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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.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 [Third Interview]
Conducted by Howard Barrell,
Johannesburg, November 30 1990
OK, if we can be just briefly summarise, in your view, the reasons for the difficulty in constituting the APCs [Area Political Committees] inside the country? The document, as I understand it, has been drawn up in 1980 and, by about 1981, there's a call-in period for results on the success or otherwise of attempts to form the APCs. There's been no serious implementation at all, as I understand it. What is your understanding of the factors which contributed to the difficulties or the "failure" to constitute the APCs.
If I remember correctly, the document is drawn up in September 1981.
The actual APC document?
Ja. And it's drawn up at an extended RC meeting - extended in the sense that forward areas were invited to send people to participate. In a true tradition of the movement, it is not as if anybody went to that meeting with that idea in mind. I think that, among a number of individuals, there was a consciousness there is need for a qualitative leap. But the nature of what is meant by a qualitative leap is not defined and it is completely inchoate. And it is that meeting that it is agreed, and the APC document is drafted in an unusual way, in terms of my experience. The idea emerges, truly emerges at that meeting, in the brainstorming of the problems. It is a document that was debated practically, not just sentence by sentence, but phrase by phrase. It recognised the need for locally based leadership. It had to grapple with security problems. And it had to grapple with a certain advance that had been made at the military level, a specific advance, in one region. And therefore, while it adhered to unified and integrated command and leadership, had to also to create a hedge in it to avoid a situation where every military structure on the ground had to be willy nilly pushed under the command of an APC. It recognised the centrality of politics and the over-all leadership of a political structure. But it made those hedges - if you ever obtain a copy of that document, I think you will probably have got a copy of it -
No, I haven't.
However, there was a very intense debate on the calibre of the people to be sent in. And the sentence concerned with that was debated almost word by word, and it used the formulation that "senior members" should be sent in for short periods at home in order to assist this process of creation of APCs, so that they truly could grapple with providing over-all leadership. It then stipulated that, based on the implementation of that decision, there would be a full-scale review a year later.
That would be, now, September 1982?
1982. It was, I am certain September 1981 because it was in the aftermath of the Anti-Republic campaign, which had brought forward very important lessons for us. Actually, a very exciting period in our history, that Anti-Republic campaign, partly media-generated, but you just have to look at the media in that period to see how exciting it was. I believe that the failure to implement the APCs can be attributed to a variety of reasons that one day will show the movement in its flesh and blood character, rather than its romanticised character. I believe that, although we debated it phrase by phrase and, in some places, word by word, the full impact of that was dismissed. I don't think people left the meeting fully believing what they had passed. It was a nice-sounding resolution. But precisely because it was passed in the RC, one lived in the hope that it really meant something. But the result of its implementation showed up, for me, that it was really a nice-sounding resolution.
Now, what are the factors in this?
We debated how can we create a regional leadership if you send in rank and file cadres? Which is what had been happening. It's not to detract from people of great sacrifice, great ability who came in as commanders of units, political operatives. The fact of the matter is that the movement was sending in people to carry out activity, very brave cadres, but they were not equipped to give political leadership. They had received training, which was basically military training. Politics, political training was theoretical politics, abstract politics. And there was a tendency in the abstract political training to think that, if you knew the abstraction of capitalism, you therefore know the reality of capitalism. Which is nonsense. The result was that this equipped the cadres with a certain arrogance, that there was nothing to learn on the ground, that you could go in, clean table, and just be told about a problem and have an answer. Now, the only way to deal with that problem was to send in senior people, in the hope that the senior people belonged to a generation that had been involved at home in organising among the people in the overt days. Alternatively, going down to the less intimate levels of organising, you would go to the generation of 1962 who went out for training but who were conscious members of the ANC. And then you would have an odd character from the 1970s. But that they would have the consciousness of listening to the ground, trying to understand. So this word sending in "senior" people - and it said there, for short periods - was actually inserted because comrades raised the argument that we did not have the infrastructure that could assure their safety. So "senior" was used in that broader sense that it did not necessarily mean RC members or NEC members, but it did mean that RC members and NEC members were not excluded. If you look back at what was done by any structure that claims to have tried to have implemented that guideline, no senior member was sent in - not even at the level of the senior organs.
I think that, in a very odd way, there's always been a reaction to the superiority concept of racism in this country. On one side, from time to time, there is a clear stand of thinking which under-estimated the capacity of the enemy. But, embedded in that under-estimation was an over-estimation...
Ja, a paradox...
It's a paradox of South Africa. But it's not an abnormal paradox. It's there in other countries in different fashions. But precisely when you under-estimate the enemy, you also over-estimate them. Secondly, I think, not to be not to be casting aspersions on my colleagues, I think that that over-estimation was based on a fear that was quite genuine that they could not conceive of how you could survive. It was a textbook kind of concept of survival. You had to have an underground in order to be able to survive; you couldn't create the underground if you didn't send in senior people. So this was the paradox they were stuck with. Then there's the adventurers who get caught up on an idea...
[Laughter] I know who you are talking about...
And who want then to create a structure that is called APC but is not really APC. It's really aimed at something that will race ahead and create the conditions where that individual could go in. And the big thing...
[Maharaj shown some names of suggested "adventurers"]
Ja, the second one has that characteristic. And then there's another one, but a little different. The Aventura tendency is not just straightforward adventurism. He says: I must be perceived to go down in the history book. So you raise to create something whose objective is not to fulfil the tasks of the APC but whose objective is: Can I go in and come out and say I have been in? A very important part of the make-up is: Can I then come out and say: I have been in?
All these are normal and human impulses. But they entirely subverted the concept of the APC. Because your actions were not now dictated by what the objective situation required to lift the struggle qualitatively. The APC document to me was a landmark because it sought to consciously qualitatively change. So what happened in the feeble efforts that were made - if they can be described as efforts - those very feeble efforts were to send in a few, the same people that you were sending in: the same calibre, the only thing is that you change the name, saying: You are now an APC. And we found this when we got in the country. We found APCs. They were APCs in name. And they were trying with the best will to replicate what we were doing in Lusaka. That is, although they were on the terrain, they hid in a hole and they tried to dictate what should be done without the calibre of even what Lusaka had. It's a complete prostitution of APCs.
Can I raise some questions? You mentioned that there had been a region in which there had been a major military advance. Can you indicate what that region was?
So that would have been under Gebuza's [Siphiwe Nyanda's] Transvaal machinery, Transvaal urban?
Why do you laugh?
I see you are being a good historian. Jou vark.
Now, in what sense were you at this point being guided by the broad, consciously guided by the broad parameters of thinking contained in the Green Book. I mean this takes us beyond the Green Book?
It takes us well beyond the Green Book because the Green Book is generalities. It's a grapple with the actualities now. But, more than that, I must say that embedded in the failure of the APC was the failure to integrate military and political compartmentalisation.
Which had been supposedly agreed to under the Green Book but never seriously implemented?
Ja, never. The very exception that was made - which I agreed to because I knew the nature of the exception - is that, at the military level, comrades were engaged in one region in transferring the regional command to be located inside the country and, until that time, they had hit no major casualty.
Are we talking now about Transvaal urban?
Ja. They had hit casualties, they had suffered losses, but no casualty that had telegraphed to the regime that a military command was now settling in in the country. And some of the techniques were extremely innovative for survival etc. But they were legitimate techniques for a military operational group. They were not techniques that could be used for an over-all leadership command. I accepted at that time that the exception should be made.
For this particular group?
Ja. But it therefore had to be couched in general terms so that not everybody would know what it is that we are talking about and, if it ever fell in the enemy hands, they wouldn't see what it was. But I accepted it - in hindsight, shortsightedly, not because I knew better, but because my thinking was evolving and, at that time, it sounded reasonable. But I think that central to the failure of the APC was the question of the relationship between military and political. We then found a formula in that the commissar should serve on the APC.
Of this particular region, or...?
Of all regions. The commissar of the military group in the region should be in the APC. But I don't think it solved the problem. And nowhere, in any experiment, had it reached the point in the efforts that were made, where the commissar did serve. They didn't. They remained separate.
Now, you mentioned the form in which the document was formulated. But in my experience of any kind of committee or gathering, in the initial instance there is an individual who formulates the document. I understand that you were the person who formulated the document initially, which came up for discussion. Is that correct?
Do you remember who did?
No, it's a lot of nonsense to look for who formulated a document.
It's actually not, I don't think it's nonsense at all.
It is in a profound way. In that type of situation, an idea comes up in the discussion, somebody articulates the idea. Usually, if it is not a very senior person, whose seniority in an unwritten way and recognised, and who combines a competence of draughtsmanship, the idea starts getting tossed around; and somebody or other begins to pen it down; and then you have something rough in front of you; and then you start debating further on the draft. Or, even if somebody has penned something down, somebody else is asked to draft because the initial thing that somebody begins to pen on his feet is being subjected to criticism, but there is a sense that that draft on the person, while the person is on his feet, is beginning to get to the problem. Then somebody is asked: Write up. It's totally irrelevant who did the writing up.
OK. I'll take your point. How long was the meeting?
It was an extended meeting. I think it went on for about a week.
And where was it held?
And was there any significant opposition to the document as it evolved, or the idea as it evolved?
In the jelling stages of the debate, there were lots of problems. But, once it jelled together, and the document was put forward, I think the debate hardly changed the formulation in any significant way.
What was the character of these disputes or disagreements?
It was totally accepted that we needed leadership on the ground. The big problem was how did you secure yourself from major casualties. And therefore it was accepted that you had to approach it regionally, sometimes locally - no problem. Calibre was a problem, because I think the predominant view of the movement was anybody who'd done the training and you liked therefore had calibre. So it was a problematic area to discuss frankly. Secondly, the idea of senior leaders, senior members going in had two problems: one, security; but second, were you prepared to rigorously argue that in these senior levels that you talked about, would you still subject to restrict it to individuals with real calibre. I think that the predominant feeling was that, once you belonged to a senior level it was out of court to debate whether the individual was suitable. This was an abrasive point. But none of these related to the central thesis that that had to be done; it related to the mechanics of how you do it. And so there came a tension between senior organs and RC headquarters. Because senior organs wanted a free hand in doing it their way. And yet, if you looked at the movement, RC headquarters had to be involved in the process. And I think problems arose there on that level too. Not because, if you came from headquarters therefore you had come with a rigour, but certainly there were some people at headquarters who wanted to implement calibre in terms of that senior category, you still have to talk about calibre, and suitability. So these were the tensions in that debate. But they were not tensions about the central thesis.
Did the military accept the notion that you were going to have these internal political leaderships, with the commissar sitting, as I understand you, the commissar sitting alone on the APC?
They accepted, in other words, that political leaderships should have...
Have complete control over military units operating in particular areas?
This represents, I would have thought, an extraordinary advance? Did the military know what it was conceding?
I think the military woke up to what it had conceded, and that's another contribution to the failure of implementing the APC.
Can you expand on that?
RC was in theory supposed to be composed of people who had sat there not with caps on, but it had, at that time there was no military headquarters, but it had all the key people in Central Operations. And even beyond central operations - logistics, communications, ordinance, they were sitting there although they didn't belong to Central Operations Headquarters. The idea was accepted. It's a harsh judgement on individuals, the leading thinkers, activists and implementers, who had been in the military that, in its implementation, they left the whole thing to the political subcommittee [IRD]. And that betrays to me the point that the military comrades, if they did appreciate the significance of it, still clung to the belief that the job of the political, and even of this leadership, would be merely to facilitate military.
Still, again, political organisation to service tactical military imperatives?
Ja, Ja. I think that also explains, because in the military side there were comrades of great experience and great theoretical capacity. But they were wearing that cap and, when you wore that cap, it put a blinker. And the result is they took no interest in whether the APC thing was being implemented. Although, above the political committee in a region, forward area, they were members of the senior organ, and should have been calling to account and supervising implementation. They didn't. They left it to the political committee.
Can you explain to me: At this time, September 1981, was the make-up of the RC still one where you were alone as representative of IRD? did you have further representation on the RC, or was there still this huge imbalance?
Ja, there was only John Motsabi and myself.
Only Motsabi and yourself still?
Now you mentioned the idea of sending senior members in. Who, what names were mentioned?
At that meeting, no names were mentioned. It was at the levels of seniority that we discussed, and we were clear that the levels of seniority went up to the RC and NEC.
And can you tell me were particular names mentioned at NEC, RC level who might go in?
You can't tell me, or...
No, they were not mentioned at that meeting.
What was accepted was that, if the process of selecting in any particular area reached the point where an RC member or NEC member was being considered, that would receive the attention of the RC to free the individual. But ipso facto it meant also to consider whether the individual was really needed.
Now, in informal discussions or subsequent discussions, were names mentioned?
Can you tell me who they were?
Names then really cropped up in preparation for the review. The one-year period had expired.
This is now about September 1982 you are talking about?
Post-September 1982. The period had expired. No progress had been registered - no significant progress. First of all, forward area machineries reported that they had set up APCs - one would say in this region, one would say in that region. But, when a hard session took place [on] what they were doing, it was found that they were no different from just units - substantially not different. I am being unjust to the comrades who were doing this work - I would say substantially not different. The RC then appointed a commission to look into where the problems were. Up to a point, the commission was useful. It got down to brass tacks after examining in one forward are what had happened, how far things had gone, why things had not reached a stage that we had envisaged. Because remember we were saying in 1981 the conditions were ripe. And now, 1982, when you got down to brass tacks, people were saying there is no infrastructure. And you had to weld these two: that, on one side there is a valid argument of a tangible, visible, viable infrastructure; on the other side, there is the objective political situation that says that it's ripe. How did you leap over these two. So, I think the commission started off usefully. I think it ran into trouble. I accept personal responsibility that I contributed to the trouble of the work of that commission, because of my impatience about their failure to select senior people.
Who's failure? The commissions?
The failure of the senior organs, who were in charge of implementing the APCs. And so I think I moved into an abrasive framework when I began to say: Let's name. And by the very third name, in order to stop it from becoming a roulette game, I opposed the third thing.
What was the third thing?
He was present. And so I opposed his name. Because the first name that cropped up with the meeting with the political committee, and it's a commentary that the meeting was with the political committee of the senior organ. When talking about names: Well why? And they said because we were hesitant whether we could take leading people. And I said: We have come here with a mandate; you can pick who you want; just justify it. So we took a region, and we said: Who do you want to send in there? Besides others, which were not problematic, but from the senior most levels? So the meeting tossed up one name, and I was chairing, and I said: Right, fine, any problems with that name? No problems.
Who was the first name?
Well, if you don't feel happy...?
No, no, because they are good people. Then came the second name somebody threw up. And again, I said: Are there any comments, any problems? No. Pass, agreed. Again: any other names? A third name cropped up. I said: any problems. No, nobody has problems. So, I said: No comrades, listen, this is not a bloody roulette game here. We are talking about who understands that region, has the capacity to understand it and who is suitable? We are not just sitting down and filling boxes. And I said: I disagree that this comrade here is suitable. And so, immediately, it raised the question: Why do you disagree? I think I found myself in a trap. It's not the culture of the movement to have that sort of discussion, and so I gave my reasons. And the comrade of course took offence at my reasons and began to challenge the reasons. At which point, I think, I had my back up, you know...
And I decided to give more reasons...
