very close. they were virtually living in the same hideout. There was no problem because daily--. But the cadres that were coming were saying, the provinces, the regions, be it a courier or a member of the region coming over for some discussion, they were all wanting discussions on this question of political work. And we'd just listen and say: Ja, ja, ja, and fuck-off, and go and do it.

Now, what would have been the influences feeding into this kind of, let's call it a quasi-militarism? Certainly, the violence, the ruthlessness of apartheid is enough to stimulate anybody to see an armed response as being the most critical form of response. But what were the outside influences at the time? Or what were the other influences?

Well, look at it the other way. Nelson's departure deprived us of a very important influence.

You mean his arrest, we are talking about now?

Ja. Nelson has been accused of being nationalistic in his thinking. In a sense, they are right when they say that. Nelson had no problem about JS [Slovo]. But the John Matthews's were a technical subcommittee. Nelson was very forceful that the African component should be the majority component. When Nelson goes, this consciousness at the practical level begins to diminish. Because, of course, you are casting around: Who's available? Who's got the skills? And who seems to have the potential? so John Matthews, who can make bombs and use a lathe, goes into the high command. We don't stop to ask ourselves: Why shouldn't Bartholomew Hlapane go into it. And, of course, because whites have a technical base in their education, and often had served in the army in World War Two, even if they were truck drivers, they came with some sense of organised discipline and structured activity. This was all new to all of us. And so they are drawn into the high command. In its own way, it has an effect, I think. Because MK's views are coming through in a way that the filters that they have got to pass through to reach the NEC or the central committee are such that they give you a distorted picture. But then that doesn't exonerate the leadership. The leadership is also thinking that way. I know that when I got back into the country, I was told: Don't worry; in six months time we are taking over. I told the guys, I said: What do you mean? He says: Well, in six months time, we're in the bush. And I said: Well, if we're in the bush, it's going to be a long war. They said: No, in a matter of weeks, it will be over. Because we had no experience of warfare. So we didn't know what we were talking about. I am making this distinction at the moment because I think later on, you have to look at the gaps. This question that I asked you purely at the level of personalities and development has a different bearing on the problem. I believe that pre-Rivonia, pre-Nelson's [Mandela's] arrest, we had people with the same weaknesses, strengths etc, ambitions; but they were a cohesive bunch, they were a team, they re-enforced each other. We never managed to resuscitate the team. That's why the individual's weaknesses stand out more than their strengths. I think that the only people to whom you have attributed a sort of strength balance, rather than being overwhelmed by major weaknesses, has been Ronnie [Kasrils] and myself. And I think you have been subjective about that.


You like Ronnie, you like me, so you think that we did no wrong.

No, I think you did lots wrong.

Well, I think that Ronnie's [Kasrils'] positions have been disastrous.

Well, I would be very interested to hear those.

Because I think in Ronnie's practice, even when we got into the country [in the course of Operation Vula], the same thing happened. He was rushing for immediate combat groups. And I was saying: Watch it; we are going to get hooked; it's not our task at the moment to rush; it's easy to pick up six guys who want to fight in KwaMashu, and then to rush them through a week's talk and then give them an AK; and I said, But that's not the problem we are facing. You know, we had a bit of a bust-up over it. He even sent me a letter of protest, saying he can't understand why I am not releasing the six AKs they requested. And I went to the meeting and I said: What do you want to do? Who do you want to kill? And he says: This is the pressure from the ground. And I said: But what are you going to do with the things?

[End of Interview]

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.