The upshot of that was that, what I tried to prevent, became the reality. It became a roulette game now. Now people just began to put names. Because, of course, I had been defeated. Of course, the criticisms I had made of the comrade were substantially valid, but nobody was prepared to say at the meeting; they were prepared to say outside the meeting that I agree with you, but in the meeting, in the presence of the guy, they were not prepared to say that. So, what happened is that, suddenly, the whole country began to be carved up into regions. And suddenly, virtually the whole NEC was being transferred into the country. That meant that it was going to be a dead-end, the commission. But, even before the commission returned to Lusaka, the comrade that I had objected to had already gone to the communist party - and he was a member of the central committee so he went to the general secretary, who was at that time the secretary of the RC...
Is that Mabhida?
Yes. And formally protested in the party structures that a fellow member of the central committee ran down another member of the central committee. And this was totally unacceptable. I am only saying this because it illustrates the dynamics of getting down to this type of problem.
Now, this commission sits in late 1982?
Do you remember the date?
Because the RC sent down about five people, four or five from RC headquarters. And none of them, none of them knew how to handle this situation where I was saying: So and so is not suitable.
Now, was there any resistance to the APC idea from members of the NEC or RC on the basis that they feared the creation of some other centre of power?
No. That problem did not arise as it arose vis a vis the Green Book.
Now, as I understand you, in the APC, one of the aspects of the concept is top-down building? By top-down building, I mean the need to move in senior design and build...?
Two approaches were outlined in that document. It's three-quarter page. It recognised that this step had to be taken throughout the country. But it recognised that, in some regions and localities, we had a viable underground and a military presence: these had to be the building blocks. But, in other areas, it recognised we had no infrastructure, and yet we had to move. So it accepted that there should be no common blueprint. What was important in the APC is that the APC would constitute a leadership which truly emerged outside and inside. Because the Anti-Republic campaign had indicated a viable underground leadership that had grown up, with all its blinkers, and outside a leadership with its own blinkers. And that, if we merged the two, we would have something really of quality. It would be a problem to get this merged body really learning to work together as an integrated and unified body, as a collective. Hence also the need for senior people who would bring the stamp of authority of the movement. As it happened, most APCs were made up of people either sent either from outside or people who were from inside. And those who came from outside and joined did not appreciate, because their level of training and experience, that this was the step. And it's title was Area Political Committees.
Right. Did you have - you said you couldn't standardise because different areas had different characteristics, and some were advanced, some were backward - so what I am asking is: Did you have a, how big was the area to be covered by APCs?
Again, the area definition was not - again, one had insisted...
This was not spelt out?
And opposed the tendency that one had to suddenly carve up the country on a map. One said the size of the area would depend on how you analysed the problems concretely. The important thing was that a certain sense of cohesiveness should come to it from the political nature of the area. For example, if you sat down and looked at PWV, you could create an APC for Johannesburg, and for East Rand and West Rand. But, if you had to give real leadership on the ground, it is inevitable that you would grow towards looking at the PWV as an entity. Of course, you can extend the argument to a ridiculous state - that you need it for the whole country. But what I am saying is that a certain homogeneity and cohesiveness attaches to regions when you sit down and analyse them in that way, particularly when you analyse them against your strength there, and against a specific character of the political problems that manifest themselves there. We could deny the existence of bantustans, but we could not deny the reality in practice. So that you would need an APC or a regional APC for Lebowa. But even within Lebowa, you could carve out Sekhukuneland as one entity. Now, these were not supposed to be frozen concepts.
[End of Side A]
So the report of this commission in late 1982 into the APCs: You must have been felling quite distressed: I mean here is this concept whose implementation would have constituted a major qualitative advance; there has been no real progress; comes the end of 1982, there's a commission appointed into it. What is your feeling on the way forward in late 1982?
It's a very funny thing. Despite my whole central thrust in my own thinking and tendencies, it's at that time that suddenly in RC headquarters debate an idea gels at the military level. It's a tremendous programme. If we carried that out, I think we would have changed the character of the struggle. But, again now on the military problem I argue that you must have the right person. It's very tricky. It cannot be carried out without vital on-the-ground 24-hour intelligence service, military intelligence. The idea is accepted, and what happens is that I am put in command of that, too. I have no illusions that that task requires total and complete attention. When you raise this question, despite all the problems that arose at the commission, first of all the commission burns itself out because I don't recall - although I was head of the commission - going and reporting. I think it was left to the others in the commission to report to headquarters. Because, in the meantime, I had been seconded on this other task.
Can you tell me what this other task was?
Switch this thing off.
[Break in tape]
OK, where are we? We are going to correct the dates of these...
Ja, I thought I was so sure it was post [Anti-] Republic. It's the build-up to the republic; it would have to be September 1980, to be reviewed in 1981.
So, can I just clarify then. The APC document is...
This is a correction of our earlier section of the tape. And the review comes after September 1981.
Right. So this is a major correction of dates.
Well the reason: Switch off.
[Break in tape]
So, this is the reason why I get side-tracked, because it totally absorbed my - again, for six months I disappeared from the overt scene.
This is when you were in...
Not. Oh. I thought that's where you probably were.
No, I was in Swaziland.
OK, I want to deal with the Suicide Squads, or Grenade Squads. these are developed, as I understand it, in late 1982-early 1983 - the first of the grenade squads are developed then. They want to call themselves Suicide Squads, and I understand they come under political machineries. There is conflict with elements in the military. Can you tell me the genesis of the idea of the grenade squads, what control they came under?
The Suicide Squads predate the grenade squads. Because, I think that when we look at the facts, we will find that certain groups inside the country innovated this thing on their own, and they called themselves Suicide Squads in leaflets. We were confronted with a development that was concrete and positive. We had been arguing, I think, at this time, who should develop grenade squads. The military said it was military Operations [Central Operations Headquarters], and this is in the aftermath of Vietnam by the way. Comrades who went to Vietnam said that the Vietnamese had said that you must totally separate military and political work...
At the level of implementation...
Now, I never bought this story, as it was put, "totally separate". I argued that that was not the real history of Vietnam. That they started their armed struggle by means of what they called armed propaganda units, which were pre-eminently political; they did no fighting; they entered the village as a unit; they carried arms; but they talked to the village; they might have left sometimes someone behind in the village, one or two to help the villagers; but they passed on, one, displaying weapons, which is a great defiance of authority, two, talking about the need to defend themselves as villagers and, three, surviving and passing on. Now that was the Vietnamese initial definition, and they called it armed propaganda units. I therefore found it difficult to accept that the Vietnamese would call for this separation. I think you are right that, at the stage at which the delegation went there, they were talking about the highest levels that they had reached, and therefore they talked about the separation at implementation...
At the stage of mobile warfare....
Ja. And virtually after Saigon had been captured. But the Vietnamese were giving that experience at that time. Comrades who brought this message across were not looking at it as a process. Now, what they wanted then, for the grenade squads, was that you needed people on the ground, who were trained in two hours, whether inside the country or in the forward areas. And, again, what they wanted was that the political should deliver the people to them. Mechanical - because, when you recruit from that distance, even if you recruited inside the country, you just can't recruit a person and in three months transfer him or her to somebody else and expect the same level of confidence, loyalty, etc. You see that you [have got to get to???] the political processes through action to show that you are part of an organisation, that you have to be willing to serve under any command. Secondly, it meant that the military thrust would become deflected into this thing. How, then were you going to build a long-term army. The third factor that was present, but was not articulated sufficiently sharply, was that, if you went to grenade work at that level, two-hour training, it would so absorb your energy that you can forget about building MK. However, we then argued, and we sort of reached a compromise, that each structure should do what it could. So, I think the military undertook some grenade work, the political undertook some. And I think grenade squads really begin to come into their own in about 1983, not 1982 or 1981. I am not so sure, but I think that's when they come into their own.
That's certainly when we hear about them for the first time since 1976.
Ja. But there was a problem with those grenade squads because it coincided with the continuation of the enemy's infiltration which it had planned before Soweto [and] implemented post-Soweto. And there was a problem that is objective in our situation. People talk about command, control and democracy. Neither the military nor the political - people accept it in the case of political [military???], that you needed a vertical line of command. But they did not understand that building the underground at that stage also needed a vertical line of command. They thought, Because it's political, the freedom of sub-structures and forward areas should be almost complete. But, once you went into grenade, that freedom could not be complete, and vertical line of command had to be set up. A) IRD was not equipped to provide that vertical line of command because you can have vertical line of command, but you must be prepared to give the command and be occupied, seized with the problem; b) comrades telegraphed the blow to the enemy, because they talked too much about it, and this allowed the enemy to send its infiltrators and, amongst, the greatest advance that I can assess that went on in the grenade squads came from the Botswana end, but I think that one in 10 was an enemy agent, because they were able to single out who's doing it, who's doing the training and who do you send your agents to. So grenade squads did some work, and that is the period when I think the enemy developed its death squads. The first was Duduza, which is well known - tampering and sending a provocateur masquerading as MK. But it coincided with the period when these killers like Joe Mamasela appeared on the scene.
Just tell me about Joe Mamasela?
He features in the Harms Commission, the Griffiths Mxenge killer. He's the guy reputed to have shot Joyce Dipale in Botswana. He is a, to my estimation, a psychopathic killer. But he surfaces in Botswana. We try to capture him, and we miss him. We capture a chap called Baloi, who was his partner. And Joe Mamasela escapes. However, the point I am making is that I think this is the period when the death squads are being developed by the enemy. They a) tried to subvert the grenade squads, to destroy people like [in] Duduza; but [(b)], it plants the gem in their minds that it's one thing to subvert and destroy those guys who want to join - it wakes up to the reality that there is such a militancy amongst the youth in the country that you just have to say "I am MK" and they are ready to join you and follow you - they just want action. But then, frightened by this phenomenon, the enemy moves the other way to set up the death squads to try to kidnap RC members, and go on to poisoning, etc. etc. But Joe Mamasela features in the Harms Commission because the evidence is led there about his background. What I don't understand - what was not led - is the number of times that while he's working in the death squads at Vlakplaas, he [has] killed, ordinary people in his plain psychopathic killer instinct and, each time, they have to bail him out, and they have to quash the case. I know there were at least three such cases. Now, he appeared before Harms; he denied all this activity. And the lawyers representing the other interests failed to pin him down. He was walking in the townships, just going into a shebeen, have a tiff with somebody and just kill him; next thing he's arrested' next thing, he discloses to the investigating officers that he's with Vlakplaas; Vlakplaas intervenes, quashes the case.
Now, what had been the thinking behind the development of the grenade squads? What did you see them as achieving. Qualitatively, what were they supposed to represent? How were they supposed to...?
Grenade squads contained the search for how to involve the people and how to transform. It was beginning to reach...
Sorry can you just finish that sentence: "how to transform..."?
How to transform what was earlier following a theoretical precept of classical guerilla warfare with liberated zones to what really we meant by people's war and the involvement of the people. Beyond the concept that people's involvement was merely infrastructural support, eyes-and-ears - to direct involvement in struggle.
So, can I ask you this formulation: Is it an attempt to then bridge a specialised military formation with the mass of people, to arm the people certainly in the military sense?
There had been a parallel debate which comes up a little after that. And I think it takes place in the ANC, with Mzala leading the concept of "arming the people". But, at that stage, arming the people is used in a more loose concept than Mzala tries to develop it. It was not with the idea that anybody and everybody amongst the people; but it was at least beginning to grapple with the problem that the people's involvement in a people's war could not mean simply infrastructural support and eyes-and-ears. It had to be more than that. And grenade squads, while not thought out, I think, were a stage in our thinking of searching for practical solutions. I think they still had great potential. The problem with grenade squads, looking back, was target determination. It is also beginning to coincide with the second concept: carry the war to the white areas. Grenade squads remain stuck, in spite of their immense potential, they remain jammed in the trap that you hit where you are safest. And carrying the war to the white areas meant operating in areas where you were not safest - although, coming into the country [in Operation Vula], I felt that it was safe. But it meant being really, really on the ground. But command and control was ignored.
So, why do the grenade squads not develop in the way that it seems they have the potential to? I mean they seem to have the potential to really constitute this bridge between a specialised armed formation and the mass of people, and to provide people with a means of attack and defence, of a kind that we haven't seen?
In a peculiar way, I think we have to hand it to the regime that its thrust towards [those] death squads and, secondly, forward area invasions disrupted machineries, forced us to grapple with emergencies. And emergencies are always dangerous to long-term plans; they impede that very badly. And thirdly, I think, infiltration. The enemy began to target infiltration now into those [grenade squads] and began to turn the thing against us on the ground. Thirdly, I think, Fourthly, I think intelligence blunders. It is by about 1984 that I think a list is beginning to circulate on the ground from the enemy as to who are agents in the mass democratic movement. I think the truth of that matter is that it starts off not as an enemy invention; it starts off with our intelligence giving a list to an operative at home; and that list is, lands in the hands of the enemy; the enemy looks at what is happening; and it decides to issue an amended list which now includes good people; and, by the time we wake up to that one, we have to do damage control; we can't initiate; it's also the time of Maseru; it's also the time of the secret pact which only comes out in the open years ago, with the Swazis. It's the time of Nkomati. And then it's the time of the Gaborone raids; the raids in Zimbabwe; bombs in Lusaka. It's not to hand to the enemy that they were so good at it that they beat us; but it's that the enemy devised a strategy where, at that moment in our thinking, they forced us off track; they removed this central focus in our thinking, which was primarily offensive; they forced us into a mode of retreat and discontinuity of structures.
Now, presumably some success in the APC concept, or the development of political leaderships on the ground would have made, vastly improved the ANC's capacity to protect against this level of infiltration, to have had control or, let's say, kept a continuity of operational perspective against disruption from outside. Would you agree with that?
Ja, i would agree with it in one sense that I wouldn't agree with the criticism being made in an academic way. I think that there is a tactical consideration that enters into these problems. It was put very well by one of our friendly generals who said: Look you see, you guys, you send in a unit into an area, they begin to work, they get captured; what you guys do in the ANC is that you will sit down to analyse, collect information, what went wrong; it takes you six months before you decide to send in the next one; you fail to understand that the other side, precisely because it has captured the unit, now feels that it is on top of the situation; and although it looks like risk from your side that is the time to immediately send in another unit, because the enemy would not expect you to send in another unit into that hot area. In that sense, I think, Vula showed it. Vula could have come - and should have come - in one sense, much earlier. But, when it did come, I don't think anybody dreamt, whether in the NEC, or whether in the top analysts of the regime, or whether in the entire mass democratic movement, that anything like that was on the cards. It's one of the secrets that enabled Vula. And we had said we want six months; we want six months to entrench ourselves on the ground and create the possibilities that, when we are hunted, we don't have to run out. I still believe we had done that. I still believe that, if I hadn't come in on the immunity - as it happens, two guys get arrested Saturday-Sunday; by Monday I've got the report; Gebuza is arrested on Thursday, by midnight Thursday I've got the report that he's captured. Now, if I had been illegal, I don't think they could have caught us.
OK, I'd like to move on now to a slightly different subject, which is the reasons, the actual reasons for the disbandment of the RC and the creation of the PMC [Politico-Military Council] and the reassertion of this parallelism in 1983. What is the actual reason?
I've read your thesis on that [in the book, MK: The ANC's Armed Struggle]. The disbandment of the RC, yes, it's understandable. The RC had from its creation in 1969 as the all round body in charge of prosecuting the struggle in South Africa, begun to be stripped of department after department.
You've told me about this, and it becomes military. So, is the PMC an attempt to reassert a political...?
The PMC is an attempt to find a balance, and to integrate. What integration meant to different people was different things.
Right, now can you explore than?
I don't think certain comrades in the military ever abandoned the idea that integration meant: Serve the military. And I don't think that the political side [yes, I make the political too important???]. IRD was made up of people, all well-meaning - it sounds arrogant and harsh - but without a clue about what they were trying to do. I think I was far out of step with the IRD. Of course, it gave me a lot of space as secretary. But I don't think we understood the drag that was there in the IRD - if it was composed at its head of John Motsabi, vice-chairman John Nkadimeng, leading members Florence Mophosho, Ray Simons, Reg September. I think you would agree with me that, however harsh and arrogant I sound, that couldn't constitute a dynamic IRD. The only reason why one can really talk of advances in IRD work was I think the space that it afforded me. But it left me like a bloody spinning top. These were comrades with the best will in the world who wanted to be at a meeting. And that was it. It had nothing in implementation; it was completely different from central operations. Central Operations was Joe Modise, JS [Slovo], Obadi [Mokgabudi], Paul Dikeledi. That was central operations. It had a thinking thrust and it had an activist thrust. And even the thinking thrust had activism in it. So I think this is part of the problem when you come to the PMC. But central to the PMC was the development beyond the senior organs of the RC. But then that was papering over problems by calling it [regional] political-military [committees]. I think, on hindsight, I've said it at that time, I argued it after, and I think it constitutes your thesis: That military headquarters was created, not because of objective developments inside the country, but because of developments externally. That was its rationale. But, my friend, if you want to know, when we were debating the formation of military headquarters, I opposed it, and I was a single voice. Everybody else, including the president, came down on me. but the debate was settled because we were in the middle of it. I had stated my position; the president had come down against me; everybody was opposed to me; and then, during the break, arrived the news of the Maseru Massacre. There was no argument any more that we needed a military headquarters. It now was clear: We needed it. But what did we need it for? is another question.
What was the - after the Maseru Massacre people were arguing for a military headquarters - what was they arguing that we needed it for?
There was no argument.
What, it was: We just basically want to hit the enemy, and we need a military headquarters to do that? Is that the...
We had had the debate. The debate had been locked on my saying that you are justifying the need on the grounds of external factors - I think you have pinpointed them [in your book, MK: The ANC's Armed Struggle,] in discussions with Zimbabwe - and arguing against that, and saying: That's not the reason why we need military headquarters; it can't be a good reason. Others were saying: That's not the only reason: We are moving up; you are wrong. But then we have a break. I think it's a tea break in the morning. We receive a message; we just finish tea; we re-assemble. The president announces the Maseru Massacre. Now, when we come back to this item, I, too, haven't got the heart to say: No military headquarters. Because it was an argument on why we needed military headquarters was to give ourselves better capacity. It was argued. But I don't think it was the central reason. And I was saying: This is not the central reason, and we are wrong. I don't think in that debate comrades were carrying out their own agendas. There was an element that military was feeling constrained by this development towards integration. There were all grey areas: How do you run your lines of command? Does the order go to the secretary of the senior organ, then he gives it to the military? And then the military sends it to Swaziland, to this politico-military, and then it passes it to the military? And I think it's correct. That was a big problem. It was wrong: to send, that the line of command should work like that. It militates against decisiveness in action. So there were legitimate elements in that debate. What was wrong is that suddenly we began to military headquarters because these are the posts that belong to military headquarters. And again we began to fill up irrespective of whether a person would serve there.
How do you mean, irrespective of whether they would serve there? Irrespective of whether they are capable of serving there, or...?
Both meanings. For example, JS [Slovo] has to be chief of staff. But he's based in Maputo. And military headquarters is in Zambia. Now, how can the commander work when his chief of staff is in Maputo? Then you need a political commissar. But the work of the commissar was in the camps. So, even though I have no problem with the competence of Chris [Hani], no problem with the competence of JS [Slovo] - even, at times, I think in various aspects they are better than me - but then now you needed chief of communications, so Jackie [Molefe]; you need a chief of logistics, so you had to give a job to Cass [Make]; so Cass. Now, you see, what happens is that you've decided...
Did Cass not have ordinance?
Ordinance, ja. Under ordinance fell logistics also. But Cass is head of ordinance and logistics. Now you began to say, with military headquarters go certain boxes. Now, Cass as ordinance is in Lusaka. Jackie [Molefe] as chief of communications is in Lusaka. JM [Modise] is floating about. Chris [Hani] is expected to be in Angola. JS [Slovo] is expected to be in Maputo. The three key members - commander, deputy commander and commissar, and chief of staff are in three different regions. The three technical levels are in Lusaka. Who then would carry out the work of military headquarters? Effectively, it meant JM [Modise], Jackie [Molefe], Cass [Make], Ronnie [Kasrils]. Your two central pins are not there. And the two people who have got the experience and have got the capacity to think through. This doesn't deny that Ronnie and others can think. But certainly you can't put them in the same category.
Now, how did you break up the political side when the PMC is formed - the political committee?
They fucked us up there, too. Jussus, they fucked us up. They now came with a political structure with a head of mass mobilisation, head of underground, head of I don't know what-what - head of women, semi-federal body, head of youth, head of propaganda. Everything was heads.
So it was filling boxes again?
Filling boxes, and everybody was heads.
So, can I just ask you a question: So it wasn't task-orientated; it was filling boxes in a formalistic sense?
Ja. Now you put a head of mass mobilisation; you put a head of underground. How do separate the two? What's the role of the secretary? What's the role of the chairman? Each one says: I'm head. What have you done? You've taken the military concept of boxes, and you have now created boxes in the political side. So Steve Tshwete can say he's one thing in mass mobilisation; the underground guy is saying the opposite to the operatives. Right? Steve Tshwete says: You can't have a Frank Chikane because he's my mine. And the underground says: But wait a minute, Frank Chikane is our man. I'm only giving you an example. This box concept politically - when you haven't created a viable underground - [is] unrealistic.
I'd like to know when the first PC is formed under the new PMC, who is in charge of various things?
I think Jele is chairman and I am secretary.
Wasn't Nkadimeng chairman for a very brief period? And then he was transferred almost immediately to Sactu?
Not important. So your recollection is that Jele's chairman and you're secretary...?
Ja, ja, Nkadimeng is chairman - you are right - for a very very short period. Because I send him to Zimbabwe. That's where he meets you guys. And I came there, and introduced him to people in Botswana. Nkadimeng's chairman, Jele's vice-chairman and I am secretary, I think. Ja.
And Jele soon takes over as chairman?
And who are the others on the political committee at that point?
Peter Mayibuye, Klaus Maphephe, Jane Ngubani, Florence Mophosho - Ray Simons has been moved away but she has a right to come in.
Zuma, is he on?
Zuma is on it from Maputo side. But he's chief rep in Maputo, plus he's that. Plus, when he comes to Lusaka once in a while, he's in political committee.
And where does intelligence and security fit into this new structure, PMC structure? Does it just come in at the top?
They come in at the PMC. They coordinate with military intelligence, but they have no responsibility in the political. And what they do is they plant their agents in the political.
[Laughter] Keep an eye on you.
Ja, that's all they do.
[End of side B]
[Maharaj speaking on the conjuncture in November 1990]
Amongst leading Bolsheviks, that period is over in world history because you've got a tremendous ganging up of imperialist, capitalist forces. Yet you are expected to be democratic. Against that, I don't think there has been any other struggle in the world where a liberation movement is expected not just to put a vague blueprint for the future but is expected to say, sector by sector, a blueprint which has to be scrutinised thoroughly. It's almost like electoral politics, where an opposition party - each party has to put its programme. And yet we are a liberation movement. And partly that's because apartheid has been an international issue. It was internationalised. Now, when you begin to understand the dynamics and the problems of the ANC and leading the struggle at this phase, they become extremely complex, so there's a little bit of a problem with simple answers. I am not so sure that my standpoint is arising from the fact that I have answers. Partly, maybe, my standpoint is a frustration that I can find the answers for myself too - what should be done at the present moment. And, I think more significantly, it's that I cannot find that there exists a cohesive rump, not just a faction, but a ginger group...
And engine room...?
I can't find it.
Can we go on. I want to go back to the issue of the PMC when it's set up. OK, it's meant on the one hand to correct this terrible imbalance that there has always been in the RC towards the military; it's meant to reflect some integration; yet the only locus at which that integration can take place is at top level on the PMC itself; and, as you have pointed out, various people are stationed in different parts of southern Africa; and my own understanding is, and I quote another interview of mine, it was extremely difficult to every get 60 percent of the PMC together. Now, there is this separate line of command down at the forward area level: military and political, separate military and political committees are set up, which don't liaise with each other until later. Is this seeming inconsistency, which I point out with the benefit of hindsight, is it recognised at the time? Is it fought against? Or how is it justified?
It's couched in a different way, Howard. It's couched in the form that the RC effort at senior organs still maintained parallelism. What is needed is integrated leadership. What is needed is a break from the RC which expresses this integration. In practice, it maintains the parallelism. I even disagree with your example then of how integration was effected, say, in Swaziland. Integration in Swaziland was an accident. It was the aftermath of Nkomati. And there, maybe, I am harsh - and I think we know who I am talking about [Kasrils] - I think he didn't look at who. Because, when you look at the people at the helm in Swaziland by accident, they are people who want integration, but who are wedded to wielding the South African, unfolding the South African revolution according to a theoretical blueprint. And, when they are caught up in a particular blueprint, that's it. They had the particular weakness which outside generated of not being able to say: This is a general perspective; the ground must alter what we need to do. They are forcing something onto the ground...
so, it's a lack of creative thinking...?
Ja. It's not political thinking; it's militaristic thinking. You put it elegantly: It's lack of creative thinking. I would say that the weakness is: Military thinking is easy; you force that into a situation; political thinking and the art of revolution - and Lenin, for me, is that, at strategic and tactical levels - he knows what he wants, but the zig-zags that he's got to take are dictated by the forces on the ground, by the mood, by the pulse, issues that make revolution not just a science but an art. And he's strength in strategy and tactics is that artistry. When you come from the military side and you work long, or you have this penchant for moulds, you can't adjust. So Swaziland had that, too, even though it integrated.
But there was a formalism there which you are saying was...
Ja. So you look at the projects that they tried to run there in that integrated way - Butterfly Project, this project, that project. Whether they called it APC or whatever they called it, it had just one thrust: military, military action. It never said this will become eyes and ears; this will become our guide; for the first time sitting outside the country we will be like we are inside the country; then we will see how the water is flowing; and then we will see where to build a dam, where to shore up the banks; and then see that the water flows in the direction we that we want. There isn't that.
So let's get back to the PMC itself. How is this - OK, it's intended to develop some integration, but how was it seen that the PMC can develop a real integration of leadership when it leads to these two clear, separate lines of command into the country? How is this point dealt with?
It is never dealt with. It is purely formally dealt with by saying that the substructures must now not be called senior organs but they must be called politico-military committees...
But that only comes later, the RPMCs.
Ja. But that's because nothing is happening. I even said to OR [Tambo] on one occasion - I think we flew from London, or we were flying to London; we were flying from London - and he called me up to his compartment, and we were chatting and I found he was wide awake, let me talk to him about this. I said: Chief, the only man that can solve this problem is you; take that entire PMC, hire cottages in Syavonga [spelling?]; and shunt them with transport, but leave them at Syavonga; and tell them they are given a week; and they can telephone you and ask for extension of time; itemise a set of questions; and tell them they are not to come out and call for him until they are in total agreement on every question - total, not only in writing, but when they say they are ready, they'll phone you and you will go to Syavonga and say: Right, now, in answer to all the questions that I have put, have you got the answers? And you listen to the answers, and then you sit down and say: Right, now we sit down for a formal session to determine how far we are agreed on the answers. And he laughed, and he said to me: You know, I think that's a fucking good idea; I think that's just what is needed. Because I said: We agree on everything in the meeting, but we leave and we do each their own thing. So the transformation from RC to PMC, in practice, when you are posing this question to me, doesn't occupy, I cannot pinpoint anything to say that there was a significant change in both theory and practice. The maximum that I can say in theory is that more and more the word "people's war" creeps into our jargon; that we have defeated the formulation "only the armed struggle"; that mass mobilisation has become a very important word. But, if we want to look for seminal thinking in that period, which in the earlier period was coming from the RC, it now comes in the president's January 8 statements.
Now, who are the major people contributing to those January 8 statements?
It's certainly not the PMC as a PMC.
It's various individuals?
So one would expect people like yourself, like JS [Slovo] and others to be consulted on the formulations and the agenda which comes forward in the January 8 addresses?
Some of the key January 8 statements are Thabo [Mbeki]. The concept of ungovernability is Thabo. The concept of a united front has arisen in discussion. I don't know to what extent Thabo picked it up. But, when it emerges in the 1983, I think it's the 1983 January 8 statement...
Yes, its the 1983 statement...
It is not on the basis that there has been con--; now, of course chaps will fight against it. Nhlanhla will tell you that: No, it was always collective. Lot of bullshit. The RC, PMC hardly made a collective input to the January 8 statements. And it's OR [Tambo], because OR is not somebody to accept something drafted without subjecting it to intense scrutiny by himself. So, to say Thabo is also to miss the point. It is to miss the style of leadership of OR. And OR is a person who has always got his antennae out. He's always picking up; he's always listening, directly, indirectly - it's a remarkable quality of listening and integrating. And, when I worked on one of the statements with a collective and with him, and the final sessions were just him and I and Zarina [Maharaj], I was never as impressed as with his integrity, his determination that facts mustn't be distorted and a sense of the moment. Now, those things were there. And I believe that, given the January 8 statements and the need to be attributed, those of 1983, 1982 - 1984, more and more people are beginning to make inputs, because they begin to see the centrality of the January 8 statement. Before that, January 8 statements hadn't reached that impact and that status that they were putting forward a programme for the year. And I think that they begin to go down when the NEC as NEC wants to take a hand in it. They actually begin to go down.
When you say go down, you mean they become less...?
In quality. Because, when that whole collective takes it in charge, it has a tendency to become a hodge-podge. Somebody put it very beautifully the other day at a meeting in discussing the national conference and the commissions and argument over whether the time span would allow commissions, or whether we shouldn't debate against draft resolutions. Somebody said: Well, there's a sub-topic here - programme of action - that's a key sub-commission; it's a very easy sub-commission, commission, because we've worked on it in the PMC before every year; it's easy; you just put the things together and the conference plenary will applaud. This is the shopping list mentality of the programme of action. It has no sense that you have to prioritise; you have to analyse the balance of forces; you have to look at the masses; and then come to your priorities and say: What's going to be the central thrust into which other things flow? And how are you going to make them flow? Some conception, so that, when things develop, even if they don't follow the way how you saw they'd flow, you can adjust. So, programme of action has become mechanical in its concept; it is really a shopping list. Now, so I think, if we read January 8 statements, they still contain flashes of brilliance in certain paragraphs; but they don't hang like the 1983 and 1984 January 8 statements. That's why the transition between the RC to the PMC, while it occupies an important place in your writing - and it should, correctly, be asked why? what was the importance? - I honestly, now, when answering it now to you cannot isolate a landmark, key issue and say: Here is where the transformation reflected itself to show its importance.
Can we go back to something which we discussed in an earlier interview, which was that, in the initial conception in the Green Book, one of the things that you and perhaps others had pushed for, was the formation of much smaller RC or whatever it was [to be], a much smaller, more tightly-knit group of people constituting a revolutionary centre, and that this had not been accepted in the final...
Decisions on the Green Book. Now, my understanding is that the PMC actually was an expansion on, was larger than the RC?
This is correct? So, in fact you get more diffusion now?
Rather than the creation...?
Ja, centralisation. Now, presumably this, for you, was not a favourable outcome in ideal terms?
At the time it didn't occupy my thoughts. But the truth of the matter is that, if I am to be brutal with myself, the PMC began to play less and less importance in my thinking. The RC, after its setbacks and then in setting up headquarters, when even a programme of action was being developed, even though we were under pressure, a commission would sit for three or four weeks before, small body, which would even take press clips and argue, what is the situation at home? To derive a programme. When you come to the PMC now, it's such a big body, and so much personality and all these things have space then, that it became a mechanical process. Let's give it to this to this comrade who it working in the secretariat - that's civil service - they'll write it up and they'll bring it.
No real creative thinking?
No, no storming around the problem. Whereas the RC's commissions that I remember in the latter days of the RC were sessions of intense debate, real vigorous debate and fighting to evolve what should be the programme. So, the PMC, for various dynamics --maybe at the time I began to attribute it to personality dynamics - [it was?] of course very quick - years-wise it looks long - but, as I said to you I got deployed on that thing in 1982, then comes the PMC - the PMC is when?
Then comes this whole thrust, one side, for the consultative conference, which has its own dynamics. I personally get involved - that's the time when I met you in Zimbabwe - that's roughly the period when we were discussing the shape of the [negotiating] table etc, Mafue, Carnegie, Ford Foundation things, and people from home. But gradually, the PMC doesn't become a reference point for my activity, my actions.
What does become a reference point?
OR [Tambo]. More and more, I think, OR becomes my reference point. Which is, itself, a sad statement...
Is a what statement?
Sad statement. Because it meant that, for me, I could still get stimulus there. It also meant I could put ideas and feel that ideas were falling on ground that was receiving them and prepared, even when he chucked them back to me, was not chucking them back lightly.
So he was a serious...
Ja, he was a serious man. And a mind that was seized beyond the dynamics of personalities and all these cross-currents that a large body like the PMC was having. And basically the PMC, large as it was, became a very small grouping - tiny little grouping in which the guys bringing in new blood were bringing in the worst of new blood - totally incompetent people. It was now like the civil service taking over under the guidance of one or two top guys.
Can I just...
[break in tape]
And of course what I am witnessing - people are writing to me from forward areas and from home, and it is utterly frustrating because all of them are writing to me personal notes which are not to be revealed but are expressing stunned - they are expressing concern, they don't know which way to go, they are blaming me, saying I've left them at the deep end, and you can't do anything about it. And then, of course, Mafue, the Ford Foundation things, are showing that there's a whole new scenario opening up. Whether we like it or not, the terrain of negotiations is opening up as a terrain of struggle. So we formulate it, terrain of struggle, but even there you see [how] to some people it is called a "terrain of struggle" but, in practice, it's a terrain of being nice. And then, of course, very quickly there's Kabwe - in fact, I come to Kabwe two days late, coming from the states from a Ford Foundation seminar; Kabwe takes place, [I] am put into the NEC. But, within a year of the NEC, we've pinpointed - not by going back to APC because it's become boring stuff - we've pinpointed where is this gap at home. But you are talking in a large meeting: where its Mazimbu, it's chief representatives, it's some fucking ou who has stolen money in New York or Canada or where, and all these things are important, and ad hoc problems arising, and yet, in the middle of that, we find this answer to why we are not moving forward home. And the answer is: We go for Vula. And I retreat. I have to admit, I retreat. I say: Right, let the comrades do what they want there, in all other fields; but this one here must work. And then all its disappointments. But basically, finding that, although the decision has been taken, in fairness to OR [Tambo] and JS [Slovo], although they are put in charge, and they have the mind to make the contribution, they just leave the entire strategising and everything to me. And then what they do is they just try to transcribe the thing for other regions. And when they transcribe it to other regions, they haven't got, they don't show the capacity to create the atmosphere where other NEC members, who were willing to be earmarked, now have to do it in the regions. The result is that last year  Vula is authorised to go national because what they have pushed into the other regions is far lower level calibre - there's still no NEC. And we have isolated in the NEC that it is less than one handful that have the suitability and the potential for this. But they are not there.
I want to go back again. But before I go back I just want to check one thing: In the New Nation, the story said that you came in in 1988 [on Operation Vula]. My understanding is that you came in in 1987. What is the correct position?
I think the decision for this kind of project is taken - the decision where OR [Tambo] and JS [Slovo] are authorised is, in fact, 1986. But then things have moved so fast, I can't remember dates...
You see, if I can work back this way: OK, my understanding is that you move into the country in late 1987, and I meet you in - you summon me to Lusaka in mid-1988, I think it's about June or July 1988. Now you have already ostensibly been ill for about a year by that stage, as I remember...
Have I already had my knee operation when I meet you?
I think you may have. But you had certainly been out of circulation for a long time.
As the records go with the regime, they have pinpointed Gebuza and my entry now, formal entry now to implement [Vula] at July-August 1988.
Is that so?
All this time - it's actually two years, it's 1986-87 - is the preparation, it's the strategising, it's the legend creation, it's the infrastructure-creation for survival, completely separate from anything on the ground. And then I think it's - there's a very frustrating period because, on the one hand, there was an implied criticism of me that I am dragging my feet but, on the other hand, there was no push from OR [Tambo] and JS [Slovo]. It's I who am pushing. When we start, I remember, I say, right at the beginning I say: The target must be entry in three months. And they say: No. And I say: You must set a target date so that we are under pressure. Now the earlier part, and entries and movement, cannot strictly be called Vula. They are the preparation to Vula. Gebuza is brought in about six, nine months before we enter. Again it's brought in, and it's documented, when I bring the proposal: Look, you guys haven't selected the deputy for the region. And I then suggest Gebuza [Siphiwe Nyanda]. And he is brought in.
What is the first region? Natal or...?
PWV. But our side was targeted to come via Natal. Other, similar projects were moving in Western Cape, etc. But they never reached the point of pushing in the high level.
Can I just check something then? So, when you disappear, as I remember you disappear, you become "ill" in sort of 1987 - this is now legend-building, preparation?
For your eventual return home?
It's also refresher courses. There are times when I have disappeared to hospital, and I have actually gone for a refresher. And then, having gone to a refresher, I now devise what should be in the course for people that are being prepared.
So then, I am wrong in my book when I say you went back in 1987, which I think I imply in my book [MK: The ANC's Armed Struggle]?
Ja, I think that if we want to be correct with history the implementation of Vula starts, really dates from the entry of Gebuza and myself, but the parallel implementation of other projects for other regions takes place in a different form. Instead of the way we, I approach the business of building the infrastructure, in other regions, one contact is provided, a relatively junior-level cadre is sent in preparatory to a senior level, and the junior level remains there and nobody else comes in. So, they do no work; they continue surviving. And then, in desperation, they try to assert their authority. And they fail. They fail to assert their authority, not because people don't accept their authority but because they haven't got meaningful guidance to give. And so, that whole decision, if it was implemented in a systematic way in accordance with the decision [as] it was in relation to Vula, and so what - mid-1988 is the formal implementation of Vula. But then that was to under-estimate what was required at the background, backroom work, and the preparation. There was real hard work in the preparation, and basically it was on my shoulders. And so it meant that you would hear that I am in Canada for four days addressing the Cree conference, and then you'd hear that I'm in hospital, and then you'd see me in Lusaka for a week, and then you hear I've disappeared again. But I wouldn't regard that as really Vula yet. It's all preparation, it's all filling out, it's all creating conditions, and it's combined with devising, working out a viable legend that would - now, I put it very harshly: in the discussion with OR [Tambo] and JS [Slovo] I said the legend must be such that it is believed by the NEC; if it's believed by the NEC, the enemy will buy it.
And this is one of the things that the chaps are so the moer in with me for. The other day somebody burst out - JM [Modise] actually burst out: Ja, we didn't know; we heard that Ronnie [Kasrils] had broken his fucking spine and legs and all in Vietnam; we knew nothing about this thing, you see. And you could see the frustration - that they all bought this story - and now to feel that they had been taken for a ride was really annoying.
Sure. Anyway, Vula's outside of my period.
There's a story here to be told that's got to be told sometime.
You see - your end is 1986?
It's 1986 - I am sure - that the decision [for Vula] is taken.
Ja, I understand that as well. OK, I want to deal with the formation of the UDF. I have managed to have one or two interviews in the last few days which indicate to me that, by late 1982, certainly in Natal and some elements of the ANC underground in the Transvaal - there have been discussions between these two undergrounds, with communications between them and one or two elements of the External Mission [of the ANC], and your name has been mentioned, in which it is made quite clear to people in these underground machineries that the formation of the united front is something which the ANC fully supports; and these two underground forces, machineries - and there may well be more - feed into those early days of January in 1983 which give birth to the formal idea of now forming a United Democratic Front.
Can you tell me what's been happening in 1982 to bring forward the notion of the United Front from the ANC's perspective?
When you say "one or two names including mine", who are the other two or three names?
I can't remember. But yours is the one I was interested in. It was nobody that I considered significant. But I considered your name significant because you were a key person in the political structures.
I think that your informants are glossing over things and are over-reading. It's not that way, the United Front - it comes from a different [set of] circumstances.
OK, can you tell me?
Ja. I think that we cannot have - that OR [Tambo] and Thabo are seminal to the January 8 statement...
Mmm. Because it is preceded by the Year of United Mass Action, I think.
It's the year of Unity in Action...
Unity in Action...
Then the Year of United Action.
Ja. That's one strand: looking at the situation, what is needed? But it gels itself with the January 8 statement of 1983, and I don't think that they dreamt that they would come up the UDF [sic] in August...
I think the version you got is another strand. But it's not the way you got it. Because it tends towards the thesis of the cabal.
Well, I understand, I mean - Can I just broach this point: Certainly the one line into the conference [Transvaal Anti-SAIC] comes from those who are in the cabal. But the other line, as I understand it, certainly does not come the group called the cabal. And if I can just make another qualification: It strikes me that any underground is, in a sense, a cabal.
And I wonder whether this whole cabal allegation doesn't actually stem from jealousy over the effectiveness of a particular group of people. But can we leave that.
Ja. I just wanted to remove the thing.
That it ever lends to a cabal.
Where I am involved is the 1981 campaign, the Anti-Republic campaign. That one month that the enemy gave us - even before that, when they announced it - I am actually on record as saying: the enemy has given it to us on a plate by having decided to celebrate over a month. They didn't select a date; they took the whole fucking month of May.
Right? And that was a critical blunder from them. Because it gave us a chance to take every little pocket of activity, and give it a sense of belonging to something central. And they announced it so far fucking ahead that it was possible that everything could - even when it was not done with that objective - it was able to give it meaning that forced it into that. And it is the birth of the civics - we had already had problems with the Release Mandela Campaign; good, it had had that magnificent campaign that, what was the name of this newspaper that took it up that [Percy] Qoboza...
So it was preceded by that. But, what was becoming clear was that the Release Mandela Campaign could not provide a unifying focus, a structural focus. The Anti-Republic committees, the PC [President's Council] committees, began to give something. But they had a great lacunae, and that was [in] the African sector. And that lacunae was filled in by the civic movement that was emerging, the Anti-Community Council Campaign. So, post the Anti-Republic campaign, the possibility of a unified, across-the-spectrum coming together of groupings began to emerge.
And you recognised it?
Now that was recognised by a number of us.
Who? Can you say who?
In the RC, there was a tussle. It was not called a united front, but there was a decision, a unanimous decision that we now encourage the setting up of a national civics association that would not impede the innovation and inventiveness of local civics, but yet would bring them together. That is now the united front sort of thing. There was that decision. Secondly, there was a recognition in the RC that Anti-Republic had brought the inter-action of armed activity and political activity at the mass level.
In a way that we had never seen before.
Never. Third strand: there was a recognition of area-based political leadership combining outside and inside in the APC. Now, when you look at all those individual decisions, I think different people, without calling it united front, were seeing that something could gel together.
You say "without calling it a united front". But these ideas are gelling at the same time as you have had the Green Book three years earlier, two years earlier.
The word "united front" in the Green Book is a passing word, is a passing word. For those who read into it backwards - even from those who may have authored it -
Is reading backwards a significance. In the Green Book, 1979, united front appears, but was not a prominent feature.
I thought it came out as a very prominent feature. But perhaps it's because I am reading backwards.
Ja, you're reading backwards. You're reading backwards, my friend. To me that's a fascinating part of the political dynamics. It's so easy to read backwards. And as I will come to the January 8 statement, I think the birth of the UDF shocked even OR [Tambo] and Thabo [Mbeki]. They didn't believe it would happen. What we hadn't seen is what was happening as a result of these calls for united action, mass action - the central theme was united mass action. And we were all pushing - certainly I was pushing - that, this theory that the revolts are in pockets, we cannot conquer power until those revolt become a, flow into a central river; and we cannot dream of that river if we do not realise that where the shoe pinches in one region is different from where the shoe pinches in another region. And then there was a rural factor - the debate on the bantustans and the dummy institutions - where the Green Book acknowledges that we have to attack the bantustans from within and without, not just simply from an outside position. What I am saying, Howard, is that all these things were converging. It's flattering, but I don't think it's accurate to have my name feature prominently there. Because my work at that stage is at the quieter level. It's in relation to units, individual comrades at home. And, certainly, I played a big part in the Anti-SAIC campaign. Now, the Anti-Saic campaign had in it different tactical positions: one was boycott; two was rejectionist participation. The NEC meeting in Dar es Salaam had approved of rejectionist participation...
Which meeting was this?
1979. In the meantime, there was no real campaign in the coloured community because the Labour Party had destroyed the CRC. But here was coming the tri-cam [tricameral parliament] but before that the SAIC elections, which had been cropping up already in 1977. But what we found was that, in the Indian community, were these two pockets: boycott and rejectionist participation - both at loggerheads with each other. The result was that we called out representatives of three factions...
What was the third faction?
The third faction was stalwarts who were trying to play a balancing act in this debate, but people who were not activists. They were all called out to London, and it is an irony...
When was this?
1979, I think. 1979. Part of the irony is that what was then called the cabal - that is PG [Pravin Gordham], company - were rejectionist participation. Others, some real shits, like MG [???] and them, were all boycott. And then there was Ismail Meer coming up. So they were called to London, unknown to each other. I was charged with the discussions on a day-to-day basis in London, and it culminated in a meeting where the three were brought together, with Doc [Dadoo] present now. I had worked through over a period of two weeks in London - I was meeting, same thing about me, I can work 20 hours - I would meet one group, eight hours, and they think I am only meeting them; then I meet the next group, four hours, and then the next group, four hours.
Jy's 'n jakkals.
And all of them, I said: We start this discussion--. As if each one, they didn't smell what was happening. They protested later on. I said: Let's start the discussion from first principles. I know one of them - the PG [Pravin Gordham] grouping - I actually taped; and the fucking ous protested later on. And I screwed them up. First principles; we last come to the question of whether boycott or this. And from first principles, I move them to the position: Can we agree as a principle that the central question is involvement of the masses and maximum unity. Agreed. Then after that whether it's rejectionist participation or boycott is unimportant. Each group agreed to that. Then, as I was reporting daily to Doc [Dadoo], I said: Now we are ready for the joint meeting; now you call them all. And he called them and he outlined, he said: I understand we have reached this position with you, this position with you, this position with you; all agreed? Ja. Now, that's where we stand. They then said: Sorry, we cannot go back with this strategy...
[End of Side C]
OK, I just want to get that on tape: So they said they wanted a letter, according to you...
And then Doc [Dadoo] said: No problem. And then Doc wrote a letter.
No, then they said: No, we want the letter signed by Doc and Mac [Maharaj]. So we signed it. And we sent it back. And the chaps returned home. In the letter of course we said: However, in assessing the problem, we think that the best way to achieve maximum unity is to opt for boycott. This was contrary to an NEC decision, which we were armed with. And this was because, in my assessment, PG [Pravin Gordham] and company were hardworking, dedicated people, like all, but they were more loyal, more disciplined. And you could ask your more disciplined to bend. The others were congress, but less disciplined. To ask them to bend was to ask more.
This business of unity: Was one of your considerations there the response of African comrades to any rejectionist participation?
It was a consideration, Mmm. We always said that the, in the discussions the first principle said that unity means what is done on one front in one community must find a way to dovetail with the rest - you know, concerned with the Anti-Community Councils, etc. But it was recognised that we cannot just move one step right into position. So, the letter did say, in the last paragraph that, however, we would advise, recommend - but final decision is yours on the ground.
What did you recommend?
Boycott. Because, above all, we said: Let's go united; time is too short. Now, as it happened, PG [Pravin Gordham] and them sent a letter of protest - after they got home - because they ran into shit. When they reported to their unit, the unit says: You guys went there and sold out.
So, when they woke up to that, they wrote a letter of protest to Swaziland to say that I had misled them; I had come with a pre-determined movement position. And they were wrong. Namely of boycott. And I started that way, knowing where I wanted to take them and therefore forced it down their throat - I had a hidden card. Had they been told honestly this was a movement position, it would have been better for the discussion. They were wrong. They don't know that, up to now, I was armed with rejectionist participation. I happened to be in Swaziland when the letter arrived. And I immediately replied. And I said: Comrades, when I terminated your discussion, there were two reps on your side; in the session with the two of you, when we finally concluded, we had a joint meeting and we resumed, I asked you then honestly to make a criticism of the two weeks, and be free, I said; and you fucking ous, each of you stood up and praised me; I said that's on record; now that you have written this protest, here's my reply, but what is more I am immediately sending off your protest to Doc [Dadoo] and to the Revolutionary Council (RC), plus my reply to you guys. They shut up.
Is this in 1979 still?
1979. Now, what I am saying is that that is a tremendous experience for me. It showed me how, the capacity of the movement, if it listened to the ground, if it understood that it needs to take positions that sometimes the NEC has endorsed but need to be changed. And I remember filing a report to the NEC to say: This was your mandate, but I have ended up with a decision that is opposite to your mandate. So the NEC was a bit embarrassed.
But that was now an experience. Because it showed that we could pull everything together, provided we didn't go with an answer that said: This form. If we attacked the content, and said: We want the masses in motion, and then we looked for the tactic that would bring about maximum unity, recognising that there were pockets of hard thinking encrusted, suspicious of each other. This was another stream which flowed into this thing. And I think that if there are Indian comrades who speak about me from that point of view, they are actually looking back to the other one.
No, this is an African comrade who mentioned you, based in Transvaal.
Aha. OK, ja, then I know, then I know. Because, in fact, you will see that quite often there's - by the time 1985 comes and the videos are produced here, you'll find exactly what I'm saying in another video, it appears word for word in somebody else's mouth. But that's got nothing to do with seminal thinking; it's more got to do with neatness of formulation. Now, this is how these different streams are flowing in. And this is coinciding with the education campaign, with the concept of charters developing. And, again, the concept is developing. We have said enough we are anti-bantustan. What have we got to say: What are we pro. And, again, we dodge the pro - now there I know I discussed it with Thabo because it appeared in Mayibuye. I don't remember what year. But we dodged the thing, consciously dodged it by saying: By a non-racial and democratic education, we mean popularly determined, not left to educationists but involving parents and students, worker and child, etc, etc. That thing never really materialised; they still never formulated a charter. Because of repression. All these things are feeding towards - and this power of civics to determine themselves and yet belong to a national body - is actually outlining united front principles. It comes through and gels in 1983 January 8 statement. And certainly now we are inter-acting with the Boesaks. So Boesak comes in with the TIC's conference statement. And he's interacting at this stage, as far as I am concerned, with Thabo [Mbeki]. He's bumped into Thabo here and there, and this is where, when he's invited to the TIC conference, he comes with this thing, and it just catches alight; it's the right moment; and, within months, it's the UDF launch. And then we have a problem: that the comrades in the UDF want to immediately adopt the Freedom Charter. And I think I am the one who resists it the longest, and I attack the Suttners and the Vallis and the lot - you know, really our people - for wanting to adopt the Charter. And, when they do, I'm angry with them.
But they only do that about two or three years later.
Ja. But I am still angry with them because I say: You are narrowing the base of this front.
Right, now I know one person who fiercely opposed.
Right, and there were some others who opposed it as well on the same tactical ground. Now, what I understand from an African comrade that I interviewed the other day, was that he, or the underground unit that he was working with - although, when I say underground here as...
ANC clandestine, ja.
Ja. They had had communications or discussions with you, outside the country, which indicated that moves towards a united front of some form was very much in line with what the external mission leadership had in mind. Can you give me some measure of the kind of formulation that may have taken place in discussions in 1982...
Ja. There was a guideline. There was a guideline issued. I don't know whether it was issued just prior to the formation of the UDF, or immediately after. That guideline was approved by the RC. The guideline outlined what we needed. It talked about the need to pull together all these independent structures, allowing their independence to flourish, creating a vehicle that will encourage other independent locally-based bodies to grow, but not being slavishly united front in the sense that it should have rapid decision-making capacity. Now, now you're reminding me because in that debate, at headquarters, somebody had raised Dimitrov, and I had rejected Dimitrov because I had said Dimitrov comes from the 1930s of Europe, and the conception there was visible participant [sic] in a form which would give it an important central place to the [communist] party and the left. I said: This one, the ANC is not a formal member and will not become a member, right, so there is not that central body, that central thrust; that's one major difference. Two, the guidelines said, it should not attach itself to the Freedom Charter but it insisted that, while maintaining the independence, should find a formula for decision-making capacity and speed. Now that guideline - ja, it's possible it came before the UDF.
When you say before the UDF, do you mean before Boesak speaks on January 12 or whatever it is, 1983 or...?
No, before August. It could have come between Boesak's speech and the formation of the UDF.
But you don't remember, before Boesak's speech, meetings at which you, or other people in the ANC leadership abroad, put forward to a presumably senior member of the underground in the Transvaal a definite perspective of movement towards a united front before Boesak speaks in January 1983 and before Thabo [Mbeki] comes out with the...?
Could be. But I'm a bit hesitant because of the way you had started it. You see, Howard, it's not my style to have spoken to people from a sort of decree point of view.
I know it's not your style, but you have a way of - you know, you have been talking about nudging, damming, building the banks, nudging things in particular directions, the stream, the flow, the main direction, and I'm...
1983, 1982, 1982. Ja, I'm beginning to think I know who possibly your informant is. It is possible. It is possible.
Well, I'll tell you who my informant is. [Barrell writes down name of Popo Molefe].
[In response to name written on piece of paper]. Ja, ja, I thought so. I thought so, because of the way he resisted even the Freedom Charter. Definite, I had said the Freedom Charter must not be - right from the beginning I had been saying the Freedom Charter must not be the basis of defining that identity of interest. No, you're right. And I met him in 1982.
Can you remember when abouts and perhaps where?
It's 1982, I'm occupied with that project but on that project I have swung to every forward area - of course, I am still in the political IRD, and I met him-. There was a cultural festival at home.
You mean that one, that Culture and Resistance?
No, before that. Hammanskraal, there was a cultural festival. No, no, no, that's after UDF. No, it's before UDF. Our friend was key to that.
That one, that name you put there [Molefe]. He was key to that. You know, I have never thought of the UDF as if to say I was in a sense a father of the UDF. You are posing problems to me that...
OK, I can understand a kind of reluctance to claim fatherhood. I'm attempting to map out this grey area. I am not trying to force you...
No, I am making the comment in the sense, in the genuine sense that I have never thought of the UDF as something that came into being as a result, at the seminal level, that I had played that role. But, as I am thinking about it, I thought I'd, it's the same name [Molefe} that I had isolated. There are a couple of others that I had been reaching directly, indirectly.
Would you be prepared to indicate, so that I can...
There was this one who we had reached indirectly [writes down name]. There was [writes down second name] - we had reached him, too. This one was very indirect, but I finally recruited him.
What about these two? [writes down two further names]
Ja. This one [points to name]I refused all the time to work with.
Why, is this one of [writes down name of ANC leader's name] that chap's [people]?
But he didn't have that contact at that time. Because at that time, this guy is not yet key.
Is that chap working with him?
Ja, when this chap is in...
In the Bay [ANC speak for Swaziland]?
Ja, then he's working with him.
But the movers are with your other list of names.
Ja, these [points to names: Gordham and Yunus Mohamed]?
And that name you had put. This guy [points to Molefe's name] This guy, this guy. Because these guys had been - this one, this one, this one, this one - had been drawn in as far back as [writes down date]. Even some time, a few months into 1978.
So we are referring, for the purposes of tape, we are referring to names.
Ja, for the purposes of trying to. No, I think that - the problem with me when I am trying to tackle this particular subject is, now I remember the guidelines, I remember the big debate after the UDF is formed, the re-issue of the guidelines - it was a formal guideline now on the UDF - and the reason why we didn't quickly issue it was that we had an earlier guideline towards the creation of a united front, the need for all these bodies to be pulled together, the basic principles that should be underlying it.
Now can we date those two guidelines?
The one is before UDF and the other is immediately after the UDF, within a month of the UDF.
So it's just before August and just after August of 1983. Is that?
The just before is much earlier.
How early in 1983? The January 8 statement comes out, about a week later there's the Anti-SAIC meeting at which Boesak makes his call...
I think it's late 1982.
So, in fact we are talking about a directive, or let's say a guideline issued by the RC in late 1982 which outlines the idea of united front?
That's issued by the IRD.
It's issued in this context. What stands out for me is the civics, the Anti-Republic, its out of discussions out of that, and it's the need now to pull all these groupings together in structures, maintaining the independence, creating the vehicle to create more grassroots structures to grow, and yet having a centralised thrust and a decision-making capacity. And not being aligned on the Freedom Charter test - that's because at that time there's a hell of a fight going on with Azapo, with BC - a very big fight, and I'm saying: We've got to erode the BC; and you cannot erode it if you attach yourself to the Freedom Charter.
Now I just need to get this on tape: This guideline which you have just outlined to me now comes out in late 1982, before the January 8 address, before Boesak's call? Can we put this [your answer] on tape? Do you say yes?
Ja, I think it was. Ja.
And now I named to you my informant [Popo Molefe] about discussions - this chap [pointing to Molefe's name] - would he have had discussion with you along the lines of this document?
So my informant on this thing then - you have basically verifying what he indicated to me.
He may have a better memory of dates.
Well, he was understandably reluctant to go into details for his own personal reasons [mainly legal], which are not difficult to understand.
Ja. The only thing is I am a little touchy about translating it in the sharp form that he translates it.
He's not sharp about it, to be fair to him. In the circumstances in which I interviewed him, given his difficulty in answering this kind of question, he was just indicating that this was a major input. I don't think he was - he would want, I think, to deny the same thing that you are keen to deny: which is that somehow the formation of the front is almost a consequence of one, sole seminal input.
And also, we should avoid - what was a strength of the front in its birth is that it had the primary appearance that it grew from the ground. It still stands in my thinking about the Anti-Republic, about the civics, about the Release Mandela Campaign, about the Anti-black community councils or black authorities - those campaigns, the need to tie them together, and the need to give us a vehicle which, at a national level then, would take up the task of creating other grassroots structures in other areas that were still unorganised at a mass level of structures. It is that sort of guideline which now, when you are interrogating me, all conform to united front and UDF. After the UDF is formed, it is precisely because we have these guidelines and been having these discussions - again, typical of the movement, I don't think anybody else pursued it - I had formalised it in a meeting of the secretariat of the IRD, sent it to all forward areas, but the extent to which different individuals in these forward areas and the machineries took it up, really depended on how we [treat???] them.
Now are we talking about the first or the second...?
The first one.
The first guideline.
The second one had a different impact.
Because now the UDF is formed?
The UDF is formed, and when the UDF is formed the comrades hadn't thought these things through. The guideline appears. Already people who had formed the UDF are thinking that straightaway others who were not in touch with us are thinking - us, our people - are thinking immediately: We must go for the Freedom Charter. And I know that we again reiterate: Don't adopt the Freedom Charter. Our other friend, that contact guy that you mentioned, is there by that time. And he's a little-bit of a hatchet man...
I'm going to put it on tape as Jellybeans, OK? [Nickname for the particular individual referred to, who is a member of the ANC leadership].
Because I picture him as a sort of a hatchet man. So he would have carried it through, but with a sternness that comes from an edict. But the reason why I think that it's August-September - September-October, the guidelines are ready and through, debated in the RC...
This is the second guideline?
Ja. No problem about that. Because we already have the previous guideline from the IRD, and it's not a problem to have a meeting with some draft already in front of us, and therefore it moves fast, and then it is sent down; now this time as a direct intervention by us, because we are already getting reports of these tendencies coming up.
Tendencies like what? Wanting the Freedom Charter?
Any other tendencies that you can remember you were fighting against?
It is a tendency that [says] we do not have to bother with the BC side, the tendency that accepts in theory that we have to attract BC elements but in practice works against that design. The other tendency for wanting the UDF to adopt the Freedom Charter, I think, was a sort of legitimising desire; that if they could do that, it would give them greater legitimacy. And we were saying: No, that's not necessary; don't be afraid of that problem. And then it is the failure of the BC, the National Forum, etc, who then try to create a counter pole - it's that failure that encourages the chaps by 1985 to adopt the Charter. It's also a legitimising desire. And I think they did something by that because I think that they were sensing things on the ground that we couldn't sense from far. It's easy to say from far: This must be done. When you don't appreciate the pressures the chaps were coming under. I think that, if you look back, by 1984-85, already physical attacks initiated by BC started. I think there was a meeting in Alexandra township, which was called by Tutu, which was a very rough meeting, which he called to bring about peace between the two groups. And it is the point from which Tutu begins to shift from pro-BC to neutral to, finally, on our side.
I need to ask you a question of fact again. It's about the first set of guidelines. Do you mind if we go back to that?
The first set of guidelines - this is late 1982 - did those guidelines, or did the gist of those guidelines reach the so-called, the PG [Pravin Gordham] group that we have referred to?
Oh yes, oh yes.
Yes, yes, it did.
Can you tell me - this is very relevant to my research - and by PG, I just want to check here [writes on piece of paper to check that PG refers again to Pravin Gordham] so that there is no misunderstanding - I understand the PG group to be that chap?
Ja. It was a unit. That's all it was.
But a very important unit.
It was important because of the calibre of the chaps.
Calibre of the chaps, right. Can you --
The strength of their input was that, in the aftermath of Soweto and the repression, when I met them in 1977, when I came out of prison, they had retreated to open a front. And that is that they went into Phoenix, the new developing area, and decided not to target the issues that overtly attracted the regime's attention, eg education; they then went down to grassroots, normal civic problems. Now I had argued against them to say: Is this not a way of dodging even the movement? But their strength was that the work they did at that level proved that, until you combine that work with the national issues, you could do good work, you could be locally grounded, but you'd be still not going anywhere. So, on one side it was a strength; on the other side, the necessity for linking.
Did they recognise this weakness?
Ja. This was part of the issues that we discussed at that 1979 meeting over 14 days. Because over 14 days - I think still I have tapes where I first, I even asked them now to outline exactly how they were doing civic work, right down to where you go to do the door-to-door campaign, what do you say.
Right. OK. I want to deal with - if we can go for another 15 minutes, if that's OK?
I'd like to go on to, if I may, two short things. Firstly - and I hope we can deal with it fairly briefly - "Planning for People's War", JS's [Slovo] document, which comes out as I remember in about 1983. And the second thing I want to go onto very quickly after that is the first call, that's in April 85.
April 1985, ja.
But can we just go to this "Planning for People's War" document of JS's [Slovo]. I've heard this document come under really, really strong attack from a variety of people. I understand it was accepted by the PMC. Yet, with hindsight or at the time, certain people at senior-middle level who were working in Maputo and Swaziland were highly critical of its main lines of argument. What was your opinion of it? What's your summary of it and what was your opinion of it?
Its mistake and its strength was simultaneously that it began to entertain the possibility of an insurrectionary path. Its mistake was the belligerence with which it put that view, and therefore gave the semblance that the military were dodging accountability for their lack of progress, and suddenly beginning to retreat.
Can you explain what you mean?
Special Operations was running into problems. Military activity in the country was almost beginning to mark time. It was now becoming haphazard.
Could I say ritualistic?
Ja, more haphazard. Chaps were being sent in: Do what you can. The image of certain actions was held out as an example. We had overcome the tendency of 1977-78, where people were surrendering were intercepted. The idea that they were willing to die was there. But it was not combined with more better guidance. Like happens with Vula, there was criticism, sniping at Special Operations. Special Operations was tending to move into regular, normal military work. It had run into problems already. Ja, it had run into problems, 1982. Besides Matola, post-Matola it had run into problems what now, in hindsight, was already the Swazi agreement. And it was now becoming normal operations, putting a limpet mine at a target that was not special operations. JS's [Slovo] thesis therefore had this element that it was path breaking in raising the insurrectionary. I don't think he really called it that - but no, he says there; he says there: We must prepare for the next round of insurrection. And that's where he even puts the idea of stockpiling grenades, etc.
Clearly the strategic perspective is developing in that direction
- whether he uses the term insurrection, I don't remember.
No he uses it. And it runs into a problem of theory. Because other comrades can't fault this thing. But they are short on practice, but long on theory. And the central theoretical argument is: For years we have debated and come to a conclusion that the ingredients, the Lenin concepts of an insurrection are not present, namely the state structures, the capacity to swing the SADF. The weakness therefore of that paper was not, no analysis of the changing character of the SADF and SAP; it didn't highlight that.
But it does mention the necessity to win over elements of the enemy's armed forces.
Ja, but it doesn't highlight the changing character, how the enemy has begun to recruit blacks, how it is now arming them, what proportion they constitute of the army, and the fact that they are now being deployed in the frontline of battle, rather than as trench-diggers; they are now being deployed as the front combat groups. And this has its implications. This is not examined in that paper. It only comes up later on in discussion. But it's now coming from entrenched positions, and it looks like you are bringing an argument to prove a point; you are not bringing the argument to show that from this rose the possibility.
What is the point you are trying to bring?
The point I am trying to bring is that the insurrection argument has always been tied up with a lot of, lot of highly complicated theoretical arguments which people wouldn't want to put. The problem is the secretary then of the PMC, Nhlanhla, who came with no experience of home front work, who wanted to show that he is it; he interpreted secretary to mean: You are IT. And therefore he could not stomach the idea that something emanates from somebody who is not him, and he'd fucking fight it all the way.
So what was he fighting against?
Just opposing everything, you see. It had to come from him. The People's War document then enters into trouble in the front areas, because it has not resolved the political-military relationship. So political sections are fighting that - that it is silent on that; they don't articulate it, all of them, but they are fighting: Who gets entrusted with this thing? So that's the People's War document. That's the context in which it becomes so controversial. Otherwise, if you read it, you'd say there's - as far as I recall, if you read it now, you'd say - but this is fucking sane stuff.
Insane or sane?
Sane. Sane stuff. That you have to move in this direction, that you--. And yet it is a bit mechanical about its conception of the role of the people, because it opens a Pandora's Box of arming the people. And it leads to the absurd conclusion of Mzala, which becomes attached to arming the people as a generalised concept.
Just point out the absurdity.
The absurdity of it is: In a community that has never had experience of being deployed in any army - there's no conscription, there's no war being fought where blacks have been given arms...
So then it's suppression of military traditions...
Tradition. But with modern weaponry. You had the idealised notion that you can just go and give a rifle, and the chap will know what to do with it - not only know how to shoot, but he'd know about drill and position and formation. That's out. But Mzala erected it now to that high position, that this is all that's missing; and you must commit yourself to arming the people. And he refused to define any parameters which would constrain and define the conditions under which you'd give the weapons to the people. So, all that is opened out by this thing. So there's not a uniform position from which it is being criticised, and it's not being criticised consistently from trying to erect an answer. It is simply being criticised as not acceptable. And hell of a lot of it coming from Nhlanhla's side is the Nhlanhla type of murmur that he will tell you, when you give him the time, for his formidable objections...
But when you ask him to outline the formidable objections, he's got fuck-all to tell you.
But, just to check: It is accepted by the PMC? It's adopted, isn't it?
Yes, it's adopted. It's like the APC - they adopt it.
Then there's one of these peculiar ANC processes where something is adopted and it means different things to different people, and it's not implemented?
It's only peculiar and understandable, in my view, in the sense that the objective conditions had all piled on to the point where we had ourselves in leading positions, but none of us were entering the country. None of us were deployed in actually implementing it inside. The majority of us, the nearest we came to a forward area was Maputo; we didn't even go to Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, which took you directly to people from home. Maputo had a trickle of direct, but the rest of it was indirect. None of that level of people were going into the actual combat situation.
I want to stop at this point, and change my tape.
[End of Side D]
Now I am subject to correction now, because I don't know when last I read this document [Planning/Preparing for People's War]. But, as far as my memory goes, it was flawed because it accepted mass level of consciousness and politicisation as a given factor. It had no programmatic position of the need to continue to work at mass politicisation, and to build it and sustain it and lift it to higher levels. So, that was another major flaw in it. But that was not a flaw for which it was criticised say by Nhlanhla, or even by the forward areas. It was a criticism that was implicit, that was simmering in the forward areas. Because its criticism was from the political sections. And it was simmering in their consciousness, but none of them had reached the point of articulating it. They articulated it more in terms of structure, rather than in terms of processes.
Now, so does the political try to relate to this document? It's accepted by the RC - at least not the RC, the PMC - you've indicated that this is, well, not entirely a meaningful fact that it's accepted by the PMC, but how do you try and relate to it? Do you in any sense attempt to, let's say, redefine or somehow meld its objectives into what you are attempting to do on the political committee?
I think it gives a burst to the grenade squads on the political side. I think it leads to a more negative development on the political side because, even on the grenade squads, it culminates in an argument where comrades like JS [Slovo] and them argue that the political are now doing military work. And therefore it exacerbates the problem of the compartmentalisation. And certainly my position, I think, at that time is to move into somewhat negative frame, because I am feeling that we are not making progress. We talk about - I know, I now seem to remember, I am now watching every meeting, I'm just waiting for JS [Slovo] and them to say "coordinated", "joint committee", and I just wait for any sign of that term, and I jump in and I say: No, "integrated". And they get made at me that I am using "integrated". Because, when they have to answer the "integrated", it gives them problems. Because they would like to argue that the senior organ was integrated, that the PMC that we are looking at is integrated.
Can we now define our terms? I have an idea what the difference is between "coordinated" and "integrated", but I'd appreciate a clear distinction.
Have you read the book on Vietnam on the Battle for Saigon?
Which one? Is that the American one?
The general's one.
Oh, the general who led the final assault?
No, I haven't. I have tried to get hold of it.
You really should read it. It's called The Spring Offensive. Oh, it's a great spring offensive. To me, it epitomises the mechanism. The Politburo meeting in Hanoi analysed the political-military situation. Giap was a member of the Politburo. They decided that the time had arrived for an offensive to capture Saigon - politically, they decided that. They handed the matter to a 10-day meeting of the Central Committee. There, this politburo decision was two paragraphs. The matter went before the Central Committee, which met for 10 days, I think. And it then adopted a resolution which became a page, analysing the necessity for this campaign now and supporting that they should go on the offensive to capture Saigon. It was then sent to the military commission which, I think, sat for about 20 days, analysing the military feasibility against the political necessity. And it brought it back to the Politburo, with its assessment. In fact, its assessment was that it would take a year. It was then approved by the Politburo. And a special - what we would call today - task force was set up. That task force, by PB decision, appointed the commander. It appointed the commander on political, strategic and tactical level. He was famous for the lotus flower attack - that is, to seep your forces into the enemy bastion and then open out the attack from within like a flower opening up. It then also appointed the commissar for it, and he was a member of the Politburo, again for his experience and quality. It also appointed from the Politburo the man to be chief of logistics, because it recognised that, for that entire plan to succeed, the lifeline of flow of material and manpower was critical.
So therefore you needed a man of authority and efficiency?
Absolute authority and efficiency. And, when you read it, these three guys - the commander, the commissar and the chief of logistics - the chief of logistics was everywhere on the Ho Chi Minh trail, he was popping up everywhere, so that he actually knew, had a concrete feel. The commander was right in the front. By agreement, the commissar was always a little behind. When they reached Saigon, what is supposed to be a year's campaign is concluded in 155 days, because of the speed with which things are developing as they are moving. But because of their position and experience, and their unity as a team, the commander is able to send back messages to Hanoi, for transmission directly to Hanoi and for other groupings in South Vietnam, and for air work, and say: Attack here as a diversion; attack there as a diversion; we need to make a breakthrough here. And they are doing all this because central political guidance has been understood. And they are serving in the central political body, but they don't serve there with the sense of the cap that they are wearing...
It's really task-orientated and it's looking at everything over all. And a dramatic point - and I may be over-dramatising it - that when they come to the eve of the battle of Saigon, even the Americans are unaware, they sense that something is going to happen, [but] they don't know from which front, the commander is busy seeping his manpower into Saigon, and he now moves his camp, his headquarters, to an advanced forward post, with the understanding that the other guy, the commissar, is going to be in the back base; he's gone, and the commissar sitting in the back says: "Aha, this thing is it; I can't sit here". And he then moves, but there is no conflict; there is no conflict. When he arrives at the forward post, he is welcomed by the commander, because it is clearly understood that now that the political formations in Saigon need to be brought directly into action, and the man who's going to bring them into action is the commissar. No problem at all. That look: "Hey, hey, I'm going to deal with those guys now; they've got to get into military work now, and come out into military operation, and I've got authority and I'm the one that's going to give them the orders". No, he's welcoming the guy, because he sees that he can concentrate his attention on the central problem; and he now knows that he's got a person here of equal authority to whom he can turn and say: "This needs to be done; this patching up needs to be done, with irregular forces". And they walk through Saigon like a pie. They themselves don't realise what a piece of cake it was. And, as for the Americans, they just don't know what fucking hit them.
There was no question of compartments - nothing. And these guys constituted not just a military command. They constituted a political command...
Ja, of military forces.
Of military forces. And they were able to send messages; they were able to shift their emphasis from political work to military work as they saw necessary.
Can you remember the name of the general. I've got it written down in my notes somewhere, but...
It;s Nguyen Thong, I think. Ja, T-H-O-N-G, I thinking it is. But I know it's The Spring Offensive or the Great Spring Offensive. JS [Slovo] stole my book when I had a fight with JS. Never returned the fucking thing.
Right, now I want to move onto the first Call, if I could please briefly. OK, the first Call (by ANC leadership to people of South Africa of 25.4.85) indicates a clearly insurrectionary perspective, new conditions have arisen. What's is your assessment - can you tell me the origins of it, the meetings, the thinking that went into that first call. I remember seeing you about a week after it had been issued. I think you came down to Zimbabwe, and you were saying something very important has come out. Can you...?
Well, it was important because at last I felt it was going, it was a statement and a call that accorded with my thinking that had been gelling. It accorded with filling up and giving practical form to the people's war document, cutting off all the chaff, the theoretical argument, and getting really to a practical problem. It was actually written by JS [Slovo], although he narked me because he then stole...
Stole your phrases [Laughter].
When he rejected those things in fucking 1982, he now stole it as if it were original. And he changed from "rudimentary organs of people's power" to "embryonic organs of people's power", and all that. But you cannot escape it, that I think that Call was in accord with the times. And the only fault that the movement can be charged with is a failure to get down - it's back to that Vietnam question - you have taken your decision; simply passing the paper to your forward area machineries and to home is not enough. You've now got to go down, with all the authority of the movement, to the forward areas yourselves, you've got to energise your forces, and you've got to take command. That doesn't happen.
Did it happen?
Hardly, hardly. It meant Ronnie [Kasrils], to some extent me [Maharaj], to some extent Chris [Hani], but with his own tendencies. But no JS [Slovo] went to Swaziland; no JM [Modise] went to Botswana; nobody, I think, at that stage went to Lesotho, let alone into the country. How do you energise...
What does this indicate? I mean is it a failure of will, is it a lack of seriousness, is it a lack of understanding? What does it indicate? This is the enigma we have been talking around the whole time?
I don't know. It can lead to very harsh judgements of your colleagues. I think at best it's a practice: that suddenly, without speaking of it, developed a crust due to the dark days of 1965-70. You called it that foci, that detonator theory. there was nothing; you didn't know where to tread; you sent in a Moumbaris, he delivered the leaflets, the leaflets got distributed, they hit the Press, you then look for one or two chaps at home, you did something. But you got engaged with the nuts and bolts outside and, when the situation was changing, it hardly entered your mine that you've now got to go and take command. Yet, I think it is fair to say that comrades like JS [Slovo] always dreamed that one day they would come home. Like when we were heading for Tongaat and all, and the developments that were taking place with Vula, already JS [Slovo] last year - we were already saying, comrades the conditions inside, you want to come home, we'll arrange it, but with the understanding you are general secretary, OR [Tambo] you're the president, we can bring you here for two weeks, don't tell us you are going to come here for three months, but please come for two weeks, pre-arranged we'll take you to every centre, you'll meet the forces, you'll get a feel and you go back. This is something to do. And JS [Slovo] was excited by it. OR [Tambo] was excited. JS, I know, was looking to this, but of course with his own ideas. And it may be that if we discussed it operationally it would have worked. So, I believe that they thought like that. I think others, too, would have agreed if they were made privy to it, when they saw what was happening. They would have all agreed to come. I'm not so sure odd others would have been coming with the same motive.
What do you think the motives may have been?
I think some of the others, I can clearly say, would have wanted to come in so they could go out and say that they were at the front.
OK, I would like to ask a last question, if you don't mind? It relates to the decision eventually in 1986 to go for Vula. OK, by the end of 1986, we can effectively say that the uprisings that have taken place, which have been periodic and sporadic and localised, had been in essence contained and defeated. If you could list for me the reasons as you see them for their containment and defeat.
Lack of on-the-spot centralised leadership.
Lack of what?
On-the-spot centralised leadership. And a leadership that should have been looking at the problem in politico-military terms, that would have had the task of making the judgement: Was it the moment, was it not the moment? And, if not the moment, what needs to be done in retreat, so that under repression what constitutes a retreat is an organised retreat. Precisely because of being not on the spot, there was just a hope that you could keep blowing on the embers and it'll catch alight. Then there was the other one, the cyclical theory, which infested thinking that, OK, OK, don't worry, it's going to re-, the cycle will come back.
I understand that's JS [Slovo], isn't it?
Ja. Not with evil motives. With the simple motive that he's always dreamt, and adheres to the dream, that there'll be a revolution. But it became a sort of blow-on-the-ember-and-it-will-catch-alight. It is incipient in...
It's a variation of the detonator theory.
Ja. But it is incipient in his people's war document: all that needs for us to do is to be ready when the moment arrives; we have not been ready these previous times, but now let's get ready for the next one. It doesn't say what work do we have to do to bring about the next one...
Or to be ready for it.
And to be ready, ja. To be ready, I think he took more measures - I think that the existence of military headquarters, a genuine attempt to give ordinance just about a blank cheque. But it didn't work. I think ordinance brought in less material than we brought in. Because Cass [Make] was a very hardworking person, but he was not a person who could - he was a hands-on person right at the front, he was never a person to sit back and reflect and strategise and move 10 different projects with hands on on it. You can still have hands on, very intimately, but it's a light touch; it's not [as if] each hands on depends on you. He wasn't that type of person. On the ground very competent comrades had emerged and grown to maturity, but they were trapped also. They always dodged a certain responsibility by saying: that will be attended to by outside; we don't have to bother about it.
What kind of issue are you talking about?
How to bring about that centralised thrust, how to combine the military and political. They always said: That's for outside. It limited their own growth; it is perfectly understandable; and maybe if they had tried to tackle it, they would have had some very painful lessons.
Would they have had conflict with the outside if they tried to tackle it?
Mmm-mm [No]. Their inexperience in dealing with this sophisticated military machine in this country would have led them into grave casualties too. But the reality is that there was this weakness. On the side of the people, at a political level we had never, never inculcated a consciousness with the correct reason of the necessity for the ANC. We had said: ANC is needed. But we had never brought about a consistent politicisation that all the uprisings, all revolutions need a centralised organisation that runs through the entire mass of structures like a spine and that gathers the who thing and gives it. So that your responsibility for joining the ANC is of that order. I think these are amongst elements which critically indicate our weaknesses.
So you don't substantially disagree with my little book [MK: The ANC's Armed Struggle] my argument that I bring forward?
But I think that I would still say that above all it's this - the Call is made, it's absolutely right, there's no way that you can escape that you've got to get down then. I noticed it when we got it. You know I had planned the thing, and I thought it was going to be slow, man. Even the Soviets told me: Don't work for six months. I knew that one; I poo-pooed; I said: That's textbook. Then to hide, survive, lie low for six months. But I tell you the comrades, when we touched them, 90 percent were so inspired by this [Vula].
It gave them such a thrust to their work, you know. I tell you, you wouldn't believe the characters. They are leaders in their own right. But if I sent word that, look pal, I want to see you at three o'clock, the guy would drop, man, everything, man, and he'd be there at three o'clock. And it didn't matter how big the guys were.
Well, I can remember how, what a thrill it was in about 1978 coming across an ANC pamphlet - I mean, if I had gone around the corner and seen Jakals Maharaj coming, I would have wet my pants!
You know, send a message to these guys [writes down names] this one, this one...
I don't know this one. [Maharaj writes down more names] Oh, yes...
And [writes down more names]. When this one gets it, he's in his office, he gets shell-shocked.
When this one gets it, he is so disbelieving, he says, Look - he's got a wonderful sense of humour, this guy - he says to the messenger, he says: You know, you know, com, miracles happen in the bible, you know.
He wouldn't believe it [writes down name]. This guy, with all the stories that are there, when eventually after everything worked - do you know the congress last year? Every version of the statement, of the report of the general secretary [of the SA communist party], every version from first draft came to us directly, and finally, the final version still sat there, and he gave the version that he now had and we still discussed it. And there was nothing, that was one congress where all the old tensions - meantime the forces, in January, were saying, that's coming, you are going to see shit flying, and they are going to oppose the drafts. And I couldn't tell them what was happening. They said: But why this need to oppose? Why don't you prepare now inputs. And I invited inputs. None of them had it: not the [SA communist] party structures, not the ANC structures; not outside - I sent a message - had it. So, seeing this guy alone, he says: This is a problem. I say: No, comrade, you know better what to do, you draft and bring it. [He says:] Can I consult? [I say:] I don't care who you are going to consult; consult. But you bring it here; let's talk. And he faithfully followed it. To the point where the ous who were now preparing to oppose, when they heard what was in it, they actually scratched their heads looking for what to oppose. They actually did that. I know that in this body [points to initials] a group of guys had actually met repeatedly, saying: Let's study this fucking thing; there's something wrong with this thing. And I was sitting back and laughing. And they couldn't come up with something to oppose. And I think it laid the basis; it contributed significantly to ensuring that what was actually--. It wasn't properly discussed that you want to change the alliance from ANC-Party-Sactu to ANC-Party-Cosatu. I mean, if you try to look around, where was this decision taken? It was not taken anywhere, not even in the ANC in any proper way. It just culminated one day in an ANC meeting saying, yes, we must transform. The poor ous - nobody was asked; the key component weren't even asked whether they agree. And there was no resistance. What would have been resistance forces in it were already transformed - not because we were great; it's because what they saw the movement was sending in home; that was a key element; very very important the significance of that.
OK, we have been discussing a particular thing that was off the record, to do with names - I'm just saying this for the tape - dealing with names which are not relevant to the discussion. There are a couple of things I want to ask you - you are having a cigarette still? - a couple of small points. I'm not sure this is entirely relevant, but I need it for academic purposes. If one were to talk about the size of the formal political underground in 1979, at the time of the Green Book, what would you say was the size, nationwide, and the spread, the capacity of the political underground?
It always causes a lot of controversy that reporting. But I think that, by 1979, we'd have been talking about a total manpower of between 300 and 500.
In the political underground?
In the political underground.
And what would have been its sort of distribution? Would it have been mainly urban? What would have been its kind of...
Primarily urban. Certain rural areas - Western Transvaal, Eastern Transvaal, a little bit, a very little bit in the Northern Cape - the rest urban. If of course to talk about urban in that way is to take Mdantsane, King William's Town, as a pole also, as an urban pole, and spreading a bit into Ciskei and into Transkei. About zero in the [Orange] Free State.
Now, when we go to 1983, which is the time of the formation of the UDF, what would you then put the strength, the numerical strength of the...?
About the same.
About the same?
The losses and gains and dropping away and finding new people, and absorption of people into increasingly high level positions in mass formations, overt mass formations, the loss of contact, the failure to service, the lack of dynamic relationship from forward area to home, always left the thing in that fluctuating state.
Right. Now was there any improvement in distribution at that point? I mean were there areas - you mention almost nil in the Free State - I'm talking about 1983?
Ja, we began to make a little bit of a breakthrough in the Free State; it's not clear to me now how much of it remained paper, and how much of it ran into very serious casualties. I know there was a very good example - female activist, I must remember to ask have we found trace of her - she was coming in and out of Free State, reporting tremendous progress by about 1986, 1985-86, but suddenly she disappeared. And I think I remember the information that she was captured, but I don't recall her ever being brought to trial.
Can we move to 1986, the Second Call, which I think is in May - if we locate ourselves then - we are about, we are coming up for 18 months into the uprisings. What are we looking at in terms of the numerical strength of the underground then? Political underground?
Difficult for me to say, because, by now, I am detaching myself.
Can we go back to 1985 then? The First Call which is now, say, six months into uprisings. Are we still within this 350 to 500 range?
That's my impression.
This is people we are talking about, hey, not units.
Ja, ja. People. My impression would be that it was still about the same. And the reason is that everybody's being dragged into armed or pseudo-armed activity. The uprising is treated increasingly as a military problem in practice, in the actual nuts and bolts of the day-to-day work. And our friend, Jellybeans, has teamed up with Chris [Hani] and JM [Modise] and they are dreaming of an idea that I had planted, that I had been raising of white units, and they now go, just pinching anybody who's white, is fine - they are not selective at all.
Now, I want to relate these numbers to another phenomenon which is happening all the time. You've mentioned that there is this turnover of people who've been in the underground but are going up into mass formations as leaders. There's also this huge, or growing, clearly growing phenomenon for which Jenny [Cargill] has developed the phrase "the informal underground". I use the "informal underground" to describe the group of people who consider themselves ANC and do whatever they infer the ANC's bidding to be. How are you looking at this group of people? Are you just looking upon it as just part of the ANC's revolutionary base? How are you formulating it? How are you describing it in terms of the tasks of the moment?
There's a problem there, because this informal underground is growing in quantity; it is blocked from growing in quality not only because of its own limitations, and not only because of lack of contact, but because there is no imaginative - it's easy for me to say because I am detaching myself from that - there's no imaginative input coming from headquarters. In the meantime, the best forward areas are reeling: Maputo is virtually over; Swaziland is cut off; Botswana, again we had put a theory, a paper based on Zimbabwean independence as to how we should approach it - there was actually a strategic paper, very short paper, post Nkomati, which advocated that, what we should do was to keep the pot boiling from Swaziland to give the enemy the impression that we were infiltrating from there and retreating there but we should have three layers of work in Zimbabwe: one in cooperation with the government; one resting on our long-standing individuals in Zapu-Zipra; and the third one totally independent of the three. Botswana, the paper warned that our lines and our borders were going to be constricted and we would be pinned to one front, and therefore Botswana should be used for the quiet creeping in. The thing, hardly is it agreed, it has been violated in practice.
When is it agreed?
When was Zimbabwe independence?
1980, April 1980.
It's agreed by 1981.
At what meeting of what body?
And how is it violated in practice?
The calibre of people that we station, the possibilities of getting facilities approved with the Zimbabwe government lead to throwing all the eggs in virtually one basket, agreement to appoint a sort of military attache - and I remember fighting against the particular individual selected, Manchecker, I said it's going to be a disaster...
It was a disaster.
And what did he do? He blocked the political. Swaziland is cut off. It was being asked to do virtually an adaptation of a suicide mission, but the comrades left there, stranded there had no conception of that. Then military, by about 1985-86, the military comes up with the landmine warfare and it really damages the Botswana front, because I remember that military grouping that came with Manchecker that came to report on progress and I remember annoying the military comrades, Manchecker and all when they said they were deep in the Northern Transvaal, and I said: There's a map there; show me how deep; you are mentioning towns and villages I don't know; go point out there. When the chap went and pointed out, he was pointing 20 km into South Africa. And I said: You were saying you were preparing a retreat base further, deep; show me where's that thing. He says: It's about a two days march. How many kilometres you talking about? He says: 80. I said: Are you sure you are talking about that? He shows it. I go and take the map there and I take a pen and paper and a ruler and I say: You are talking about 10km and you call that a retreat base? You are fucking wiped out before you know what's what. Landmines: I say: How many landmines have you got in? And hidden away deep inside the country because when you hit from Zimbabwe, your border will be closed in two ticks. [He says:] No, we've put--. JM [Modise] and them were the moer in. When they hit and the enemy sealed the border, they had fuck-all inside. So, what do they do? They send this unit to go and put a thing two kilometres across the border [from] Botswana, leaving their footprints and everything, just coming from Botswana. Meantime, what do they do? Immediately draw the attention of the enemy to Botswana. All these little technical points, Howard, have to relate to the same, larger question. And they can sound like a devastating critique of the movement...
Well, I think they are a devastating critique of the movement.
But, if people hang onto the individual actions, as their criticisms, we are failing to isolate the central weakness of the movement.
Now, what is the central weakness of the movement?
It's a failure to get, send senior people inside - hands on. And to send senior people with the capacity not to lead only in action but to be able to strategise. And that, I think, is a very big failure of a very good chap like Chris [Hani].
No. No, he can't. He gets carried away by the moment. And those who can strategise don't want to do hands-on work.
Take Thabo [Mbeki]. It's his primary weakness in his growth. I think he's brilliant; I think he's very competent; I don't think he's got organising ability to set up structures; and I think, above all, his style is to push an idea through into paper, into position paper, but no implementation. If he had the chance to do that, as is happening now, I think he's extremely persuasive, got a right style, personality, able to really put things in different formulations without the jargon, he's got a good mind - but, if that's all he's inter-acting with, having lunch with Anglo-American, meeting Barlow Rand, and not going to the townships...
Can I just quickly raise one more thing? I understand that, shortly after Zimbabwe's independence, I understand that there was this idea - and I would appreciate it if you could give it a name - an idea to develop a guerilla struggle just south of the borders of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa, a section of the north eastern Transvaal which came horribly unstuck and a lot of people lost their lives there, so I am told. What do you know about this campaign? I understand it was under the command of Modise.
That's a tortured one. It's genesis is even before Zimbabwean independence. We isolated the northern sector - I think we gave it the name the 70th region...
7-0. And I recall being called from Maputo and getting into a horrible clash with OR, because I had just arrived in Maputo...
What date are we talking about?
Possibly late 1980, early 1981. It grew from missions that had been sent in by the political to places like Lebowa, Venda, to Pietersburg, Seshego, as well as a little bit of military thrusts in the 1981 period into those rural areas, and it reached a point where late 1979, 1980, 1981, a special commission had been set up of military and political, operating basically from Mozambique - I was in that commission - from military work that had been done in 1979 that had got unstuck in Sekhukuneland, we had the survivors of that. We used the survivors to get back into the area. And we began to move quite well. I was for a patient style, which made my military colleagues very impatient; it was JM [Modise], JS [Slovo], Uriah Maleka...
Does Uriah Maleka have another name?
I don't know what's his other name. He was chief rep in Angola. The reason why we drew him in is because he knew the area also, and knew a lot of people. But these were the members of the commission - there wasn't anybody else. That was the basis of an integrated approach; it was a prototype. But they cut themselves adrift and when I was unable to get to Maputo, it kept on changing its characters. And what JS [Slovo] did was that he just handed it over to chaps who were operating. It lost its thrust. But no casualties - we were pulling through. This, plus the possibility that the Mozambican government had opened up for us - that we could go along the border, provided we did it very carefully, but it was in fits and starts and hesitating - but we went up to Pafuri...
[End of Side E]
You were saying that you went up to...
Pafuri. The Mozambicans had their own interests in thinking of agreeing with us. Because they were talking of wanting us to help fight Renamo. And we were quite willing, and they gave us a camp in the north of Mozambique.
Where in the north?
I don't remember; it's right up, past Tofu [spelling???] Bay. I never went there.
How do you spell Tofu? T-O-F-U?
T-O-F-U, I think. Right past it. Tofu is about 500 km from Maputo. This was going pretty close to the Tanzanian border.
And what was the function of the base? Was it a transit base?
Training, the lot. It started, but never took off. We started building and everything there. I think the Mozambicans had an interest because the South Africans were running missions also to Renamo by going northern Transvaal, cutting into then-Rhodesia, over-flying a small triangle, area there, and then entering into Tete province, and dropping supplies. Now we were also making a thrust with Zapu on the north. So all these things gelled towards the idea of the 70th region. The difficulty with the 70th region is that I think comrades like Cass [Make], who was assistant secretary of the RC, were wedded to classical warfare and liberated zones. It is around this region that this argument boiled over; died away, but it died away in the form where the debate was never concluded. However, what I remember is that, I went off to Maputo on a flight - there were twice a week flights from Lusaka, direct flights - Zimbabwe was not independent yet - and I'm on my way to Swaziland; I think I landed there on the Sunday; now the next flight was Thursday, and then Sunday; but there was a Wednesday flight from Angola which did not stop in, it stopped for refuelling in Lusaka but had no passenger rights; and, for that, you needed Ministry of Defence clearance from Angola, from Zambia and from Maputo. I get a message on the Monday morning to say Lusaka wants you immediately to come back and take the Wednesday flight, and it leads to a clash with OR [Tambo] because I say some rude things, and who's sending this fucking message - don't they know I'm going to Swaziland and, in any case, Wednesday I can't take? But I book for Thursday. And when I get there I think I'm in shit and the flight is late, and Shooter [Makasa - main bodyguard to Tambo] and says he's been sent to pick me up and take me straight to head office. It's about eight at night. To cut a long story short, I get to the place there and I'm thinking OR [Tambo] wants me to proceed with him to Ireland, and I don't want to go, so I go in my jeans, and I leave my bags away. I bribe Shooter to leave me: I'll find my own transport. I get to head office; there's no OR [Tambo]. I'm told he's at a certain house. I dash over there and he's just getting into the car to head for the airport. So I say to myself: I am not going to go. But he's the moer in; he just says: Jump in. And on the way to the airport, when we get through these misunderstandings that had arisen, he says: Look, I've called you because tomorrow there's a meeting of the RC, and I am leaving tonight. The discussion had started the day before; he's not happy; he thinks that there's going to be a military adventure once more; and he therefore called me back because the 70th region is in great danger of being turned into a military adventure. He wants me to be sure that I'm at that meeting. And he relies on me to be at the meeting to ensure that it has a politico-military thrust. I remember this incident very well. And I am telling the story because it illustrates what happened to that region. Gradually, the military wrested control of that region, very unobtrusively, under JM [Modise] through Manchecker, and it just ran into the sand; it ran into casualties; it had no follow-through...
What time period are we looking at?
We are looking already now into 1984, 1985; it just drove itself into the ground. Because JM [Modise] has got no real work ethic. And he's got no consistency; it's all just going to be one huge, conventional war.
How many guys were lost there?
Probably about 40, I would say. But in different periods, not just in one battle; in different little pockets. And we lost that guy that I had picked up in the first experiments - the survivor of the Sekhukuneland thing.
Can you remember his name?
Ja, Pahla. His code-name was Simon. Amazing operative, but every now and then big problems arose when Ronnie [Kasrils] and them took over in Maputo; Ronnie concluded he's an enemy agent because of the way he always insisted on having a cap; he was superstitious about the cap; and every time he went home, he would plead with me that he must have his cap. And I understood that problem. Secondly, he came from a peasant background, great deference to age, and that deference was that you don't look at a person, your seniors when you talk to them, in the eye; you always dropped your eyes. Handed him over to the senior organ - Ronnie [Kasrils] and [Jacob] Zuma - I find him hanging around the house, his next mission is not carried out. Why? Ronnie says he's suspicious of this guy. Why? Because of the cap. Why do you think the cap--? Because I think it's a signal to the enemy.
[Laughter]. Ronnie's counter-surveillance diagrams going round in his head!
And then they ship him off for what they call advanced training. And I remember visiting the camps, and finding him at Funda a year after he'd been sent away for advanced training; done it and was now just languishing in Funda. And I pull him out from there and hand him back, and then the Maputo guys, Ronnie [Kasrils] and them, still can't stomach him; very strong-willed guy, but in a quiet way; and he wanted - described the mission, outlined the tasks, very clear sort of thing, knows what to do, and he was grappling with political work because he had come from military; but he was measuring up. I then met him [Pahla] 1985, 1986 in Lusaka; he was now moving in and out via Zimbabwe into the country under JM [Modise] and them; he had impregnated a Zimbabwean, ah Zambian girl, schoolgirl - and in Zambia when you're a schoolgirl, you lose your, you can't go to school any more; and the parents demanded that he marry; she was pregnant, and he wanted to marry her; so he sent for me. And it's one of the sad things in my life because he said to me that he wanted me to exert pressure on the movement to give him permission to marry; he was on his way back on another mission home. He wanted to marry so that his child, his wife would be accepted as ANC, and that his child would grow up in the creche in East Africa and go to school through the ANC. I went and intervened with the RPC, sent some of the older guys to go and negotiate with the parents and all that; he married; and the next mission he was killed. And he didn't even see his baby. But that was JM [Modise] and company.
Those arms caches that were uncovered in 1982 in Zimbabwe - the Zapu arms caches - how much of that was actually intended for the movement, for the ANC?
JM [Modise] and them had a peculiar arrangement with Zipra. They always took Zipra and them on trust. I don't know - Zipra may have made wild promises to them, but our caches were elsewhere, buried nearer the border.
Did we have big caches?
Substantial - we rescued a lot of them. I don't know what has ever happened to that commander who was operating at that time - Ali and company - they were good guys.
What do you mean by substantial?
Probably running into about between 10 and 20 trunks, tin trunks, buried in different places - some of it in the country. Because they, Ali and the commander impressed me as good guys; and already in the time of the Rhodesian war, they had moved into the country by crossing there.
Moved into South Africa?
Into South Africa. Backwards and forwards - but how deep I wouldn't be able to say. And they had escaped the assembly points and they had continued. But I think after a while that became untenable, and also because I think they would have clashed with Manchecker. So, what JM [Modise] would have done with them I don't know. Because JM at that level is the type of person who, if he favours you, and you put in reports on the other guys, no matter how good they have proved to be, he finds it necessary, if he is to rely on you, that he relies on your judgement; and he does that; he'll even ship the guys out in the interests of maintaining his authority.
If you take somebody like OR [Tambo], the style of leadership that you've described, isn't there a degree of mollification in OR's style of leadership which is a factor in the way in which many of these conflicts were never really sorted out? This mollifying style of leadership actually allowed different people to leave meetings with different interpretations, to pursue different lines of action, sometimes contradictory lines of action arising from the same decision?
I think we have to look at OR [Tambo] in the context of the problems he had to resolve, and therefore it imprinted a certain understanding of how to attend to those problems; second, we have to locate it in terms of his own growth. I think that he had to go through a tremendous learning curve outside, given the type of problems. I think in that learning curve he fluctuated; I think it is after the expulsion of the group of eight that he really begins to find his feet, from the previous just balancing act; he begins to become more assertive, but now no longer assertive in an authoritarian way but assertive in a very quiet, gentle way of moving things. But already the 1960s have left him with a legacy that JM [Modise] is chief of operations, and he neither had the stomach nor believed that he could not manage JM [Modise] if the moment arrived. So, it's not so much that an inherent weakness in him, but rather that, given the formidable problems of holding the forces together in the darkest days, then trying to get it involved in a hands-on way - we're trying to launch Wankie previously, Aventura and all those thrusts - tremendous clashes inside, dispersed forces - 1976, when is it? is the Lusaka Manifesto, a real uphill battle against the African states, anti-communism, suspicion of communists, all these things were tremendous problems which he had to cope with. I think that he's a tremendous personality. I started off even with a sort of theory that said that OR [Tambo] had no real organising experience in the history of the ANC. I've changed my view over time because I was virtually denying that there was a time when he was secretary general of the ANC. And in all those 1958 uprisings, revolts of the women etc, he played a tremendous part; but I was belittling those experiences. But, with time and with close working with him, I really came to admire the man. I still don't think he was free of the shortcomings that you are pointing to, but not in the sharp degree that you are pointing to it. I think that his problem was - that is a generalised problem of the movement inside and outside the country - and there I think we need to go back and read a little bit on Gramsci: his categories of an organisation - members, activists, cadres, leaders - his four categories. We have them. No, it's supporters, activists, cadres, leaders. We, that level of cadres, we have never paid attention to. We assume that an activist can become a leader on their own. And so we had this huge gap, and that is why leadership cannot find adequate replenishment. It is coupled with the whole lost generation of 1965 to 1973-74. Because we had nothing in the country, that generation never came into the mainstream of struggle. We never had recruits coming in from that period, and so we lost them. And that, too, gave us a big gap. But, even if we had them, the movement has not had a policy for cadre development which isolates and says: We want to take from the activist level and develop people for cadre level; we take from activists straight into leadership, and that's disastrous. So, I think that's where the problems lie.
Somebody once said to me that the ANC's answer ostensibly to cadre development is: Well, send the bugger on a course to the GDR. There's no sense of developing the man in situ, relating creatively any training to the tasks at hand.
If anybody has to be really criticised there - maybe it's being a bit harsh - it is comrade JS [Slovo]. Because he has always had a tremendous reputation, and he has the capacity to inspire, and he has been involved with the direct operational side, and he has had a very bad approach to cadre development.
Bad in what sense?
He has no conception that cadre development is hard work. He thinks deployment solves the problem. He and JM [Modise] once described to me how they set up Special Operations, post-1976. They simply went to Angola and to the training sites in the Soviet Union and had this card index with holes in different places and just stuck a needle through and pulled out the cards. And then after that he would defend the guys loyally. I think some developed by being close to him - it's accidental. Whether you take Obadi [Obadi Mokgabudi], or [Paul] Dikeledi, or Keith Mokoape, or even Rashid, or Barney [Molokoane], the nearest from that group that anybody came up towards possibly reaching readiness to being drawn into leadership was the late Obadi. He had tremendous weaknesses at the same time - personal weaknesses - which were disguised under his physical fitness and his bravery. But the rest, as of the last I saw them, no way; I think Keith is a disaster, and yet he survives. So the original central operations - Obadi, Dikeledi...
Isn't that Special Ops?
No this is central operations. I don't like your term - what do you call them? OU?
That's just for convenience. Rather than have COH, I just - I think I list the other name in the book [MK: the ANC's Armed Struggle].
That OU reads lousily, too.
Oh, I'm sorry...
Well, it's just a new fucking term. It doesn't make sense.
Each time I have to think and say: What does he mean by OU?
Well, imagine having to say: COH. Coh - central operations headquarters.
Well, CO HQ makes sense.
Ja, I should have had CO HQ. I'm sorry. I fucked it up.
Because once you have HQ, right, it gives it a military flavour.
Ja, but you see the HQ - that's why I didn't put it in, because it wasn't yet a military headquarters.
Ja, that's what I was trying to get around because I later make a point about headquarters, so I was trying to get away from that. Now I remember.
But the point I am making is that he [Slovo] was located in a way where he could have inspired, and he has the theoretical and practical capacity. He never, against all my protests, he never agreed that the training the chaps were undergoing in the GDR and Soviet Union was inadequate for our purposes; it was pure military training; he has never accepted it.
How do you understand military combat work [MCW], the doctrine, and what do you think of it?
The correct translation is military and combat work. The military part relates to political work in the enemy forces. It is an illustration of the misunderstanding in the movement to translate MCW as military combat work.
It's military AND combat work.
Ja. And the term "military" there hides the thing: it's work in the military on the other side, and it's fundamentally political work. And that booklet that out friend [Ronnie Kasrils] issued is so, so flawed that I just gave up when I got the copy. I said: What shit is this? But he's an enthusiast, that's what's good about him. He's a real fuckin' enthusiast.
[Laughter] He earns a distinction for enthusiasm all the time.
Yes. He's really, hand it to him for his enthusiasm.
Well, Chris [Hani] once said to me: The two of us can't work together; we're both too enthusiastic and optimistic; it's a guaranteed disaster if we work together.
Ja, when we posed the question to the Soviets, the Soviets were shocked, but now JS [Slovo] wouldn't listen to me until that booklet was out and was being distributed and became the manual. And then, when I drew his attention to it and he read the fucking thing, he went racing off alone to the Soviet instructors and there - it doesn't take him long - he goes alone and he says: They agree; it's not what they meant. But he only hones into certain aspects of it. It is a whole unity, that whole conception.
What would be the main lines of criticism of our friend's book, the manual?
It's because it's written at the time when he's [Kasrils] head of military intelligence located in military headquarters. If it was to be written by him located in the political it would be different.
So when is it written? When is the manual drawn up?
When he comes back from his MI [military intelligence] training, after HQ has been set up and before the special, extended Luanda military headquarters.
Which is the end of 1983, that's the meeting?
Ja, he arrives there from his training, and I remember having a big fight with him that night. He tells me about the Bolshevik structures, and I tell him: Don't bullshit me; now this is another version of Soviet history; you're told by your lecturers they had these structures in 1910 - you're fucking bullshitting.
No, but they told me in the lectures. And I say: Hey, hey, Ronnie, there is no book in Soviet history, nor writings in Lenin and all, that ever put these structures; it's an invention of the Soviet instructors of the 1970s. No, how can you say that, about our lecturers? And we agreed that night - I was still in the political - that the work in the enemy forces should be political section; he agreed; he immediately took it to military headquarters and MI. He took it into MI, and he converted it into looking for agents. And because he was military headquarters, as soon as they talked about a white unit, he initiated Broederstroom. And so he never gave time.
Never mind how our friend [Kasrils] gave his own version of MCW, what is your view of the appropriateness of MCW to our situation, the doctrine?
It is inappropriate fundamentally because it conceives of the thing as basically military. It's central thrust is not political. And it hardly caters for our situation, where the patient political work, the mass politicisation, the building up of an underground - I think that the underground military was wrong. I think the same friend hit on it when we last met when we went out [during Operation Vula] for that turnaround. We converged in Moscow, and we had a discussion. And I think, as the discussion was going on, he hit on the right term, "an armed underground". It would have been a better conceptualisation, from which specialisations should flow. As that armed underground grows, then you hive off. But that's his problem.
Are you talking about an armed POLITICAL underground?
Right, which gets involved in the defence of the people, which then begins from defence to develop an offensive capacity, and which then looks at subdivision of specialisation; but command, control clearly established as overall political. Now, the problem with him is that we discuss this thing, and he comes with the thing, he rushes into print, and he starts making his boxes again. And how many times I told him here [during Operation Vula] when he came in: Please, no boxes; boxes grow from the growth; you have it here in your head; keep it there; it tells you what you want to reach towards, but you try to see the thing organically growing; and then you create the boxes as the need arises, as the manpower is there.
Do you agree with my figures in the book [MK: The ANC's Armed Struggle] on MK training?
What did you give there?
I say between 1977-87, MK trained 12,000.
It's very difficult for me to say because...
Would you give me an informed ball park figure?
No, I don't even have a basis for an informed guess. Because, in all my work - I said this to JS [Slovo]: Ronnie's put MI; you straightaway introduce him to the trainers, the instructors, the planners of the courses, and he's off; but, in all the years, you wouldn't give me access to the camps and the trainees, even though I would raise the problem that, look, I am dissatisfied with the calibre of the people that's coming along; he would say, Just go and pick people from the camps, that is do his tour; and I would say, No, give my chaps who are in the front areas a rest and a chance to think by taking them, in turns, to lecture at the finishing off portions; but, no, they would take Pallo Jordan and Aziz Pahad and Billy Nunnan [Spelling??] from London, and send them as lecturers. It never gave the Ivans [Ivan Pillay] and the Archies [Archie Abrams], one, a rest from the tensions of the forward areas, two, a chance to reflect because you have to deliver lectures, and interact with people asking questions. And that is where I said: And [thirdly] it didn't give the trainees a chance to get somebody who's coming from the action. He never did.
Well, I think that there's a fundamental tension between JS [Slovo] and myself, a fundamental tension - both at the personality level and approach level - and the fact that they thought they had got somebody appointed to IRD who would be just a
He's going to be a quiet [inaudible] - leave him there.
They misjudged you.
I think they had that problem very badly.
[End of Side F]
[End of Interview]